Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Cottage
Cafe, Bakery and Tea Room
     Bluffton, SC, the oft missed doorway to Hilton Head Island, is a hidden gem that should not be missed.  The next time you're driving down Route 278, skip the outlet malls, turn right on Burnt Church Rd. and head down Bruin Rd. towards quaint and friendly Old Town Bluffton.  Park on the roadside of Calhoun St., get out of your car and walk; walk into the art galleries, walk into the antique shops, and most of all, walk into The Cottage Cafe and Bakery at 38 Calhoun St.  Offering delicious sandwiches, seafood, mile high cakes and copies of The Little Cottage That Could Cookbook, The Cottage is a charming restaurant,  peopled by friendly employees, relaxed and familiar locals and lucky tourists.
     The menu, so varied and tempting that it was almost impossible to make a choice, is divided into sections which include Favorites (such as Liver and Onions,  Lobster Avocado Rolls, and Shrimp and Grits), Sandwiches, Wraps and Paninis (with combinations such as turkey, apple and brie or lime ginger shrimp), a long list of Salads and what seemed to be their specialty, Pot Pies.  They also offer a few specials each day.
     We chose the Chicken Pot Pie and the Saturday lunch special, Fried Green Tomatoes topped with local shrimp in a light tomato sauce.  Every meal is served with a shredded green salad, your choice of dressings and a plate of delicious, warm corn muffins accompanied by a dish of soft butter sprinkled with cinnamon.
     The pot pie was generous in size, its crust a thick layer of puffy pastry dough, baked a light, crispy brown.   Large chunks of tender chicken shared the pie with green onions, peas, carrots and a classic white cream sauce.  A dollop of creme fraiche on the side was the perfect pairing of both taste and texture.   My fried green tomatoes were thickly sliced and firm, coated with crunchy Panko bread crumbs, then deep fried and served piping hot.  Four large and perfectly cooked shrimp (they were not overcooked as shrimp so often are) topped the tomatoes, covered with a light and smooth tomato sauce.
     The Cottage is a tiny house with a wide front porch and tables both inside and out.  The walls are crowded with large canning jars of their corn bread mix, local honey and bee pollen and house-made granola.  We were seated beside a many-tiered, rotating cake display case, a real distraction for me as I spent my entire meal gazing with affection at huge slices of Pistachio Cream Cake, Banana Cake, Orange Cake, Chocolate Cake, Wedding Cake, and Hummingbird Cake.  The pie varieties sounded just as good, with every flavor listed from fruit to pecan to nutella, but they were kept in a chilled case whose side facing me was too fogged up for me to peek through.  To my left was an array of pastries in another chilled case: Hazelnut Ganache Cups, individual Lemon Cheesecakes and bread puddings,  dark chocolate dipped Macaroons, huge Compost Cookies.  I was so full by the end of my meal that I couldn't eat even one bite of the Pistachio Cake I had eyed so longingly during lunch so I settled for two cookies in a to-go box.   We ate a chocolate macaroon (moist, tender heaven) and a Compost Cookie (made with everything sweet and good that they had in the kitchen) in the car not two minutes after we left The Cottage, a sweet finish to a lovely lunch.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town

     My last memoir review of the summer is Perfectly Miserable~ the book, not the review!  Written by Sarah Payne Stuart about her childhood in, and adult return to, Concord, Massachusetts, Ms. Stuart's story was very readable and had a lot of potential.
     I enjoyed her tales of her formative years in Concord yet wished she had given us more details about her family.  The information she shared about them was spotty, leaving me with more questions than answers.  I was pleased and satifsifed, however, with the way she wove tales of Concord's famous past residents into her own story, especially those of the Alcott family. References to Hawthorne and Thoreau were interesting, as well.

