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21 December 2012

Tonight's Episode: Park yourself in Flavor Town

James Island has long suffered a lack of credible restaurants. With so many farms so close you would expect a few strong farm-to-table joints with a talented back of house. Sadly, finding a chef-driven meal is pretty hard. Into that void comes Chef Alex Lira and his baby The Lot.

Located on Maybank Highway, adjoined to The Pour House (in the space that housed the sadly departed El Bohio) The Lot is a total immersion introduction to farm-fresh menu planning. There is a small bar menu that stays static, but the main menu changes constantly based on what Chef Alex receives from his suppliers such as MiBek and Caw Caw farms.

This post will cover two trips, partly to get more dishes in, partly because I botched most of my photos. First trip out was myself, The Girl, and Captain Awesome. The decor is warm and slightly retro in a VERY eclectic way.  The Girl and I both ADORE the music (lots of James Brown, early Motown). But be warned, when the band does sound check or plays (later in the night), it can get loud.

When you get to the white paper covered tables, your waiter will write out the menu while explaining each dish. This is a slow process and with the constant changes can lead to extended pauses. Bare with it, though, as you get great information. 

Captain Awesome went with the house made cavatelli. I also had this dish tonight,(our second trip) which came with lardo and an egg over the top. I don't know how to describe the incredible flavors built into this dish. The pasta has that beautiful toothiness you want from this handmade pasta. The lardo and shaved parm have a nice nutty flavor and blend beautifully with the egg. This dish is filling without being at all heavy.

The Girl went with the always on the menu MiBek Farms burger, both times. A wonderful medium rare burger, tasty as hell. The second time the seasoning was just slightly less wonderful, still a great burger but not as great. The real star, however, are the fries. Cut between thin and steakhouse, they are crisp and perfectly seasoned. On the bar menu is the Canadian classic poutine, which features fries, gravy, and cheese curds. I can't wait to try it.

For myself, during our first visit, I had the braised chicken leg with field peas in a baked bean style. Tender and juicy, and perfectly cooked all the way to the bone. I can't do this dish justice at all. Just flat-out delicious. 

Also during our first visit, we opted to dessert share since there were three of us.  The first of the two desserts we went with was a crêpe. This crêpe was filled with apples cooked in apple pie style, then creamed smooth. WOOOOOOOOW. What the heck! This thing is amazing! The Girl and I were fighting forks over this one.

The other dessert was a simple chocolate torte. Simple it may be, but that does not take anything away from the amazing flavor.  Captain Awesome and I were fighting forks over this one.  Thankfully, the ladies did let me have a few bites.

Tonight, The Girl suggested our return trip. She so rarely suggests a restaurant. That, to me, speaks volumes about the excellence of execution Chef Alex is brining to the table. The only negative that I have found so far is the portions of the entree. They are rationale sized, which means smaller than the two-meal portions you get at most restaurants. That being said The Lot, as of this moment, and by a large margin, is the best restaurant on James Island.

The Scores:
Ambiance 3/5
Food 9/10
Service 4/5
Value 4/5

Overall: 20 out of 25 Well executed farm-to-table fresh food that blows away the competition on James Island, though with the occasional headache-inducing band next door. 
The Lot on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Candied Bacon and Pear Pizza

Okay, so The Girl was having a ladies night and wanted some good eats. We had some pears on hand, and some pizza crust, so from that we get this tasty sweet pizza good for any occasion:

Makes 10-12 appetizer servings

5 slices bacon (Thin sliced works best)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon Ancho Chili pepper
2 Bartlett pears, sliced into strips and cored
1 teaspoon lemon juice
8 oz tub cream cheese
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 teaspoon Coconut nectar or agave
1 teaspoon dried lemongrass
1 12 inch Thin crust pizza shell
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh basil


Preheat to 400 F. Take a baking pan, line with aluminum foil, and grease with cooking spray. Lay out your bacon so they lay edge-to-edge. In a bowl mix the brown sugar and chili pepper. Coat the bacon liberally. Bake until brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside on a plate. DO NOT PLACE ON A PAPER TOWEL!!!!

