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08 May 2012

Tonight's Episode: Huge taste, small bites (UPDATED)

One thing has alway troubled me about Charleston's culinary scene. It lacks ethnic punch. I'm an ethnophile, from Ethiopian to Malaysian to Filipino (but never Norwegian). Perhaps my favorite ethnic cuisine is Vietnamese. Not much to choose from around the Holy City. Queyen is gone, and Pho #1 is, well, limited. Into that void steps Co Banh Mi -Noodles- Bar.

Co, which means feast, occupies a skinny multi-level spot in the heart of King Street. The vibe, with the pretty people and bass-heavy club music seems more fitting in Dupont Circle than laid back Charleston, but the very friendly and engaged (and eye-catchingly attractive) waitstaff make you feel right at home.

We sat right up front in the chic bar area, where I immediately order a Singapore Sling ($9), a classic cocktail of gin, benedictine, grenadine, pineapple and coconut. I have to admit I am glad some of the more passé drinks are making a comeback, as this light, fruity, and sweet concoction does hit the spot.

Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick these are good

For first course The Girl orders Pork and Crab Spring Rolls ($6). If you have never had a Vietnamese spring roll, they are so much lighter, with less grease, than their counterparts from farther north. Great balance in flavor, and a wonderful sauce. My only complaint was the clunky and hap-hazard plating. This could be due to the fact we came in in the middle of their first ever Friday dinner service.

Drink the sauce. Do it! Do it!

I am a pot sticker (or dumpling if you wish) fanatic. For the last two months I have had them at LEAST once a week from our local cheapy Chinese take-away. Seeing a choice of three delicious pouches of tastiness made my heart palpitate. I went with the Pork and Ginger gyoza ($5) with soy scallion sauce. Tasty Tasty Tasty is the only way to describe them. When eating them I suggest  a quick dip in the sauce followed by a small bite at the end to open the dumpling up. Then dip the open end back into the sauce and let it sit, soaking in the sauce the same way you dunk an oreo in milk. Then plop the whole thing in your mouth, close your eyes, and enjoy. When you are done, check to make sure no one is looking and shoot the sauce like it's tequila.

Tight little buns

I stayed on the small plate menu (but for some idiotic reason only ordered one) and went with the Pork Belly Buns ($6). These buns are fantastic little bites of wonderfully seasoned pork belly. The only downfall of this dish was the cilantro, which were just whole sticks of herb tossed on top. More focus would have taken this dish over the top.

The original French-Asian fusion

The Girl hit a home-run with her main, the Caramel Pork Banh Mi ($8) with traditional fish sauce, sugar cane, cucumber, pickled carrots, sriracha mayo, jalapeño, and cilantro on a crispy baguette. Banh Mi, a culinary remnant of the French occupation of Indo-China, has long been one of my favorite sandwiches (with Katz Deli's Beef Tongue and a great Italian Beef). This one is an absolute winner, with a sweet and umami balance that leaves such a wonderful mouth feel. If you don't order this than you are an absolute fool.

Not your typical Flied Lice

I am kicking myself for not ordering another small plate, or a bowl of Pho, or Ramen, or noodle, but we did get the Com Chien ($12) to go for lunch the next day. It didn't make it through the first episode of Big Fat Gypsy wedding after we got home. This take on fried rice has a lemongrass sauce that completely alters the flavor profile, and the meat version has sweet shanghai sausage, pork, chicken, and shrimp that makes a highly addicting dish.

The overall meal at Co was fantastic, and it has leapfrogged to near the top of my list. Yes, there were plating issues, and yes, the service was slow. But the service was friendly and knowledgable, and I feel confident that they will iron out these issues. The Girl LOVED her food, and she agrees that you should go there, right now, immediately. Heck, they even started lunch service, so you can go twice today. 

So we went in on Memorial Day, and they were slammed. Had a chance to chit-chat with the owner, Greg Bauer, and business has been so good that he is unable to take phone-in to-go orders at this time. This trip in we tried the Lemongrass Tofu spring roll with peanut sauce ($6), a light, cool, mild tasting roll with beautifully crunchy tofu. We split an order of the pork belly buns that I didn't share last time. The Girl about kicked me after eating hers, for not sharing or for some other slight, I'm not sure which.

For our mains The Girl had the Grilled Steak Banh Mi ($8), beautiful steak perfectly grilled and tasty as hell. I had the Five Spice Pork Belly Banh Mi ($8) which would have tasted SOOOO much better if we had not had those little bacon donut buns just before. The Buns are such perfection that everything else pork belly just pales in comparison. While there, we had the chance to catch up with MacIntosh and Oak Chef Jeremiah Bacon and his new wife (Congrats you two!), and he, too, was suitably impressed with the job Greg and crew are doing.

The Scores:  UPDATED
Ambiance: 3.5/5   (4/5 They found a better balance on the volume of music)
Food: 9/10
Service: 3.5 out of 5 (4/5  When we lasted visited, it was their first Friday dinner service, they seem to have worked out most of the kinks) 
Value: 5/5
Overall: 21 out of 25 (22 out of 25) Bringing ethnic food and a big-city vibe to the heart of King
Co on Urbanspoon


  1. I love CO, too! My good friend Toan Ho helped Greg assemble Co's menu and he trained the kitchen staff. In September, Toan opened up his own restaurant out Hwy 17 -- Mi Xao. It's so good!! I know it's a haul out there if you don't live in MP, but if you're ever out that way, please try it for lunch or dinner. Toan is an incredible Vietnamese chef. We're so lucky to have him here.

    1. I had heard than and Mi Xao is on the list for sure



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