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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!


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