thanks to all who helped me hone our restaurant list! let me preface by saying that i was born and raised in southern california. trendy restaurants and gimmicky spaces are the norm, so much so that 'trendy' has become passe. an oxymoron i know, but come to so cal and you'll see. restaurants come and go and try to woo us in their doors with their flashy menus and minimalist or zen or miami beach decor. philippe starck's style has been so mimicked here that we all yawn when another trendy spot opens. we eye it as suspect until the food says otherwise. we yearn for meaningful food, served in a thoughtful space, made by thoughtful chefs.
that being said: here was our lineup for the four nights we had to dine in charleston:
SATURDAY: F.I.G. - we were seated right away and taken to two-top table with comfy seats. we found the decor and ambience quite nice - nothing flashy or over the top or contrived. after perusing the menu, we decided on the ricotta gnocchi with chanterelles and fresh sweet corn for an app, which we split. very simply and elegantly prepared, each ingredient really shined through. for dinner i had the triggerfish over wilted arugula which was delicious. the creaminess of the fish and the bitterness of the arugula were a perfect match. the husband had pork shoulder with beets and fennel, which was equally delicious. i love me some beets, and these were quite yummy! we split a pear cobbler for dessert, which was fairly blah. the crumbly topping was the best part, but the pears were quite bland.
SUNDAY: we're huge san diego chargers fans so of course we spent the day at a sports bar: KING STREET GRILLE. food was decent for a sports bar... don't think i need to go into detail though. i will say that they massacred the one fried item we ordered: tex mex eggrolls. how hard is it to fry something?! after the games, we showered and headed over to CHAI'S TAPAS LOUNGE for dinner. we thought the decor and ambience were nice, but reminded of some place we'd find back home. we shared a mango salad, which was really good. julienne strips of mango, green papaya (i think), pork and shrimp, accented with thai chilies. really light and refreshing. we also shared saffron arancini, which were really good! kind of random that this little italian gem showed up on their menu, but whatever.
MONDAY: we left this day open for dinner and decided we'd go wherever the wind blew us. after seeing an ad in the city paper for PEARLZ OYSTER BAR and their happy hour menu, the wind blew us straight through PEARLZ' door. we shared the beer boiled shrimp, which were large enough to be prawns. they were served chilled and were peel and eat - quite yummy with our cocktail sauce spiked with horseradish root. the corn fritters and seafood sliders were all delicious as well. we sat at the raw bar and made friends with everyone around us. a really great place to socialize! whilst making friends with our neighbor on the barstool next to us, we explained that we were vacationing and that we were saving our best restaurant for last: mccrady's the following night. our friend excitedly revealed that she was a cook there and was glad we were going to her restaurant, especially because we'd put so much thought into our selections. after hanging out the rest of the night and talking food, the dreaded subject of foie gras came up. let me back up and say i work for a catering company and it's my job to know food and our menus. i had to try foie because i sell it. begrudgingly. i think it's criminal how those poor creatures are treated. i shared my opinion with her and the night carried on to other subjects and the wine and oyster shooters kept flowing.
TUESDAY: after nursing our hangover all day, we excitedly got ready for our anticipated dinner at MCCRADY'S. we were seated immediately and i tore into the wine menu with vigor! after being unable to decided between a white or red, i decided on a lovely french rose. we scanned the menu and then the chef's tasting menu and without question opted for the tasting menu. this was our last night and we wanted to be wowed. what started out as a 7 course menu, turned into ten courses as the chef and our cook friend from the night prior kept inserting surprise courses into our meal. most notable: black truffle soup w/black truffle emulsion and shaved black truffle, twice cooked scallop on corn puree w/ chanterelles and chorizo 'gnocchi', matsutake mushrooms on butternut squash puree with an herb foam (can't recall the herb!), summer vegetables on a poached (quail?) egg with an egg foam, and grass fed beef and stacked potato with maple smoke. i'd be happy to expand on the presentation of any of these but feel at this point like i've rattled on enough in this post!
i should note that our third course was foie, yes the dreaded foie. i would never order the chef's tasting menu and make alterations. i think it's equivalent to saying you know better than the chef... that being said, i was blown away when our server presented the foie course and announced that in lieu of foie, i was receiving pork in its place. i was SO impressed that our friend from the night prior had remembered that i don't eat foie! the attention to detail was amazing. anne, you get big kudos sister! you knocked my socks right off that night.
at the end of our meal, chef sean brock came out to greet us and chat. he is exceedingly bright and clearly passionate about food. he humored our endless questions with cheer and talked about mccrady's becoming a sustainable restaurant, and their plans to purchase acreage to grow their own vegetables.
i had read in previous posts that some thought his food to be contrived and over the top and i think he gets unfairly characterized as a mad food scientist if you will. what we found was an incredibly creative and amazingly talented chef, who is particularly interested in food molecules and temperatures and making great food. food that does their historically important space justice.chef brock rocks.
lastly, we were treated to a grand tour of the restaurant. the kitchen, the dining areas, banquet room, wine cellar and the chef's dining room - one of the most elegant spaces ever! mccrady's and charleston was a fantastic experience, this so cal girl was quite impressed. it gave us a strong injection of what we sorely needed, historical importance, meaningful memories and FABULOUSLY THOUGHTFUL food.