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two days (and nights) in Charleston, SC

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Am headed to Charleston for a couple of days between Christmas and New Year's. Have narrowed my dinner choices to the following:

Day One: Fig or Cordavi

Day Two: Il Cortile de Re, Pane e Vino, or La Fourchette

What say you, Hounds?

Also, would like to try some new lunch places. Prefer light, fresh, and fairly inexpensive. (Mount Pleasant is okay, too.)

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  1. Lunch-Jestines. Down-home great cooking. Very low-key and casual. Great prices and food.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Main Line Tracey

      I like Jestine's but is a bit heavier than what I usually eat for lunch. Anything lighter?

    2. Definitely La Fourchette -- you will think you are sitting at a bistro on Blvd. St Germain. But it really depends if you want French or Italian. If Italian, Pane e Vino.

      Light lunch -- Joseph's, the Marina Variety Store (which is also the best breakfast in town), Hominy Grill, Boulevard Diner (Mt. Pleasant), Fast & French, and the Mills House (which is way underrated and overlooked, as it is in a hotel).

      Enjoy!

      5 Replies
      1. re: DavidA

        Love Hominy Grill, esp. for lunch or breakfast. Went to Fast & French a few years back and liked that also. Where is Joseph's? And which marina has the Variety Store?

        1. re: Jeff C.

          Joseph's is on Meeting Street next to the Gibbes Museum. It is excellent (and about a dollar or two more per item than some other places, but not expensive). Plus they make beignets -- which makes any dining experience worthwhile.

          The Marina Variety Store is at the City Marina on Lockwood Boulevard (the Ashley River side). Besides the food (we are regulars there for breakfast, and the occasional lunch), it is one of two places (I don't count the lousy restaurant up by the Aquarium) you can eat on the water. The other is Fleet Landing (at the end of Cumberland Street on the Cooper River), which come to think of it, is a decent lunch place too.

          1. re: DavidA

            Got it. Thanks. I used to live in Summerville, so I know most of the places you mention. I just never made it to all them. So many great restaurants, so little time (and cash)...

          2. re: Jeff C.

            Hominy Grill has a wonderful fried chicken plate. One of the best.

          3. re: DavidA

            Love Fast and French. great little spot, great value.

          4. DEFINITELY fig. the best of the meals that we had in charleston on our honeymoon (do a search for 'charleston honeymoon post--long, and you'll see my review). totally killer. for day two-- did you consider al di la? we really enjoyed that, too. anywho... have fun--it's a great food city.

            1 Reply
            1. re: HeelsSoxHound

              Yeah, I'm really torn between Fig and Cordavi as I've heard both are excellent...

            2. If I did not have a meal at Jestine's before leaving town I'd really be disappointed. It's casual and delicious. If there are long lines, don't be put off -- join them.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jwlucas

                Jestine's is OK...not worth all of this hype. Their fried chicken and mixed berry cobbler are outstanding, but you're not in the mood for chicken and cobbler I'd skip it. For lunch I'd probably hit Cru Cafe, as it's relatively inexpensive and doesn't dissapoint. For dinners I would do Fig (over Cor Davi) and get the steak tartatre, and probably La Fourchette. La Fourchette's food is very different than Fig's, country french fare, and is perfect winter fare outside of the fact that it's almost 70 degrees today in Charleston.

              2. Cru Cafe is a great suggestion for lunch, especially if you are sticking to the Market area. The duck confit salad is a real winner. As far as Jestine's, the fried chicken, pecan whiting and meatloaf are all good -- although I would never wait on line for them. And for dessert, I don't doubt that the cobbler is good, but the CoCola (CocaCola) Cake is almost worth a wait.

                1 Reply
                1. re: DavidA

                  Cru Cafe is new to me. Is it actually ON Market St. or just in the Market area?

                2. Cru Cafe is on Pickney Street, a block north of the Market. Go up Anson Street and turn right. It is an old house -- if the weather is good you can eat on the porch.

                  1. I know the area well. Guess I've just missed it. Sounds lovely, though. Thanks.

                    1. Just checked out Cru Cafe's online menu... May have to eat dinner there!

                      1. Cru Cafe is a MUST! Just spent 5 days in Charleston and had both lunch and dinner at the "chef's table" (the counter overlooking the kitchen)--lots of fun. The 4-cheese macaroni side is scrumptious. The burgundy-braised shortribs special was indeed special. Do call ahead for reservations, especially for dinner. Wonderful food, no pretentions, from Cordon Bleu-trained chef-owner.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: aheuring

                          I'm sold. And it seems less stuffy (not to mention pricey) than Cordavi, McGrady's, et al.

                        2. Cru is definitely much less stuffy and formal than McCrady's, et al. It just depends on the experience you want. If you are not looking for a more formal time, Cru and La Fourchette would make two great nights of dining! Of course, you could also do Cru for lunch and go more formal in the evening. Choices, choices...

