McCrady’s

As we’ve mentioned before, we’ve kept a running list of all the Charleston-area restaurants we’ve tried since our first visit to the Holy City back in 2009.  This summer, we realized we’d be hitting restaurant #200 right around our eleventh wedding anniversary in early August.  So with some careful planning and unusual restraint (there are several new places we’re dying to try!), we decided to go big and celebrate both milestones with a meal at the new McCrady’s tasting room.

Billed as Chef Sean Brock’s idea of a perfect meal, McCrady’s offers only a tasting menu ($115), with optional standard ($75) or reserve ($160) wine pairings (or selections from a very extensive wine list), all served with laser-like precision over a span of exactly two hours.  While we didn’t love every single bite of the thirteen-course meal and wished that certain aspects of the precisely-timed meal were a little more flexible, we found the experience to be an incredible foodie feast for both the eyes and the stomach.

UNI CUCUMBER:  The meal started with a beautiful frozen amuse bouche, perfect for a hot summer day in Charleston: a multi-colored, Lego-sized block resting on a single sheet of gold leaf, nestled in a bed of ice.  This one-bite starter was a colorblocked combination of uni (sea urchin roe) and cucumber, dusted with togarashi spice and topped with a single circle of nasturtium leaf.  While uni usually tastes like a big gulp of ocean water, this had just a faint hint of salinity that grew as the flavors developed in the mouth.  The heat from the togarashi spice strengthened in line with the uni, both of which were nicely cut by the fresh coolness of the cucumber.  This was an extremely cerebral bite of food that set the tone for the remainder of the meal: beautiful, (mostly) delicious, and some of the most technical food we’ve ever eaten.

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Uni Cucumber

Wine pairing: 2016 MOVIA. PURO. PINOT NOIR BRUT, SLOVENIA. This delicious sparkling Pinot Noir is made just across the Italian border in the up-and-coming wine country of Slovenia.  The bright red fruit flavor of old world Pinot Noir was well balanced with the wine’s crisp acidity, all supported by a backbone very reminiscent of a classic French blanc de blanc.

BEET, COCOA, LIME: Served on a circle of short spikes, the beet dish resembled a piece of dark saddle leather but was essentially a grown-up version of a fruit roll-up.  At first tacky and very sweet, the strip of beet was absolutely reminiscent of the childhood treat.  The sweetness faded quickly as tobacco and chocolate notes emerged, and the actual flavor of the beet played a supporting role in the entire dish.  If these were sold in stores, we would always have them on hand.  Whimsical, delicious and perfectly executed.

OSSABAW PORK, WILD RED BAY, SORGHUM: One long slice of heritage pork twisted around itself immediately brought to mind the serrano ham we ate almost nonstop on our recent trip to Spain.  The pork was richly fatty, melting in the mouth in a sea of porcine delight.   It was also glazed with a thin layer of sorghum syrup and dusted with wild red bay, both of which cut through the fatty unctuousness of the meat.  This bite was classic Sean Brock in every sense, and we both wished the portion was much larger than the single beautiful piece we received.

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Beet, Cocoa, Lime and Ossabaw Pork, Wild Red Bay, Sorghum

CARROT TART: Described by our server as being an “all carrot tart,” this was an interesting take on a combination of three preparations of carrot: the shell of the tart was a single slice of a large orange carrot (cooked to somehow hold the shell shape), and the tart filling was comprised of mandolined slices of raw purple carrot nestled within a carrot gel.   While beautiful, this was probably our least favorite dish of the night.  The tart was slightly too big to eat easily in a single bite, but it didn’t have the structural integrity to be broken into multiple pieces.  (Tyler’s attempt at a second bite resulted in a hand covered in carrot pieces.)  The pure carrot flavors of the shell and raw carrot were excellent, but they were sadly outmatched by the strong sweetness of the gel.  We appreciated the incredible amount of work and technique that went into the tart but just didn’t love the end result.

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Carrot Tart

Wine pairing: PIERRE PAILLARD, LES PARCELLES, EXTRA BRUT, BOUZY GRAND CRU, CHAMPAGNE.  This Grand Cru blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay was an excellent follow-up to the light sparkling red.  Darker in color and weightier than the first wine, it nicely complemented the silky richness of the Ossabaw pork.