At this time, if you intend to cook the pizza in the oven increase the temp to 450 F. I use a granite pizza stone on a grill. If you have a stone/grill option, fire it up to high and let it roll.

Using a small glass bowl toss the pear slices and lemon juice. Cover and place in the fridge.

Using a medium bowl combine cream cheese, green onions, coconut nectar, and dried lemongrass. Place pizza shell on clean baking sheet (Or peel if using grill). Spread cream cheese mixture out on the crust, take almost to the very edge of  the crust. Dice the bacon and distribute evenly. Add pears on top of the bacon. Finish it off with feta and pecans.

Bake 10-14 minutes. Add the basil around 8 minutes in. Feta cheese should just begin to brown. Cut into bite-size squares and enjoy!

07 December 2012

Tonight's Episode: Take a Peek behind the Green Door

Oh where to begin with this one. Should we start with the fact one of Charleston's most beloved food trucks (Roti Rolls) has decided to open a brick-and-mortar location? Or should we begin at the location, the storage room/pool room in the back of Charleston's dive-iest dive bar (Big John's Tavern)? Or should I start with the fact that "eat the eyeball" was said during the chef?

Guess I should back up to the beginning. First there was nothing. Then a big bang created the universe. Then Chef Cory created Roti Rolls food truck. And on the fourth day he devised The Green Door, an ultra funky street food joint filling the extra space of the cheapest place to drink. The Girl and I were lucky enough to score seats at the preview pop-up dinner to see what magic he would create. (Special note: these dishes are only representative of his style and are not guaranteed to be on the final, changeable menu.)

The dinner had a cocktail/wine pairing that we did not opt for (I was still recovering from the previous night, The Girl kept it real with PBR). First up was what in my mind is the ULTIMATE bar food: spiced chickpeas. The spicing is deft and well balanced, and the chickpeas have a pleasant crunch to them. I would sit on the couch and eat these by the bucket full. The Girl thought they were amazing, and DEMANDS that they become a permanent part of the menu. Even with her distaste for spicy, these hit the mark DEAD ON.

The next course was a crudo of local porgy with spiced chilled noodles. The light, bright fish stands up well to the spice on the noodle, with fresh citrus notes, but it could have been colder.

Next up was a curried pumpkin & butternut squash soup with cilantro-ginger yoghurt, with a beautiful little bacon biscuit dropped in the center. The biscuit/bun/whatever it is was freaking delicious, the soup the perfect temperature. The flavor: amazing. There is a good heat of spice on it, but the flavor is so deep and rich The Girl keeps eating until her lips hurt. That means it is a 3 out of 10 on the spicy scale.

Now we get to a fun idea, the to-go salad. Take a Mason jar. Put dressing in the bottom. Add ingredients. Shake and eat with a spork. Return the jar for a discount on your next order. Genius. This one was a fantastic little arugula and pickled beet salad. Fresh, light, and beautiful.

Next is the scary dish for most everyone. This is the dish The Girl has a hard time even looking at. Fish head curry with roti paratha. This is the whole head of the porgy in a beautiful curry. The fish is flaky and light, though I wish the curry had more heat. To me a fish head curry should hurt. This would be the point where Chef Cory comes out to talk the crowd into eating the eyeballs. My recommendation, if you have an issue with texture, then DON'T DO IT.

Now we get to the dish I was most looking forward to - braised MiBek beef tongue, quail egg, grits and kimchi. Sadly, this was the least successful, but only from an easily fixed execution mistake. If you have never had tongue, it is the most umptious...tender....flavorful piece of meat you will find. In this preparation they are treated like short ribs, slow braised in what SHOULD be a beautiful pan sauce. Sadly, it is over reduced and too salty. The Girl and I are both sad for how close this was to a brilliant dish.

To end the dinner we get buffet inspired Chinese donuts with a strawberry sriracha glaze. The sweet and the heat compliment each other so well. The Girl was beyond happy with these as the finishing touch to the meal.

