High steppin' Lowcountry living is what High Cotton promises. The surroundings definitely deliver. With live jazz spilling out from the bar into the classic Charleston dinning room, the mood is quickly set. The rich dark woods, oversized palm-frond fans, and antique brickwork reinforce the casual elegance of the restaurant. The chef is already behind the 8-ball, having to live up to such a beautiful space.
To get ourselves even more in the mood, we quickly select our wines. For The Girl, who is in search of a very light wine, I select the Stella Pinot Grigio ($7). This mild white has a rich floral nose, with mild citrus and acidity, and a quick, clean finish. For myself, I went with the Paso Creek Cabernet ($9). This California red features a rich full body and tastes of cherry, jam, tobacco, and espresso. Very well balanced, and a wonderful finish.
With our late (9:45) dinner reservation, The Girl wasn't as hungry as usual, so we decided to split the appetizer from the 3 for $30 Restaurant week menu. We went with the Crispy Calamari with creole rémoulade and grilled lemon. Nothing exciting here, just rings of spot-on fried calamari. The rémoulade was very nice, but too little given the size of the rings. Overall a very tasty, if unoriginal, starter.
For entrées, I stuck with the Restaurant Week menu and went with the Duo of Beef. This plate consisted of braised short rib, carved tri-tip, chanterelle mushrooms, and an artichoke purée. The mushroom-purée combo form a delightfully rich side dish, and a solid counterpoint to the beef. The tri-tip was dead on mid-rare and buttery in texture. The star of the dish, however, was the braised short rib. This rib wasn't fork tender. It was Japanese steak house miso soup spoon tender. The smoky richness is offset by a slightly sweet, almost molasses flavor. What a winner!
The Girl went to the classic menu for Seared Scallops and Folly River Clams ($25) served with chorizo, cipollini onions, fingerling potatoes, and lemon saffron broth. If you have been an avid follower of this blog you will have realized by now that The Girl LOVES scallops. These scallops are perfectly prepared, seared just enough to give that nice outer texture while preserving the beauty of the natural raw flavor. The clams are plump and slightly briny, while picking up the lemon quite clearly. While I personally love the combination of the chorizo, scallops, and saffron, The Girl found it a little overwhelming. She gives it a B, and wouldn't order it again due to the bold flavors. She, and I, agree that if you enjoy your scallops with aggressive flavor this is a solid dish. If you are like The Girl, and prefer a lighter treatment, maybe you should skip it. (I personally give the dish a solid A-.)
For dessert The Girl steals my Créme Fraîche Cheesecake, with graham cracker crust and brandied cherries. This is a mild cheesecake without the richness normally associated with cheesecake. The brandied cherries give most of the sweetness, with a rich dark flavor. The graham cracker crust was okay, nothing spectacular. For my dessert, I went with the Grand Marnier Creme Brulée. This is served with a strawberry half, whipped cream, and a candied orange slice. The actual creme of the creme brulée isn't as firm as most, which is actually surprisingly nice. In all honesty I would pour that custard over my Wheaties and call it breakfast. The light orange liqueur flavor is a great palate cleanser. My only complaint is I would have preferred a more pronounced caramel crust.
High Cotton has a charm that extends its welcoming arms and takes you back to a idealized version of Charleston we all love to embrace. The food is a solid take on traditional Southern, nothing that pushes the boundaries of food, just elegant versions of comforting fare. What makes High Cotton worth the trip, and the bill, is the combination of the atmosphere, the service, and the property itself. This restaurant would make a great place to introduce someone to the Southern charm and hospitality that Charleston prides itself on.
Overall: 19.5/25 Southern charm and comforting dishes in a true Charlestonian restaurant
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