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27 January 2013

How To: Weekend in Charleston like a food writer

Saturday: 1130 AM

Angel Oak Tree, John's Island

"Biggest tree South of the Mississippi"


The Girl prefers sushi and salad for her picnic choice. With it being a chilled January day I go chili and a grocery store sandwich. Kentucky Fried Muffy and her man Stone Crab go full on picnic basket with table cloth. Friend D prefers Subway. It doesn't matter how you do it, there is no wrong way to picnic at this iconic, ancient, and provocative tree. 

#8 on Charleston Magazine's Bucket List, picnicking at the Angel Oak is a chance to reflect on the natural beauty and history that is prevalent in Charleston. At 1500 years old and 66 feet high, it is an impressive sight. Almost as interesting as the tree is listening in on tourists misinform each other about the history of the tree. Free, beautiful, and relaxing.

But don't forget the Charleston Tea Company Sweet Tea.

Saturday: 500 PM

Our House, In the Middle of Our Street

"Liquid Bacon, I'm telling you, liquid bacon"

The Foodess (Of The Foodess Files fame) brings over a present, Sugar Bob's Finest Kind Smoked Maple Syrup. This isn't pancake syrup; this is an assertive and smoky addition to any savory dish. Mix 1/4 teaspoon syrup with 3/4 oz sweet vermouth and 2 1/2 oz Bulleit bourbon to make a Smoked Manhattan.  

Saturday: 630 PM

The 'Wich Doctor, Folly Beach

"It's like liquid pork chop in a bowl"

The Foodess, Big Sky (Of Garden & Gun), The Girl and I make our way to this funky little slice of Bohemian Folly Beach to begin our version of the progressive dinner. Not that it was our intention, it just happened. Big Sky jammed on the Jerk Pork Sandwich ($9) while The Girl chowed down on the Pimento Cheese, Bacon, and Fried Green Tomato Sandwich ($9). The Foodess and I rip into bowls of Tonkotsu Ramen w/ pork belly, soft boiled egg, corn, love, effort, and a broth of 9 million ingredients. The smoke of the broth, with its rich pork flavor, will cure whatever ails you.



Drinks: BYOB but featuring a small selection of craft sodas and beers. PBR is always an option.

Saturday: 800 PM

The Lot, James Island

"Making Poutine Routine"

Intending on grabbing a quick dessert, ending two hours later, we start by splitting a salted caramel torte and Meyer lemon crêpes. Big Sky and I love the bright fresh zing of the lemon filling. The ladies love the candy bar flavor and texture of the torte. The band starts firing up next door at The Pour House, filing the space with a funky jam vibe. 

What better way to finish a dessert course than with a little poutine? This Canadian delight uses The Lot's mind bending fries, gravy, and cheese curds to bring a little Cold White North bar food down South.

Drinks: Small but strong list of craft wines and beers, specialty cocktails. The Ladies love the Crispin Cider. $3 PBR tall boys and Westbrook Seasonal are other options that are always worth your time.

Saturday: 1030 PM

The Bar At Husk, Queen St

"Make it Weaver's choice"

Freestanding bar next to the acclaimed dining room, make your way upstairs to a table. Order the fried pickles and burger, cut into quarters, and spread amongst the masses. The burger is a double patty with 10% Benton's bacon ground in, smoke flavor coming through with power but not overwhelming. 

The true reason to show up at the bar are the drinks. Rosco Riso Punch, The Swingles Club, The Copperhead - the list of innovative drinks is impressive, but it is nice to just relax and tell one of the master mixologists to mix up whatever they want. 

Sunday: 1220 AM

Butcher & Bee, Upper King St

"A Prada store in the middle of no where?"

The Foodess and Big Sky load up on the fried egg sandwich, The Girl and I split a Banh Mi. We beat in the food service crowd, but I spot a table of friends and sip a little of their vino. Conversation is travel and quickly a plan is made to visit Cuba via Marfa, Texas, so we can see that damn Prada store. 

Prices are low, and open til 3 on the weekends, B&B is a lot like the Marfa Prada store. An oasis of amazing in the middle of no where.