So, what have we learned today? First, Chef Cory has found more balance with his spicy heat than I expected. Two, The Girl draws the line at food that looks at her. Three, now there is a reason to go to Big John's other than really cheap booze. Four, since The Green Door will be open til 2 am we all have a new place to chow down well at the end of the night!

The Scores
Ambiance: 3.5/5 (Though we love the design, and love it being in a dive bar, it isn't for everyone)
Food: 9/10
Service: 5/5
Value: To be determined
Overall: Will have to update when they open for business

The Green Door on Urbanspoon

16 November 2012

Tonight's Episode: You have to DishCrawl before you walk

I hate opening night. Having opened restaurants and seeing from that end the growing pains, I try not to be judgmental. Execution can vary, communication can be spotty, the rhythm of the kitchen hasn't developed yet. This fear of opening night tempered my expectations for the first ever Charleston DishCrawl. There were hits and misses, and some outright drops, but I think there is an opportunity here, if properly executed.

DishCrawl is a concept that has evolved from the growing culinary scenes in larger cities around the country. An opportunity to go from restaurant to restaurant, pub crawl style, to try smaller bite versions of signature dishes and meet with the culinary minds behind them. Very much in the style of a progressive dinner. At least thats how it is supposed to work.

Joining The Girl and I is the Birdwatcher, who was excited to explore some places she had never been. We started the night at the venerable Carolina's.  This upscale southern bistro harkens back to long-time favorite Perdita's, even featuring some of the original menu items. Now, I have to admit I haven't been in this restaurant since my good friend Chef Gavin was the exec there (he was already in New York by the time he won a season 1 episode of Chopped). I don't remember it looking so upscale or so well appointed. The space is actually very lovely, but things unraveled fast.

The missteps that would plague the first stop were all organizational. No direction was given on, well, what was going on. People mingled, people sat, people ordered drinks. Out comes two tables worth of food. People stared, afraid of what to do. Would every table get food? Finally, word was passed to go to the tables and take as you will. No description, no chef, no explanation. So, it was up to us to decide what we were eating.
The first of the three dishes was an open faced Rueben, we think. It was tasty, with a nice pickle and a tasty pastrami (we think). Nothing inspired, but tasty. Next was a homemade potato chip with Onion dip maybe? The photographer from Art Institute and I had a spoon licking competition to try and identify the flavors. The dip itself was actually tasty, with an almost relish quality to it. Toss that on some hotdogs and I'd be happy. The chips were crispy, which I love, but so salty and thin they overpowered the little bit of dip you could get on them. The third app was a hush puppy that had some sauces that we were not able to get to. The bite was nice, very sweet, but lacked a textural element such as corn or bell pepper that would break up the monotony of the puppy. Overall, nothing said "You need to come back." We were ready to move on

Next up, 'Cesca, the Italian trattoria filling the old Buccaneer (or City Bar) space. The interior is actually very attractive. The main dining room is very elegant and an example at how far the design in Italian restaurants has come from the cheesy portraits of the Italian countryside. 'Cesca was a little better organized, with tables ready for you to grab plates and go, but the food was a little cold. Also, again, no one to come out and explain what we were eating. So, the first dish was some kind of fritter. I'm sure there was cheese involved. If hot, I think it would have been fantastic. The second dish, The Girl's least favorite of the night, was a ravioli with goat cheese maybe? The filling was actually pretty good to me, but the pasta was cold and the olive oil was super aggressive, not only making it greasy but covering most of the plate. The oil also made it difficult to eat the third dish, a crudo of salmon? The oil made the lettuce leaf useless and also stole the brightness of the fish (a dish I really wanted to like). Overall you could see the flavors, but early plating and arranging the overuse of oil doomed the dishes. We will have to make a trip in to do a seated dinner to better judge 'Cesca.