SUNCHOKE, CLAMS:  Next up was a dark, frosted glass bowl of sunchoke custard, topped with fried slices of sunchoke and a mystery green leaf (we forgot to ask what it was!).  Hidden in the custard were chilled and glazed slices of Georgia clams.  The custard was silky smooth with a very clean sunchoke flavor, studded with juicy slices of clams.  The leafy garnish tasted exactly like lemon, which was a nice counterbalance to the richness of the dish as a whole.  This dish was beautiful to look at and clearly cooked to perfection, but in our opinion it was one of the less successful plates of the evening – probably because neither of us is a big fan of either sunchokes or clams.

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Sunchoke, Clams

MAGWOOD SHRIMP: Three small but exquisitely cooked shrimp, served in a pool of savory broth and surrounded by dots of a deeply roasted tomato sauce, were our next course.  The shrimp, one of the standout components of the whole meal, were cooked better than any we’ve ever encountered elsewhere.  The richness of the tomato provided a nice backbone to the clean shrimp flavors, all of which were pulled together by the slightly warm broth resting beneath.

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Magwood Shrimp (photo courtesy of Matt Kelley)

Wine pairing: 2016 THIBAUD BOUDIGNON, CABERNET FRANC ROSÉ, LOIRE.  One of our favorites pours of the evening was this delicious and fruity rosé from the Loire Valley.  A vibrant pink color in the glass, this wine revealed flavors of fresh summer strawberries that were nicely matched with an almost grassy undertone.  The perfect summer wine, it evoked Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe.

COBIA, CORN, MARIGOLD:  Three perfectly opaque slices of local cobia arrived atop a bed of brilliantly crunchy summer corn, all swimming in a bath of bright green marigold oil.  Tiny snippets of tangerine lace (a delicate, feathery green) grown in McCrady’s rooftop garden garnished each slice of fish and lent additional depth and color to this vibrant dish.  As with every other protein of the evening, the cobia was cooked to perfection, but everything played second fiddle to the amazingly sweet corn kernels.  The only thing that could have improved this course was a slice of sourdough bread to sop up the remaining sauce.

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Cobia, Corn, Marigold

Wine pairing: 2015 LEITZ, RIESLING TROCKEN, RUDESHEIM, RHEINGAU.  Leitz’s Riesling, a blend from several vineyards, was a wonderful expression of German Riesling.  Gripping acidity faded out to reveal hints of wet stone and bright citrus fruit.  Racy and clean, this was an excellent match for the cobia.

LIMPIN’ SUSAN: Described as the “mistress of hoppin’ john,” this course was almost too beautiful to eat.  The base was a layer of expertly-prepared Carolina Gold rice, the grain that put Charleston on the map 200 years ago.  Known locally as “Charleston Ice Cream,” the rice was studded with various herbs and edible flower petals grown in the restaurant’s rooftop garden.  This dish represented everything that makes the new iteration of McCrady’s what it is: heritage South Carolina product, expertly prepared and plated as art.  This is food that fills the heart and mind…if not necessarily the stomach.

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Limpin’ Susan (photo courtesy of Matt Kelley)

Wine pairing: 2016 MASSICAN, HYDE VINEYARDS, CHARDONNAY, NAPA VALLEY.  A very expressive Chardonnay from the low yielding 2015 vintage, this single-vineyard white from Massican’s Hyde Vineyard was everything we love about the new, lighter Chards coming out of California.  Rounded fruit notes with just a touch of richness paired well with the rice-based Limpin’ Susan.

AGED BEEF, SOUR CABBAGE, FARRO: Simply put, this was medium rare steak at its peak.  A thick slice of Tennessee-bred New York strip, deeply red from edge to edge, was accompanied by “fire-threshed” farro encased in a single leaf of sour cabbage.  We both ate every bit of the richly flavored meat, right down to the meltingly tender fat cap.  The farro and sour cabbage were of course well cooked, but didn’t seem to add much to the dish as a whole.

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Aged Beef, Sour Cabbage, Farro

Wine pairing: 2013 DOMAINE DU GROS NORÉ, MOURVÈDRE, BANDOL.  Kermit Lynch is known for importing only the best, purest examples of French wine, and this Bandol red did not disappoint.  The clay and limestone soil of Bandol gave great structure to the wine, with Mourvèdre’s expected dark fruit notes marrying well with the wine’s solid core of minerality.

