Thursday, June 13, 2013

Charleston Restaurant Round-Up

My husband and I recently returned from a wonderful anniversary trip to Charleston, South Carolina. While the sights were beautiful, and the history charming, what really stood out for us was the food.  Charleston is seriously a foodie mecca. The only other vacation where we ate so well was in Grand Cayman for our wedding and honeymoon.

But let's focus back on Charleston: we ate at so many great restaurants that I just don't have the time to do them all justice with a full review.  Instead, I'm going to do a restaurant round-up, and hit the highlights.

SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) was the first restaurant I chose when deciding which one of Charleston's hundreds of restaurants we just had to eat at during our trip.  The decor of the restaurant was beautiful, but it was very loud, making it not the most romantic place to dine.  We started our meal off with the complimentary cornbread, which we both found kind of dry and tasteless. Our $10 appetizer of Fried Green Tomatoes were fine, but very ordinary. I was hoping for a unique take on it, but was disappointed.  It was just run-of-the-mill Fried Green Tomatoes, which I've had better (and for cheaper).  For my entree I ordered the Shrimp and Grits.  

The grits were just okay, and the shrimp unfortunately were overcooked and therefore tough, but the sauce that it was served in was very flavorful. Overall I was pretty disappointed with my choice.  My husband, however, ordered the Salmon, and declared it the best salmon he's ever had.  

I had a bite, and didn't disagree. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  Motivated by this, we decided to risk dessert, and got the peach cobbler.  

Like almost everything we ordered that night, it was ordinary and boring.  It also wasn't nearly sweet enough and lacked any sort of spice.  We ordered mixed drinks that night as well, but they weren't memorable enough to remember.  Overall, this was our least favorite restaurant experience in Charleston.

Slightly North of Broad on Urbanspoon

Cru Cafe
On our second night in Charleston we dined at Cru Cafe. The ambiance was ideal for a romantic dinner.  It is located in a beautiful home, with bright, cheery windows, and sunny decor.  The service was impeccable, our glasses constantly refilled and the courses came out perfectly timed.  We started our meal with fresh bread, and it was perfectly chewy with interesting spices.  Our appetizer was pork belly and goat cheese fried won-tons with an arugula salad.  It was flavorful and unique; exactly what we were looking for. For my entree, I had the Thai Seafood Risotto. 

The dish consisted of bites of salmon, swordfish, mussels, shrimp, and more, all served in a wonderful coconut-sriracha sauce spiced with hints of lemongrass. It was delicious.  My husband ordered the tilefish, which was cooked to perfection.  

I had a bite of his fish, and nearly stole the whole thing.  Everything tasted fresh and flavorful.  For dessert we opted for a safe choice: the flourless chocolate torte, which was both beautiful to look at and decadent to inhale, ahem, I mean eat. 

Overall, it was an immaculate meal; exactly what we were hoping for in a Charleston restaurant. 

Cru Cafe on Urbanspoon

We chose FIG (Food is Good) for our anniversary dinner, and I'm glad we did.  Everything was absolutely perfect. Our waiter was incredibly informed about everything on the menu, and patiently helped guide us through our food choices.  We started our night off with cocktails, and they were far and away the best drinks we had in Charleston.  I had the Yellow Bird and Lion's Share, with the Yellow Bird (made with gin, lemon, mint, luxardo, and chartreuse) being one of the best cocktails I've ever had.  My husband opted for the Pugilist (rye, applejack, maideira, and honey) which practically made his eyes roll back with happiness.  He later ordered a Negroni, which comes with a warning that the drink wasn't for everyone (which naturally makes you want to try it and see).  We both enjoyed its uniqueness immensely.  For an appetizer we shared the chicken liver pate, which was great, but not quite up to level of the other courses. It was still pretty darn good though.

For my entree, I ordered the grouper poached in olive oil, which was cooked to perfection and was definitely the best grouper I've ever had.  

My husband had the Rudderfish, which he raved over.  