     In order to fulfill the promise included in her book's title, Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town, Sarah Stuart begins by telling her readers that she was not the perfect example of filial compliance, but then who really is?  And while she willingly moved away from Concord (escaped, if truth be told), she then returned, husband and children in tow, to recreate for her own children the childhood experience she had.  That seemed odd to me.  After putting distance, both physical and emotional, between herself and her parents, I remain puzzled about why she returned and what she gained by doing so.  She seemed to leap gleefully into the competition for house and neighborhood prestige in Concord, the "keeping up with the Jones family" syndrome,  a habit that I don't think she admired in the adults of her youth.   And where God enters in, I'm really not sure.
     I do recommend reading Perfectly Miserable, Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town yet I would be interested in the opinions of others regarding whether Ms. Stuart really delivered what she promised in the title.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

     Another detour on my summer memoir path is this gem of a book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.   Translated from the French by Europa Editions, Ms. Barbery tells the story of the residents of an elegant apartment building in Paris from the viewpoint of Renee, the building's concierge and Paloma, a sad but brilliant twelve year old tenant.
     The book is written in brief chapters, alternating between Renee's and Paloma's points of view.  I grew to quickly love both characters.     The Elegance of the Hedgehog also tells the story of an older,  Japanese widower who has moved into a recently vacated apartment.  Kakuro Ozu's connection to the disparate female narrators completes the emotional connection both were seeking.
     It would be difficult to pronounce this the best book I have ever read, but it is certainly the best one I've read in a long time.  The characters tug at your heart, stimulate your mind and capture your attention so well that I was truly sad when the last chapter arrived.     
     When reading this story, as Muriel Barbery states, "You have found a good hiding place."  And isn't all great literature exactly that?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Escargot at Brasserie Gigi
Picture by H. Chabot
     As sad as we were to see the Italian restaurant Mercato close in January, our happiness at the opening of a French restaurant in its' place knows no bounds.
     Brasserie Gigi at 102 N. Market St., purveyor of French cuisine extraordinaire, exceeded all of our expectations.   From the Escargot, prepared in a delicious broth of garlic, parsley, butter, chives, shallot and anise, served in the shell, to the chocolate pot de creme, all was perfection.
      Our party shared the Escargot, mopping up every last bit of parsley butter with extra pieces of freshly baked and soft (thank you!) French bread.  We pulled the delicious snails from their shells with a small-tined snail fork--many thanks to the waiter who, when he saw that one of our snails would not come out, brought us an even tinier fork with which I easily extricated the tender, recalcitrant mollusk.
We were served iced water throughout the meal from a large, chilled bottle and also enjoyed a very nice California Chardonnay.  Our waiter, Chris, was kind enough to bring an ice bucket to keep our bottle of white wine chilled tableside.
     Three of my dining partners ordered the classic Steak Frites for a main course.  We were all well pleased with the New York strip steak, seared and cooked to medium temperature with a nice, pink center.  The meat was moist, flavorful and accompanied by a delicious bearnaise sauce.  I dipped my skinny, crispy "frites" (french fried potatoes) in the bearnaise, too.  Oh yes, they were a little taste of heaven.  A salad of leaf lettuce and sliced tomato shared the plate with the meat and potatoes, dressed with a light and tasty vinaigrette.
     Shrimp Provencal,  tail-on shrimp tossed with linguine in a garlic and white wine sauce, was enjoyed by the fourth member of our party.  The lemon and thyme flavors dominated, adding much to the enjoyment of the dish.
     We finished our meal with after dinner drinks and two shared chocolate pots de creme.  The ramekins of milk chocolate were creamy, not too sweet and topped with fresh, whipped cream.  A sweet finish to a lovely meal.
We will happily return to Brasserie Gigi.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Maya Angelou  1928-2014
     For the next installment in my summer reading theme, Memoirs, I chose an unread book from my bookshelf, a book that I had considered often and always remarked, "Oh, that one looks good.  I'll read it next."  Years passed and it remained unread.  After Maya Angelou's sudden death on May 28th, 2014, I walked directly to the shelf, pulled out Maya's memoir of her early life, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and began to read.
     Her words were powerful, clear and colorful.  They evoked a sharp picture of the United States at a time in American history that no one should be proud of, the Jim Crow south and the WWII west coast, during the first half of the twentieth century.  Her story is one of prejudice, inequality, determination and horror.  Ms. Angelou was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, racial prejudice and parental ineptitude.  
     Many aspects of the story were amazing to me.   That Maya Angelou was able to move forward after being sexually abused at age eight amazed me.  That she became stronger after each custodial setback amazed me.  That she learned from each bad experience, however horrifying, and became stronger for it amazed me.  
     Maya Angelou wrote each word with honesty, something that can be difficult when relating devastating life events.  Her words are full of emotion; never sensational, never downplayed.   She expressed real bitterness and outrage (and rightly so) about the way that she was treated by society, yet she also expressed shock and puzzlement that she didn't feel the same outrage when confronted with the poor treatment of the American Japanese.  Such a real and honest memoir is not to be missed.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Each summer I give myself a reading theme which guides me through the lazy, hot days of summer's literary banquet.  Last year I read the works of Hemingway (loved Green Hills of Africa and The Sun also Rises) and the summer before I re-read my favorites (The Road, Crime and Punishment, Marjorie Morningstar).  This summer's reading theme is memoirs (with a few contemporary fiction titles thrown into my beach bag, as well!).
So far, I have enjoyed the life stories of cold New Englanders,  early twentieth century English servants and the Lords and Ladies they served and one reluctant Southern belle.  I begin my summer reading reviews with a memoir by the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes. 

