Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Charleston, SC - Friday's Agenda

Our first full day in Charleston starts with the Chef's Kitchen Culinary Tour. It's a 2 1/2 hour walking tour that begins with coffee and pastries and we'll visit 'several great restaurants' and get to visit the kitchens!

The tour is only on Friday mornings and has been featured in Southern Living, Bon Appetit, Cooking Light and the Michelin Guide among others.

BlossomSince no food except those early pastries is provided on the tour we plan to Lunch at Blossom after the tour. Turns out Blossom is owned by the same restaurant group as Magnolia's - where will will have lunch the day before.

Blossom's menu has tasty offerings like 'Buttermilk Fried Artichoke Hearts with red pepper remoulade' and a number of wood oven pizza options. Their sandwiches come with rosemary fries - and they mention daily lunch specials served with soup or house salad for only $9. An inexpensive way to try a great restaurant.

After lunch, we are planning for a bit of shopping (likely mostly window shopping considering my budget) on King Street. Upper King Street is the 'Design and Dining District', the Fashion District falls in the middle and the Antiques District is found on lower King Street.

28 South Battery
We'll wander around the residential Historic District (perhaps seeing up close some of the things we saw on Thursday during our carriage tour) and according to Pamela's research there are 3 excellent cemeteries near St. Philips Episcopal Church.

Starting near the cemetery at the Unitarian Church, the Gateway Garden Walk opened in 1930 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Charleston. The three block walk connects Archdale Street and Philadelphia Alley.

The idea of the walk came from Clelia Peronneau McGowan who found that a garden walk in the busy city of Paris was refreshing. As the president of the Garden Club, she suggested the idea to members upon her return to Charleston.

I'm also told that while we're there we need to check out 28 South Battery (see picture). This house was built by George S. Cook, a noted photographer in 1860. George S. Cook is an ancestor of my husband, Dan's - and I suspect also the source of his middle name 'Cook'.

Pavillion Rooftop Bar
After all that wandering around, we'll need a drink. So Friday's Sunset drink will be at Pavilion Rooftop Bar (assuming they don't have a table minimum, a packed house and no heaters in case there is a chill).

After a drink, it's time to stroll the cobbled streets and gas lit alleys for the French Quarter Art Walk (is this starting to sound a little like our last trip? New Orleans?). The art walk is free and open to the public but only happens a few days each year.

Participating galleries on Meeting, Church, State, East Bay, Broad, Cumberland, Queen, Chalmers and Tradd Streets will be open with artists on hand and refreshments. The French Quarter is located within the original walled city of Charleston and the art walk is from 5 to 8 pm the first Friday in March, May, October and December.

Food. Is. Good. Dinner at F.I.G might include some of the following tasty menu items: "Capers Blades" on the half shell with cabernet mignonette, lemon agrumato and pickled garlic. Or Pan Roasted Scamp Grouper with braised fennel, roasted tomatoes, cerignola olives and lemon. Perhaps the Suckling Pig Confit with sauteed young greens, roasted beets, mustard jus and smoked bacon.

I'm glad to see FIG described as 'laid-back, eclectic and unpretentious' as some of the bars we've researched seem to think quite a bit of themselves. FIG is another Charleston eatery that uses local source products and their menu changes daily. Yum.

That evening, before turning in we have several bars on our 'to do' list: Enoteca, Torch, Chai's, Bin 152. The first 3 are about 7 blocks north of our hotel, Bin 152 is about 4 blocks south. I'm not sure of their proximity to dinner at this point. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that some of these were selected purely based on pictures.

Enoteca is a new 'wine bar' in Charleston. It's tiny, only about 24 seats, and some bar stools. Self described as a 'sexy little space at night with the soft lighting giving the woodsy interior a warm glow". The focus is Italian wine, beer and cheese (they're owned by Trattoria Lucca just down the street).

Torch is another on our list, certainly more of a 'lounge' feel and they also seem to be following the 'hooka bar' trend. Chai's is Asian inspired, but describes 'fusion tapas'. Too bad we will already have eaten...

Bin 152
Bin 152 is in the French Quarter and fairly close to our hotel. They are also a wine bar, feature 35 different cheeses and have freshly baked bread. Sounds like dessert to me! Bin 152 has a very Country French look. Maybe we'll have some room left for a cheese and wine pairing.

So that's the agenda for our first full day in Charleston. I'm tired and full just thinking about it!

Eating, drinking and walking through Charleston, SC - Thursday

Pamela and I are off to Charleston, SC for a 5 day / 4 night trip in early December.

(Thank you American Express points for making this trip possible!)

I found us a hotel at a great price (we'll be staying at the Renaissance in the Historic District), but Pamela has been working hard on the itinerary and researching restaurants and bars - so all this detail and deliciousness is thanks to her.

Here is the plan so far:

Thursday we'll leave Raleigh in the AM, check in at our hotel and walk to Magnolia's for lunch. Magnolia's is known for 'upscale' Southern cuisine. Their lunch menu includes a number of enticing menu items including salt and pepper buttermilk fried shrimp with a jezebel sauce, fried green tomatoes with white cheddar and caramelized onion grits, country ham and tomato chutney and blue crab, sweet corn and smoked bacon ravioli. mmm...

