Friday, September 28, 2012

Lowcountry Bistro

I'm a little late getting this review out but better late than never!

Lowcountry Bistro is the new sister restaurant to the acclaimed fine-dining establishment, 82 Queen. Boasting a more laid back atmosphere and casual menu than their parent restaurant, LB brings the same quality food and service we expect from any place associated with 82 Queen. Located on the very busy Market Street, the Bistro is in the perfect location to attract the hoards of visiting tourists who are looking for a bite to eat during their excavation of the Market's manystores. .
My girlfriend Katie and her fiance John
My Fiance Matt and Me
So I went as part of a double brunch date with my bridesmaid Katie and her fiance John who were in town visiting. This was the perfect place to take them. Southern, charming, with a great view of the city on the  upstairs porch. We all ordered, Matt and I shared a small order of shrimp and grits, and steak sliders with a side of mac and cheese (it's never too early in the morning for mac and cheese in my opinion). Plus the waitress boasted this was the best mac in the city. This turned out to be completely false, it was overcooked and under-seasoned and I can make way better at home.

Our meal was averagely good for brunch, perhaps better than average but not really memorable. What I do remember is that we ordered the sliders and it came out with only two little sliders on the plate. I mean, come on people...have you EVER ordered sliders and gotten less than three? It's almost like the rule of sliders, there must be an odd number and three is just a perfect portion. Needless to say I felt a little slighted by the stingy portion, especially because they were so good.

The real star of the brunch was what Katie ordered. She made the wise choice of selecting their chicken and waffles. Not only did she get a massive portion of perfectly crispy salty chicken (a half chicken to be exact), but her waffle was spongy sweet potato waffle that was sweet and briny and soft, like some red headed step child of it's much more famous Belgian cousin. The whole thing came with the standard ball 'o butter on top, except this was not normal butter. oh no, my friends, this was pecan bacon butter. Yes....Pecan. Bacon. Butter. Have you ever heard three more beautiful words strung together at a brunch table? I think not. And this being a fancy chicken and waffles the syrup was stylish too. The syrup was a bourbon infused syrup, and you could taste just a hint of cinnamon. It was heavenly. Katie is a big fan of food and I had to give her serious accolades for ordering with a savant-like genius. This was by far the star of the brunch menu and should be a mandatory order for all tables during brunch. Maybe they could just automatically bring some over, like they do with dinner rolls or bread sticks. can dream.

All in all Lowcountry Bistro isn't somewhere I am jumping at the chance to return to. I would like to try their lunch and dinner to see how that fares but overall its a little overpriced (if I'm paying $12 for sliders I was three of them dammit!) and a bit inconsistant. If they can make all their dishes shine like the chicken and waffles did they would be a huge hit. If you are heading that way though, stop for a bloody mary and an order of chicken and waffles and you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Style

So as I go on in my culinary education I am starting to formulate philosophy of sorts. Most chefs have one, how they cook and why, what they like, what they don't etc. For example, there are a great number of chefs now-a-days that pray to the gods of molecular gastronomy. In lamens terms that is the art of turning perfectly good food into a science project. Not my style. In my opinion, there already have been a bunch of scientists behind the scenes poking and prodding our food before we even get to cook it so the less you can do to your food the better. I don't need a foam that tastes like sardines, or a gele of artichoke hearts, or even a peanut butter, I much prefer to let nature do most of my job for me. If you  have great ingredients, you've already won half the battle. Your job as a chef is to highlight what nature has given us, not to bastardize it. And with have my take on food.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Engagement Fiesta!

This week jump starts Charleston Restaurant Week, by far the most exciting time of year to be a food lover. With all this added excitement surrounding food, this past weekend was also labor day as well as my and Matt's engagement party. Perhaps not as famous as restaurant week, this party was definitely a underground dinner for the food wise elite. The food was catered entirely by my soon-to-be step-mother-in-law Lydia, who is perhaps the closest you can get to a Mexican caterer without actually being Mexican.

Let me tell you what this menu included before I spiral off into a diatribe consisting completely of foodie porn adjectives like "unctuous" and "decadent".

There were four (yes four!) courses of traditional Mexican street food typical of the Riviera Maya region of Mexico.

 shrimp and avocado salad shooters
 Steak and chicken fajita tacos
Pulled chicken and cheese enchiladas
Cochinitas Pibil
Assorted desserts (chocolate fudge, brownies, lemon bars, snickerdoodles, recess peanut butter cup cookies) courtesy of Mary Brindisi (Matt's mom)

Ok, so let's begin to break this down. The first course/appetizer was a huge hit! The shrimp was tossed with avocado, cucumber, red onion, tomato and cilantro with a hint of lime juice. The cold temperature and the freshness that comes along with the classic combo of lime and cilantro was the perfect way to jump start your palate for a night of eating. 

