Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Roasted Duck at Chez Nous

     I don't usually take pictures of my food.  I rely on the photos taken by the restaurant, or don't use them at all.  I usually let the food's flavor speak for itself.  Not this time.  The Duck Breast with Roasted Grapes and Mushrooms, on turnip pureé, (which made the dish as perfect as God's original creation in the Garden of Eden...do I rhapsodize too much?) served at Chez Nous on Friday looked like a still life in a Dutch Masters painting.  It was just that perfect.  I almost didn't want to disturb it.  Almost.
     What would your first bite of this masterpiece be?  Mine was a grape.  On the surface, roasting grapes seems odd.  Once in my mouth though it was anything but odd.  The grape's flavor was enhanced by the roasting and its' texture was still firm.  My next bite was a piece of roasted duck whose edges crackled in my mouth and center melted on my tongue.  The mushrooms were King Trumpet, and according to my server, perhaps originated from Mepkin Abbey, perhaps not, which added mystery to the dish.  When swirled in the creamy turnip pureé, I wondered if anything else could taste as good as these mushrooms?  The answer is yes, if it's another dish served at this tiny pearl of French cuisine, just off busy Coming Street in Downtown Charleston.
     With only street parking available, you must plan your attack at Chez Nous.  A small sign just before the intersection of Spring Street alerts you to the restaurant which is set back from Coming St. on Payne Court in a small, Charleston single house. My dining partner and I arrived at twelve thirty for a one o'clock lunch reservation and found two parking spaces out front.  Landing a parking space there was a good sign of great things to come.

     Our second entreé, Pan Grilled Swordfish, was equally enticing as the duck entreé.  And again, the dish was so beautifully presented that you almost hated to disturb it with your fork.  Almost.
     The Grilled Swordfish with Gem Lettuce was another masterpiece.  The colors, orange, green, golden yellow, cream, all combined to create another culinary painting.  The aroma drew me in and  then the flavor held me captive.  Buttery, firm fish, pleasantly bitter gem lettuce, and tart tomatoes bracketed by golden chunks of potato beckoned me to another flavor wonderland.  Again, I may rhapsodize, but all of my flowery praise falls short when you sample the dish.  The flavors cannot be captured by the pen.  They must be experienced, bite by bite, at a shaded table covered by a white tablecloth, in a cobbled courtyard, with a chilled bottle of water and a crust of French bread, and the sound of traffic gliding past on Coming Street.
     And, oh yes, the finish is just as glorious as the rest of the meal; Mousse au Pamplemousse, Grapefruit Mousse, is fun, French and creamy beyond description.  While grapefruit and mousse don't sound like they go together, they do.  Light in texture and gentle in flavor, the mousse was the perfect end to our dining experience, especially when accompanied by a tiny cup of espresso with thick cream and a lump of sugar plopped into the cup, stirred and sipped very slowly.
     My suggestion is to order one of everything on the Chez Nous daily menu.  They offer two appetizers, two entreés and two desserts each day, depending on what locally sourced, fresh ingredients are available each morning.  My advice to you is try them all, share with your dinner partner, enjoy each bite and forget the rest of world for a few pleasant hours at Chez Nous.

Monday, May 18, 2015

     Are you looking for the perfect beach book?  Look no further.  You've found it.  The Girl on the Train is a delicious book that reminds me of a tall slice of Hummingbird Cake.  Stuffed full of seemingly unrelated ingredients, it only takes a few bites, or in this case, chapters, to realize that all of the tasty ingredients fit together nicely.
     As The Girl on the Train is a mystery, I will not share many details.  What I will say is that the characters are finely drawn, the style fun and engaging and the outcome quite surprising.  I didn't guess the answer to the mystery until about twenty pages from the end, and even then I really wasn't sure until the very last page.
     Hit the pool or the beach, settle into your chair, adjust your sun hat and enjoy the ride with The Girl on the Train.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

