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Impressive in Charleston

I will be visiting my girlfriend's family in Charleston soon. I plan to take them out to dinner one of the nights we are visiting, and would love an impressive recommendation. A few stipulations:

1) I am an admitted foodie. I live in San Francisco and love to go out to eat, so I'm a bit particular about where I eat. Consequently, I am picky about where I take my girlfriend's family to eat.
2) Her sister is a vegetarian, so, if possible, it must be friendly to our non-meat-eating friends.
3) I've read the charleston recs on the boards and have found the menus on many of recommended places to be ok. It seems most people like Cru, Fig, SNOB, The Mustard Seed, Peninsula Grill, Hank's, etc, etc. Those menus look fine, but what places have not been mentioned? I'm sure Charleston has more to offer. Or maybe that's the best of the best? In which case, how do we feel about Cru?

And one more question, the website for Muse is a bit, umm, tacky. Of course, it would be remiss to judge the place solely on their website. How is the quality of atmosphere and food?

Thanks, friends!

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      1. re: 9lives

        Sucks, portions are so small.Overated

    1. My only advice would be to accept Charleston for what it is. If you're looking for a San Francisco-type of experience there, you won't find it - it's not that the food and atmosphere of Charleston's restaurants aren't top notch, but it's not a big-city atmosphere and won't have the vibe that you're used to in SF. Charleston is a much slower-paced Southern town.

      I know you're trying to impress your girl's family, but if they live there, they may have a favorite restaurant that isn't on your list. Talk to them and find out what they like - I'm sure they'd rather spend time with you in an environment where everyone is comfortable. Relax, enjoy, and don't worry so much about "the best of the best" - some of my "best" dining experiences in Charleston have come in the form of a picnic on the beach or a sandwich on a sunny afternoon in White Point Gardens or the Waterfront Park. Also, don't forget that afternoon tea at the Charleston Place hotel is also quite an experience, and can be very impressive in and of itself.

      That being said, welcome to my hometown! I've moved away in recent years but get back every chance that I get.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Suzy Q

        I appreciate the tip. I'm originally from Chapel Hill, so I am familiar with the general way of the south, but I do want to find a place in Charleston that may not have been mentioned elsewhere on the boards. I know the most memorable meals aren't always found in the most likely places (but sometimes they are!). The idea of tea at the Charleston Place Hotel is a good one. Thanks!

      2. THere's a great little place called Saffron, sort of a combination bakery, restaurant. We've only been there for Sunday brunch, but it was very good, and everyone could find something they liked. Plus, you can stock up on cookies and cheese straws.

        1 Reply
        1. re: danishcheez

          Oooh I love Saffron. Not fancy, but great food. And we too always stock up on cookies to bring home whenever we visit. :-)

        2. Peninsula Grill stands out as an impressive Charleston landmark. Consider it for dinner or stop by for apps/dessert at the champagne bar. http://www.peninsulagrill.com/default...

          1. The Charleston Grill. As someone who lived in the Bay Area for five years, I feel that this restaurant best combines old-world Southern gentility with cosmopolitan energy. The atmosphere reminds me a lot of Gary Danko (perhaps a cross between Gary Danko and Myth - but in my opinion the food is better at Charleston Grill). It's always been my favorite Charleston restaurant.

            http://www.charlestongrill.com/

            review: http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/gy...

            ---
            Also, if you're willing to venture into the Charleston suburbs, the dining room at Woodlands in Summerville, SC is the best example of classy old-world Southern charm I've found anywhere.

            http://www.woodlandsinn.com/sample_me...

            review: http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/gy...

            It's one of my top three favorite restaurants in the COUNTRY (behind Cyrus and Manresa). Imagine the dining room at Ritz-Carlton in SF, but with an atmosphere that's not stale and food that's perhaps a notch better (which is not to diss Ron Siegel, who I believe is a master in his own right). Sitting at a table at Woodlands along that floor-to-ceiling glass window overlooking palm trees and greenery, with the interior ornately decorated with chandeliers and white columns - it's perfection.