Third stop was the one I had the least amount of hope for. Lowcountry Bistro comes from the 82 Queen family. It's location on the Market (In the old Garibaldi's) and its menu of Southern staples seemed aimed at the black sock-and sandal tourist crowd. If they had crow on the menu, I would eat it. Expectations were not only surpassed, they were blown away. The truth of Lowcountry Bistro is that it is a love letter to Southern ingredients. The care of preparation, and the focus on the beauty of the ingredients, shines through. It is that ingredient-driven cuisine that gets my heart pumping.

The experience at Lowcountry Bistro is what we were promised DishCrawl would be. Sous Chef Victoria (engaging and passionate advocate of locally sourced produce) came out to explain her dishes, which were delivered hot to the table. What wonderful dishes they were!

First up, the shrimp and grits. Parmesan chive grits with a tomato bacon sauce make a strong dish start. Luckily we started there, because the next two dishes were the favorites of the night. The Girl's favorite was the fried green tomato with white cheddar and country ham grits with herb aioli. The grits were actually a star on their own (even given my own hatred for them), showing yet again that hand milled is the way to go. The tomato was perfectly breaded and seasoned, and every bite held together without loss of breading. Five star take on a classic. For myself, the chicken and waffle was the star. A sweet potato bacon cornbread waffle with crispy chicken and a bourbon reduction that hit on every mark. The pecan butter didn't work on this smaller portion (lacked enough waffle to spread/melt) but was very tasty. The bourbon reduction is a decadent and delicious syrup that beats the pants off of Mrs. Butterworth. Home runs across the board. It is also about this time in the DishCrawl the socializing really found its stride, as people began making friends. I think everyone was finally getting into it.

We finished out the night where I've finished many nights downtown, Kaminsky's , for one of their typically delicious deserts. Like LB's before, they had tables set up for us and someone to explain what we were having. This time it was an apple-cranberry strudel crisp with vanilla bean ice cream and apple cider. This would have fallen flat if not for the tart of the cranberry. The cranberry ABSOLUTELY sells the dish. The portion was actually well more than enough to feed two. Excellent way to end the evening.

The Girl, the Birdwatcher, and I agree that there is potential here. The issue is both organizational and expectational. I'm not sure what, exactly, Carolina's and 'Cesca were expecting, but it wasn't what we were expecting. There also needs to be a firm hand guiding and informing us from the very beginning. I would be interested in seeing how things are working 3 months from now, and if the kinks have been worked out.

23 October 2012

Recipe: Low Cal, no Carb Shrimp Stir Fry

As I go through the HCG diet, I have been looking for more ways to pack flavor into my meals. Going off the recipe book I was given, I knew there was no way I could keep on this diet. Boiled chicken just ain't my bag. So, here is the first of my HCG meals.

This recipe is built for a 1 person serving on the HCG diet. This recipe actually gives a full enough serving that I wouldn't alter portions once I am off the diet plan


3.5 oz Shrimp (about 7 large shrimp)
1 cup shredded cabbage (I use the coleslaw cut pre-bagged to save time)
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup diced shallot or onion
2 Cloves diced garlic
1 inch of fresh ginger, grated
1/2 bag Miracle Noodles Rice
1 Egg
Braggs Liquid Aminos
Ground dried lemongrass
Huy Fong Garlic Chili Sauce (Optional)
Diced Scallions (garnish)
1 pinch Salt
Total Calories: 224

1st empty the Miracle Noodles into a colander, rinse thoroughly to remove any smell, pat dry, place in a bowl, and toss with 2 Tablespoons Liquid Aminos. Quarter the shrimp, place in a separate bowl, toss with 1 tablespoon of Liquid Aminos and 1/2 tablespoon lemongrass.

In a wok or large skillet add two tablespoons coconut oil (Or coat with coconut spray). Once heated add shallots, bell pepper, and ginger. Stir fry for about a minute until fragrant. Add cabbage and pinch of salt. Stir fry until cabbage is tender and wilted, about 8 min. Remove mixture to a bowl, and wipe wok dry with paper towel.

Add more oil to wok. Toss in garlic and sauté gently. Add shrimp, cook 2-3 minuets until pink. Set aside in bowl with the veggies.