     The Macintosh, located at 479 King Street, ranks high on my list of "Go To" restaurants for creative, locally sourced cuisine.  Executive Chef Jeremiah Bacon and his talented staff combine taste, texture and presentation with a twist, offering something for everyone on their daily-changing menu.
     As they are supplied by all of my favorite purveyers of quality meats, fish, vegetables and grains (Kennerty, Ambrose and Keegan Filion Farms, Clammer Dave, Mepkin Abbey,  Geechie Boy Mill and Evo Bakery, to name a few), dining at The Macintosh is like having a long conversation with your best friend: comfortable, satisfying and invigorating.
     With service that is personal and friendly and food that is meticulously and thoughtfully prepared, Macintosh chefs please the palate and nourish the body.  That said, they also have fun with their dishes, throwing caution to the wind with their Bone Marrow Bread Pudding.
     A crispy, brown outside that surrounds a pillow-soft inside, and a taste that is both buttery and earthy, Macintosh's Bone Marrow Bread Pudding almost defies description...
                                                                                                                  in a word, it is sinful.
   The Macintosh offers complimentary valet service in front of their sister restaurant O-Ku.  But as it was a beautiful night, we parked at the Visitor's Center parking garage and strolled down Ann Street to King Street instead.   Arriving before our reservation time, we enjoyed the lively atmoshere in the bar area, where we chatted with a lovely couple from California and cheered loudly with the excited crowd as the horses thundered around the track at the Kentucky Derby.  My dining partner celebrated his horse's nearly last-place finish with delicious Woodford Reserve mint juleps, which took the sting out of his loss.
     Our server, Ben, was very helpful.  He gave us detailed menu item descriptions and entree suggestions and seemed to be everywhere at once, checking on us, filling our glasses, and clearing used plates.  We tried three starters, two at his suggestion.  The Sautéed Scallops with spring onions, arugula, ground pistachios, rhubarb and oxtail tortellini were my dining partner's favorite.  The scallops were nicely grilled and the oxtail tortellini were rich and savory.  The pistachios added the texture contrast.
     The Spring Vegetables were a chef's choice that we particularly enjoyed.  The radishes and beets were sliced paper thin, the asparagus and sugar snap peas were appropriately crunchy,  and the pickled spring onions were a tart foil for the salty Feta cheese sprinkled throughout.  A delicate, edible blossom made the dish esthetically pleasing, as well as tasty.
     My choice for a starter was the deep-fried Sweetbreads, dotted with Benne seeds.  Also served with sugar snap peas, the generous portion of sweetbreads were crispy outside and smooth inside.  Maitake mushrooms and a fish sauce caramel finished the dish and made it my favorite of the three starters we tried.
     We asked our server what the house specialty was and were pleased to hear it was the CAB Deckle, a tender and delicious cut of meat that is prepared differently each night at The Macintosh.  Our deckle was sliced and served over hominy with okra, fava beans (quite nice), and mushrooms.  A Bordelaise reduction sauce swept around the plate and added a hearty finish to each bite.
     My entrée was the Seared Snapper, two buttery pieces of firm fish that were so perfectly prepared that they reminded me of the delectable fish that used to be served at Carolina's.  (Charlestonians will know what I mean!)  The Snapper was easily my favorite part of the meal, surrounded as it was by chunks of roasted beets (very good), smoked potatoes, celeriac, barley and baby raab.  Also in the mix were pickled clams which added a sharp, tangy edge to the dish, while dipping each bite in the saffron vanilla sauce brought out the sweet.
     Speaking of sweet, we had a tiny bit of room left for dessert and chose the Candy Bar in a Jar and the Banana Bread Pudding.  I enjoyed the Candy Bar in a Jar, a thick layer of hot fudge, topped by a roasted peanut nougat and crumbled vanilla shortbread.  This dessert was served in a half pint canning jar, which was the perfect size for a dessert that sweet.
     The Banana Bread Pudding was pleasing for two reasons.  First, it actually had a deep, rich banana  flavor, something that banana dishes often advertise but rarely deliver.  Second, the pudding was topped with a creamy, malted milk chocolate ice cream which was a delight.  Add crunchy, toffee-cocoa crumb and you have a home-run dessert.
     Many thanks to The Macintosh for a tremendous dining experience.  We will be back soon.