                          1. What's good at La Fourchette? (Just read a City Paper review that talked up the casoulette.)

                            1. The casoulette is great, and a chicken dish with olives is wonderful. The french fries (fried in duck fat) are pricey, but worth it -- probably the best fries in town. We have never had anything bad there. If you are into wine, they have a wonderful selection too.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: DavidA

                                Sounds like the pommes frites are worth a splurge--for both pocketbook AND diet!

                                1. re: Jeff C.

                                  Jeff, GET TO CORDAVI!!!!!! Below is a post I made on another site about or dinner there last night. Great restaurant.

                                  ----------------------------

                                  Cordavi's last night. Fan-freaking-tastic.

                                  Nice thing about their menu is that you can do 3, 4, or 5 course tastings by selecting from the menu, or choose a 10 course chef's tasting for $90, or just simply pick and chose from the menu. Both of us chose to do a selected tasting - Alison chose 3, I had 5.

                                  A word about the wine list: Not great. We did find a nice Testarossa Pinot Noir from California which complimented the food well, but they could use a larger, more diverse list to compliment the quality of the food. Speaking of which. . .

                                  After ordering we were presented with a complimentary amuse of a musroom, bacon, and cipolini onion puree with butter foam in a little shot glass. Great way to start, the essence of mushroom, beautifully accented by the other ingredients. Woodsy, rich, and perfectly sized.

                                  Alison started with a simple house salad with asian pear vinegrette and gorgonzola. Great fresh ingredients, a well executed version of this salad. I started with the "deconstructed" beat salad, with ribons of red and gold beats, as well as apple, goat cheese jellies, and spiced pecans. Very nice, light, refreshing.

                                  My second was probably the best dish of the night (though all of the dishes were outstanding): scallops two ways. On one side of the plate was a single, pristine scallop crusted in porcini powder and pan seared, while the other side containe scallop spaghetti (pureed scallops mixed with egg whites then cooked). Both presentation were sauced with butter foam, edemame, and wild muchrooms (real wild mushrooms, not the standard shitake, portabello mix). Mind blowingly good. The flavors married so well together, and the contrast of flavors between the clean, sweet seared scallop and the slightly salty, al-dante spaghetti was great. I could have eaten a TON of this.

                                  Alison got her main next, while I got both a fish and meat main. She had an amazingly tender truffle infused tenderloin with potato hash (more truffle oil here), sauted asparagus, asparagus linguine (ribbons of asparagus cooked like pasta) and foillandasie sauce (hollandasie accented with foie). One of the best peices of meat ever. Cut with a fork tender, flavorful, and cooked perfectly to order. The sides were great - she even finished the veggies but not the meat (too big).

                                  My first "main" was a perfect pan-seared black grouper with truffled corn and chantrelles. Nice crisp seareing, moist inside, and served over some slightly sweet grits. The mushrooms were perfect, tender but still with a bite. Great dish.

                                  My second "main" was moullard duck breast with tomato confit, foie gras, and honshemenji mushrooms. Again, no complaints. Great meaty dish, the foie was perfect, this dish was made for the wine we drank. No way I could finish it. It was HUGE.

                                  We then got another complimentary course - an intermezzo of sweet corn ice cream with home-made caramel sauce. Just delicous. Not too sweet, just a bite size of pure corn flavor - sort of a riff on frozen caramel corn.

                                  Believe it or not, we still had deserts coming. I went with their version of "apple pie": glazed diced apples with a crumbled shortbread crust and homemade caramel ice cream. This too was deconstructed, with the ice cream in the middle of the bowl surrounded by the other compontents. Fantastic. Again, not too sweet, with clean flavors that married beautifully. Alison had the "peanut butter cup" which is Yoohoo chocolate custard, peanut butter ice cream, with a chocolate crust. This is probably her dream desert combo, and it was executed flawlessly.

                                  At $190.00 before tip (including our bottle of wine), this place is a BARGAIN. We were presented with 2 free course, and the food was perfectly cooked, and the ingredients were flawless. The servings were very large, especially for a tasting menu. You will not leave hungry.

                                  As you can probably tell, I was very impresed with Cordavi. The chef's balance a playful sense of presentation with a serious attention to quality. These are seriously talented chefs who clearly enjoy what they do. Great spot - I wish it was in Atlanta.

                              2. Wow. Thanks so much for the detailed review. As you can see from the above, we've got some tough decisions to make, esp. since we'll only be in town for two days...

                                1. Second night was FIG, which was good, but paled in comparison to Cordavi. Best dish was my starter of radiccio salad with shrimp and pancetta in a sherry vinagrette. Nice mix of saltly, tangy, and sweet from the shrimp. Very sucessful.

                                  Alison had 2 starters - home made caviatelli with brocoli, and beef tartare. Both very good, straightforward presentations. I had titlefish with braised fennel, and we splint garlic sauteed local young greens. Again, solid and straightforward.

