It’s no secret that we are both Francophiles – we met during our junior year abroad in France, speak the language and adore French food and wine. We’re always looking to indulge our inner Frenchies, and the recent opening of both a new French restaurant and a new French film here in Charleston seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a babysitter and head out on the town for a soirée française.
When we first moved to Charleston, we quickly fell in love with La Fourchette, a little French bistro on King Street, and were devastated when it suddenly closed in 2013. Our emotions swung 180 degrees last spring when we heard that La Fourchette’s owner would be opening a new restaurant on Cannon Street (in place of the shuttered Lana, whose chef has now launched Kairos Greek Kitchen, which has quickly become one of our favorite kid-friendly spots). So when Goulette finally opened a few weeks ago, we knew we had to try it tout de suite! And while Goulette is not as classically French as La Fourchette was, we were thrilled to find all the components of a great French meal among its menu offerings.
Soups and salads comprise the bulk of Goulette’s appetizers, but we opted to split the shrimp roll to start. The shrimp roll was surprisingly large and a great first course to share. A mound of local Charleston shrimp were nestled inside a toasted, top-split brioche roll, dressed in a creamy sauce with just the right amount of dill and a drizzle of lobster oil. It was also accompanied by the house salade verte, which provided a light counterpoint to the richness of the roll. Despite its size, we never felt that the roll was too rich or heavy, even on a 90 degree Charleston day. Our waitress told us that it is Goulette’s most popular appetizer, and we can vouch that it is a great choice to start your meal.
Goulette’s entree selection is meat-heavy but eclectic, offering French classics alongside pulled pork, fish and chips and grilled shrimp. Prices range from $16 for the pulled pork up to $26 for the duck confit and lamb chops, and each of the grilled items can be paired with a sauce (basquaise, green peppercorn, coq au vin, gorgonzola or mushroom cream), offered à la carte for an additional $3 or $3.50.
As former devotees of the steak frites at La Fourchette, we gravitated toward the French fare: hanger steak and duck leg confit, both served with heaping portions of fries and more salade verte. The crispy duck confit (spiced with orange zest, coriander, clove and allspice) was good, but the hanger steak was truly great. The steak arrived cooked to a perfect medium rare and was served with a dusting of garlic, parsley and (we think) Paremsan cheese. Tyler opted to include the green peppercorn sauce, which was good but not great; it had a spice note we couldn’t nail down that was slightly overpowering. We both agreed that we have never encountered hanger steak that tender before. While one of the more expensive options on the menu at $25, it was $25 very well spent (though we do wish the sauces were included at that price point). We were also thrilled to find the fries unchanged from the La Fourchette days: double fried in duck fat and completely ducking delicious.
Goulette’s wine list is relatively short but well-cultivated. It is heavily French, but there were many selections from both the old and new worlds as well as a small by-the-glass selection. Prices were reasonable, topping out around $80, with the vast majority of bottles under $50. We settled on the 2012 premier cru from the “Les Vergelesses” vineyard in Savigny-les-Beaune. 2012 was a good vintage for Burgundy, and the wine met our high expectations – it was structured enough to complement the steak and duck, but its relatively light body and low alcohol content prevented it from overwhelming the shrimp roll. The first sip was much more tannic than we anticipated, but the wine quickly softened in the glass, showing notes of raspberry, cherries and rosemary with just a touch of Burgundy barnyard funk.
We finished our meal with an order of profiteroles, a classic French bistro dessert. Four puffs of choux pastry filled with vanilla bean ice cream, drowning in a dark chocolate sauce, were tough to pass up. The pastry was light with a slight crunch, clearly indicating that they were house-made and not pulled from a freezer. The Belgian chocolate sauce had a great depth of flavor – rich but not overly so, with a a pleasant bitterness that made us wonder if some fresh coffee had been added. It was the perfect coda to a meal that stayed true to the French philosophy of focusing on good ingredients prepared well.
Pleasantly but not overwhelmingly full, we said au revoir to our friendly Belgian waitress and headed to The Terrace, Charleston’s only indie movie theater, to continue our French-food-focused evening with a screening of Paris Can Wait. The movie centers on Anne (Diane Lane), an American woman being driven from the French Riviera to Paris by her husband’s French colleague, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), after an ear infection prevents her from flying. What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a multi-day adventure as quirky, food-obsessed Jacques leads Anne on a gastronomic tour through Provence, Lyon and Burgundy.
The plot is fairly slight – Anne’s at a bit of a crossroads in her life, having closed her business but now catering to her busy movie-producer husband, and Jacques is overtly but not aggressively flirtatious – and the real appeal (for us, anyway) was in the amazing meals, fabulous wine and beautiful landscapes that form the backbone of the film. Non-Francophiles and non-foodies would likely find the culinary focus and meandering pace of the movie, as well as the lack of subtitles on all of the French dialogue, frustrating. For us, though, it was like taking a delightful, delicious 90-minute vacation – so much so that, despite our meal at Goulette and our current lack of vacation time, we found ourselves slightly hungry and Googling Paris airfare prices on our drive home. Paris may have to wait, but we’re glad Charleston’s French food and cultural offerings are strong enough to transport us there, even if only for the evening.
98 Cannon Street, Charleston, SC
Open for dinner; opening soon for lunch
No Internet presence that we can find!