Monday, January 30, 2012

Sesame Burgers and Beer - North Charleston, SC

Kari and I had eaten at the one at Citadel Mall before, and enjoyed it.  We decided to give the North Charleston location a go.  The Park Circle area by the Navy base has a ton of great restaurants opening up, so this was a good location.  We walked in and they were absolutely packed!  There were some very minor issues with service, but I attribute them to the place being slammed.  The only one thing I really would have liked to see differently was for them to point out the specials board.

That being said, we really enjoyed our food.  The beer selection is excellent, with great local craft bres on tap.  I had the Coast Centennial IPA and was once again proud of our local craft guys.  Which reminds me, BREWVIVAL is Coming!!!

So Kari had the Napa Valley Burger, with a fig and bacon jam and bleu cheese.  It was juicy and delicious and perfectly cooked.  It did make a bit of a mess when eaten.  The Sweet Potato Fries were also quite good.  I was happy that the food came out very hot - that's usually the first thing that goes wrong in a crowded restaurant.  She scored the burger a 4.0

I had the "In a Bowl" Burger, which was a burger patty over a salad with cheddar cheese and bacon.  I expected a bacon cheeseburger over a salad, but, in hindsight, what they brought was exactly what they described.  The patty was absolutely perfect!  Juicy, tons of flavor, a great crust on the outside and medium rare inside.  That's the genius of this dish.  The outside of a burger is often the best part, but it gets lost in sauces and toppings.  I was really able to enjoy the perfection of the patty.  I give the patty a 4.5, the overall dish gets a 3.75 - a really good score, but it could have used more bacon!

These guys understand that when you have burgers and beer in your name, you need to deliver on both (unlike some other people we've reviewed lately.)  They do that very well and we will be back soon!

Sesame Burgers & Beer on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tristan - Charleston, SC

Kari and I decided to try Tristan on the spur of the moment.  We had only been here once, for a beer vs. wine dinner, but we really enjoyed the food back then.  We were seated at a really nice, large, round booth.  The service was impeccable, and what we really liked were the little treats that came between every course.  Starting with the delightful amuse bouche pictured to the left that was brought after we ordered our appetizer and meal.  It was a lovely Cranberry Curd with Candied Ginger and Pepper Almonds.  The ginger really popped when you ate it.  We gave it a 4.0.

I had a Pork Belly appetizer with Tuscan Kale and a Canellini Bean Puree.  The belly had a great, crisp outside layer and a ton of flavor.  The kale was rich and not bitter at all.  I gave it a 4.25.
In between appetizer and main course they brought us an intermezzo of Grapefruit, Gran Marnier Sorbet.  The alcohol was very subtle, but set off the strong grapefruit flavor quite well, especially as you breathed in and let the sorbet melt.  We gave it a 3.75.

I had the Short Rib, Free Form Lasagna with Root Vegetables and Roasted Leeks.  The rib was wrapped in a single sheet of "tattooed pasta" - two layers of lasagna with herbs pressed between them.  The flavors were good, and the presentation blew me away.  I gave it a 4.0.  I really enjoyed the sauce.  The only thing I would quibble about is that it was very un-lasagna like, except for the pasta - but maybe I'm reading too much into the name.
Kari had the Pasta with Pumpkin Crema, Espresso Powder and Pumpkin Seeds.  She really loved this, as she is a pumpkin fanatic!  She drinks every pumpkin beer that comes out from October to November.  I think she gave it a 4.25 (she never tells me during the meal, so I often don't get it written down.)  I liked it to, so 4.25 is probably right, as I am not as big of a pumpkin fan.
For dessert, more PUMPKIN!  This crazy dessert had candied pumpkin seeds, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin gelato and what can only be described as cubes of pumpkin pie filling.  A solid 4.5
Tristan doesn't do much that isn't perfect.  The variety of servers, hosts, managers and runners ensure that they never miss a beat.  This is a great place to bring someone you really want to impress with a high end dinner and impeccable service.

Tristan on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 26, 2012

17 North Roadside Kitchen - Restaurant Week Day 7 - Mt Pleasant, SC

Kari had to talk me into choosing this as our last Restaurant Week visit.  I'm glad she did because we were treated to an inviting, well-designed restaurant with lots of cool features, great staff and awesome food.  I think we agree that this was one of the best restaurants we've been to.  We parked around the back so we slipped through the giant open air seating area and bar they have outside.  We also saw their garden where we heard that they participate with Thornhill Farms in a program to teach adaptive gardening to developmentally challenged children.  They had a roaring fire going in a fire pit right near the bar.