                                  Desserts were carolina gold rice pudding with cherrycompote and half-baked chocolate cake. Again, well executed and solid renditions.

                                  Overall impression is one of good, safe food with high quality local ingredients. Nothing pushed the envelope, but nothing was bad. However, the dinner at Cordavi blew this place out of the water.

                                  1. Well, it has taken awhile, but here's a report from my two days (and nights) in Charleston...

                                    First of all, we didn't make it to any of the places we'd originally intended, partly due to lack of time, partly due to breakfast being served at the hotel. We did manage to locate all the restaurants mentioned above, with the exception of La Fourchette. (No address listed in the phone book, and none given on the answering machine when you call!) Of the two Italian places, we were definitely more intrigued by Pan e Vino, which seemed both funkier and classier. However, it was very late and packed by the time we found it...

                                    Here are some of the highlights of the places we visited:

                                    Cru Cafe--remembered this place from when it used to be Pinckney Cafe years ago. It's in a quaint old Charleston side house with a TINY dining room (about 6-7 tables), another communal table for 6-8 diners, and a chef's table facing the kitchen for four. Needless to say, reservations are a MUST. Started with lovely fresh bread and a bottle of Castle Rock Pinot Noir 2005. Followed with the Duck Confit salad, which was delicious but rather oily given the mixture of duck, fried onions, and vinaigrette. It was also rather heavy for an appetizer--would be better solo for lunch. Next, I had a seared grouper filet atop braised lentils in a port wine demi. The wife had Grilled Basil Marinated Shrimp with Kielbasa, Peas and Oreechlette Pasta. Portions are small, which may rankle some given the price range, but we found them just about right after the filling salad. Both entrees were prepared with a careful hand and well presented, so it pains me to add that mine was a tad bland. For dessert, we shared a slice of "Orange Dreamsicle Cake," which sounds disgusting but was, in fact, the highlight of the meal--light, spongy vanilla cake, fluffy orange icing, and a sauce that tasted vaguely of pomegranante. This was the most expensive meal of the trip at $110 and was solid if not quite spectacular.

                                    Joseph's--ate here for lunch the next day, when we were still feeling the effects of our "big dinner" the night before. Small, quaint, very casual place on the less-crowded end of Meeting and not too touristy for being right next to the Gibbes Museum. We both had the Turkey Salad--roasted turkey topped with local pecans, sun-dried apricots, and a low-fat yogurt-based dressing, served with toasted pita wedges. Very light and very nice. Then, of course, we ruined it by ordering a round of beignets and coffee. If I say that neither was up to Cafe DuMond standards it isn't meant as criticism. Both were quite yummy indeed. Total cost of meal: around $25. Our waiter (Adam? Jason?) was a hoot.

                                    Hyman Seafood--I know, I know. But, get this: If you have a VIP card and don't have to wait out on the sidewalk with the tourists, and if you avoid the deep-fried items and order off the specials menu, it's actually NOT HORRIBLE. I had a perfectly nice sesame seared tuna with wasabi cream--served, wierdly, with hush puppies and cole slaw. (You know, like they do it in SOUTHERN Japan!) Having eaten here numerous times, we knew it is wise to SKIP DESSERT. Cost: around $35.

                                    Old Village Post House (Mount Pleasant)--also an inn and defintely the loveliest of the places we visited. We had lunch here before heading home. I started with a cup of soup which had celery root and nutmeg and other things I can't remember. Was the color of cappucino foam and almost as light--I loved it. Wife had a salad with excellent tomatoes for late December. I followed with the Seared Salmon Salad, which was also noce and featured local pecans, if I remember correctly. Wife had one of the lunch specials, which was a grilled chicken breast, lovely fresh green beans atop some sort of puree that reminded me of the Gerber strained squash we used to feed our kids--although she seemed to like it. Dessert was a fresh Strawberry-Apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream (tasted like Breyer's to me) and defintely the best coffee of the trip. Total, with tip: around $40.

                                    That's it. STILL want to try Cordavi!

                                    Maybe next time...

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Jeff C.

                                      Jeff, If you're ever in Charleston again, make a point of finding your way back to Pane e Vino on Warren Street. We're always made to feel like they truly enjoy serving us and I sense others feel the same -- and it equals (actually surpasses) what we found in Italy on our 25th anniversary trip (although admittedly, we were much more interested in satiating our interest in art than in food while there . . .). Another wonderful, funky, and inexpensive place is Five Loaves Cafe at the corner of Coming and Cannon Streets, around the corner and up the street from Pane e Vino --- inventive salads, soups and sandwiches every day (1/2 salad, bowl of soup and/or 1/2 sandwich -- choose 2 for $8.50) plus entree specials (we always go with the former). Best regards.

                                    2. Thanks for the tips. What dishes do you recommend at Pane e Vino?