            ---
            Another Charleston restaurant that I not yet visited but is next up on my list:

            Sienna - chef Ken Vendrinski used to be at Woodlands and in fact earned them their initial 5-star/diamond rating. He's now running his own place and tapping into his Italian roots.

            http://www.siennadining.com/

            review blurb: http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/gy...

            ---
            You can't go wrong with FIG either. I like the vibe there, and the slow-food style of cuisine using fresh, local ingredients should appeal to your Californian sensibilities.

            ---
            McCrady's is avant-garde and really could exist in any city in this country - there's nothing about it that's specific to Charleston. Further, Alinea in Chicago (and arguably Chef Daniel Patterson's Coi in the Bay Area) does this style of cuisine a lot better.

            ---
            FINALLY, I know that this is not a popular thing to say on this board, but I don't understand the love for Peninsula Grill. I dined there once and was sorely disappointed. The menu, the ingredients, are so...generic - it's exactly the sort of paradigmatic collection of dishes one "expects" to find if one were to craft a notion of "fine dining." Where's the creativity? Where's the surprise? To me, it's like the Law & Order of restaurants - you know exactly what you're going to get, but...the problem is...you know exactly what you're going to get.

            10 Replies
            1. re: mikeh

              Mike, I'm with you. I've never been a fan of Peninsula Grill either. It's just never impressed me in any way. Certainly not the worst dining experience of my life, but just...so so.

              1. re: Suzy Q

                Sienna is fan-freakin-tastic. I actually haven't eaten off the regular menu though. Both times we did the chef's ultimate tasting menu, which was amazing.

                1. re: mle17

                  I called for a reservation at Sienna last Saturday night. They were closed for a private party. I was bummed, but also fascinated by trying to guess what it would cost to closed down this very popular, rather expensive restaurant on a Sat night in March.

                  1. re: danna

                    Probably chump change for Daniel Islanders. . .

              2. re: mikeh

                Nice post mikeh. I'm hot to try Sienna.

                Let me just chime in about Penninsula. I have decided to go there a half dozen times from reading the reviews on this board. Then I walk up, read the menu, and decide to go elsewhere. It just seems so staid and boring.

                I HAVE, however, sat at the bar and had the famous cake. i was unimpressed with that as well. It's BIG, so what. My coconut cake is twice that good.

                To the OP: I'm confused why you think the best restaurants in Charleston wouldn't be discussed here. Obviously, that's why we're all reading/writing this. My current Fave in Charleston is FIG. The vegetable side dishes are superb, your veg friend should be satisfied. I ate there w/ at least 3 vegetarians last time and I didn't hear any complaining. (actually, it's possible there is some pork in those veggies, but my friends must believe in dont-ask-dont-tell)

                I have not eaten there, but if you want to impress...I have read a good review of the food at the Sanctuary on Kiawah...the place is impressive on it's own.

                1. re: danna

                  I DO think great restaurants in Charleston would be discussed here! I was just wondering about places that had not already been mentioned on the boards. I looked many pages back and the same dozen places kept getting mentioned. I was curious as to whether that was the top list, or if some worthy restaurants had been overlooked. Or, if some of the places mentioned might be overrated (of which it seems Penninsula Grill is guilty). All the suggestions have been very helpful. It has given me a better idea of what is what.

                  Thanks, these suggestions have been very insightful!

                  1. re: nopenever

                    Historic Charleston has a population of around 100,000. How many top-notch restaurants do you expect it to have?

                    1. re: uptown jimmy

                      It also had something like 8 million visitors last year.

                      To the OP, did anyone mention Circa 1886?

                      1. re: BlueHerons

                        And that's why Charleston has an impressive number of really good restaurants, all of which have been painstakingly enumerated here in numerous recent threads.

                2. re: mikeh

                  I had a really bad Muse experience - on my husband's birthday it took 4 hours for 2 courses, absent server, bad wine. . .no apologies for the 2 hour gap between starters and mains. and they weren't even that busy.
                  The food we did get was tasty, and the atmosphere is nice, but I was much to hungry and cranky for that to make up for everything else.

