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24 March 2013

Tonight's Episode: My Last Supper

Work in the Food and Beverage industry long enough and there is one conversation that will inevitably arise. No, I don't mean "whoever said the customer is always right never met a customer", or "how the girl who orders a frozen margarita in the middle of a busy Friday service should be taken outside and shot" (though both are valid). It usually happens at the house of the new stodge, around 3am, after a few shots of Grand Ma. If you were on death row, and had one final meal, what would it be?

Apparently Chef Josh Keeler of Two Boroughs Larder and I attended the same after parties, because he nailed my meal.

Located on the line between Cannonborough and Elliotborough, the aforementioned pair of boroughs, Chef Keeler has been churning out the kind of meals that leave chefs weak in the knees. Focused on bringing the meals chefs want to eat, as opposed to what customers expect, Two Boroughs has won a loyal following in the F&B community, and has begun to see the national acclaim he deserves (see his recent semi-final nomination for a James Beard Award). It took me many months, but I finally convinced The Girl to pop in for dinner, to join in with The Foodess and our newest friend from the Twitterverse, Lady Samsonite.

The ever-changing menu features small and large plates, sides, noodle bowls, and breakfast sandwiches (The best scrapple around!). I highly recommend ordering as a table and passing plates around. That is the only way to avoid having your plate stolen during a bathroom break.

The Foodess picks the Tuna Conserva ($12) with shishito pepper and sofrito. This is a big-boy take on tuna salad, with an amazing balance of spice.

The Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($8) with salumi vinaigrette was a big hit for The Foodess and myself as well, though I think The Girl's Brussels sprouts aversion has reached manic proportions.

No, she would rather go with the Chicpea soup with prosciutto and dukkah. What a deep, rich, soup with rich flavor and the spice of the dukkah brings a balance that explains why The Girl tried to break my hand with her spoon when I went in for a second bite.

Speaking of prosciutto, Lady Samsonite's plate of Prosciutto Rosa ($11) with wild watercress and agrumato turned out to be a plate piled high with paper-thin slices of meat goodness that threatens to overwhelm you with thoughts of the Italian countryside.

The Foodess and The Girl both devoured the Wagyu Coulotte ($26) with sweet onion, Brussels sprouts, cape bean, and bordelaise (More sprouts for me!). The Girl loved how savory and rich the beans were, and how they held on to their firmness. The meat itself, well, perfection. No other word for it.

The Larder denotes more than just the food, but the provisions as well. From the Jack Rudy Cocktail mixers, to craft beers, local farm eggs, MEAT, SC milk, imported many great items for your pantry and for gifts.

Oh, yeah, my meal. Almost forgot.
Roasted Bone Marrow ($10) with turnip, chorizo, and herbs. The buttery, mineral rich taste of this 'butter of the Gods' is counterbalanced beautifully by the crispy chorizo. This is a simple dish, using what has long been discarded, and gives some of the richest flavors imaginable.

Which brings us to the second half of my Final supper, Fried Veal Sweetbreads ($22) w/jowl, beet, carrot, coffee, dukkah. No, sweetbreads are not monkey brains, they are the misunderstood mystery meat whose appeal lies in the creamy, sweet, juiciness and rich subtle flavors.

Yes, my final meal would be two types of offal, Bone Marrow and Sweetbreads. Chef Keeler delivers them with such aplomb, such deftness, that I am now truly scared that my days are numbered. The Girl, who finally overcame her fear of the menu, wishes they would expand beyond the few tables (maybe even move to James Island ::hint::hint::) but says you should get down there and see if you might have a new Last Supper.

The Scores:
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Food: 9/10
Service: 4/5
Value: 4/5
Overall: 19.5 out of 25, Your best chance to see what chefs want to eat Two Boroughs Larder on Urbanspoon

16 March 2013

Tonight's Episode: Charleston & Chicago, Paired Perfection

The highlight of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival for me is always the Perfectly Paired dinners. This event brings together local Charleston chefs with accomplished culinary masters from around the nation, and bring in wineries to provide from their cellars the liquid accompaniment to enhance every dish.