In her newest book, the memoir Under Magnolia
Frances Mayes shares the painful details of her Fitzgerald, Georgia childhood.  Raised by parents tormented by an excess of money, liquor and misplaced self-esteem, Frances Mayes childhood story paints a picture of both pain and love.
She shows us the deep, personal drama of the well-written memoir, sharing stories that are both beautiful and sad.  We, the readers, are immersed in Ms. Mayes heavy sense of place, as we walk with her on the warm, red clay paths in the shimmering, smothering summer heat of south Georgia.
Taking us through her school years, from elementary school to Randolph-Macon College, we get to know Ms. Mayes through vignettes, musings and verse, an interesting start to her interesting life.

I resisted reading this fascinating mystery/thriller as I have an annoying habit of avoiding anything that seems trendy or popular.  Silly me!  This is a fabulous read, one that pulls you in, tricks you into a series of erroneous beliefs then sets you back up for the big fall.  It would ruin your reading experience if I told you too much about the plot.  It is enough to say that "Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl"... or does he?  I can also tell you that the ending transforms the story from a mystery/ thriller into a horror story.  After reading the last few lines, you'll shiver in disbelief and be glad that you have allowed yourself to be enmeshed in author Gillian Flynn's web of deceipt.  Bravo, Ms. Flynn!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Located at 1217 Savannah Hwy, next door to The Glass Onion, 
newly opened Swig & Swine is like no other bar-b-q restaurant in Charleston.
Swig & Swine 
creatively renovated an old garage and has used the space wisely.  On one side is a medium sized bar area which offers an extensive drink menu that includes a wide variety of craft beers and bourbons.
The rest of the space holds a large dining room, decorated with painted pallets on the walls  (black pig and cow sillouettes with the cuts of meat labeled in white on each pallet) and a chalkboard with daily specials and sides that covers the wall at one end of the room.  The space is open, airy and cheerful; the seating, both at tables and booths, is comfortable.
All of the wait staff were well informed about the restaurant's offerings.  Clad in t-shirts with comic sayings on the front, ("I like pig butts and I cannot lie" and "We love you long swine") they zoomed around efficiently with metal trays full of pulled pork, beef brisket and smoked turkey.  I tried all three on golden baked buns in the Trio of Meat Slider special.  
The pulled pork was moist and full of smoky flavor, the brisket incredibly 
tender-crispy on the outside, juicy and packed with flavor on the inside.  The smoked turkey, served in thick slices, was easily the best turkey I've ever eaten.  It was moist and tender with just the right amount of smoked aroma and taste.  Smoked pork belly and homemade sausages are also on the menu but we were too full of the other wonderful meats to try them this time!
There are four sauces on each table: a red sauce that is a cross between ketchup and bar-b-q sauce, a mustard based sauce, an Alabama white sauce, mayonaisse based and flavored with horseradish (my favorite) and a vinegar and tomato sauce. 
And now, the sides.  
What can I say about the sides other than that they are little bowls of perfection?  Creamy mac n' cheese (had to have at least 3 cheeses in it), cole slaw with mayo and vinegar, the best potato salad I've ever eaten which was so creamy that it must have contained a ton of sour cream (Not sure about that because I was too busy eating to ask about the ingredients!) and hearty collard greens torn in large pieces, were enjoyed by our table of bar-b-q aficionados.
On our way out of the restaurant, after lunch, we lingered in the outdoor dining area which was quite comfy, with large spool tables, aluminum stools and umbrellas.  At one end of that area was the screened-in bar-b-q cook house, attached to the main restaurant.  Two of the men in our party stood beside it and chatted through the screen with their friendly Chef/Bar-b-q Master as he tended the smoking meat.  
Cooking "Low and Slow" over nothing but wood, he told them that the huge smoker he uses was custom fabricated in North Charleston.  It was crafted almost in the shape of a boat hull, from stainless steel, surrounded by carbon steel, over a ceramic firebox.  It is the quintessential cooker/smoker.  
We will return soon and often, as Swig & Swine serves the best bar-b-q in West Ashley, greater Charleston and possibly the entire Lowcountry.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Whisk, 209 Meeting St., Downtown