Crack the egg into the center of the wok, scrambling gently. Toss in the Miracle Noodles, mix thoroughly. Add back in veggies and shrimp. At this time if you are not on the HCG protocol you can add in peas if you wish. If adding Chili sauce, do so now. Season with Liquid Aminos, and heat through.

Serve with diced scallions as garnish (and peanuts if not on diet) and enjoy

19 October 2012

Win Tickets to Charleston's first DishCrawl

Have you ever heard of DishCrawl? The concept is like a Pub Crawl, except you move from restaurant to restaurant, sampling dishes, meeting new friends, and chatting with great Chefs and owners. Wednesday, Nov 14th will be Charleston's first DishCrawl, working it's way up East Bay, to restaurants that will be revealed 2 days before the event. The Cost: $39........Unless you win a pair of tix from Foodmancing The Girl. 

Here is the contest: The first one two answer the three questions below correctly will be put on the list for DishCrawl Charleston's Inaugural event, Wednesday, Nov 14th. The event begins at 7pm. Please only respond if you are certain you can attend. You can find all the answers simply by perusing the blog.

Question 1) What is the name of the Celebrity Cook-Book Author and Next Iron Chef Judge whom The Girl and I dined with at Anson?

Question 2) What is the name of the Chicago restaurant that blew me away with a 20 course Molecular Gastronomy dinner that included such treats as an edible Cuban Cigar and an ACME bomb?

Question 3) In the First Ever Charleston Food Blogger Awards, what restaurant took home the prize for Downtown's Best American Food?

There you have it. 3 questions, first to answer wins a night to remember.

AND WE HAVE A WINNER!!!! Congrats to Virginia for winning a night to remember! #chseats

27 September 2012

Tonight's Episode: I'd Stick With the Pig if it Was Like THIS

With The Grocery, Chef Kevin Johnson's north King St eatery, Charleston has yet another example of a brilliant chef with a firm grasp of seasonal, fresh, local ingredients. This isn't news to anyone who remembers him from his days at the helm of Anson, but I must admit being shocked at how much I enjoyed his cooking.

For the space, Chef Johnson has renovated the old Altman Furniture store at the corner of King and Cannon. The space has been divided into more intimate areas, though it is a study in minimalist restraint. No embellishment to clutter the space. The entirety of the decoration consists of the original floor safe at the front door, and the canned and pickled produce made in house lining the wall. The effect is pleasant without being distracting.

For this trip, enjoying the benefit of the 3 for $30 Restaurant Week menu, The Girl and I have a couple of guests. First is her sorority sister and longtime friend The Birdwatcher. Second is new friend, and Los Angeles's own Foodess. She has left the Big City for some decompression and gluttony here in the Low Country, and we figured this was a good place to start.

The way the regular menu is set up needs a little mention. They have snacks which are best shared among everyone; bites which are more like small apps; tastes which are either large apps or small entrees; plates which are traditional entrees; and table....which are for the table. We split both the crispy pimento cheese bites (served on melted coke bottles) and a charred onion dip with kettle chips that has to be the best junk food ever.

The Birdwatcher started with a Shaved Squash Salad, with cherry tomatoes, pecorino, pine nuts, and crispy blossom. Overall a well-balanced, composed and light dish. Both The Girl and The Foodess went with the Ricotta-Herb gnocchi with wood roasted tomato and green olive fondue. Pleasant and fluffy pillows in a lightly acidic red sauce that hits on all the marks.
I went with the Three Little Pigs meat board. If you like meat, order this. If you don't like meat, stop reading this Blog........sooooo, ordered it yet?

The Foodess and I both went with the tagliatelle pasta for our mains. Perfectly cooked pasta with house-made pancetta, topped with pecorino and a spot-on soft farm egg. Though delicious, this dish could have used a touch of red pepper to offset the richness.

The Girl and The Birdwatcher settled in on the Grass Fed Beef Pot Roast with summer farro salad. This is a perfectly executed dish. The grilled okra is a star, and so is the Bar-B-jus, a great sauce for a fork-tender piece of meat.