RASPBERRY SORBET, SUMMER FLOWERS, FERMENTED HONEY: The evening’s pre-dessert was a refreshing scoop of raspberry sorbet.  This was a nice, tart follow up to the richness of the steak and tasted only of perfectly ripe late summer raspberries.  That said, the dish was not without ceremony – after setting down our bowls, our server asked “white or pink?,” pulled out a pair of kitchen shears and proceeded to cut the petals off the one of the chrysanthemums that had been serving as a table decoration all evening.  This trick was wholly unexpected, and the vegetal bitterness of the flower proved to be a nice counterweight to the fermented honey blended into the sorbet.

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Raspberry Sorbet, Summer Flowers, Fermented Honey (photo courtesy of Matt Kelley)

CHOCOLATE, YAUPON HOLLY, BENNE: Before we received our sorbet, a server placed this dish on our tableside cart and slowly filled two chocolate shells with a steaming chocolate liquid.  While we enjoyed the sorbet, the liquid cooled and solidified before being topped with five dots of benne oil and then served.  What looked like a fairly pedestrian chocolate tart was transformed by the astringent bite of the oil.  Not a combination we would have ever come up with ourselves, but it worked on every level and was a fantastic twist on a classic sweet.

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Chocolate, Yaupon Holly, Benne

“FOIECHAMACALLIT”: This was hands-down Tyler’s favorite bite of the evening: two chocolate candies on a bed of cocoa nibs, served on a plate adorned with dried wheat stalks.  Our server told us that Chef Brock’s favorite candy bar is the Whatchamacallit (a chocolate candy bar with a crispy layer of peanut butter) and so he created this interpretation, adding a rich mousse of foie gras and topping it with a single crystal of flaky sea salt.  This dish tasted of each of its components: dark chocolate, sweet peanut butter and the fatty, umami-laden depth of the foie gras.  Every ingredient was delicious on its own but also served to elevate all of the other flavors.  This single bite was haute cuisine at its best: beautiful, ambitious, technically perfect and delicious.

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“Foiechamacallit”

Wine pairing: RARE WINE COMPANY, HISTORIC SERIES – NEW YORK, MALMSEY, MADEIRA.  A favorite drink in Charleston’s colonial era, our final pairing was a classic, nutty glass of Madeira.  Made in a style intended to imitate the Madeira enjoyed two hundred years ago, the sweet viscosity of this oxidized wine was the perfect pair to the two chocolate desserts.

BREATH FRESHENER: The final bite of the evening was a house-made breath freshener.  The ingredients were not revealed, but we both sensed that the light and airy menthol meringue was slightly cut with a dot of berry compote.  It tasted exactly like a Listerine breath strip and did indeed freshen your mouth after the two hour meal.  It was an interesting and no doubt difficult-to-execute dish, though we considered the “foiechamacallit” the true end of the meal and this merely a coda.

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Breath Freshener

We absolutely enjoyed this meal and felt that it was well worth its very high cost.  That being said, the experience was not above criticism, and there are a few things we think would have improved the evening.  Other than the few not-our-favorite bites described above, our primary (though minor) complaint was with the timing.  From start to finish, our meal was almost exactly two hours, and we could see patrons for the next seating being ushered to their seats as we were accompanied to a separate exit. While we understand that Chef Brock has choreographed the McCrady’s experience down to 5- minute increments, the end of the meal did come rather abruptly, and there was no offer of coffee or the ability to linger over any remaining wine.  (While we opted for the standard wine pairings, McCrady’s wine list does include many heavy hitters in the wine world; we’d like to think that a table spending $1,000+ on a bottle of wine would not be shown the door at the two hour mark if the bottle wasn’t empty.)  For a restaurant of this caliber and expense, some form of lounge would have been a welcome addition – a nice bar or leather chair where guests could finish their wine or enjoy coffee or a digestif would lend a final note of sophistication and relaxation to what was otherwise a beautiful, delicious culinary experience.

Overall, though, we left McCrady’s satiated, inspired and toting a packet of heirloom seeds from Chef Brock’s private collection that was presented with our check – a fitting conclusion to a meal that celebrated and elevated Lowcountry dining and that could be found only here in Charleston.


Info:

McCrady’s website
2 Unity Alley, Charleston, SC
Dinner only, Wednesday-Sunday (limited seating times; reservations highly recommended)

King Street Crawl

Earlier this year, we spent an incredible week eating and drinking our way through Bilbao and San Sebastián, Spain.  In the Basque Country, pintxos (Basque for tapas), rather than traditional meals, rule the restaurant scene.  It’s very common to hit up several spots in the course of an evening, having one or two pintxos and glasses of wine at each before moving on to the next stop.  Our nightly pintxos crawls were the highlights of our trip, enabling us to try a huge variety of restaurants and food in a limited amount of time – essential in a foodie mecca like San Sebastián.

