Wednesday, November 3, 2010

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!


Mariposa said...

Are we there yet?

catastrophegirl said...

i remember that basket weaving. i tried to soak up as much knowledge as i could from the weaver i talked to.