The steak and chicken fajitas were out of this world. Served as a buffet style taco bar there was a mountain of perfectly cooked steak that was just the right medium rare served with a grilled chicken and tri-colored pepper and onion saute. The buffet station was jam packed with four different salsas, crema mexicana, Oaxaca cheese and homemade guacamole. Leterally anything you could need to create the most delicious taco ever! Unfortunately the only thing wrong with this course was that several guests did not know that it was one of three more courses and ate too much! Not a bad problem to have.

Next up was the enchiladas, my overall favorite of the night. These enchiladas were better than the ones I had in Mexico! Lydia got the real deal tortillas from a Mexican market and even learned from the woman who owned the store how to make authentic enchilada sauce. The end result was mouth watering-ly good. The sweet unctuousness of the authentic corn tortilla  made all the other ingredients sing. The chicken was perfectly juicy and pulled to perfection, mixed with the cheese it was almost like a savory mousse. The sauce of course was divine, just the right mix of sweet and spicy. Overall, a stellar dish that I wish I had made. 

The last course was piece-de-resistance, chochinitas pibil. Basically a pork butt wrapped in banana leaves and slow cooked with a blend of sauce and spice. It comes out at the most incredible shredded pork that is then slammed into a taco shell and devoured fiendishly. Served with pickled onions, I'm a huge fan. I mean, who doesn't like pork and pickled anything?

Overall, the party was a HUGE success in large part to my fabulous step-mother-in-law to be and the incredible food she made!!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Co on King

The other day my fiance Matt and I found ourselves out in downtown Charleston for lunch with friends. Being a foursome of adventurous eaters we decided to try out a new restaurant that just opened three months ago.

Co is a restaurant and noodle bar in the Vietnamese style, or at least that is how it presents itself. What it truly is, is a tiny little place, perfectly modern and trendy with a menu that spans the Asian continent offering everything from curry to pad thai, Bahn Mi (the vietnamese answer to a hoagie) to Pho. I would consider it "trendy asian fusion", a title that would make most big city people cringe but for Charleston is surprisingly original. For such a metropolitan city, I find Charleston lacking in ethnic variety.

The restaurant consists of two floors, the first consists of an L-shape bar and one long high-top table in the back. When we went the bar seats were already taken, so we were shown upstairs where the proper dining room is located. Their tables were a bit odd. Long wooden tables meant to seat around ten in a picnic-table style manner. Thankfully there weren't too many people upstairs so we had a table to ourselves.

Our first order of business was of course cocktails!!
Matt and I both ordered their mimosa (which had guava and orange juices). It was delicious, maybe the best mimosa I've ever had.
While selecting our cocktails, we took a good look at their wine list for future reference. I was impressed to see it was short and concise with a fantastic array of imported wines spanning the globe from South Africa, Argentina, Italy, and Portugal. My friend Tess mentioned how refreshing it is to see any menu these days without the token California white or worse, a California red blend. These people obviously know their stuff about vino because they are all fantastic wines at a great price point.

Now, getting back to what really makes or breaks a new place in Charleston, the food. I have to say I was pretty worried about what we were going to get when our waiter mentioned they were still working out the kinks so to speak: getting the staff right, figuring the timing with the kitchen, perfecting the recipes and increasing consistency, all completely legitimate issues that come up with a new restaurant. I can't say that everything went off without a hitch because, well, it didn't.

Our poor friends Tess and Ed made the grave mistake of ordering a dish called Com Ga ($13) which was described on the menu as "Vietnamese fried chicken, rice, pickled vegetables, and ginger dressing. What they ended up with was less than stellar fried chicken, and completely bland rice with no taste whatsoever. There was no ginger dressing to be found and sparse pickled vegetables. In the end, it was pretty much prison food. The saving grace for them however were the Pork Belly Buns ($6). Matt and I also partook in the buns and were pretty satisfied with them. I say pretty satisfied and not super satisfied because they were just not what I was expecting. I was expecting a steamed bun with crispy and fatty slices of pork belly accompanied by pickled vegetables. What these are are fried dough-esque buns with slices of pork belly in them that in all honesty, could and should have been cooked lower and slower before searing. The best part of those buns was the special smokey spicy sauce the waiter brought out to the table. Made in-house this stuff should be sold by the gallon and I would bathe in it all day long, reveling in the smokey, slightly sweet glory of its goodness.

Our other appetizer dish was equally as ho-hum. We ordered the Shrimp and Pork Dumplings ($5) hoping for the best, but getting an average steamed dumpling that came to the table cold inside. Our local Chinese restaurants dumplings blow those out of the water! However, before I make all of you think I didn't enjoy this place, let me tell you our main course was freakin' amazing. We had the Drunken Thai Noodles ($14) and they were everything we had hoped for from CO. They were sweet and spicy (we had the kitchen spice them up a notch) and had a slight smokey flavor that just made my toes tingle. We ordered it with shrimp and I couldn't have loved it more. It was the best drunken noodles I've had since I lived in New York and would order delivery Thai food once a week. Seriously top notch.