The deserts were both tasty, Peach tarte tatin for me, s'mores with house-made marshmallow for The Girl. Nothing inspiring, but very delightful.

All four of us found the entire meal to be fantastic. The service was spot-on, the dishes were well conceived and executed, and the entire setting promotes sharing and conversation. This may soon become one of our favorite spots, and we are excited to come back for the regular menu.

The Scores:
Ambiance: 4/5
Food: 8.5/10
Service: 5/5
Value: 4/5
Overall: 21.5 out of 25. A very inviting space with sharable, high-quality dishes. The Grocery on Urbanspoon

08 September 2012

Tonight's Episode: 1886 Reasons to love the Guerrilla

  If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook (which you should), then it is no surprise to you how much I love Chef Marc Collins's cooking. The dishes he turns out at Circa 1886 are always elegant, thoughtful, and balanced, blending local fresh ingredients with high-end technique. Getting a chance to see him at work during a Guerrilla Cuisine dinner was a no brainer!

If you haven't heard of Guerrilla Cuisine yet, go back and check out our first dinner here. Okay, you're back? Pretty cool, huh? Well this dinner not only has a great chef, but a great location, The Property Owners Beach House at Dunes West, on the Isle of Palms. There is something about eating fantastic food while watching the ocean lap at your doorstep that I find rather inviting.

Joining the Girl and I are two of our friends, Florida transplants Wife Thrilla from Manilla and Husband the Jellyfish Kid (picked the wrong sea creature to wrestle with), and it is their first Guerrilla rodeo. The four of us, and 20 more of Charleston's coolest people, wander about before the dinner, conversing, and taking turns glancing at the microscopic kitchen they would be working in. Think of the kitchen at your average Extended Stay Suites. Eesh, glad Chef Marc is talented, I could barley make popcorn in that kitchen.

The cramped quarters in no way cut into the quality of the dishes presented. Starting off with a Scallop Ceviche with mango noodles, and raspberries. The clean, bright, super refreshing taste make this a perfect summer dish. The use of mango as noodles was both fun and beautiful.

The second dish was mildly controversial at our end of the table. A Blue Potato Vichyssoise with smoked salmon caviar, goat cheese mouse, prosciutto, and blue potato crisp. All four of us agree the grey color that it came out was a little odd. I, personally, would have played with that more, maybe finishing with some black sea salt. Some of the others found it off-putting. The Girl and I both enjoyed the dish, especially the interplay of the smoke on the caviar with the goat cheese.  Thrilla did not care for the fact it was a cold soup. I blame her lack of faith in cold soups on the schools, failing our children again.

For the third course out comes a Braised Chicken Thigh with Carolina Gold broken rice, chantrelle mushrooms, and a cherry coulis. This was the consensus best dish. The rice almost had a rice-pudding quality to it The bone-in chicken was succulent and paired with the cherry coulis it was beyond delicious. The best part, however, were the mushrooms. Heaven on a plate. If I was still having trouble convincing The Girl to like mushrooms, all I would need to do is give her these.

For the final meat dish, Chef Marc sends out a sous-vide tenderloin with hollandaise grits, and a red wine reduction. If you are not familiar with the sous-vide technique, it is a method that originated in Paris by which you cook food in vacuum sealed bags, in water, at a constant and lower-than-normal temperature. When done right you are able to perfectly season, and perfectly cook, the meat. Chef Marc does it right every time. The meat is tender and rich, with a beautiful mouthfeel. For me the grits are amazing, and we all know how much I hate them. The Girl doth protest that the grits are too rich, and need to be cut so they don't overpower the dish. We stare at each other, knowing the other is wrong. Luckily desert comes before it turns ugly.

And what a desert it is. Imagine banana an ice cream sandwich.....the size of your face....with salted caramel.....and caramelized pop rocks (yes, the carbonated candy)....oh and there is a super-rich chocolate truffle, too. This may seem a simple dish, and since I suck at pastry it might be, but what it also happens to be is amazing. The entire table looks like a class of Fifth Graders as we eat our sandwiches. Bite, dip in caramel, dip in pop rocks, bite again. SOOOOO FUN!

