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!

 

 

 

 

Quick Bites: Kairos Greek Kitchen

As the parents of a three-year-old whose energy levels equal those of a tornado, we are big fans of the fast-casual dining trend.  We’re fortunate that Charleston has several high-quality, locally-owned options in this category (see below for some of our favorites), but we’re always excited when a new place opens up.  So when we recently found ourselves in Mount Pleasant with a hungry tornado toddler, we headed to the recently-opened Kairos Greek Kitchen for a quick bite.

We’ll confess that we initially assumed Kairos was a chain, given its large size and location in a big-box shopping center (Bowman Place) – and we would have enjoyed it all the same.  However, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that Kairos is actually the product of John Ondo, who was formerly the chef at downtown’s much-loved, now-closed Lana.  While Lana always had some Mediterranean-influenced dishes on its Italian menu, Ondo has now headed east and firmly embraced healthy Greek fare.

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Kairos’ concept is essentially Greek Chipotle: choose a base, protein, spread and toppings and watch as your meal is assembled in front of you.  Kairos offers falafel, lamb, chicken or meatballs in pitas, rice bowls and salads, which can be piled high with as many fresh, veggie-focused toppings as you wish – we recommend the red pepper feta and tomato cucumber salad in particular!  A deliciously lemon-y hummus (paired with crisp pita chips) can also be ordered as a side item, and there is a small beer & wine selection.

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The space is as clean as the flavors, with Aegean-blue chairs and light wood floors, tables and paneling.  Service is also very friendly, with workers patiently explaining the menu to first-timers and helping people who’ve ordered too much food (yes, it was us) get it all to their table without dropping any food (or their child).  High chairs are plentiful, and the reasonably-priced kids’ menu offers variations on the standard menu.  We’ll definitely be back the next time we’ve got a hangry kid and a hankering for Greek food!

Restaurant Info:
Kairos Greek Kitchen website
1100 Bowman Avenue, Mount Pleasant, SC
V-Dub Grub’s kid-friendly rating: A+


Other fast-casual favorites in Charleston:
Caviar and Bananas (downtown)
Zia Taqueria (James Island)
Joey Tomatoes (Mount Pleasant)
Verde (downtown and Mount Pleasant)

First Things First: Taco Boy

Way back in October 2009, we made our first trip to Charleston.  Leaving the airport, we were greeted with a blast of heat (a welcome change from chilly New York!) and one of our best friends, who immediately took us to Folly Beach and one of her favorite restaurants, Taco Boy.  Sitting on the back patio, soaking up the sun and a few margaritas in the middle of a weekday, we instantly fell in love with the restaurant.  That love extended to Charleston as a whole over the course of the weekend, and a little less than two years later, we were back in the city as residents instead of tourists.  We’ve been to almost 200 restaurants in the city since then, but Taco Boy will always hold a special place in our heart as the first – and so it seemed only fitting that it should be the subject of our first real blog post!

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Taco Boy is a funky taqueria/cantina that fits perfectly with Folly Beach’s laid-back atmosphere.  It has both indoor seating – which offers a nice respite from the scorching beach heat in the summer – and outdoor seating on its front and back patios (with the latter being dog-friendly).  Even the restrooms are quirky; each unisex stall is wallpapered in magazine covers featuring the head of “the Taco Boy” superimposed on the original cover model’s body.

As you might guess from the name, Taco Boy’s specialty is tacos.  Over the years, we’ve tried almost all of tacos on the menu – from a standard American taco to more creative options like kimchi beef and chorizo & potato to great vegetarian options like tempura avocado and roasted cauliflower – and have been impressed with their breadth and creativity. Our absolute favorite, though, is the grilled fish taco: grilled mahi, greens, cilantro dijon sauce and salsa crudo wrapped in lettuce or a flour or corn tortilla.  More often than not, our order is simply eight of them (four for Tyler, three for Nina and one for the boy), and on our most recent visit, our waitress referred to us as the “Fish Taco Family” – we’ll choose to take that as a compliment!  The truly brave (or foolish) can add “Danger Sauce” to any taco for an extra fifty cents; we’re not sure what’s in it, but it is no-fooling HOT.  All of the tacos are a la carte, so you can mix and match as much as you want.

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Grilled fish taco

Taco Boy’s appetizers are also solid.  The salsa trio (jalapeno tomato, tomatillo and salsa crudo) is our favorite, and the queso and nachos are good, if heavier, options as well.  Our one gripe with Taco Boy is that their guacamole is offered at “market price,” which we once discovered to be almost $10 – we’re not sure how much that varies, as that was not-so-coincidentally the last time we ordered the guac.

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Salsa trio

Mexican beer and margaritas dominate the drink menu.  An ice-cold Sol, pineapple margarita or Taco Boy’s special “frozen screwdriver” is a perfect complement to a fish taco after a day at the beach!

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Skinny pineapple-infused margarita

Taco Boy is about as kid-friendly as you can get for lunch or an early dinner.  The kids’ menu offers basic cheese and black bean tacos and quesadillas, but if you have a semi-adventurous eater, we’d recommend ordering from the regular menu.  All of the “adult” tacos cost around $4, which is on par with the quesadillas on the kids’ menu, and are much more interesting!  Jack will happily deconstruct a grilled fish taco and devour all of the mahi and tortilla (still working on the greens!).  The restaurant also has plenty of high chairs, and the noise level is always high enough to drown out the occasional toddler freak-out. Taco Boy is visually stimulating as well, with colorful lamps hanging from the ceiling and Oaxacan masks adorning the walls.  Jack always asks us to “name” the masks – now if only we could remember what we’ve called them between visits!

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Digging in!

A few years ago, Taco Boy opened a second location on Huger Street downtown, with a similar vibe and an expansive outdoor area.  It’s definitely worth a visit, though for sentimental reasons we’ll always prefer the original Folly spot!

So there you have it: our first post about our first Charleston restaurant.  Cheers to many more!

Restaurant Info:

15 Center Street, Folly Beach, SC

217 Huger Street, Charleston, SC

V-Dub Grub’s kid-friendly rating: A

Welcome to V-Dub Grub!

Thanks for visiting our brand-new blog!  Here’s the skinny:

Who: Tyler and Nina, food and wine lovers who’ve called Charleston, South Carolina our home for the last six years, and our three-year-old foodie-in-training, Jack.

WhatWe’ll share our thoughts on restaurants, recipes, cooking gadgets, food-centric books and films, and whatever else strikes our foodie fancy.  As parents hoping to pass our love of food (no wine yet!) to our son, we’ll also highlight casual, family-friendly spots. 

Where: Like the blog description says, Charleston and beyond.  We love living in the preeminent food city in the South but are always eager to expand our horizons (culinarily and otherwise)!

When: As often as possible!  

Why: Tyler loves to cook, Nina loves to write, and we both love to eat and drink!  The “experts” always say to do what you love, so we thought we’d combine our interests into a new creative outlet.  

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Happy reading, and bon appétit!