Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Doing the Charleston

The Ordinary in Charleston, SC

We needed a break. The baby was old enough to spend a weekend with Lindsay's parents and we were itching to get out of town. A trip out of the country wouldn't work, as we only had three days tops. The usual suspects: New York, San Francisco, and Chicago were discussed, but ultimately we decided against each for various reasons. 

"What about Charleston," said Lindsay.

A simple flight with a layover in Atlanta, home of the 1-3 Atlanta Falcons, later we arrived in Charleston. Tip: either on the way there or the way back, make it a point to head to Terminal E and visit One Flew South for excellent drinks and fantastic food. Now listen, a word of caution. If you are from New Orleans and heading to Charleston, be prepared to hear some variant of the phrase: "Charleston is a clean New Orleans." While that isn't necessarily untrue, it falls short of the mark. 

All port cities have similarities, but I find Charleston to be more colonial than European, more Southern than Caribbean. We checked into Charleston Place and were talked into an upgrade to a suite with access to a hospitality lounge. Skip this offer. The rooms are in drastic need of an overhaul and the price doesn't justify a cocktail or two or handful of benne wafers a day. For a high end hotel, they sure did say no a lot. 

Shrimp and Grits at Husk

Charleston Place is the place to stay as it is smack dab in the middle of everything. We stashed the bags and headed to Husk, where we swooned over shrimp and grits, pimento cheese and pickles, a bacon studded cheeseburger, fried pigtails, warm peas tossed with cherry tomatoes, a few cocktails and some local beers. We then strolled up King Street and picked up cookware we technically didn't need, home furnishings we had no intention of buying, and way too many gifts for the baby. 

A shower later, we headed out to the Gin Joint for a quick round of cocktails. Here came, a pitch perfect daiquiri and a Build-A-Bear cocktail. The premise is simple, you pick three adjectives (bitter, fizzy, and strong, sweet, tart, and herbal, etc...) and they build you a drink around that description. A neat parlor trick but I didn't remember ordering a Relaxed, Content, and Happy.

Pork with butterbean chow chow at McCrady's Restaurant

Onto McCrady's for one of the South's most talked about restaurants. The ingredients are impeccable, the cooking on point, and the service tipped us off on an excellent rose and a few other places in town. We especially enjoyed a plate of beef tartare served with crispy beef tendon and a tender hunk of pork encircled by a ring of field peas, chanterelles, and red onion. 

The Buddha Bowl at The Green Door

The next day we put ourselves in a horse and buggy, toured a massive home filled with way too many antiques, and walked around  the Battery peeking through fences. Then it was off to The Green Door, a food truck-cum-restaurant, serving the kind of fauxthentic street food populating the country. The pork belly falafel were a soggy mess, but the spiced chickpeas, fiery noodle bowl with bone marrow broth, braised beef, and poached egg, and kimchi fried rice were excellent bites no matter which cuisine you call them. 

We ambled back towards King Street and headed up to Mike Lata's The Ordinary, which is simply one of the most beautiful restaurants you'll see. Inside a former bank, the kitchen serves seafood in all of its myriad glories. We started with a few cocktails: an Aperol Spritz and a gin and tonic turned pink with the inclusion of a dash of Peychaud's bitters. Then a bottle of Ameztoi txakolina rose and a platter of clams, raw oysters, and lobster. A more decadent afternoon snack does not exist. We finished off the afternoon with some cocktails at the charming Proof and a massage back at the hotel. 

Later we headed to FIG, where we feasted on more beef tartare, a nine vegetable salad, a plate of gnocchi enrobbed in a rich bolognese, and a seafood chowder. The best bite though was a tomato tarte tatin with a quenelle of whipped goat cheese that made. The finale was a rich and gooey sorghum cake topped with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. Imagine a diner plopped down someplace in the south of France or the hills of Italy or the coast of Spain, or all three. That is Fig and you should go. 

The next day, we headed up to Two Boroughs Larder for a traditional southern breakfast of spaghetti carbonara and octopus. We poked around the farmer's market, where the bartender from The Ordinary had donned a paper hat to serve homemade sodas. Then off to the airport and home to recover. 


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