On a recent trip to the Shops at Charleston Place 
I took a small detour to Whisk, a lovely little liquid oasis located on an adjacent corner, just north of the Meeting Street entrance.
Whisk serves coffee, espresso, fresh juices, fruit smoothies and some very appealing pastries.  
I took a break from shopping to sit and sip an East Bay Breeze Smoothie.  Made from cranberries, strawberries, pineapple and apple juices, it was light and refeshing.  My shopping partner enjoyed the Tropical Twister, a smooth combination of bananas, pineapple and mango.
The folks behind the counter were helpful and cheerful, something I prize in waitstaff but don't always find.
On my way out, I noticed that their display case was full of delicious looking pastries, but I was on my way to lunch and had to resist the temptation.  
I will definitely return soon to sample one of their cream puffs or croissants, 
or maybe another smoothie, or a fruit and yogurt parfait, or Ginger Zinger juice, or a creme brulee coffee, or.........

Friday, June 20, 2014

The dining room at Circa 1886 at the Wentworth Mansion

No one in Charleston presents a themed dinner like Circa 1886.  Their recent Beer and Blue Jeans Dinner, a four course dinner featuring Freehouse Brewery beers, was a real treat.
The evening began in the courtyard with passed hors dourves and tray after tray of 4 oz. glasses of Ashley Farmhouse Ale.  Guests mingled outside in the courtyard, while listening to live music, and gathered inside the bar, where it was a bit cooler.  I love when hors dourves are passed on a tray, as you don't have to interrupt your conversation to get a tasty bite to eat. The bite sized fried green tomato chunks and the romaine wedge salads on a stick were certainly tasty and were passed in abundance.
The seating for Circa 1886's themed dinners is varied, with some tables seating four guests, some six and two large tables for ten guests.  As we made last minute reservations, we were seated at a table of ten.  Although sitting with eight complete strangers can be tricky, we found the company delightful and the conversation lively.
The wait staff at Circa 1886 is friendly, professional and efficient.  We never had to wait a second for a water glass to be filled, a tray of beer to miraculously arrive just as the last glass was emptied or a course to be cleared.  With that said, it's importat to note that you are never rushed.  We arrived at 6:15 and didn't leave until after 10pm.
The four courses were veal, fish, chicken and a sweet finish, all paired with a different Freehouse Brewery Beer.  A gentleman from the brewery talked to each dining room about Freehouse beer's organic leanings and his quest to make a fine beer out of healthy ingredients and I think he made a fan out of every beer drinker in the room.
Our first course, paired with the same beer served during the social hour, the Ashley Farmhouse Ale, was a Spiced Veal Slider.  Served on a toasted brioche bun, it was accompanied by pickled okra and crispy chunked steak fries.  The veal was delicious, spiced just enough to enhance the flavor of the meat.
Our second course was, as the nice guest to my left noted,  deconstructed shrimp and grits.  Two large, firm shrimp were deep fried in a corn batter, served over succotash, garnished with pea shoots.  The coconut custard sauce complemented each bite to perfection.  The shrimp course was paired with a Belgian golden ale.  The beer drinkers at the table were split evenly on which beer they liked better, the Belgian or the Farmhouse Ale.  They remarked that both were so good, it was hard to choose a favorite.
 The Coq La Biere was a tender, generously proportioned chicken breast from Ashley Farms.  There were many comments on the presentation, over a bed of green basil bamboo rice.  The cautious among us approached the green rice dish with hesitation but were delighted and, I think, surprised by the light, moist taste.  Surrounded by grilled, glazed baby carrots and a whole roasted onion, the dish more than satisfied, accompanied as it was by tray after tray of Folly's Pride bitter blonde session ale.
The "Sweet Finish" to the meal caused a noisy, chattering crowd to become completely silent.  When the glazed Carolina Gold Rice donut holes were served, on plates swirled with local berry coulis and a center scoop of vanilla bean ice cream you could have heard a pin drop.  Not a crumb of dessert was left on the close to one hundred plates.  As our server noted, "Who can resist warm donut holes, fresh from the fryer?"  Who, indeed.  Certainly not me!
The final beer, paired with the donuts, was a London 2014 India Porter, a dark beer with a creamy head that all at our table seemed to enjoy.
Congratulations to the Circa 1886 chef and kitchen staff, as well as Freehouse Brewery, on another night of culinary perfection.  When is the next dinner?  I'm ready, with fork in hand.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Burwell's Stone Fire Grill