Here in Charleston, we have a similar embarrassment of culinary riches.  There are so many incredible restaurants in town, but with a three-year-old and two full work schedules, our time is fairly limited.  So on our most recent date night, we decided to turn our evening into a pintxos crawl.  We picked three favorite Upper King restaurants we hadn’t visited in a while, ordered small plates and wines by the glass at each, and then capped off our evening with a refreshing dessert at a new-to-us popsicle shop.  It was a great – and delicious – change of pace (and palate)!

Stop #1: The Ordinary

With temperatures in the nineties and humidity to match, we knew we wanted to start our evening with something (or several somethings) COLD.  The Ordinary – with its raw bar and impressive wine list – fit the bill perfectly.  With two glasses of white firmly in hand (Muscadet for Nina and Chenin Blanc for Tyler, both French), we began picking our bartender’s brain on the evening’s oyster selection.  With her advice, we went with an even dozen, divided equally (and in increasing order of potency) among Single Ladies from South Carolina, Savage Blondes from Prince Edward Island and Pemaquids from Maine.  The local oysters were great, reminding us of the Ace Basin Blades we enjoy as much as possible during the “R” months (i.e., the typical South Carolina oyster season).  The Savage Blondes, though noticeably smaller, offered a bit more salinity.  Our favorites were definitely the Pemaquids, which had a nice heft and a good punch of saltiness.  House-made horseradish, cocktail sauce, red wine mignonette and a seasonal cantaloupe mignonette accompanied the platter; each was delicious and enhanced the oysters in its own way.

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Clockwise from top: Single Ladies, Savage Blondes, Pemaquids

The Ordinary is one of our favorite spots to kick off an evening out, though it’s worth noting that the pleasures here don’t come cheap – our order came to $66 before tip, so we chose to continue on to for our second (and third) courses.  That said, the oysters and wine were exactly the refreshing, light start to our crawl we’d wanted, and we definitely plan to return soon.

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The Ordinary’s oysters of the day

Stop #2: The Grocery

After a thirty-second walk across King Street, we grabbed seats at The Grocery’s bar and ordered two more glasses of wine (a Spanish Granatxa for Tyler and a Californian rosé blend for Nina).  We arrived right at the end of happy hour pricing for bar snacks, so we quickly ordered the shishito peppers and the burrata.  The shishito peppers came exactly as we’d hoped, in the classic Spanish preparation: blistered on a screaming hot skillet, then liberally seasoned with quality olive oil and flaky salt.  Needless to say, it didn’t take us long to reduce them to a pile of oil-stained pepper stems.  The burrata dish came with a golf ball sized mound of the cream-laden cheese, surrounded by sauteed lunchbox peppers, black currants, slivered almonds and a simple herb salad.  Toasted garlic bread served as a useful, delicious accompaniment and was quickly devoured after being slathered with cheese and heaped with the pepper mixture.  We debated putting in an order for a second portion but instead decided to make our way southward along King Street.

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Shishito peppers and burrata

Stop #3: Indaco

We again headed back across King Street to Indaco, which we were surprised to see was nearly full to capacity at 8:00 on a summer Wednesday evening.  We quickly snagged the last two seats at the bar and ordered our final round of wine (a Vespolina from the Piedmont for Nina and a Nero d’Avola/Merlot/Syrah/Cab Franc blend from Sicily for Tyler).  Indaco offers up a creative menu most akin to a classic Italian trattoria, with antipasti, pastas and wood-fired pizzas filling the menu.  We don’t come here often (as we mentioned, so many restaurants, so little time!), but we’re always impressed when we do.

We originally planned to share a pasta dish, but after perusing the menu, we called an audible and went with the polpette and a grilled corn pizza.  The polpette (Italian for meatballs) came out first and were nothing shy of fantastic.  The meatballs were straight out of a nonna’s kitchen: slow braised in a San Marzano tomato sauce with a big hit of rosemary and a healthy dusting of Pecorino Romano.  This was hearty and comforting fare, lacking only a few slices of bread to sop up the incredible sauce.

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Polpette

Shortly thereafter, the pizza emerged from the wood oven with a bubbling and blistered crust, studded with grilled corn and sliced shishito peppers and covered in a thick blanket of mozzarella and Taleggio cheese.  The unexpected preparation of the shishitos was delicious; their slightly acidic bite and heat perfectly counterbalanced the richness of the cheese, and the roasted corn added a nice, sweet crunch.  Even after so many previous plates, we had no issue devouring the entire, generously-sized pie.