Drinks: BYOB so $140 wine and 40s of High Life are acceptable, but the Jarritos Grapefruit Soda is my go-to.

Sunday: 1230 PM

The Green Door, East Bay St. 

"It's magically delicious!"

Brunch isn't just a meal in Charleston; it is a cultural imperative. Big Sky sets us all to shame with the pastel red pants, classic tie, and old school blazer, but you should try to step it up on Sundays. We add the Queen of Rutledge to our entourage, and dig in to the  most schizophrenic brunch in town. Braised short ribs with kimchi and creole mac n cheese. Chicken and waffle tacos with Sriracha syrup. Fried pork belly Benedict. The food is crazy, but everything is delicious and thoughtful. This will make you rethink brunch.









Drinks: The Kimchi Bloody Mary is a savory and delicious way to shake off last night, but the Lucky Charms Adult Milkshake with vodka and Kalhua is guaranteed to sneak up on you and knock you down if you aren't careful.


Time can seem to go a little slower in Charleston, so use that to your advantage. Linger over your lunch, and speak to a stranger. Wander down an ally. See a new restaurant, pop in even if you just ate. Explore more than just where you live or are staying. Ask questions. Look to the sky as you walk the streets. Whatever you do, remember this most of all: when you get in your car, get out of that parking space as fast as you can, because someone as been looking for that spot for a half hour. 


17 January 2013

Tonight's Episode: The South Has Risen; Where Do We Go From Here

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I hate Southern cuisine. Stop, don't tar and feather me! My mother is Scottish so I didn't grow up with grits (in fact my first taste of that particular Southern staple was in a county lock-up, but that's a story for another day). My experiences with Southern food either ranged from the lard on lard fried evil that Paula Deen (and anyone else who over saturates the drawl) has been hawking on the gullible masses, or the bland and overcooked, under-seasoned mush that seems to pass for food in large parts of the South. But change has been in the wings. A New South has been gaining momentum. Young, dynamic chefs with a passion for the ingredients and techniques of REAL Southern cooking are pushing their way to the front. If you have watched any Food TV in the last two years you would know that the man at the absolute forefront of that movement is Husk Executive Chef Sean Brock.
Scallion BBQ Glazed ribs-JUST PICK THEM UP AND EAT THEM

Now Chef Brock has been at the top of my list for a while now, at the helm of über-modernist McCrady's , but his jump to national acclaim came with the opening of Husk, a restaurant where the Mason-Dixon line isn't just an abstract concept, but an absolute demarcation line. Every ingredient is sourced from the confines of the South, from the Manchester Farms quail, to the Keegan-Filion farms beef, to the Texas olive oil. The techniques used are a blend of the cutting edge, global inspired and the super-traditional. His famed corn bread recipe is a hand-me-down from his Appalachian heritage. Where some restaurants may be an ode to Southern cuisine, Husk is a psychotic, mentally deranged stalker whose entire house is a shrine to the staples of Dixie.

Husk is located in the heart of Charleston on Queen Street. I recommend parking just around the corner on Chalmers if you have good shocks, since this cobble stone street is one of the most beautiful in the city at night. Walking up Queen you find Husk next door to Poogan's Porch. The dichotomy of the two restaurants couldn't be any more stark. On one side you have the long established favorite of society and the tourist sect. This is Martha Stewart and Southern Living. This is the South that bores me to tears. On the other side is the trailblazing young pup, the favorite of Damn Yankee foodies and young Southern locavore hipsters. This is Anthony Bourdain and Garden & Gun. This is the New South.

Take the humble pig ear. I've only had it two ways: boiled until tender on a sandwich or crispy like a cartilage pork rind. At Husk you can see it prepared as a lettuce wrap....in many different preparations based on the day. Today it was with a charred scallion BBQ glaze with toasted peanuts and shaved apple. The crispy pleasant pop of the pig ears with that sweet and subtly Asian glaze is a thoughtful, balanced, and totally unexpected bite. The Girl, not usually the most adventurous of people, found them delightful.






What is more classic than potato soup? How about ramping up the spice level, then cooling it off with a pork belly marmalade. Okay, maybe someone should tell me what the heck a pork belly marmalade is other than FREAKING DELICIOUS. The Girl is a spice sensitive person, and the spice is to the nose running level. She cleans the bowl.