For casual elegence and high end food,  Burwell's Stone Fire Grill is the place to be.   This new age steakhouse is located just east of Charleston's busy,  City Market, at 14 N. Market St., with both metered parking and a valet lot available nearby.  The dining room's warm earth tones and the bar's classic grand piano tunes greet you as you enter.  The hostesses are cheerful, the wait staff efficient and friendly.
Seated comfortably in a booth with a great view of their hot stone grill, we ordered Burwell's Signature Salad.  A modern twist on the wedge salad, this thick slice of Bibb lettuce is sprinkled with sunflower seeds, white raisins and chunks of Cave bleu cheese, and zig-zagged with a deliciously light dressing.
The Deviled Eggs, garnished with wild boar bacon, are worth ordering, as well.
After enjoying an Allegash White beer and fruit juice, garnished with lime, we were ready for our main course,
the Wagyu beef filet.  There were many cuts of prime and wagyu beef available - the hanger steak, however, was not available that night, but we were more than pleased with our choice of filet.  Served on pureed turnips and parsnips, and garnished with grilled Brussells sprouts, the filet was seared perfectly on the outside, tender and pink on the inside.   The savory root vegetables,  bold Brussells sprouts and flavorful beef were a great flavor pairing.  My dining partner was very happy with the creamy, garlic bearnaise sauce he added to his filet.  I enjoyed mine plain.
After steaming hot coffee served in large mugs, our dessert arrived- a trio of house-made ice creams.
The three flavors (which are changed often) were lemon ginger, white chocolate strawberry and toasted marshmallow caramel.
The lemon ginger was definitely my favorite; sweet and tangy at the same time.  The strawberry white chocolate ice cream was full of strawberry bits and the caramel ice cream was topped with a tiny, toasted marshmallow.  I look forward to trying more flavors on a return trip to this lovely restaurant.

The next time you head downtown for dinner, I encourage you to take a detour from Upper King, and try this gem of a steakhouse on N. Market.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Lunching at 39 Rue De Jean, on John St., was the perfect way to celebrate National Happy Day.
How can you not be perfectly happy when you are served delicious french food, at a lovely little restaurant on a quiet side street, on a sunny day in Charleston?  
We were a very large group, taking up the entire right side of the restaurant.  The wait staff cheerfully served us, even though each of us needed separate checks.  They promptly filled our glasses of sweet tea (delicious, by the way), served us carafe's of chllled water, and baskets of warm french bread and soft, creamy butter while we waited for our lunch orders to arrive.
39 Rue De Jean offers weekly and daily lunch specials, along with an extensive luncheon menu that is available every day.  Those around me ordered, and were very pleased with, thick slices of quiche, pomme frites, enormous cheeseburgers, and heaps of mussels in white wine broth.  My table partner and I ordered the weekly special; soup or salad and Basque Shrimp.
The salad was quite large, full of chunks of leaf lettuce and huge croutons, dressed with a flavorful vinaigrette.  The soup, served in a large bowl, contained white beans, chorizo and wilted spinach, in a thick, lightly seasoned tomato broth.  I wanted to finish every bit of it, but after seeing the size of the entrees being served around me, I decided to save some of my appetite for the next course.  I was lucky that I did.
My generaous portion of Basque Shrimp offered eight lightly breaded, fried prawns, on a bed of jasmine rice pilaf.  The Basque tomato sauce, ladled into the center of the dish, did not overpower the flavor of the shrimp, allowing me to savor the separate flavors of shrimp, rice and tomato in each bite.
I hope to return to Rue de Jean soon, to sample more offerings on their luncheon menu.