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Roasted corn pizza

Stop #4: Crooked Crown

After five dishes at three restaurants, we chose to end our evening with a quick, fun dessert.  Crooked Crown, the brick-and-mortar outpost King of Pops (a local favorite popsicle cart), offers both alcoholic and non-alcoholic pops, cocktails with pops (next time!) and a small, rotating food menu.  We went with boozy popsicles: watermelon mojito and apple cider.  Light and refreshing, with both sweet and tart flavors and a noticeable but not overpowering punch of alcohol, they were the perfect accompaniment on our short walk back to the car through the humid Charleston air.

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Watermelon mojito popsicle

Our pintxos crawl may have been more substantial and expensive than a similar jaunt through San Sebastián, but it was a great way to re-acquaint ourselves with a few of Upper King’s great restaurants.  Even better, thanks to Charleston’s restaurant density, we were able to do maximal eating with minimal walking!  We’ll definitely be trying it again soon – donde vamos la próxima vez?


Info:

The Ordinary website
544 King Street, Charleston, SC
Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday; closed Monday

The Grocery website
4 Cannon Street, Charleston, SC
Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday and Sunday brunch; closed Monday

Indaco website
526 King Street, Charleston, SC
Open for dinner daily

Crooked Crown website
21 Spring Street, Charleston, SC
Open daily; hours vary by season

 

Monarch Wine Merchants

As luck would have it, our desire to break out of our wine rut coincided with the opening of an incredible new wine shop in downtown Charleston.  Located right next door to our favorite new café, The Harbinger, in North Central, Monarch Wine Merchants unlocked its doors in early June.  On its opening day, we waited a perfectly respectable 90 minutes before barging in, three-year-old in tow, excited to get a sense of the store and its offerings. We were thrilled to find a small but very well-cultivated collection of Old World wine, with a healthy mix of New World bottles.  The shop stocks a selection of everything from Airen (a Spanish white wine grape) to Zweigelt, and each of our visits has resulted in the purchase of multiple bottles of fascinating, new-to-us wines.

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We’re still working our way through our purchases, but several bottles we’ve opened have been stellar:

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AJ Adam Hofberg Riesling (2011)

We’ve had a lot of less-than-stellar Riesling, so we asked Monarch’s owner, Justin Coleman, for a bottle that would change our minds about the grape.  He recommended this bottle from Germany’s Mosel Valley.  Mission accomplished – with a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, this wine has us eager to seek out more quality Riesling.

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Le Sot de l’Ange Rouge G

This is a sulfur dioxide-free blend of Gamay and Grolleau from the Loire Valley.  “Funnest” isn’t a word, but it should be so that we could say that this may be the funnest bottle of wine we’ve ever had.  Bring it to a party or let it bring the party to you.

 

 

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Partida Creus GT

Another natural wine, this time a Garrut from Spain.  Unfined, unfiltered and sulfur dioxide-free, this funky wine is delicious in ways that defy description.  We talked about it for hours and still couldn’t pin it down.  Clearly we need buy another to continue our “research.”

 

Monarch also has a large selection of rosé on a table that dominates the main space of the shop; we haven’t delved into it yet but it’s only a matter of time (and increasing mercury).  Given someone’s penchant for large format bottles (ahem, Tyler), one of Monarch’s double-magnums (3L) of rosé will probably be coming home with us soon.

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Monarch’s wines are mostly in the $25+ range, but they also have a wall of wines all priced under the very budget-friendly price of $18.  If we found ourselves in need for a bottle for dinner and didn’t want to spend a ton, this is absolutely where we would go.  Monarch is here to save all of us from buying wine at the grocery store.

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Basically, Monarch has something for everybody.  If you love wine, you should shop at Monarch.  If you know nothing about wine, you should shop at Monarch.  If you know everything about wine, you should shop at Monarch.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to open a bottle (or three).  Cheers!


Info:
Monarch Wine Merchants website 
1107 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11am-8pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm

Cork Dork

When we’re not wining or dining (or chasing our three-year-old), chances are we’re reading – and often, the subject is food or wine.  We both recently devoured Cork Dork, a newly-published account of author Bianca Bosker’s 18-month-long transformation from wine novice to certified sommelier candidate (no spoilers – read the book to see if she passes!).  Bosker gives up her desk job as a tech editor to pursue her new obsession, a journey which leads her into varied corners of the wine world – from elite New York City sommelier tasting groups and restaurants to mass-market California wineries to neuroscience studies on the brain’s receptivity to taste – in an attempt to discern and articulate what makes a great wine.

