Monday, January 21, 2013

All I need is salt, pepper, olive oil and pasta....

Our last Charleston Restaurant Week choice was by far the my dining partner exclaimed...
"The Grocery is Crazy Good!"  This was our first trip to The Grocery, on Cannon St., close to the corner of King St.  There is ample parking, and, just in case of a kitchen accident, the fire dept. is right across the street!  The staff was so incredibly nice, well informed and enthusiastic, that you wanted to stay after dinner to "hang out" with them.  Our server explained, in detail, all of our choices and returned often to check on us.
I was very pleased to find that The Grocery has non-alchoholic cocktail offerings- I had a pineapple juice, mint and ginger cocktail that was delicious and refreshing.  My dining partner had a very good beer, the Westbrook White Thai.  The bread served is baked at a new bakery on St. Phillip Street, and was a light brown sour dough that was almost spongy in texture.  We had seconds on that.
Our first course was a bright, citrus and bibb lettuce salad, with plenty of crunchy chickpeas.  The Greek yogurt vinaigrette was unusual yet intriguing.  We also ordered the Piglet Plate of the night, which on Saturday night consisted of two slices of sausage, salami, a wild pork shoulder concoction that was loose and fluffy and very good, pickled vegetables and brown mustard...all house made and all absolutely amazing in taste and texture.
For the entree, my dining partner ordered a tender but firm pappardelle ribbon pasta, generously covered with lamb ragout, feta cheese and a currant-almond relish.  It was one of those dishes that looked as good as it tasted and made me wish I had ordered it.....that is, until I saw my own entree.  My choice was the beef short rib, cooked to perfection, shredded, reformed and cooked again....the best short rib I have ever eaten.  It arrived on a bed of creamed farro which was firm to the tooth but creamy perfection.  The mushrooms and turnips were scattered throughout.  We also decided to order a side dish of roasted Brussels sprouts.  They were lightly grilled on the outside and just soft enough to melt in your mouth.  The sprouts were cooked with pecans, apples and sweet caramelized onions, and served in a bowl which we dug into like we had just been rescued from a deserted island.  As delicious as everything else was, the Brussels sprouts were just "over the top" good and I will definitely return to sample them again.
By now we were quite full and happy, but still wanted to try their desserts.  We thought, if their meals are this fabulous, what on earth will their desserts be like?  Amazing, of course.
We tried the banana pudding parfait with house made vanilla wafers, which actually tasted like graham crackers, which was a plus.  The pudding was light and smooth, topped with toasted meringue.  I barely got one bite before my dining partner got to the bottom of the canning jar it was served in.
My choice was the churros.  They were thin, crispy and very tasty, served like bamboo shoots sticking straight up out of a canning jar.  Three dipping sauces accompanied the churros...salted caramel sauce, creme anglaise and melted chili-orange chocolate.  I think that the salted caramel was my favorite, but to be sure, I had to try each sauce multiple times...and may have to return to The Grocery to try them again.
The Grocery...Crazy Good.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Charleston Restaurant Week- 3 courses for $40.00

