Friday, November 14, 2008

Charleston Weekend

On a weekend in November, our little family made the jaunt down to Charleston, SC. Despite our relative proximity to Charleston, none of us had ever visited Charleston before and we were all anticipating quite an adventure. We drove down with both kids on Friday night so we'd be ready to start the day on Saturday. We explored Patriot's Point, the Aquatic Center and strolled through the White Gardens. We took in the views over the water, drove into Mt. Pleasant and tried to be as touristy as possible with 2 small children in tow. We found Charleston to be charming and proud in the way only old southern ladies can be-well-dressed, well-heeled, and welcoming to all who show up asking for a glass of sweet tea. As a southerner, I know that those sweet old ladies are made of steel too so don't push your luck! Most establishments were very welcoming to us and our kids so we made the most of it. From my perspective though, Charleston is a city of food that feels like it was built by and for the sole delight of foodies. The wealth of choices and the quality of the food in Charleston is like no other small city I have visited-except maybe in Italy.

I promised my sweet husband that I intended to eat my way through Charleston and I did not disappoint him. I can still remember his face when I asked if he was ready to eat again about 2 hours after eating a gianormous lunch. That's long enough right? I just wanted a's a list of our favorite meals while in Charleston.

82 Queen

After our introductory carriage tour, we decided to eat lunch at 82 Queen. Tucked in the middle of a block of historical houses, 82 Queen is easy to miss but what a mistake you would be making! You can read all about the history of the house, the awards and the staff on their website. However, you only need to know that the food is incredible. Even more interesting, I found that my children were incredibly comfortable in the restaurant (maybe because it was more like a house with individual rooms and pockets) than like a restaurant. We went for lunch and enjoyed every morsel of food that touched our taste buds. For an appetizer, I shared a crab cake with my son that was probably the best crab cake of my life to date. It was pure, tasty crab without a lot of filler or spice. Just enough flavor to heighten the sense that this crab was a creature of the surf. For my entree, I had Grilled Pesto Encrusted Mahi Mahi over creamy grits and fried green tomatoes. I sometimes feel that Mahi Mahi is overrated as a fish to eat while out because it is usually flavorless and/or overdone. This mahi mahi was tender and fresh, sweet and succulent. The grits were actually creamy and the fried green tomato was sweet (if a little small-no surprise given the season). My husband enjoyed a salad of baked asparagus, tomato and fresh mozzarella wrapped with Tasso ham. I tried this salad and it was good but nothing could break through the hold that crab cake had over me! For his entree, my husband chose low country jambalaya which managed to be sweet, smokey and slightly spicy all at once with chucks of seafood and peppers.

Sermet's Corner

I have to admit that Sermet's corner was not a first pick. We really only ate there because we couldn't get a reservation at FIG. However, it turned out to be one of our favorite meals. Sermet's food is very good but the real benefit for us turned out to be the atmosphere. There was a nice mix of locals with a few tourists. The ceilings were high, the atmosphere was relaxed and the seating was comfortable. When we arrived, our kids were famished and tired from walking all day. My son ordered a burger and received a huge patty of ground beef on a buttered bun the size of his head. He managed to eat most of it and then plow through dessert-a layered cheesecake concoction. I took several website's recommendations and ordered the lavender, honey and black pepper marinated pork tenderloin over a cheese infused polenta. I have to say that I enjoyed the pork but I doubt I will order it again. Lavender is my favorite scent and I associate laundry, clean bathrooms and ice cream (don't ask) with it. I do not associate lavender with meat or savory tastes and this dish did not change that preference. I don't recall what my husband had for supper but we would definitely go back to Sermet's corner next time we're in Charleston.

By far, the jewel in the crown of the culinary weekend. S.N.O.B (Slightly North of Broad) is just....well it's almost too much to speak of. The atmosphere is chic but cozy. The staff is some of the most gracious, welcoming staff I've ever encountered at a restaurant. To a person, they all seemed to want every patron to feel welcomed and comfortable. The food. Oh the food just defeats my description skills. I had trigger fish with a lemon sauce and pea shoots for my main course. To explain more about that dish-how the nutty crunch of the pea shoots perfectly complemented the smooth dent of the fish with the sweet tang of the lemon just peaking in at the edge of the bite. Well, it's not nearly as clear as I wish to make it-like saying Rachel Weisz is pretty.

So, I'm defeated on my description of the food at S.N.O.B and I'm sorry that I can't say more. Just GO THERE if you are ever in Charleston. And if you go there, try very hard to be as gracious and welcoming as the staff. S.N.O.B has a children's menu and the staff are very friendly and accommodating to children. Our kids were exceptionally well behaved that night but several patrons were downright rude to us (at 5pm!!) that we would bring children to such an austere place as S.N.O.B.

I have one and only one complaint about Charleston-the central part of the city is running low on locally owned coffee shops or bakeries. We did find a small place near the Market (Paradiso) and another place (Kudu) near the college but you will not hear me expounding on the virtues of Charleston's coffee. There are a couple of cookie or cupcake shops but they could really use a little French bakery or patisserie with an espresso machine. I had to make do with the favorite national chain but since their food is terrible, it wasn't as satisfying as I would like.

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