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#1 coughy

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 12:39 AM

We are going to Charleston in March for a conference and need to entertain. I need suggestions for five restaurants for dinners. Thanks for your help.

#2 Rail Paul

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 12:55 AM

Several good threads on Charleston area dining and food sourcing

Charleston

and

The all purpose Sean Brock thread

and

Heirloom grains and vegetables

“Jazz musicians just get better and better as the years go by. I think chefs are the same way. You know who you are.”

 

...Jonathan Waxman


#3 Sneakeater

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 03:50 AM

Go to any and all Sean Brock restaurants that you can.
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#4 Adrian

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Posted 13 January 2012 - 01:43 AM

Brief dispatch from the Mouthfuls diaspora: Charleston is phenomenal. Sean Brock is great, not perfect, but more than worth a detour. Bar Husk is insane. UE thanks for the recs. Longer post coming soon.

I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.


#5 Rail Paul

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Posted 13 January 2012 - 02:30 AM

Brief dispatch from the Mouthfuls diaspora: Charleston is phenomenal. Sean Brock is great, not perfect, but more than worth a detour. Bar Husk is insane. UE thanks for the recs. Longer post coming soon.


Husk Restaurant website

“Jazz musicians just get better and better as the years go by. I think chefs are the same way. You know who you are.”

 

...Jonathan Waxman


#6 Adrian

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Posted 14 January 2012 - 03:39 PM

Stopped off in Charleston for two nights on the way back from Florida (what Chambo is to Nantucket, I am to Ft. Myers Beach). Basically followed UE's recommendations. Itinerary was as follows:

Bar at Cypress for charcuterie
Hope and Union for coffee
Husk for lunch
McCrady's for dinner
Bar Husk for drinks both nights

Preliminary thoughts: Rick Santorum may not win the nomination, but he's a Charleston fashion plate. Sweater vests abound. Lots of golf talk too. And people running at awkward times. Absolutely beautiful city, though. But what in the world do people do here?

Cypress: Excellent charcuterie. Interesting design - I didn't love it, my mom did, girlfriend was studiously neutral - it had the "wall o wine" and was pretty modern, but also showed off brick walls and some older design touches. UE told me the charcuterie made it worth a visit and who was I to object? Standouts were the lamb salami, the ham, and the smoked duck breast. The nduja (warm salami spread), however, was great. Served with bread that had been lightly grilled over the hickory grill it had a strong, slow building heat. Cheese plate was poor, red pepper jam and marmalade served with it were pro.

Hope and Union: Good. It appears to be the town SCB. Located North of the Charleston College in what, as best I can figure, is Charleston's hipster quadrant in an old Charleston single house with a great porch and a modern addition in the back, it is a good final destination for a walk up Meeting or East Bay and back down through the college. Didn't try the espresso, instead went with a single origin pour-over. They had three options, went with the Costa Rican, good acid, made well.

The Brock restaurants coming soon. There's a lot to talk about there.

I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.


#7 Nancy S.

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 03:30 PM

I look forward to your Husk and McCrady's reports.

#8 Adrian

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 06:48 PM

So, pretty much the whole purpose of this trip was to eat Sean Brock’s food. My though was this – it’s an hour detour on the ride home and, after a week on the Gulf Coast, and a series of disappointing meals in Toronto, I “deserve” it. I felt vaguely like old-style Michelin dining. Worth a detour? Yes, surely.

Lunch was at Husk. Husk is, like Roberta’s, Ssam-Duck-Milk, or Joe Beef (which Husk reminded me of more than any other restaurant), a complex: the restaurant is in a beautiful southern mansion, the carriage house next door is Bar Husk, in the back they smoke meat and char fennel over an oil drum. Moreover, Brock matches aesthetic touches with practicality in a way that few do. Bourbon is served in cut and rounded wine bottles giving a similar effect as jam jars without the dribble. It isn’t hipster though. It’s elegant, slightly rustic, and polished. This makes sense; Husk is an expression of something southern in the same way that Joe Beef is an expression of something French-Canadian. In Montreal that means close tables, chalk board menus, and shabby, edgy décor; in Charleston it means well spaced tables, blond wood, and menus on heavy, custom stock, and instead of flowers, a bowl of beans and grains.

