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!