After lunch, while strollig back down John St., towards King, I stopped into a tiny sweet shop for dessert on the go.  The Macaroon Boutique,  at 45 John St., is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11am to 6pm.  Their pastry cases were full of fresh croissants, madeleines and, of course, macaroons.
Even though the package of six macaroons cost the same as the lunch I just completed, they were worth every single penny.  They were slightly crispy on the outside, sweetly chewy on the inside, and filled with flavored cream.  My favorite was the lemon one, although the milk chocolate filled ones were not to be missed, either.  I also purchased a package of madeleines, which were equally as good.  They were rich, buttery, great with jam, or a dot of ice cream.  
All in all, a perfect National Happy Day on John St.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sarah Grimke
Angelina Grimke
The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd

As a fan of Sue Monk Kidd's books, The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, I anxiously awaited the publication of her newest book, The Invention of Wings.  Ms. Kidd is a skilled storyteller, as evidenced in her historic treatment and compelling fictionalization of the daily lives of Charleston abolitionist sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke.  Related to the Draytons (of Magnolia and Drayton Hall Plantations) the Grimke girls were raised on East Bay Street in Charleston, SC.  Their anti-slavery views made them pariahs in their own city and heroes to northern abolitionists.  A contemporary of Elizibeth Cady Stanton, William Lloyd Garrison and John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Grimke discovered and embraced the northern abolitionist movement soon after she moved to Pennsylvania in the 1820's.  Sarah's younger sister, Angelina, who shared her anti-slavery views, traveled north to join Sarah in the 1830's.  Angelina became a spirited writer and speaker for the abolitionist cause.
Ms. Kidd's description of the lives of Charleston house slaves in the early 1800's adds depth and a sense of purpose to the Grimke narrative.  The Invention of Wings is a great read. It illuminates the story of the Grimke sisters for history lovers and especially for those Charlestonians who have had to be satisfied with mere snippets of information about these brave sisters.

Friday, February 21, 2014


At the risk of being trite, The Lot has a lot to offer...for anyone who enjoys an expertly prepared meal, genial atmosphere and skilled waitstaff.  
Located at 1977 Maybank Hwy, James Island, next to the Pour House, and directly across from the best little movie theater in SC, The Terrace.  Could you choose a better location?  
I think not.
Our group arrived at 6:30 on a Wednesday night, and had our choice of tables.  By the time our meal arrived, every table was full of animated diners.  It was an eclectic mix, one that added to the festive mood.
The Lot is a sustainable restaurant, with each item utilized fully, snout to tail; consequently, the menu changes daily. 
Our server described each menu offering in detail- one chicken dish, one beef, two pork, one fish, and so on.  Our starter choices were varied- Pickled Vegetables (slightly crisp, thin sliced radishes were my favorite among the green beans and farro- also quite good), New England Clam Chowder, Chicken Pate' (Which, I'm sure, went hand in hand the the other parts of the chicken we would order for our meal.)and a lovely Pork Trotter Cake served beneath a creamy-yolked local fried egg.
The table favorite was the pate', served with grilled bread.  Our server was kind enough to bring us extra bread, so that not a dab of pate' was wasted.
Two of us chose the smoked Keegan Fillion Farms chicken for our main course.  Served over a bed of my favorite Geechie Boy grits, surrounded by crispy edged, braised kale, the meat was moist and full of smoky flavor- Delicious.
The other choices served at our table were Pork Croquette and Gnocchi in Bolognese meat sauce.  The first, prepared with flaky pork, was amazingly light and the second, the Bolognese Gnocchi, was quite rich.  All of our meals were prepared with a minimum of interference with their natural flavors and textures.
We finished with two perfectly portioned desserts- Toasted Hazelnut Pots de Creme and a tart and tangy Lemon Curd Pudding cup, served with a delectably buttery shortbread cookie.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the drink menu, which offers a wide variety of beer, wine, cocktails and non-alchoholic choices.  My spouse's favorite craft beer brand, Frothy Beard, a locally made and hard to find variety, was happily available.  The Palmetto Espresso Porter was also tried and enjoyed, as was a lovely, bubbly Italian Prosecco wine.  I was tickled pink to find Goya's Ginger Beer on the menu, which had a sharp bite of ginger...just the way I liked and remembered it from my youth, many years ago.
All in all, The Lot offers lots of culinary treats, tied up in a local package.  
We WILL be back.