To begin, honey-buttermilk bread with whipped pork fat. The description is enough. Then, fried green tomatoes and the famous corn bread. The corn bread is exactly what you would expect it to be(TM Lovie Smith) – the application of superior ingredients and refined technique to a vernacular dish. Brock’s talent is obvious, the smoke and fat accent the corn bread, enhance it, do not overwhelm, et cetera, et cetera. It is the perfect dish for the blogs and the media. It is predictably great in the way these dishes are predictably great. And maybe slightly disappointing in the way that all these dishes are slightly disappointing - it is, after all, merely the best corn bread you've ever had. The fried green tomatoes are something different. They are spectacular. Green zebra tomatoes are lightly battered, fried, and served with pimento and a bacon-caramelized onion – apple cider vinegar condiment. The balance of sweet, savory, acid, smoky, creamy, is pitch perfect. Everything is loud, nothing dominates. Maybe, maybe, the best bite of the trip.

Mains show equal skill and ingredient quality. My mom’s shrimp and grits follow a similar pattern to the corn bread; my girlfriend’s cornmeal crusted catfish is an immaculate specimen, served over beans that taste dialed up; and my duck confit is the best iteration of the dish I’ve ever had. It’s lightly cured, moist, crispy, and served over more excellent grains, stone-cut oats in this case.

Desserts – an oatmeal pie with ginger crème anglais and squash bread pudding – are homey and southern, pair well with bourbon, and continue to showcase Brock’s ability to elevate the vernacular.

I haven’t been to this complete a restaurant in a long time. Every detail is well considered and the food itself is a near perfect expression of the region. It’s tight, technical cooking of relatively simple food. Bistros are rarely this well measured. Joe Beef is, again, the closest analogue. It shares much with Husk – incredibly high ingredient quality, technical cooking, backyard smokers, and a close connection to time and place.

Flaws? I’m hard pressed to find any. It’s hard to imagine this food executed any better with any better ingredients. If you don’t love the southern flavors – pork and smoke were omnipresent despite none of our dishes having pig as the main protein – then yeah, it’s a problem, but there were no failures of execution here, no sub-par ingredients. This is bistro cooking at its best.

I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.


#9 SLBunge

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 08:11 PM

Bourbon is served in cut and rounded wine bottles giving a similar effect as jam jars without the dribble. It isnít hipster though. Itís elegant, slightly rustic, and polished.

I remember the commercials for this...

Posted Image
Suffocating under a pile of cheese curds.

#10 Rail Paul

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 09:18 PM

That's a tremendous report, Adrian. Thanks for sharing it.

“Jazz musicians just get better and better as the years go by. I think chefs are the same way. You know who you are.”

 

...Jonathan Waxman


#11 Sneakeater

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 10:30 PM

That whole review was great. But this, this is pure gold:

The corn bread is exactly what you would expect it to be(TM Lovie Smith) – the application of superior ingredients and refined technique to a vernacular dish. Brock’s talent is obvious, the smoke and fat accent the corn bread, enhance it, do not overwhelm, et cetera, et cetera. It is the perfect dish for the blogs and the media. It is predictably great in the way these dishes are predictably great. And maybe slightly disappointing in the way that all these dishes are slightly disappointing - it is, after all, merely the best corn bread you've ever had.


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#12 Stone

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 10:34 PM

The corn bread is exactly what you would expect it to be(TM Lovie Smith)

(Dennis Green?)

And she was.


#13 Adrian

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 10:58 PM

The corn bread is exactly what you would expect it to be(TM Lovie Smith)

(Dennis Green?)


Right. Yes. At least I didn't type Jim Mora.

I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.


#14 Rail Paul

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 11:44 PM


The corn bread is exactly what you would expect it to be(TM Lovie Smith)

(Dennis Green?)


Right. Yes. At least I didn't type Jim Mora.


On another thread, I linked an article about Sean Brock's role in helping popularize local variations on corn. He, Anson Mills Company, and others are doing yeoman work in expanding use of legacy crops, beans, grains, etc. This may be great corn bread in part because you've never been able to sample the superb grains from which it was made.

“Jazz musicians just get better and better as the years go by. I think chefs are the same way. You know who you are.”

 

...Jonathan Waxman


#15 Adrian

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 12:07 AM

RP – Definitely. The New Yorker piece described the flavor of the grains that he uses as the flavor of the grain in ALL CAPS. That was true of the cornbread, oatmeal, and grits at Husk and of the red beans at McCrady’s. Speaking of:

McCrady’s is not as perfect a restaurant as Husk, nor is it as fully realized as restaurant. Which makes sense – the ambitions are lower at Husk and Husk, I think, has more Sean Brock in the stuff off the plate than McCrady's. McCrady’s feels like the good, unimportant, local restaurant that got lucky when it hired its chef. First, it’s huge. Only the front room is used as dining, the rest, I gather, are available for private functions. Second, the front room isn’t particularly charming or interesting. It is dim, stone, and has two large (gas) fire places that are nice but, ultimately, gas fire places. It could use a remodeling. Husk is gorgeous, McCrady’s is comfortable. It’s also worth noting that we got seated in Siberia: a four top in the bar area, sharing a bench with a solo diner (the reason for this, I think, was that the servers in the main room were all occupied and our server doubled up as the bartender. She was wonderful.) It was a less than ideal seating arrangement, if not one that really bothered us. Still, somewhat of an odd start.