Drunken Thai Noodles!
Our Feast, Pork Belly Buns on the left, Drunken Thai Noodles on the right

It was this one dish that gave me extreme hope for the future of this restaurant. They may not have all of their ducks in a row quite yet, but once they've got their stride, I expect they will do quite well here in our lovely city. I will definitely be going back for a couple of months.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sunday Brunch at The Triangle

Sunday is reserved for one thing. No, not church. Not family. No...Sunday is brunch day!!!

Also commonly referred to as "Sunday Fun-day". No Sunday is complete without a bloody mary or mimosa, a heaping pile of food, and great atmosphere. For me, Sunday brunch is more sacred than anything your local preacher could be offering up. It's the closest thing to a ritual I adhere to (not counting Friday night Shabbat dinner at my folks place). First reason I love brunch so much is that it is socially acceptable to be shit faced by one in the afternoon. I have been a fan of day drinking since college and think it is the truly responsible way to drink; you get your party fix, you are much more alert having just woken up, and you will most likely wake up the next day completely sober.

So the usual brunch spot for my crew is the Triangle Char & Bar in Mount Pleasant. It is known for horrible food, which is true....except for Sundays. I admit that my fiance and I have come up with a fool proof regular brunch order which guarantees us great food, so if you go there for brunch and have a crappy dry've been warned.

Triangle is always packed on Sundays, for good reason. $1 mimosas, great spicy bloody mary's, and a fun outside bar area. What I am more interested in talking about however, is their fried chicken livers. These things are spectacular! and the only thing my fiance Matt and I will EVER order from this place. Every Sunday brunch we go there and split the $7 order of chicken livers and a carafe of mimosas and walk away buzzed and so stuffed with food that we waddle lackadaisically back to our vehicle. 

To most people, fried chicken livers sounds disgusting. I understand that. I love third category meats (organ meats to the non culinary crowd), and   chicken liver to me is a special treat. They are also fairly common in the south, where people love the weird stuff (feet, snout, tail etc.) which is fantastic for people like me! you wont find chicken livers on a Manhattan brunch menu that is for sure.

This dish is brunch perfection. The fried chicken livers are accompanied by cheese grits and tasso gravy- a kind of creamy sinfully good pork based sauce that literally makes your tastebuds do high-fives-and all finished off with a fried egg for good measure. It ends up being a creamy, crunchy, salty, sweet slop-bucket of glory. I cannot sing this dishes praises enough. I seriously just want to make out with it, or get it intravenously. And, it is such a filling dish that I could never safely finish one on my own, so it makes the perfect brunch plate for Matt and I....two pigs in shit we are when Sunday rolls around.

As I said....Sunday is for brunch....and of course, friend chicken livers.

Good Morning Vietnam!!!

I can't help but express my excitement to all of you about finding a new girlfriend. Truth be told, good female friends are pretty hard to find and it was by complete chance that me and this chick hit it off. Her name is Chi, she is straight Vietnamese but has lived in DC and then Florida for the past twenty years. She's around 42, skinny and gorgeous, and of course being Asian she also looks like she is about 28-years-old.

Anyways, I had gotten into the topic of food with Chi and she told me she is a huge foodie! So of course I asked all about Vietnamese cuisine, a cuisine I honestly don't know much about. We got to talking about Pho, a traditional Vietnamese dish basically consisting of rare beef cooked in a broth with noodles....from there you can add all sorts of things to it making it unique to you. At least, that was my understanding of it. What I mostly knew about it was that my idol, Anthony Bourdain has on several occasions mentioned that Pho is his favorite dish of all time. I just had to know why!

So Chi invited me to go along with her when she goes up to North Charleston to check out a new Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Bac. It got rave reviews for its Pho and she was anxious to find a place where she could get her home cuisine.

I was beyond excited to go, having never tried Vietnamese food, let alone trying it with a true expert on the stuff.

We got to what looked like a pretty deserted strip mall, not a good sign. The restaurant itself was badly decorated, with deep red walls with black lattis trim accented by sporadic bamboo plants in kitchy potters. Even with all this stacked against this place there were quite a few people getting their Pho fix in this small restaurant, most of them Vietnamese. Always a good sign. If local Vietnamese eat here, its good enough for me.

The menu comes, simple, laminated, in Vietnamese with English translation (also a good sign). When I was in Italy I learned that any menu that had Italian first and English second was usually just okay. Here, facing a menu in all Vietnamese would probably scare me off, so I was thankful for the descriptions of each dish. I mean, who knows what you could end up ordering in a restaurant like anyone?