19 August 2012

Tonight's Episode: A Foodmantic Anniversary, eh?

It has been one year since The Girl and I wed. 12 months. 365 Days. I couldn't be happier. Life is fantastic when shared with someone you truly love. To celebrate, we hopped on a plane for Montreal, that bastion of French culture and food. For the meal marking our year together, we chose Garde Manger, the always packed restaurant of the host of TV's Chuck's Day Off. Chuck Hughes, the tattooed rock star chef whose French inspired seafood lead him to become the first Canadian to top Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America in Battle Lobster, has established himself as a front-line culinary star.

Located in the Old Town of Montreal, Garde Manger is not only difficult to get a reservation for, it is difficult to find. Everything begins to hum along nicely once you are in the door. The space is beautiful, hip, and vibrant. The staff is professional but clearly having fun. And by fun, I mean this is the most relaxed, accessible atmosphere of any fine-dining restaurant I've ever been in. There is a definite reflection of the chef's personality, with the music pumping loudly and with a genre-jumping schizophrenia. From Beach Boys to Foster the People to NWA, don't expect to come here for a quiet evening.

Before I get into what we had, let me show you a couple things we didn't have. The first is the seafood platter. Pretty damn impressive, no? The second is the Lobster Poutine ($19). Garde Manger has their menu on a chalkboard, reflecting the constantly changing dishes, but this is a standard. A take on the classic of fries, gravy, and cheese curds, made instead with a lobster gravy, topped with more lobster. Wish I had a bigger stomach to include it in our dinner.

Before the meal I had one of their specialty drinks. No, not the caesar which comes garnished with crab legs. I had a blueberry Manhattan that was refreshing and bright, and not too sweet.

Okay, enough with the teasing and on to our meals. After a half dozen oysters on the half shell (with the best mignonette I've ever had), I let our incredible server Maude talk me into the Jerk Crab ($29) (a Chef Hughes favorite). The heat level on these crabs is very high, but the jerk flavor is deep and resonant. The hard work and dirty hands are SOOOOO worth it.

For her starter, The Girl went with what may have been the dish of the night, the Salmon Tartare ($17). So light and bright, with beautiful citrus notes, cubed into larger pieces than I am used to in a tartare. The Girl attacked it with such relish that you would hardly know how much she hated fish a few scant years ago. In all honesty, both of us could have been happy just eating on this dish.

My main was delicious, though I found the plating somewhat hap-hazard. Skate wing lightly fried with a fennel salad ($28). Very light and buttery, a beautiful summer dish. If you have never had skate, it is very mild and reminiscent of sole, and accepts flavor beautifully.

The Girl's dish was NOT Lobster Risotto. That is what I thought it said. Turns out I'm short a few words of French. What it was: Rock Shrimp Risotto ($36). Turns out rock shrimp taste....just like lobster, lucky me. This was a decadent and rich dish, though Chef Hughes prefers his risotto a little more toothsome than we are used to. Still a fantastic dish, with beautifully layered flavors.

For desert we stayed away from the inspired, and went with the just plain yummy, a deep-fried Mars bar with ice cream. The State Fair inspired dish is warm, gooey, and satisfying in a whimsical manner.

After Maude cleared the table she took us into the open kitchen for a picture, capping the evening. I can not stress how much FUN we had, to go along with the fantastic food. My only complaint has to be the plating, which just didn't measure up to the quality of the ingredients, or the skill of the actual cooking. The Girl LOVED the dinner, and has agreed to stay with me another year. Guess I need to start planning the next anniversary meal right now.

The Scores:
Ambiance: 5/5 (as long as you love loud, very modern music)
Food: 9/10
Service: 5/5
Value: 3.5/5
Overall: 22.5 out of 25 A fantastic special occasion restaurant in the heart of Old Montreal

Garde Manger on Urbanspoon


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