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20 May 2012

Tonight's Episode: The Girl's Birthday, a Play in 3 Acts

Thank you for indulging me as I play at a play, just for fun......

Act 1: The Romantic Intrigue

Setting: Oak Steakhouse, Broad Street

In a dark and rich room, full of heavy wood beams and dark brick, lit by flickering candlelight we find our protagonists, staring into each other's eyes, glasses of Argentinian Malbec held loosely in their hands

Enter the Waitress with the amuse, smoked trout, delicate and light with an umtpus flavor

The plate is quickly dispatched, our heroes appetites barely whet

The Waitress, antagonist of this act, sets before our intrepid duo entrées, daring them to do battle. Grasping their forks and knives, off to war they go. The Girl faces a fearsome plate of scallops, while her valiant knight does battle with 29 gargantuan ounces of ribeye

Her champions defeated, The Waitress concedes defeat, and pays tribute to our Hero and Heroine with cakes of chocolate and cakes of cheese

Act 2: Seeking a Master for Guidance

Setting: Iacofano's, a modern Italian bistro in an unassuming strip mall

Enter The Master. He imparts his wisdom and knowledge, teaching our brave couple the ancient art of pulling mozzarella

Our heroes are not alone, though. Joining them are Deal Mavin GoLightly's trusted aide, GoPher, and her trusty sidekick, Instagramless. The four listen with rapt attention, gaining ancient wisdom, then feasting on traditional Italian fare, with wine overflowing their chalices. The evening culminates with the four wondrous desserts of old

Act 3: An Operatic Conclusion

Setting: Anson Restaurant, a study in Nuevo French classical elegance. Dim and vibrant, with an energy that can be felt by all

Enter our Heroes, accompanied by a retinue of 16 celebrants, among whom is year another celebrating the day of her birth Venus de Nennifer.

The Chorus: These rolls of cheese, resplendent meat, how grand are thee!

The Girl: But what is this you lay before me? Is it a smorgasbord of meat?

The Kickball Pelé: This waffle, this egg, this meat....Breakfast it may be, but it is AHHH-MAY-ZING!

The Boy: Paté I love thee

Mr. Heed: Damn that name but it is TAY-STEE

The Chorus: Look at our meals! So Beautiful! So Fantastic!

The Boy: Never in the world has grouper ever tasted so perfect!

The Chorus: Come Maestro take your bow!

Maestro Jeremy: It is not about me, just happy to please such a wonderful family!

Desserts are shared, wine is passed, victory is declared!

Retire now our two Heroes, to their castle, to share their love forever and always

Curtains Fall

15 May 2012

Tonight's Episode: Banh Maniac UPDATED

They roam the streets, day and night. They search high and low, seeking out their targets. When they finally find the perfect spot, they camp out and wait for the unsuspecting people to stumble upon them. I mean Food Trucks, of course.

Charleston has seen a real Food Truck Renaissance the last two years, with some real winners such as Hello, My Name is BBQ, Strada Cucina, and Roti Rolls (check out Charleston Food Truck Federation for more). The newest edition to the family is AutoBanh, a Banh Mi truck. Banh Mi is the Vietnamese street food, and current Charleston up-and-comer, that blends French and Asian cuisine into a hand-held flavor bomb. With Butcher & Bee and Co both featuring the sandwich on their menu, I was excited to see how this one stacked up.

Whats big and purple and full of Yum?

So off their current menu of 4 sandwiches (With more promised to come) I went with the Grilled then Fried Garlic Pork (All Sandwiches $7). This comes on a 7"Normandy Farms baguette that is dug out to get the bread-to-awesome ratio in line, topped with pickled carrot and daikon slaw, spicy sriracha garlic mayo, cilantro, jalapeño, and what tastes like a very mild nuoc cham. The balance of flavor was fantastic! Bright, sweet and salty at the same time, with the pork retaining a nice crispness. If that is nuoc cham, I would prefer more of it as I am a fish sauce fanatic. The jalapeño and Sriracha mayo provide such little heat that I almost thought I had been ripped off on that point, so if you are spice adverse don't worry, it is mild. My one complaint was that the roll was a lithe too dug out, and split on me, making for a little bit of a mess

Grab extra napkins, just n case

For a side I grabbed one of the local shrimp spring rolls ($3 for one, $5 for two). This is a true, traditional Vietnamese spring roll, no grease need apply as these are not fried. In the heat, sitting on the tailgate of Alfred the Rover, this was a refreshing and bright bite, and would be wonderful for a party tray.