As with last year, we chose to do our dinner with the über-talented Chef Nate Whiting of the excellent and under-rated modernist gem Tristan. Joining him this year is Andrew Zimmerman (not the bald guy who eats testicles in mud huts). This is the Iron Chef American champ and genius behind Chicago's Sepia, a product-driven fusion of tradition and modernism. Providing libations is Washington's Hedges Family Estate.

Crab is King

Joining The Girl and I are Vino Suave, Argentinian lord of the Vine, and his lovely wife, Iron City Tipsy, whose severe shellfish allergy has led to a retooling of her menu to avoid a repeat of the Dancing With Lobster incident of '09. 

Chef's Compliment: Chef Andrew Zimmerman
      Hamachi cured with the flavors of an aviation cocktail ~ fennel, juniper, zest, violet, cherry

This is a clean and subtle dish, invoking the taste of a dry martini. Simple preparation, but delightful.

First Course: Chef Nate Whiting
     King Crab, sea urchin pana cotta, avocado, vanilla, bronte pistachio, ruby grapefruit
     2010 CMS Sauvignon Blanc

 To the right, top, we see our dish. This is a combination of the most delightfully balanced spring roll you have ever tasted, paired with a perfectly creamy and savory-sweet pana cotta. The playfulness of this dish is so typical of Chef Nate's style.  Below is IC Tipsy's veggie take on the same dish. Balance seems to be the goal of all of Chef Nate's dishes.

Second Course: Chef Andrew Zimmerman
   Glazed Veal Sweetbreads, blood sausage, celery root, ciabatta, hazelnuts
   2011 HIP Unoaked Chardonnay

The Sweetbread, buttery and decadent, was of great appeal to both Vino Suave and myself. For him, this was one of the best sweetbreads he has had outside of his native land. For me, the simple treatment grounds what could have been a flawed dish. The blood sausage crumble added little flavor, but that was hardly important with this beautifully savory dish. The sweet apricot flavors of the unoaked wine are a perfect counterpoint.                                                                                                                          
Third Course: Chef Nate Whiting
   Acquerllo Risotto prepared from scratch, eel kabayaki, local mushrooms, ponzu, crispy duck tongue
   2010 Hedges Red Mountain
                                                                         Though far from the most visually appealing dish, this risotto is beautiful and rich, perfectly executed, and with an umptousness that makes it hard to go back to those "fauxsottos" you usually get at a restaurant. The crispy duck tongue gives a good textural counterpoint, but brought little to the table in the way of flavor. 
Fourth Course: Chef Andrew Zimmerman
   Wagyu Bavette w/maitake mushrooms, cippollini, sunchoke custard, coffee soil, béarnaise
   2009 Goedhart Syrah

Deep, rich, flavorful. Gorgeous plating. How do you argue with an amazing cut of meat like this?
Fifth Course: Pastry Chef Amanee Neirouz
  Quadrello di Bufala, buffalo butter biscuit, San Marzano and rosemary condiment
  2010 DLD Syrah

Imagine the greatest croque monsieur and the greatest Parisian cafe. Pales in comparison to the cheese offering from Pastery Chef Amanee! 
Sixth Course: Pastry Chef Amanee Neirouz
  Chocolate Milk; caramelized Valrhona Ivoire pudding, malted milk crumbs, Dragon's Milk stout        
  shake, chocolate brioche
  2006 Hedges Fortified

Last year's dinner at Tristan ended with a tart pastry, much to The Girl's dismay. This year, a regal and amazing tribute to chocolate with one of the most thoughtful desserts we have ever enjoyed. Chef Amanee wrapped up this meal with a perfectly executed dish. 

The four of us reflected on the meal with cigars and single malt at the Rooftop Pavilion Bar, and the consensus was Chef Nate wowed us, Chef Amanee's two courses were a revelation, and Sepia would be top of the list when we next make it to Chicago. Do yourself a favor, and next year jump in the pool and try one of the Perfectly Paired Dinners! 

