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.