Perhaps my favorite part of the meal was the Vietnamese iced coffee ($3). This sweet and mild concoction is usually made with condensed milk, which eliminates any bitter taste. I would buy this by the jug, and I am confident it would make a great Vietnamese-Irish Coffee.

The Girl is down with serious crude, so she couldn't come with me this time, but she promises to give it a try and weigh in on the newest member of the rolling food army.

So finally took The Girl and she had the Crispy Chicken with Sriracha Glaze, and she LOOOOOVED it. My new favorite is the Curry Tofu....OMG. Autobanh is my New Crack. Sorry Crack Classic, we had a good run.

The Scores (Food Truck Rating System:
Facebook/Twitter location updating: 3/5 (No Twitter yet) 
Food: 7.5/10
Ease of spotting the Truck: 4/5
Selection: 3/5
Price: 4/5
Overall: 21 out of 30 Tasty street food begging for more spice

Autobanh Food Truck on Urbanspoon

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

Interlude: I give up my Man Card

So The Girl's birthday was coming up. What did she want? Simple tastes, thankfully. Just a hair cut and pedicure from her favorite spa. I've never understood the appeal of the pedicure. Why would anyone take time out of their day to have a stranger mangle your feet? Why would you want a stranger touching your feet PERIOD? You know what, screw it, I need to see for myself. That's right kids, this has nothing to do with food. It is all about me getting a Manly Pedi.

Before I set off on this mission of metrosexual pampering, I took to my Twitter account (@Foodmancing) to run a poll of my faithful Twitterati as to the acceptance of men in the Pedibaths. WCIV's Laura Harris promised me it wouldn't be submitting myself to the Spanish Inquisition. I had my doubts, but off I went like Daniel into the lion's den.

The Girl took me to Bellezza in West Ashley. We are greeted by a charming young lady, and The Girl is whisked away for her trim. I am left to amuse myself in the waiting area.

5:30-5:35 pm: Thumb through Southern Living, learn how to lay out the perfect Derby Day spread

5:35-5:41 pm: Play solitaire on my iPhone, wonder why I never get the Two of Clubs when I need it

5:41-5:52 pm: Check ESPN Fantasy Baseball to see if Zimmerman is coming off the DL yet

5:52-5:57 pm: Re-deal solitaire until I get three Aces to start, fail to win game

5:57-6:05 pm: Find out Ben and Courtney are still engaged

6:05-6:08 pm: Search web to find out who Ben and Courtney are

6:08-6:15 pm: Thumb through Southern Living, find the ways that their Derby Day spread is flawed

6:15-6:30 pm: Engage in staring contest with Victoria Beckham, claim moral victory

FINALLY The Girl comes bouncing through with a fun new do. Yup, she got her hair done did, and it's fun and flirty, and I am way too engaged in her hair at this point due to shear boredom.

Her stylist, Dime (Think Penny from Big Bang Theory, with only half the ditz) leads us to the Throne Room. I lose my Top Siders, roll up my linen pants, and climb up onto a chair that looks equal parts Captain Kirk's command chair and ancient Chinese water-torture device. The lovely Dime starts up the Jacuzzi jets as I sink my battered and mangled feet into the hot water. Next thing I know I have a glass of wine in one hand, and what is left of my masculine self-respect in the other. Oh who cares, PAMPER ME!

The process in someways is very relaxing. The scrubbing of the scales on my heels lulls me to near catatonic trance. Then she clipped my nails (which was odd) and began filing my nails (CREEPY), then more scrubbys, followed by a foot and calf massage (Lubbly!).

After she pats my feet dry I feel light, almost bouncy. Sure, I may have forfeited all claims to masculinity, but damn my tootsies feel good. First day of The Girl's Birthday bash ends with me having pretty feet and buffed toes. I do believe I might just make it back before my feet look like Frodo's.  Just don't expect me to start watching Real Housewives or debating the merits of Dooney vs Coach.


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