The only downside to the outside seating is that when it started raining, they're abundance of seating was drastically reduced as everyone ran inside.  I didn't see any unhappy customers, so they must have handled it well.  Since we were so pleased with our experience, I'll start with the only minor negative of the whole experience.  They have a small bar inside with a TV, so I think some of the guests thought that meant it was a sports bar, making loud drunken outbursts okay.  It didn't happen often, and wasn't rude or crude, just a weird counterpoint to a great, well presented meal.

End of negatives...

I had a Short Rib appetizer that was luscious, tender and huge (for an appetizer.  The sauce was very nice and the meat perfectly cooked.  I scored it a 3.5.  Kari had the Beet Salad, which was two different kinds of beets, spinach and basil from their garden, accompanied with house made mozzarella.  She gave it a 4.5, and I agree.  Fresh!

Kari went big for dinner and got the NY Strip topped with a poached egg and sitting on a bed of sweet potato hash.  The hash had a Cajun flavor that went very well. with the steak.  Kari loved this and I agreed.  We would have given it a 5.0, but that requires perfection and the poached egg was just a little short of perfect (surprisingly, the yolk was slightly overcooked and the white SLIGHTLY undercooked.)  We settled on a very impressive 4.5.

I had Smoked Pork Butt with a sunny side up egg, collards and grits.  If you read this column, you know I'm a pulled pork fan.  I can't say how the pulled pork compares to my favorites, but the entire dish was perfect.  The grits were perfectly prepared and seasoned, the collards had tons of flavor and the egg was fresh and scrumptious.  This is the best dish I had all week.  It gets a perfect 5.0!

I had a Cheesecake with Toasted Coconut Crust and Chocolate Chips for dessert.  I gave it a 3.75.  Kari had a Red Velvet Cupcake that was served with a glass of milk.  This got a 4.25.

Some other items of note:  Kari got the wine pairing with her meal and they refilled her wine for no charge - I like that.  They have the 3 for $30 menu Monday through Thursday.

The staff was universally good.  Everyone from the Water Guy to the Manager made sure to verify that we were happy.  The manager stopped by several times to check on us and answer our many questions about the food sources.

We will be back, regularly.

17 North Roadside Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Our Local Foods (Thornhill Farm) - Charleston, SC

Those of you who read my Stop the Insanity post know that I love farm fresh eggs.  You can't get these in the grocery stores, and Bumblechick Food just found a new source.  The egg pictured was served at 17 North Roadside Kitchen (review coming.)  That's what an egg yolk should look like!  Not pale flat or wimpy.

They told us they get them from Thornhill Farms, and they also looked up where they sell them.  This lead us to the Our Local Food store on Clements Ferry Road.  They have great vegetables and eggs from Thornhill Farms, as well as a variety of great stuff from elsewhere.  They have pork, bacon, butter, cheese, pasta, grains and numerous other things.  I'm not eating another crappy store bought egg!  They even have a delivery service!!!

Check 'em out...

Our Local Foods on Urbanspoon

Taco Boy - Charleston, SC

Kari and I were sitting at the bar in Taco Boy and I realized we've eaten here several times, but never made a blog entry. So I decided to throw a quick recommendation for everyone to come give the tacos a try. You can get them ala carte and enjoy an excellent variety.

Today we had the Queso, which is delightfully spicy and topped with red peppers and onions.  3.5

Make it a point to visit here, have a margarita or beer, and enjoy the decor and atmosphere.  This is where the visit was supposed to end.  But...

After ordering another beer, we decided to have tacos too.  I had the Chorizo and Potato, which earns a 4.25.  Kari had the Fried Chicken, which earned a 4.0.  The variety of tacos makes it tough to decide, so don't be afraid to order too many and overeat.  You will only regret it a little bit, and that will come after the bliss of eating great tacos.