The wonderful thing about Husk, and the biggest headache, is never knowing what the menu will be. It's changed twice a day and based on whatever product is available. In the entryway is a massive board of the farms Chef Brock sources. That is how The Girl ends up with a petite waygu sirloin with smoky beef sausage (pictured right).  It just happened to be the best product available that day. This is the kind of dish that will roll your eyes to the back of your head. I honestly think it was better than my Tennessee pork shoulder with crispy belly, though the smoky butterbean "Hoppin' John" may have been the single best bite of the night.






Now I'm not saying Husk is perfect. The acclaimed corn bread isn't our cup of tea, far too dense. The portion sizes are, in all honesty, TOO big. This place needs a gluttony couch for you to lay on as you slip into a meat coma. What I am saying is Husk fully embraces the farm-to-table ethic, places the South on a pedestal, and dares you to say a damn word about how polenta is so much more refined than grits. And it does so with a smile and a glass of Pappy van Winkle in hand.

The bigger question Husk raises is; what is next for Haute Dixie? Can this cuisine translate to a global scale the way other cuisines have? The inevitable variations and bastardizations will change the ingredients and the presentations, the flavor profiles and techniques, but will the SOUL remain? Will the integrity remain the farther true Southern cuisine is removed from its African slave roots? As long as we look to chefs who embrace the South heart and soul such as Sean Brock to lead the movement and not just exploitative hacks like Paula Deen, there is a chance.

The Scores:

Ambiance: 4/5
Food: 9/10
Service: 5/5
Value: 5/5 (This was during the Charleston Restaurant Week 3 for $30, not regular pricing)

Overall: 23/25


Husk on Urbanspoon


16 January 2013

Recipe: Hawaiian Glazed Chicken with Mango-Avocado Salsa



Hawaiian Glazed Chicken with Mango-Avocado Salsa

Marinade:


This super tasty take on teriyaki is fresh and bright, and is fantastic not only on chicken but fish and tofu as well. This recipe will make enough marinade for 10 portions and can be stored for later use.

Ingredients:

3 cups Bragg Liquid Amino (Can be replaced with Low Sodium Soy sauce)
1 Cup pineapple juice 
1/4 cup fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup diced garlic
1/4 cup diced red onion
3 tablespoons black sesame seed 
3 tablespoon sesame oil 

Directions:

1. Sweat the onions and garlic in a large stock pan in sesame oil. Add sesame seed and continuously stir for two minutes. 

2. Add Liquid Amino and pineapple juice, bring to a boil, and ginger and remove from heat. 

3. Allow to cool before use.


Mango-Avocado Salsa:


This bright tropical salsa can brighten up many dishes. This recipe will make 2.5 cups, and can keep for up to three days. I recommend also using on fish tacos especially.

Ingredients:

2 Avocados, pitted and peeled 
1 cup mango, diced
1/4 diced red onion
1/4 cup cilantro 
1 small orange, peeled
1 lime, peeled
salt to taste

Directions:

If using a Vitamix-

Add ingredients in order listed. Begin blending on 1, slowly move to 4, and blend for 20-45 seconds.

If using a food processor-

Add orange, lime, cilantro, and onion to processor. Pulse till citrus is broken down. Add the remainder of ingredients and continue to pulse until proper consistency. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes 

Bringing it Home:

Marinate chicken for 12-24 hours. Remove from fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking to come to room temperature. Place chicken on grill set to high at a 45 degree angle for 3 minutes. Do not flip chicken, merely rotate it so it achieves grill markings. Flip and repeat. Cook until 160 degrees. Place on a rack for 5 minutes to cool. Top with salsa and serve with rice pilaf (or in this case lemongrass-garlic haricot vert).

This also makes a great sandwich. Serve on a toasted bun with smoky white cheddar. 