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Bosker’s balance between enthusiasm and skepticism is what anchors Cork Dork and makes it such an enjoyable yet informative read.  Is all that wine-speak (you know, “this wine is redolent of pencil shavings, bruised red apples and garden hose”) just highfalutin nonsense? Bosker acknowledges that yes, some of it is.  But sommeliers’ tasting notes are more than just pretentious party tricks – they’re grounded in both chemistry and psychology, which Bosker covers without getting too bogged down in the science.  It turns out that smell, our most neglected sense, is key to wine tasting, and the master sommeliers she studies with train with the rigor of professional athletes to be able to blind taste a wine and identify its grape, region, vintage and even producer.   (Some of them lick rocks and smell garbage to refine their sense of smell and refuse to brush their teeth before tastings to avoid messing up their palates – that’s dedication.)

Cork Dork also explores the economic side of wine, from the difference between a $50 bottle and a $500 bottle (often scarcity rather than quality) to the art of the upsell (or occasional downsell) by restaurant sommeliers.  And lest we forget that at the end of the day, wine is meant to be enjoyed, Bosker vividly conveys the pure pleasure (or insanity) wine can bring.  Why is it that the “amazing” bottle you drank on the beach at sunset will never taste as good anywhere or anytime else (the $2-per-bottle Mexican sparkling wine we LOVED on our first kid-free vacation comes to mind!)?  And what’s it like to spend an evening at La Paulée, an absolutely insane-sounding bacchanal dedicated to drinking massive quantities of even-more-massively expensive Burgundies?  Cork Dork will tell you.

“It just makes me happy, you know?  You go somewhere, and you sit at the bar, and you eat good food, and you drink, and then you’re like, ‘Hey, I’m lucky to be alive and to be me.'”

– Darnelle, a waitress at a high-end NYC restaurant, summing up the magic of a good meal and glass of wine in Cork Dork 

As its very long subtitle states, Cork Dork is “A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught [Bosker] to Live for Taste,” but its message resonates much more broadly: take the time to stop and smell the roses (literally), go all in when it matters, and, at the end of the day, trust your senses.  We’ll drink to that.

Une soirée française à Charleston

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Restaurant Info:

Goulette
98 Cannon Street, Charleston, SC 
Open for dinner; opening soon for lunch
No Internet presence that we can find!

 

 

 

 

Da, Plavina!

“Drink what you know” has become our version of the saying “write what you know.”   On any given night when a bottle of wine is open on our table, it’s likely to from a region or a grape with which we have a long history – whether an elegant, thought provoking Burgundy, a racy and lively Oregon pinot noir, or a leathery, tobacco-spiced Rioja from somewhere near San Sebastian.  This approach has served us very well over the years,and has rarely (if ever) led to a truly disappointing bottle.  

A few weeks ago, however, we decided we wanted to branch out into lesser-known (to us) regions and grapes.  So far, this change of course has led us to some truly memorable bottles.  We’ve enjoyed bottles from all over the Old World, running the gamut from a focused and mineral-driven Gruner Veltliner from Austria to a dark, brooding Ribuero del Duero a friend brought home from Portugal and graciously opened with us.

One bottle, though, was honestly a shocking discovery: the 2015 Plavina from Croatian winemaker Ivica Pilizota.  This was the first bottle of Croatian wine we’ve ever had, but it certainly won’t be our last!  

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Plavina is a red grape indigenous to the Dalmatian Coast, and the Pilizota grapes grow in rocky soil near the Adriatic Sea.  At only 12.7% ABV, our initial thought was that this bottle would be very bright and fruit-forward with relatively high acid and a light, delicate structure.  This Plavina did primarily offer strawberry and red currant characteristics, but they were nicely balanced with a hint of bramble, dewy forest floor and even a little bit of sea air – a great expression of its coastal terroir.

The Pilizota Plavina is an absolute gem of a wine, and it’s a steal at around $16 (for Charleston locals, we found it at Bottles in Mount Pleasant).  For us, it provided an instant flashback to late summer evenings on the Jersey Shore – it’s a glass of sea air and sunsets that we recommend serving slightly chilled, preferably with an ocean view.

V-Dub Vino Score: 94/100

2015 Ivica Pilizota Plavina – 12.7% ABV – $15.99 (SC price)