05 March 2013

Tonight's Episode: Eau du Pork, Or Smoke under the Bridge

When I walked into the restaurant to meet up with The Girl and Captain Awesome, their reaction was the same. Pork smoke rolled off me like cheap cologne. To find out how this happened you have to back up a few hours on this freezing cold Sunday to the start of the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival Rigs, Pigs, and Swigs BBQ event ($85).

This Sunday event, bringing together 10 fantastic pitmasters, promised more pork than you can shake a hunk of cornbread at. I made the brutally poor tactical decision to dress light on what would be one of the coldest days of the year, but the free pouring Canadian Club Dock 57 did a great job warming me up. Please don't lecture me about the quality of whisky, it was free and I was freezing.

That sign above, proclaiming the presence of Rodney FREAKING Scott, made the cover price worth it. Free alcohol and I don't have to drive to Hemingway SC? Winning! Why am I so excited? Mostly because Rodney Scott is one of the true heroes of the South. Whole hog, a dying art, is the center of his culinary universe. There is nothing fancy about his BBQ, but what it has is love and authenticity. There is a timeless nature to the meat that comes from his pits. Oh, and when he hands you pork rinds, you eat  every one of them. 

The most surprising, and amazing, dish was the Brunswick Stew from Southern Soul BBQ. This tomato based staple of coastal cuisine was perfect for such a cold day, and Southern Soul's version may be the best Ive ever had. If you want the recipe, check out our friends at Garden & Gun Magazine. 

From BlackJack BBQ's amazing brisket to the surprisingly tasty jalapeño cornbread from Smoky Oak Taproom, one would be hard pressed to leave this event any less then 10 pounds heavier. The other fun reason to show up for the closing event of the CW+FF, meeting Twitter friends in real life. Those people on the internet are real!!! 

My two big take aways, though, were on the negative side. I am officially over pork belly. The last five years of increasing appearance on menus everywhere has all but destroyed the power pork belly has on me. The other take away, I still HATE mustard based sauces. Seriously, you can tar and feather me and run me out of South Carolina, but no.....just no. 

04 March 2013

Tonight's Episode: Charleston Wine + Food Culinary Village, a study in day drinking

I was lucky enough to score a media pass to this years Grand Tasting Tent ($100 per person). Sadly I had a conflict. So, In my place I sent the talented writer of The Foodess Files. What follows are her adventures. I apologize in advance for all those injured in the writing of this post. 

To be greeted by a lamb making slow, drippy revolutions over a pile of coals, is to know that this day will be very very good. 

The Charleston Wine and Food Festival this past weekend in Marion Square was in fact a series of very very good days, strung together and served up by the most talented and buzz-generating chefs from around the country. Charleston’s own keepers of cuisine convened along with food writers, editors, chefs, foragers, distillers, and vintners from cities with extremely legitimate food cred. 

The CW+FF is a whirlwind of events, and ideally, one could experience each and every one. Cooking demonstrations, films honoring America’s classic tastemakers, bites and sips from restaurants and vendors, and hosted paired dinners made this weekend in Charleston one of the greats. 

I was fortunate enough to have access to the Culinary Village on Saturday, where I was greeted by the Border Springs lamb you met in the first sentence. Charleston hero Sean Brock works with Border Springs Farm regularly, and as I downed a tiny cup of lamb ceviche with peanuts and Peruvian corn, it was immediately clear why. In all honesty, I would probably never order lamb ceviche off a menu. I would assume it was a misprint, and go right on scanning. 

And I would be missing out. The smooth and silky texture of the lamb, while unexpected, made for a hearty, very clean-tasting ceviche. The crunch of the peanuts added textural familiarity, and a bit of clam juice gave it the salinity it needed. I’m not saying you could do this with any lamb, but it is an effectively original way to showcase such a pure product.

The Grand Tasting Tents, sponsored by JetBlue and Piggly Wiggly, were next. 
At 11:04 a.m. I entered the tent, and landed in the greatest location a person can hope for at that hour: The Bloody Mary Corner. No less than three brands of bloody mary mixes for the trying, and I did not shirk this duty. My favorite of the triumvirate was Fat & Juicy, and a single portion laid the ugly groundwork for me to crave bloody marys all day long. Vegetal and ripe-tasting, I found this one to be the freshest tasting, and with the most peppery kick. In the interest of full disclosure, I want one right now.