15 January 2013

Tonight's Episode: O Paparico, the door to heaven

The cab driver's English is nearly non existent. I break out Google maps to show him where we are headed. He sets out across the streets of Porto at speeds not recommended outside of Formula 1. The cool Portuguese rain has kept a lot of the traffic off the streets, or perhaps it should be attributed to the New Year's Eve preparations. We arrive in a distant part of the city, no sign of our restaurant. The cab driver motions to an unmarked door. No, not that one, the one next to it. We knock. The door opens. We step into what will, 5 hours later, be one of our most beloved restaurants.


We arrived at 8 pm, as per our reservation. Silly us, this is Portugal. 8pm means 8:45-ish. The only other couple to arrive before then was....another American couple. No matter. The first thing the incredibly welcoming staff of O Paparico would stress is that we are entering their home. That means have a course. Get up, walk around. Sit on a couch and watch TV. Chit-chat with your neighbors. Enjoy the space. And what a space! Imagine walking into a 14th century castle's wine cellar. Heavy stone, rustic wood, a giant straw thingy The Girl names George. One of the most beautiful spaces we have dined in. 

First Course

Cod Fish Ceviche with corn bread, 
onion, and cerefolium

Paired with 

White, Soalheiro Old Vinyerads, 2011, Vinhos Verdes 









Bright, light, and subtly meaty cod with touches of garlic and cilantro. Paired with a beautifully floral wine. Clean and subtle dish with balance and easy elegance. The Girl and I begin the smile that will last all night. The easy drinking Vinhos Verdes is now one of The Girl's favorites. 



Second Course

Grilled Scallop
w/ coral butter and chorizo vinaigrette

Same pairing










Have you ever had that one perfect bite? That one, simple dish that you could spend the rest of your life reflecting on? For The Girl, this may be it. Using her fork to cut her scallop in ever smaller pieces, allowing her to linger over each bite. This perfectly cooked scallop, with a the unique flavor profile, paired with the wine show notes of smoke and bourbon. End result is a truly magnificent dish.



Third Course

Veal Terrine
w/ port wine sauce and fennel seed



Paired with


Sparkling, Vertice Millessime, 2007, Douro 








This ultra creamy and decadent terrine has rich, deep flavor. Constancy is perfect, and the port wine sauce adds a sweet note that mellows the taste. Combined with the sparkling wine, the effect is rich and cool, and both of us make short work of our dishes.




Fourth Course

Sea Bass
w/ quail egg and salicórnia and traditional Acorda


Same Pairing 










First let me address the acorda. This traditional side dish is made from bread and fish stock, almost like a bread soup. The constancy is similar to mashed sweet potatoes. The taste is divine. The fish is expertly done, skin crisp, temperature perfect. The char of the green onion gives a backbone to the dish. The Girl is surprised; she likes charred green onions.



Fifth Course

Octopus
w/ baby onions and tomatoes in port wine sauce
aka The source of The Girl's nightmares

Paired with


Red, Conceito Bastardo, 2010, Douro 










Watching the look of surprise develop on The Girl's face was well worth the price of admission. An octopus tentacle, done properly, is tender and mild, with a brine flavor that is refreshing. The only complaint would be a wish for more of the delightful sauce, nearly a caramel. 



Sixth Course

Veal
w/Bone marrow and wild mushroom sauce, black truffle



Paired with


Red, Quinta do Mouro, 2006, Alentejo 









See Second course. Change out The Girl for me. Cry when plate is empty.




Cheese Course

Cheeses from South, Central, and North Portugal
Goat, w/herb syrups


Same pairing







This course was fantastic for me. The Girl DOES NOT LIKE GOAT CHEESE!!!!! I love it. So, six slices of beautiful cheeses, beginning with a soft brie-like cheese with a coriander sage syrup. Moving to a slightly firmer cheese with roast paprika and parsley. The final cheese, with a nice firmness, and a vinegar and thyme syrup




Pre dessert

Ricotta cheese with pumpkin jam
carbonated candy



Paired with 


Porto, Krhon Harvest de 83, Douro 








Fun. This dish is fun. And so tasty. Every bite delicious and creamy. The Port......Truly amazing. This may not be a '61 but what beauty and depth.




Dessert

Chestnut cake


Same pairing













I wish I could tell you what this tasted like. I truly do. But there was NO WAY IN HELL either of us would be getting another bite down. Just not happening. Somewhere among all of this, we had a champagne toast and 12 raisins in the Portuguese tradition and made friends with those around us. We compared notes and shared in our marvel of the dinner this talented staff sent out.