Monday, February 17, 2014


I recently revisited The Grocery for a celebration dinner, and what a feast it was.  Located at 4 Cannon St.,  The Grocery prides itself in house-made pickled vegetables, local produce and meats.  This restaurant is one of my favorites on the peninsula.  
At The Grocery, you enjoy expertly prepared, delicious food, and great  service from their friendly staff.  Our waiter, Zachary, assisted us with menu choices, answered questions about each dish and chatted with us like an old friend.
The hi-lite of our meal was the incorporation of winter vegetables into each dish.  The Salad of Wood Roasted Carrots was a delicious mixture of flavors and textures.  The roasted and glazed carrots were served over Greek yogurt and sprinkled with pistachio crumbles, feta cheese, and dates.  
The vegetable side dishes here are large enough to share with the table, or enjoy with dinner and take home in a "doggie" bag.  We ordered roasted cauliflower, brussells sprouts simmered in vinegar and creamy farro, as additions to our meals.  Our favorite was the farro, which had a pleasant, nutty taste and the consistency of risotto.  
All of the main course choices were delicious, and have been reviewed by me in the past, so I will move on to the desserts.  Our server found it amusing that I ordered ice-cream during an ice storm, but I couldn't resist their Coconut Lime Ice Cream, with graham cracker crumbles- creamy and crunchy, with a nice coconut flavor and lime scent.  We also tried the Banana Pudding Parfait.  Layered with thin slices of banana, the pudding was light and tasted of both banana and vanilla.  The average sized portion was just right, as this dessert tends to be quite filling.  
Another wonderful meal at The Grocery, where local ingredients rule.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Acclaimed restaurant Tristan is closed.  Located on the ground floor of the French Quarter Inn,  Tristan backers have let their lease expire.   The good news is that chef Nate Whiting is still involved with Tristan Catering and is developing a new restaurant at 492 King St.  The new restaurant will benefit from Chef Whiting's input in both menu selection and dining/kitchen arrangement.  I have high hopes that the new venue will reflect the talent and attention to detail that those of us who frequented Tristan's have come to expect and enjoy.  A fall 2014 opening is expected.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Stars Rooftop and Grill Room

Another newcomer to Upper King is Stars Grill Room and Rooftop Bar.  Offering a large first floor dining room, second floor function rooms and a rooftop bar, Stars has a little something for everyone.  The dining room is paneled in walnut, with high ceilings and a handcrafted walnut bar.  Stars serves not only craft beer and cocktails, but sixteen types of wine, on tap.  They will even make you a mocktail, with fresh fruit juices.
As it was barely over 30 degrees on the evening we dined there, we did not venture up to the rooftop bar, but many others did.  We arrived at 5:45pm and had our pick of tables and seats at the bar, but within an hour, the entire restaurant was full, with folks waiting to be seated….so go early for a quiet dinner, or after 7pm for a large, fun crowd.

Our choices for appetizers were the Oysters Bull's Bay and the Sweet Potato Bisque.  The oysters, served in the shell over wet salt, were baked with spinach, asiago cheese, garlic and brandy.  The flavors were blended in such a subtle way that each ingredient was tasted, but did not overpower.
The Sweet Potato Bisque, garnished with three sage-flavored marshmallows, chopped pecans and a swirl of cream fraiche, was smooth and savory.