This sort of stuff is where McCrady’s doesn’t work. The bread was merely fine, the butter and olive oil good. There was no amuse. No petit fours. This makes no sense – the food deserves the launch of an amuse, the soft landing of a plate of pralines and chocolates. The four course menu is a mere $60, an absolute steal. Raise it to $70 and add the trappings. No one will complain about the price hike. No one. Frame the meal. The start and finish are too abrupt. Make things a bit more special.

Service too is well meaning, friendly, and, in an absolute sense, quite good, if a bit unpolished by big city standards. Zero tableside presentation. It may sound small, but the bisque should be poured tableside, maybe a couple of the mains sauced by the waiter. Nothing major, just small, fine dining touches. None of this would warrant a mention if Brock’s food were merely adequate. Instead, it’s big boy food deserving of a big boy setting.

As most reading this know, Brock’s food is “tweezry” and “post-modernist” and all that crud. Basically, it’s modern ambitious restaurant food. Modern technical touches such as sous vide meats, various compressed fruits, xanthan smoothed purees are used abundantly, dishes are more often sauced with purees then reductions. And, of course, being modern restaurant food, despite the complexity, technique is not the point. This is an ingredient focused cuisine; technique exists in the service of the immaculate meat and produce. Dry aging, rooftop herbs (yes Wilfrid!), heirloom antebellum (sounds way cooler) grains, and all of that are probably more important to the cuisine than the chemistry.

I opened with the pullet egg. Barely set, it was surrounded by anson mills red peas and Chinese cauliflower. Awesome. My mom’s rutabaga bisque feature perfect (butter poached?) lobster and a hint of kimchee. Like at Husk, perfect balance. My girlfriend god the beets cooked in wood embers. Again, gorgeous plating and intense flavors – crystallized rose petals and huckleberries accented the earthiness of the beats.

Fish courses were next and seemed inspired by different cuisines. My Mahi dish was almost Caribbean in its composition. The Mahi itself was a tremendous piece of fish – the heat on the blackening spices was just rights as well – although the roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and sweet potato puree were merely good. The poached tilefish had strong Thai flavors – kafir lime and black garlic gave the dish a good punch. While both were good, my girlfriend’s clams and oysters dish had an incredible fennel and saffron (grown in Virginia!) broth that recalled aggressive but well tempered flavors of Jean Georges.

While I didn’t get a good taste of my mom’s lamb (although it was paired with a fun Lebanese wine), the aged birds that my girlfriend and I ordered were, well, unbelievable. Hers, the duck, has been written about here by Sneak. Everything he said about it is true. The duck flavor is just dialed up ten or fifteen times. Mine was a sub-in from the tasting menu: aged wood pigeon baked in salt and hay (Then sous vided, then finished) with beats, guanciale, some white chocolate and jus. It was as good as, if not better than, the duck. The pigeon was woody, gamy and earthy with undertones of smoke from the guanciale. On the side, I asked for a pot of the “Charleston Ice Cream” (Carolina gold rice). Very good, maybe not worth the hype UE gave it, but wonderful rice, possibly the best I’ve had outside of a sushi context.

And what is with these modernist guys killing it on the desserts? If not quite as good as the 400 Coups desserts, these were nearly there. My mom’s walnut cake was like a more refined version of the Husk desserts with the compressed apples adding an intense, sweet apple flavor to a more savory dessert. My Eucalyptus panna cotta was floral and citrusy. Excellent, although neither were as successful as my girlfriend’s cylinder of dark chocolate mousse surrounded by a beat gelee.

So, yes, great. Not as perfect as Husk but operating in a completely different style. Brock’s sense of balance and composition are apparent at both restaurants, the man knows how to make good tasting food. Every dish featured multiple ingredients and multiple techniques – both ancient and modern – but the food was never bogged down by complexity. Not every dish was a resounding success as at Husk, but the highs were incredibly high. Oh, and the food is close to the best looking I’ve eaten. The downside of McCrady’s is that it does feel very much like Brock’s cuisine superimposed on an environment that wasn’t meant for it. His vision is all over Husk; his vision is only on the plate at McCrady’s. I’d love to see that. Until then, as I’ve said, this is easily food worth a detour.

I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.