Both our dishes were served on top of flavorful sauces with sides of fresh, in season local produce.  We had trouble deciding which dessert to get, so we asked our waiter's opinion.  He highly recommended the Sticky Sorghum Cake, which honestly was the least appealing one on the menu to me at the time. 

This picture does not do this justice. At all.
However, I am so glad we followed his advice, because that cake was the highlight of our meal (which is saying a lot, considering this whole dinner had been amazing).  It was absolutely, show-stoppingly, delicious.  There is no way I can give this cake the proper description it deserves, so I'm just going to recommend you hightail it to FIG and order yourself a slice.  Like, right now. 

FIG on Urbanspoon

Poe's Tavern
We spent an afternoon at Sullivan's Beach, and headed over to Poe's Tavern to grab a quick lunch.  We sat outside, and you couldn't beat the ambiance. Great people watching, quick service (despite being crazy busy), and there was even a black bird flying around to add to the Poe-ness of it all.  We both ordered burgers and fries--mine came with a roasted pepper goat cheese, my husband's came with a fried egg.  

Both meals were pretty good, and hit the spot.  The fries were thin and crunchy, and were perfect to munch on while watching folks walk past.  The burgers were huge, the toppings tasty and plentiful, but the meat itself could have used a little seasoning (or at least some salt).  Still, they were very decent burgers.  We washed our food down with some local beer (Westbrook's White Thai was our overwhelming favorite of the trip), and were pleased with the selection of beer on tap.  Overall, Poe's Tavern was a great lunch spot.  
Poe's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Lost Dog Cafe
After spending all morning at Folly Beach, we found ourselves at Lost Dog Cafe.  We were initially worried about parking (which seems to be an issue at Folly Beach), but found that the restaurant had plenty of parking.  We were immediately seated, which is always nice on a sweltering afternoon.  We opted to sit inside and enjoy the air conditioning, and found ourselves struck by the decor--there are dog pictures everywhere.  We had fun looking a the photos while waiting for our food to come.  I asked my waitress for her food recommendation, and she said the Blackened Salmon BLT (made with Fried Green Tomatoes) with Chipolte Mayo was her absolute favorite, so I chose that.  

Once again, I'm glad I listened to the server's advice, because it was amazingly tasty.  It also was ridiculously large, which was a good thing, because I was ridiculously hungry.  Out of all the meals I ate on my trip, I think I reminisce about this one the most.  My husband ordered the Huevos Rancheros, and judging by the licked clean plate, I gather he liked it a lot.  The service was friendly, the food was tasty, the air conditioning was cold: we left Lost Dog pretty darn happy.

Lost Dog Cafe on Urbanspoon

High Cotton
Our last meal in Charleston was Brunch at High Cotton. We made reservations a month in advance for every  downtown restaurant we dined at, and High Cotton was no exception.  Where High Cotton was an exception was that it was the only restaurant where we were not seated promptly.  So despite having reservations (and seeing quite a few empty tables), we still had to wait about fifteen minutes to be seated.  It was hard to be too upset, because the place smelled great.  Another aspect of High Cotton that stuck out was the decor and ambiance.  It has high ceilings, with large sunny windows, and big palm leaf fans.  It truly was beautiful. Everything on the brunch menu looked interesting, so it was hard to choose.  I opted for the Fried Oysters Spinach Florentine topped with poached eggs.  

My husband ordered the Shrimp and Grits.  Both were great.  Unlike our experience at SNOB, the shrimp was cooked perfectly, and the grits were creamy and delicious. We also enjoyed the addition of fresh okra in the dish.

The Fried Oysters were also cooked exactly right, and the poached eggs were perfectly poached (which is a surprisingly rare thing to get at many restaurants).  Overall, the food was top-notch.  However, the service was not.  Our waiter would disappear for long periods of time.  For instance, after we finished our entrees, I asked for a dessert menu.  It was twenty minutes before our waiter came back with a menu, and by then we had lost our taste for dessert, and the restaurant.  I hated that the meal ended on such a bad note, because the food truly was delicious.  Perhaps it was just an off-day for High Cotton?  I'd certainly be willing to give it another chance on our return trip to Charleston.

High Cotton on Urbanspoon

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