.........But wait.....There is more to the story. How can that be? Well, it is now two AM and we need to get back to our hotel in city center. We call for our cab. And we wait. And we wait. And we wait. Finally, the owner grabs his keys and says, "Let's go!" He would just take us back himself. Turns out this isn't so out of character in Portugal. Need directions? Don't be surprised if the person you asks just stops what they are doing and takes you there. Oh Portugal, you GET hospitality!


I have spent two weeks reflecting on this meal. I wanted some distance to see how it would look in retrospect. I try not to gush, or be overly bombastic, to temper my reviews knowing that every experience may differ. Here are our feelings: O Paparico deserves to be recognized as one of the most incredible dining experiences on Earth. Michelin Stars WILL be in their future. Portugal, long overlooked for both it's food and wine, will soon be a major player on the international food scene. This restaurant will be in the forefront.



The Scores:
Ambiance- 5/5
Food- 10/10
Service- 5/5
Value- 5/5
Overall: 25/25 A Mind-blowing, once in-a-lifetime gastronomical experience that will leave you weak in the knees
                                         . 


06 January 2013

2012: A Foodmantic Odyssey

Well, another year in the books, time to look back and give some Foodmancing awards to our favorites in the Greater Charleston area:


Best Summerville Restaurant:

Perfectly Frank's - The little hot dog joint that could keeps on chugging with a diverse and exciting menu.

Best North Charleston Restaurant:

Cork Neighborhood Bistro - The Girl's favorite shrimp & grits keeps this restaurant at the top of North Chuck dining.

Best West Ashley Restaurant: 

Riso Noodle House - The Asian-German fusion, combined with the pictorial secret Chinese menu, make this strip mall restaurant tops in West Ashley.

Best John's Island Restaurant: 

Angel Oak - The fried chicken alone makes the trip worthwhile, but the entire menu is loaded with favorites.

Best Mt. Pleasant Restaurant:

The Girl has told me we don't go to that side of the bridge enough to make a legitimate decision.

Best Folly Beach Restaurant:

The 'Wich Doctor - From the noodle of the day, to a pork belly sandwich the size of your face, the eclectic and inspired (and cheap) menu will blow you away.

Best James Island Restaurant:

The Lot - We may have lost El Bohio, but the farm-to-table excellence that replaces it makes the world a little sunnier.

Best Charleston Restaurant Under $20:

Co Restaurant - The Vietnamese inspired fare (especially the pork belly buns) will take you straight to happy town.

Best Charleston Restaurant Over $20:

The MacIntosh - Chef Bacon's King Street masterpiece always brings the flavors.

Best Food Truck: 

AutoBanh - The Curry Tofu. Nuff said.

Best Food Trend:

Asian Invasion - From Banh Mi to Vietnamese to Southeast Asian street food, Charleston is finally getting the ethnic diversity it deserves.

Best Chef 2012:

Jeremy Holst, Anson - We trust in this man, and all that he does. So should you.

Best New Restaurant:

Co Restaurant - The Girl truly madly deeply loves everything they do.

Saddest Closing:

The Woodlands - The Summerville institution, and perennial 5 Star, was sold and shuttered in a move that absolutely disgusts me. BOOOOO!

The Ultimate Frankenmeal

This is a five-course tasting menu designed by The Girl. The courses are selected from different restaurants to show you what her ultimate dinner would be.

Amuse

Scallops at The MacIntosh (Or anywhere Chef Bacon makes them). Best scallops in town. Period.

Appetizer

Pimento Cheese at Anson

Fish Course

Fish of the day with grits at Anson (seeing a trend?)

Meat Course:

The Deckle at The MacIntosh

Side Dish:

Lobster Mac & Cheese at Oak Steakhouse

Dessert:

Creme Brûlée at Circa 1886


Thank you so much to everyone that made 2012 such an incredible year. The local farmers, incredible chefs, supportive friends, you my wonderful readers and most importantly The Girl for putting up with me for yet another year. I wish you all Good Dinning in 2013!





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