Taco Boy (Peninsular) on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Heirloom Eats - Restaurant Week Day 5 - Mt Pleasant, SC

This restaurant was a late addition to our restaurant week plans.  We decided to go based on a review of their RW menu.  The appetizers drew us in, and the desserts were excellent.  We were seated right away, and our server was attentive and helpful.  There was some confusion about what Kona beer they had, but it might have been my fault.  They told us that they will be continuing the RW menu (3 courses for $20) until January 31st.  Good news if you missed out.

The appetizers were Okra Fries with Garlic Aioli and Pimento Fried Green Tomatoes.  This is the second place we've had fried okra that was not sliced into small bites.  These were sliced in half and were delicious.  The sauce could have used more garlic, but was still good.  We gave them a 4.25.  The tomatoes were crispy and perfectly cooked.  We gave them a 4.0.

The Jacked Up Mac had four cheeses, bacon lardons and charred onions.  Kari really enjoyed this.  I'm usually not a big fan of restaurant mac n cheese, but this was really creamy and cheesy (did I mention bacon?)  We gave it a 4.0.

I had the Short Ribs with Black Pepper Dumplings.  The dumplings turned out to be gnocchi like chunks of deliciousness (made up word of the day.) The short rib was well cooked and had great flavor.  I gave it a 3.75.  Skip to desserts if you are easily grossed out.  This meat reminded me of eating roast as a kid.  I would chew a big mouthful and then smush it into the roof of my mouth to make a "meat turtle"  I would sometimes make several and line them up on my plate.  Lighten up!  I was a kid!  No more than 16 or 17 years old!

The desserts were unique and well prepared. The Creme Brulee had a really thick and crisp shell.  Wonderful - 3.75.  The S'more Cake, served in a small mason jar, was made with home made marshmallow fluff over chocolate and powdered graham cake.  4.0

The dinner was a delight, and the restaurant well decorated, with old windows hanging along the walls.  The owner made a point of visiting our table and answering all our questions.  If you're in the area, make it a point to eat here.

Heirloom Eats on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Graze - Restaurant Week Day 4 - Mt. Pleasant, SC

Graze has been on our radar for a while and we were pretty pleased with our first visit.  We were seated right away, the waitress was very attentive and the place was packed on a Monday!

Kari and I swapped appetizers because she thought the House Made Potato Chips with Pancetta and Creme Fraiche was a little too rich.  I loved it, and gave it a 3.75.  The gorgonzola and scallions made for a great flavor profile - and who doesn't love homemade potato chips and pork belly?
The Caesar Salad had a good quality dressing and met all expectations of what you would want from a good old Caesar.  We gave it a 3.5

The main course is where the meal really took off.  I got the Gnocchi with Oxtail and Cabernet Ragu.  This was awesome, though incredibly filling.  I was amazed how much meat they packed in.  The flavor was deep, rich and eminently satisfying.  I think it would measure up to any Italian Mom's cooking.  I gave it a 4.25

Kari really loved the Beet and Goat Cheese Raviolis.  I don't care for beets but could definitely appreciate the beauty of this dish.  It looked like high-end, medium rare beef.  Kari loved the rich sweetness which went well with the browned butter.  She gave it a 4.5
The desserts were Limoncello Cake and a Chocolate Shell covered Peanut Butter Gelato.  You could have substituted a second appetizer for the dessert, but I'm glad we didn't.  They both got 4.0's.

We were very pleased with our meal, and Kari was thrilled that we can have another excuse to go to Trader Joes or Whole Foods.  After all, Graze is a short walk across the Whole Foods Parking Lot...

Graze on Urbanspoon

Grindz Burgers and Brews - Restaurant Week Day 6 - West Ashley, SC

We were having an altogether unimpressive experience at Grindz when the burgers arrived.  They were good burgers, maybe above average.  I even think I would go for a less "spruced up" version so I could enjoy the meat more.  But then I reviewed my notes and pictures and I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this place.

Things they did that I can forgive:  Slow service during the hours between lunch and dinner.  Tables not bussed, blinds looking shabby, kinda poorly cleaned place.  More bar than restaurant.  A beer selection that is okay, but nowhere even close to worthy of the emphasis and pride they place in it.  Overly loud (though good) music.  Getting Ranch instead of Bleu Cheese with wings.

Things that I liked: Sweet potatoe fries with honey (score of 3.0).  Half price burgers on Thursdays.  Really good meat in the burgers.  Chili on the side of the big sloppy when requested.  We gave the Big Sloppy a 3.0 and the Memphis a 3.5.  All the food was also served piping hot.