Chi told me to definitely get the Pho, but suggested the all beef one for me while she herself was going to get the House Special that came with meatballs, tendon, tripe, and beef. I guess she thought my delicate white girl stomach wouldn't be interested in what the real Vietnamese eat. She was wrong. We ordered the same thing and she was pretty impressed with my daring.

To start, Chi ordered a jack fruit bubble tea. It was more like a milkshake, sweet and thick and perfect for the hot day outside. I had never had jack fruit before and it was surprisingly mild and sweet with a hint of acidity, sort of like a mango mixed with an orange.

Then the main event arrived. Two huge steaming vats of indistinguishably brown liquid, topped with long strips of rare beef, green onion floating on top like mini life preservers. This thing was huge! I mean, serves two people huge. Put you to bed huge.

Hidden below the depths was a nest of delicate rice noodles, swimming amongst the broth, stomach lining, tendons, and believe it or not, meatballs. Relatively bland at the start, the waitress brought us a plate of goodies: Add-ins to spice up, tang-out, flavor up your dish. Basil, lime wedges, bean sprouts and jalapenos beckoned and Chi and I left no man behind. After we added our flavor boosters, we took to those bowls with generous squirts of Sirriacha, turning the mild-mannered brown liquid into a spicy amber hell-broth. This was like a religious experience. The dish is served naked almost, giving the eater the chance to really pay their respects to it by dousing their broth and noodles in spice, salt, flavor, and more spice. Making this one of the most interactive eating experiences I've had.

Chi wasted no time, digging into her bowl like a pro, teaching me the dance of spoon and chop-stick. Both are needed to attack this beast and I fumbled around with both until I finally got the hang of it. For such a small woman, Chi took down that bowl of goodness like a starving street baby. Finished well before I was.

I finally finished my bowl, almost sad that it was all over. My favorite part of the whole dish had to be those meatballs. So completely different from Italian style meatballs that I am so familiar with. These were denser, like solid hockey puck when frozen kind of dense. I can't pinpoint the flavors in them, but I'm pretty sure they were pork....then again, maybe the greatness of them is that they were so foreign to me. Maybe I don't want to know what's in those magical meatballs.

Some things are just best when left to the experts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Juanita Greenbergs Happy Hour Review

There are few things I love more than a cold beer and a good taco. Recently, this budget conscious girl has been on the hunt for the best places for happy hour in the Mount Pleasant area and came across a new favorite, Juanita Greenberg's.I had already been introduced to Juanita’s many times, for a while I referred to it as “that Jewish taco place” due to the ethnically confused name. Situated next to Andolini’s Pizza on Coleman Boulevard, it is hard to miss the bright red building and turquoise shutters. It’s a festive place that like me, doesn’t take itself too seriously and always has a good crowd and friendly staff. 
View from Coleman Blvd

A few weeks ago after a long day at the beach, my fiancĂ©, a friend and I decided to hit up Juanita’s for a happy hour margarita, just the thing to cool us down after a hot day in the sun. That is when we found out about their incredible happy hour: $2 domestics, $3 margaritas, and $1.50 traditional tacos.

Their tacos are out of this world good. We took the bartenders suggestion and got the corn tortillas, two steak and one chicken taco. Her suggestion was spot on as these tacos brought our taste buds right back to our November trip to Mexico. They were perfectly simple, just like authentic street tacos should be. The steak was grilled perfectly and was accompanied by red onion, sprigs of cilantro and melted cheese served with a lime wedge.

Happy Hour Margarita!!
The margaritas were good, fairly standard but perfect on that hot afternoon. The beer selection is superb for a Mexican restaurant, complete with a large array of imported beers including my personal favorite, Sol (similar to a corona but much tastier, served with a lime).The tacos were the true standouts, cheap and delicious. All said and done we all left more than fully satisfied and each of our tabs came out to under $20. So if you are in the mood for great tacos, a fun atmosphere and cold Mexican beers, head to Juanita Greenbergs on Coleman Blvd any day of the week.
 410 W Coleman Blvd  Mount Pleasant, SC 29464
(843) 884-0130

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring in Charleston

Charleston, with all its innate beauty and fun-loving spirit has finally crept into my soul and settled into a permanent place in my heart. I can say for sure that I will be here for the rest of my days, as a home base to return to after many an adventure (god and bank accounts willing).

Growing up in New York had me wanting for more, a strange concept seeing as I grew up within arms reach of arguably the greatest city in the world. However what was missing for me was peace and calm. Charleston and its' surrounding areas has a different energy, a way of life that is in tune with the natural world around it. It is almost as if the people here hum with the same pulsing force as the earth.

The seasons change and the people change with it. For a chef there is no greater gift than seasonality, it allows us to try new things, to constantly change what we keep in our fridges and pantries. A variable that challenges us to be aware of the ground from which we grow our food.