For my main course, our server, Cory, suggested the Pan Seared Diver Scallop "Chowder", which was a deconstructed fish chowder.  My dining partner chose the Stars Grill Room Steak.
My scallops were cooked at 750 degrees, which gave them a crispy outside and a soft inside; a nice combination of textures.  They were served with sauteed mussells and roasted root vegetables, accented by a mild, sweet onion bisque.
The steak was an Angus beef shoulder tenderloin, thin sliced and so tender that you could cut it with a fork.  It was served with black truffle grits and braised mushrooms.

Our desserts, Smoked Chocolate S'mores Pie and Charleston Pluff Mud Pudding, were generously sized and delicious.  The pie was topped with a warm meringue; the cookie crust was flaky and quite good.
The pudding, a milk chocolate mousse, was topped with dark chocolate ganache, pecan toffee bark and salted caramel sauce.  The toffee was firm, buttery and crunchy; a great addition to the dish.

The meal was ably prepared, the service prompt and friendly (Thank you, Cory!) and the atmosphere lively. 
On our next visit to Stars, we will visit the rooftop bar and perhaps try a few of the small plate items - the bacon tator tots and the mushroom bruschetta looked very good. 
Our only suggestions for Stars would be to offer bread or rolls with dinner and cream, rather than milk, with the after dinner coffees.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

High Cotton, Charleston, SC
It's Charleston Restaurant Week, one of my favorite culinary events in Charleston.  To me, Restaurant Week is not about price deals, although it does offer prix fixe menus for either $20, $30 or $40 per diner.  It's about trying new dining venues, or revisiting ones you've neglected lately, to taste what they specialize in and check out their service and atmosphere. 

My first Restaurant Week choice was a revisit to High Cotton, on East Bay St.
I attended a special 3 course tasting, with wine pairings, sponsored by The Post and Courier.  The dinner celebrated the newspaper's redesigned Food Section, which debuts on January 29th.  The guest speaker was Hanna Raskin, food writer and critic for The Post and Courier.  

Interesting and informative talks were given by Joe Palma, head chef at High Cotton, Jill Maynard, General Manager and Maverick Kitchen's Beverage Manager, Tony Norton.  All were gracious and well versed in their fields.

The meal consisted of an appetizer, main course and dessert.  The first course, Foie Gras Torchon, was a chilled foie gras, prepared by wrapping it in a towel, poaching it, then rubbing it with coffee, cocoa nubs and powdered sugar.  The foie gras had a smooth, creamy texture and a smokey flavor that paired well with the lightly pickled grapes and white turnip slices that garnished it. Spread on pieces of a warm orange craquelin (brioche, cooked with a sugar cube inside…what could be better?), it was my favorite part of the meal.  The wine pairing was Karl Erbes Riesling Spatlese, from the Urzig wine region of Germany, on the banks of the Mosel River.  This sweet riesling is made from light-skinned grapes which are considered by many to be the world's finest white grapes.
The main course, Rabbit Haunch, was served with Charleston Gold rice and Sea Island pea pirlou (a Lowcountry version of rice pilaf), pickled mustard caviar and a grenache reduction sauce.  Two perfectly cooked, cumin glazed baby carrots shared the plate with the rabbit.  Each bite of the tender rabbit, prepared in duck fat, chilled, quick roasted  and then oven warmed, was complimented by a swirl of grenache reduction sauce.  ( I do love a good wine reduction!)  The pirlou was thick and loaded with field peas, which gave it a pleasant, nutty flavor.  The wine pairing was a Silvio Grasso Barbera D'Alba red wine, with medium acidity, a perfect match to the woodsy flavor of the rabbit.
For dessert, Chef Joe prepared a Talisker Scotch Whisky Butterscotch Pudding.  
Garnished with cinnamon whipped cream and a piece of caramel sugar glass (which was a bit too thick to break apart with your spoon), the pudding was a perfect match of sweet and salty, with a hint of smokiness from the peat distilled Talisker and smoked sea salt.  A glass of Ferriera Tawny Port, a sweet oakwood-aged dessert wine, completed the meal.

Served in High Cotton's large, main dining room, by a friendly and helpful wait staff, with a view of the kitchen, the meal was definitely a four star event.
I recommend a visit to High Cotton for those with an adventurous palate and a love of local meat, grains and produce.  I will certainly be returning there soon!