What really made this bad were the wings.  small, over-salted, and so much grease as to be disturbing.  The picture to the right does not do it justice - there is an eighth to a quarter inch thick pool of grease under the wings.  They were literally dripping.  I had to move them to the plate before pictures to keep them from getting any worse.  We gave them a 2.0.    

Too many little things and one big thing wrong.  It's too easy to make even moderately un-greasy wings.  If you like burgers, feel free to give them a try.  I would maybe go here again to watch sports, drink beer and eat a burger with a bunch of rowdy friends.  I would not go here just to eat.

Grindz Burgers & Brew on Urbanspoon

Southern Seasons - Summerville, SC

These guys moved into the house that used to be Farringdon's.  This building has been a restaurant revolving door for years.  The new restaurant is a mixed bag, serving a lot of grilled food that is decent, but hit or miss based on reports we received.

Our meal bore this out, but it may be growing pains. Didn't take good notes or pictures, but we will try to get back for a better review.

Still holding out hope.

Southern Seasons Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Leaf Cafe and Bar - Charleston, SC

We had Restaurant Week reservations at a downtown restaurant that we had made before the New England/Denver playoff game was scheduled.  As Murphy would have it, they were smack dab in the middle of the game.  So we decided to watch the beginning and end of the game at a bar downtown.  We were heading for a likely place when we passed Leaf and saw that they had two big screens with the SF/NO game on them.  The bar looked inviting and well set up to watch the game, without being a rowdy sports bar.

We went in, made sure they would be showing our game, and sat down.  The place was perfect for watching the game.  They had an excellent menu that the patrons we talked to had great things to say about, and the beer selection on tap was outstanding - Dogfish, Stone, Widmer and more on 6 taps.

We ended up returning after the game and enjoying the blowout with a little more beer.  We will be back for dinner, and more sports watching.

Leaf on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

O-ku - Restaurant Week Day 3 - Charleston, SC

O-ku is a very interesting looking restaurant, especially when you consider that they are the sister restaurant to Oak Steakhouse.  I liked the decor of O-ku a lot, they fit a ton of stuff into wide open spaces.  I especially like the dolphins behind the sushi bar - my submarine guys must agree they look very familiar.  I'm not a huge sushi fan, but Kari is, and I was worried about eating at a "sushi" restaurant.  I need not have worried - O-ku had plenty to choose from and was very accomodating.

They started us out with a pair of interesting amuse-bouche style treats that were not part of the menu.  Pictured was a raw salmon over cucumber and soy sauce.  The other was a pork belly bite covered with kimchee.  Both were 4.0!

My appetizer was a raw slice of Tuna, Salmon and Escolar.  Beautifully presented with perfect sauce accompaniments.  Easily a 4!  Kari had the Kabocha Bisque, which is Japanese Acorn Squash with roasted macadamia nuts.  The picture didn't do it justice, so I omitted it.  Scored it a 4.25.

 My main course was Chicken Yaki Udon (thick, white, Japanese noodles.)  It was spicy, rich and quite yummy.  The noodles were a real treat - though they kicked my ass chopstick-wise.  I gave it a 4.25 despite the mess I made of it (and the mess it made of my shirt!)
Kari had a Sushi Combination.  I didn't get everything included written down, but it had a sushi roll with crab and five Nigiri which included shrimp, salmon, tuna, snapper and one other thing.  She loved them!  4.0

Here's where I give credit for great service.  They had two deserts on the menu, but Britney, our server, must have seen the look on my face when I heard the only option was Mochi Ice Cream - can't stand the stuff.  She immediately offered to have a dessert drink made for me, asked me a few questions about my tastes, and produced an amazing strawberry, coconut cake cocktail that was delicious!  I gave it a 4.25 without even considering the service that came with it.  Kari enjoyed the Mochi Ice Cream - I have to take her word for it - I wouldn't touch it.  Gave it a 3.75.

Overall I was very impressed with O-ku.  I'm not sure who was better, Oak or O-ku, but I will go to both again.  The staff was very helpful and knowledgeable and, like Oak, the manager made a point of ensuring we were taken care of.  Don't let the word "Sushi" keep you away - this a place for everyone!

O-Ku Sushi on Urbanspoon