Full of tomato and vodka, I knew I needed to add some food into the mix, and soon. Coconut cake counts as food. It definitely counts.

Lined up in little boats, wearing swirls of frosting, the coconut cake from Sugaree’s bakery in New Albany, Mississippi was rich, on the right side of sweet, soft and tender, and quite frankly, everything. 

Everyone knows that coconut cake should be followed by an oyster shooter.

So I had my first oyster shooter. I had heard about the oysters from St. Jude Farms from someone who spoke rapturously about them. This is a city in which people know what farm their favorite oyster comes from, and sometimes shake the hand that harvests them. Charleston City Paper finally supplied me with a shimmering St. Jude oyster, plunked into the bottom of a shot glass, cocktail sauce spooned on top, and then sloshed with a clear cold layer of vodka. One-and-a-half swallows later, I decreed oyster shooters to be my favorite thing in all the land, and teetered over to a chorus line of beef cheeks bourguignon from The Library restaurant at Vendue Inn. They were a perfect meaty bite, served with soft diced root vegetables, and a slick of sauce that made you wish your fork was a spoon, or straw.

I decreed braised cheeks of any kind to be my favorite thing in all the land, and hopped on over to the other tent. 

Of all the things that Charleston grows and harvests, specialty food entrepreneurs might be the most inspiring crop. From Brooks Reitz making Jack Rudy Tonic in his kitchen, and packing up shipments in his living room, to Callie of Callie’s Charleston Biscuits managing great drifts of flour and blocks of butter her very self, this is a made-by-hand town. I personally adored the texture of these fluffy biscuits, a bit on the drier side. All the better for soaking up whatever sauce situation comes their way.

A swing by the Heirloom Book Company rewarded me with the infamous and gentlemanly Lee Brothers, and with a few sweet samples made from the lowcountry cuisine Charleston Receipts cookbook. As a romantic when it comes to book stores, I think we are all fortunate to have an Heirloom Book Company to visit, and I miss the days when stores like theirs were not quite so rare.

The Southern Foodways Alliance tent filled a multi-media niche, and from the documentary shown about legendary Nashville establishment Prince’s Hot Chicken, many sterling quotes could be extracted. My favorite: “This chicken is PERSONAL.” The matriarch of thousands upon thousands of near-prohibitively spicy chicken orders, Ms. Price-Jeffries, was speaking of the fact that human hands touched each piece, and the difference that made to her patrons. Again, this town appreciates a by-hand venture like no other place quite can.

On a personal note, I did get to meet John T. Edge, the courageous bespectacled leader of the Southern Foodways Alliance.  He has written some of my very favorite sentences, and a cookbook of recipes derived from food trucks. So when I die, I have left him everything. The whole Frances empire. Which consists of a Juan’s Flying Burrito t-shirt, and a crème brulee torch. 

No fighting over my estate is anticipated.

I decreed John T. Edge to be my favorite thing in all the land, and went to finish off the day with some peach moonshine from Firefly Moonshine, and a gin and tonic made with Cardinal Gin. Cardinal Gin is small-batch, and made in North Carolina by these here brothers, and is the first gin I have ever liked. I don’t particularly like drinking a Christmas tree, which is what most gin tastes like to me. Not this one. Clear and crisp, and not overwhelmingly junipered, they have worked hard to make the best-tasting gin that they can, and I can’t thank them enough.

And as for moonshine, yes it was delicious. And yes, it was my first moonshine. And yes, this picture is blurry. Because at that exact moment, so was my vision. 

The Charleston Wine and Food Festival succeeds in putting a tent around a food culture that is a constant celebration anyway. I have had some of the best dishes and meals of my life here, and in Charleston there is never an excuse or ticket required to have a perfect oyster, or a dozen of them; or the Wagyu beef you will describe consistently and irritatingly, as being “like butta.”

A lovely bonus to the tent city housing all of this activity, is that throughout the day you never quite forget where you are-as the city’s architectural touchstones neatly overtop even the tent peaks. An ever-present visual reference of stone and steeple.


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