After lunch we'll start some walking (going to have to get some exercise at some point, we're shooting for between meals).

Our first planned stop is Rainbow Row. I last saw Rainbow Row as a kid visiting Charleston with my parents. Rainbow Row is a series of colorfully painted historic houses on East Bay Street.

They were first painted these colors in the early 1900s. After the Civil War, this particular area of Charleston had become rather 'slummy'. They were purchased by a woman, Dorothy Porcher Legge, as part of a renovation plan. The houses she purchased were painted pink, like the colonial Caribbean color scheme. Other owners followed the trend creating the Rainbow Row of today.

The coloring helps the houses stay cool inside during the hot, Southern summers - and has given the area a name and made it a popular tourist destination.

Next stop will be the Waterfront Park to view the often described pineapple fountain. The park and pier run along the Charleston Harbor entry. There is talk of intimate garden "rooms" and spacious lawns, and it should be quite lovely. The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, for which the South is well known.

From there we'll be off to enjoy a Classic Carriage Tour. The tours go through a residential portion of Charleston's historic district. After the tour, it's off to City Market. City Market consists of four blocks of open-air buildings - I personally hope to see some of the traditional Gullah style sweetgrass baskets. I bought a small one as a kid that I still covet, but I understand the prices are a lot higher than they were 30 years ago - so a new purchase is not likely. But hopefully they'll still be making the baskets there in the market.

The baskets are coil-sewn; typically using needlegrass bound with strips of saw palmetto stem. They are decorative and unique to the South Carolina Low Country. A true Gullah style sweetgrass basket will retain its pale green and brown color, it will not be gray. They are flexible, they don't crack and fray. Mine looks as it did the day I bought it at least 25 years ago!

At Sunset we plan to have drinks at Vendue Rooftop Bar. Vendue advertises itself as having "perhaps the finest harbor view of any Charleston restaurant, as well as dramatic views within the historic district". So we'll do as they suggest and sip a cocktail as we take in Charleston from the hotel's rooftop bar. I'm happy to report that they have heaters in case the weather is chilly!

McCrady’s is our stop for dinner. They were the recipient of the 2010 James Beard Best Chef Southeast award and they're known for using local ingredients. On their website they also state that they specialize in pre-Prohibition cocktails.

The location itself is beautiful (see picture). Built in 1788, the four-story Georgian manse served as a collective retreat for notable Charlestonians after the Revolutionary War. A 'manse' is a term for a house inhabited or formerly inhabited by a minister.

What is now the bar was once horse and buggy stalls. Arched brick frames small rooms, a gas lantern marks the entry way. Certainly we expect the ambiance to add to the quality of our meal.

Our plan, pending reservations, is to do the Chef's tasting menu at McCrady's. (I hope I can still get bi-valves if they are part of the menu even though Pamela has an allergy - but if not, oh well!) With chef's tasting menus it is typically required that the whole table participate. I'm hoping for some wine pairings as well. Since the menu changes daily, we'll wait to decide until we see what is offered. Right now it lists 'Stone Crab, Orange, Coconut, Sour Mix' and 'Scallop with Courgettes, Cucumber and Bonito'....but i'm not sure I'm as into the lamb heart... organ meat is not one of my favorites.

They also have a market menu for $39 that has three courses made of products indigenous to the region. The first course selections are "A Salad of Beets, Watercress, Goat Cheese and Almonds" or "White Gazpacho with Smoked Sunburst Trout".

Their current menu has some wonderful food: Summer Fruit Gazpacho with Stone Crab and Summer Herbs, Grouper with Chanterelles, Corn and Bay Shrimp, Beef Tenderloin with Allium, Potatoes, Duxelles and Foie Gras Hollandaise, Corn Soup with Shrimp Spaetzle and Basil Puree!

I wonder what exciting changes Fall and Winter will bring to the menu?

After seeing and hearing so much about it watching Food Network, it will be one of my first experiences with molecular gastronomy and I'm looking forward to it!

After Dinner, we will be off to some of the bars on the Market. Mercato is an Italian Restaurant that (oddly?) has Jazz at night.

There's also Henry's House, a relatively new restaurant and bar that describes itself as 'Bohemian style with a French low country flair". They are reported to have a 'double-tiered rooftop deck' (see picture above) that we plan to enjoy a few drinks up there prior to retiring for the night so we can be ready for the Chef's Table Culinary Tour on Friday morning!

Cat Genie Resolved

Cat Genie support delivered!

I called about the problem, mentioned that it was trying to dry at the same time it was still filling.

The man I spoke to decided it was a computer problem, I didn't have to do any trouble shooting with him. Since I had purchased from Amazon, I had my receipt. He emailed me a form, I returned it to him with my receipt and a few days later a new processing unit arrived on the doorstep!

I plugged it in and immediately all my problems were fixed.

I cleaned and packed the other one, the hubby dropped it off at FedEx and all was good!

So I still love the Cat Genie and it's been working like a charm for the last month. It's like a brand new machine.

And support exceeded my expectations. I had heard it was good, but I was very surprised. It was excellent and no hassle. KEEP THOSE RECEIPTS!