Tucked down a quaint brick walkway off North Market, the Peninsula Grill at the Planter's Hotel is an oasis of style, grace and good food.  We were greeted for our early evening reservations by a very accommodating hostess who seated us at a comfortable table, giving us a choice of seating due to my mobility issues.  A parade of employees, including Jonathan, our excellent server, brought us cold drinks, freshly baked bread and knowledgeable descriptions of the courses offered on the restaurant week menu.  
We each chose the Trio of Soup for our first course, an offering of soups available nightly on the regular Peninsula Grill menu.  The Lobster Corn Chowder was chunky, with a mild flavor.  The Cauliflower Soup was smooth, extremely flavorful, with a bit of a spicy zing.  My favorite, the Mushroom Bisque, was a dark, rich soup, with tiny chunks of apple and a hint of cinnamon.  It was easily my favorite part of the meal.
For our second course, we chose the Trois de la Mer and the Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop.  The three fish components of the Trois de la Mer were shrimp, scallop and trout.  The shrimp was grilled in mild spices and served over a wilted greens salad.  Delicious!  The large sea scallop was grilled in salt and pepper and served on whipped potatoes.  The trout, flavored with red pepper, was tender and flaky.
The pork chop was very good sized, served over Dixie grits and smokey bacon jus.  Scattered around this pork centerpiece were perfectly prepared roasted brussels sprouts, which were so full of flavor that I could have eaten an entire plate full.  
We finished the meal with coffee and Chocolate Grand Marnier Bread Pudding.  The pudding was dense, with a pleasant orange taste.  It was topped with very thin slices of white chocolate and accompanied by a dollop of vanilla bean chantilly cream.  It was a very rich dessert that I could only eat half of.  My dining partner, however, had no problem eating every bite.  
So...great atmosphere, delicious food and a lovely parade of wait staff gives Peninsula Grill an A+.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My two favorite times of the year in Charleston are September Restaurant Week and January Restaurant Week.  What could be more fun than to try any one of 100 or so Charleston restaurants, with a 3 or 4 course menu sampling, showcasing what is so right about the Charleston gastronomic scene?  If you're a true Foodie, nothing!~
On the first night of this winter's Restaurant Week, we visited 39 Rue De Jean, a lovely mid-sized French restaurant on John St., just off of upper King.  We found convenient parking behind the Music Hall next door and were seated opposite a wall of gently aged mirrors, tilted just so to give the room an expansive feel.
For our first course, we chose a creatively prepared mixed salad, topped with a deep fried, soft cooked egg.  The egg was just crispy enough on the outside, warm and smooth on the inside.  The garlic in the vinaigrette was very subtle.  We also tried the roasted carrot soup, which was perfectly pureed and seasoned.  It was topped with creamy goat cheese and crispy prosciutto.  The prosciutto was slivered and just salty enough.  Served with a crusty French bread, the soup was my favorite part of the meal.
For entrees, we chose Basque chicken and Trout & Mussels, "En Papillote".  The chicken was "fall off the bone" tender, served with a hearty creole red rice.  The fish and mussel dish was very flavorful, with sliced lemon, red onion and squash, in white wine and butter, wrapped in parchment paper and oven poached.
We both chose a Chocolate Pate for our Dessert course.  The dish consisted of a very thin, rectangular slice of rich, smooth chocolate pate, surrounded by Creme Anglaise and sliced, fresh strawberries.  The combination of textures and flavors was perfect....not too sweet or heavy....absolutely delicious, we both agreed.
The only disappointment was that the dish recommended to us by friends who had eaten at Rue De Jean often, the Steak Frites, was not on the Restaurant Week menu.  We will return to try it, along with another dish, their potato truffle soup.  After the success of their carrot soup, I can only imagine how good their other soups must be.  Bon Appetite.

Hemingway's Boat, Everything He Loved In Life, And Lost, written by Paul Hendrickson, begins as an unbiased view of Ernest Hemingway, his boat, Pilar and his life in Key West and Cuba.  Perhaps two thirds of the way into the book, Hendrickson, who was doing such a good job telling the story of Hemingway, the talented, disturbed and desperately unhappy pillar of 20th century American literature, and his beloved boat, gives in to sensationalism, drifting into the life of E.H.'s transgender son, Gig.  What began well, digressed unnecessarily towards tabloid-ism, into another sad Hemingway life which should have, and could have, been told in another book. Hendrickson swerves back on course towards the end of the book, returning to Ernest Hemingway's end of life tragedy in Ketchum, but never really finishes fleshing out the saga of how Pilar the boat, Hemingway the fisherman and Hemingway, the author were connected.                                                                                 I did, however, love reading every word about Ernest H.'s obsession with his boat, fishing, Cuba and the ocean he knew well and loved.  The stories told by those who knew him and fished with him in both Key West and Cuba were well researched and told with heart and humanity.  When Hendrickson resisted the temptation to pass on sensationalized, peripheral family information, the book was well worth the read.  He almost did unbiased look at a controversial man and author, Hemingway, a master of clean, clear prose, yet not, ultimately, the master of his own mind.