                3. If you are going to have a vegetarian with you, I would suggest FIG, SNOB and The Mustard Seed. I would even through in Al di La, Italian in West Ashley. I think FIG and SNOB would be the most vegetarian friendly, and give you the dining experience you desire. I love Cru Cafe so much I would suggest you and your girlfriend sneaking in a lunch or dinner just the two of you because it's not very vegetarian friendly. As for Muse, I have never been.

                  1. Peninsula Grill is truly a great place for dinner. Wonderful food and
                    DO NOT miss the Coconut cake. It is an experience not to be missed. http://www.peninsulagrill.com/default...

                    1. Peninsula Grill is one of the best places I've been anywhere. As a matter of fact, it's one of my all time best meals. And the cake, it can't get any better. SNOB and Blossons are two good ones also.

                      1. For good vegetarian and meat options, try the Boulevard Diner in Mt. Pleasant, just across the bridge from downtown. It is a fun and funky place to go. Same owner as the Mustard Seed mentioned here. Also, Al di La is great!! FIG also has some veg options. My husband is vegetarian so we hit those spots frequently

                        1. I am a vegetarian who lives in the Charleston area. I have to say my two fav places are The Mustard Seed on James Island and Mondo's on Folly Rd. Both have terrific food at reasonable prices, and they have vegetarian dishes on their menus. Both are fairly casual and have small, but good and affordable wine lists.

                          HOWEVER, I have yet to go to a more upscale place in Charleston that didn't happily comply with a request for a veggie meal. Everyone has been terrific! I usually call at least two days in advance and request a veggie meal. I explain about my particular requirements (i.e. we are vegetarians, but not vegans, so eat cheese & eggs). You would be surprised how many times the meat eaters at the table are envious of what I am eating! My most recent experience was at High Cotton on East Bay St. The chef created a portabello napoleon with grilled asparagus and tomatoes with a balsamic reduction drizzled over it. OMIGOSH! Fabulous!

                          Charleston is not the food capital of the world, but for a relatively small city there are loads of great restaurants. I encourage you to try one of the places on your list, just call ahead & tell them about her sister's veggie requirements. She will be pleased that you took the time to do so, trust me!

                          As for The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island, there are two places there to eat: The Jasmine Porch and The Ocean Room. The Jasmine Porch is the more reasonable of the two for prices, and still has good food. The Ocean Room is marvelous, with an incredible view of the Atlantic. But be prepared to drop some MAJOR cash! Guys must wear a jacket & tie. The wine list is extensive but EXPENSIVE! Last time we were there the LEAST expensive bottle on the list was $45, the most was well over $1000. That's a bit above my pay grade!

                          HTH,
                          Kellius @Isle

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Kellius

                            Since the family lives in Charleston, perhaps it might be a good idea to ask where they haven't been and would love to go. Woodlands and Charleston Grill are both excellent suggestions. No doubt they've been to Mustard Seed et al before. I wonder if the Fat Hen might fit the bill? Or Fez? Something different.

                            Unfortunately, Culinary Arts Company in Mt. Pleasant has closed, or I would have reommended it.

                            1. re: birgator

                              Circa in the Wentworth Mansion haven't been there in a while had a good meal there a couple years ago. Fig is great. Al di La (Italian) is also good. Also, on taking your girlfriends parents out...sometimes less is more. They live in Charleston and they have probably been to all these restaurants that everyone has named. Try Basil ( always good, and service is great) on King St. Fulton 5 is a small/intimate Italian restaurant right off of King Street. Don't do PGrill, its good but not worth it.
                              www.basilthairestaurant.com (Basil
                              )Fulton 5 5 Fulton St, 843-853-5555 (no website)
                              http://www.circa1886.com/ (Circa
                              )Al di La: 25 Magnolia Rd (843) 571-2321(no website)
                              Hope this helps!

                          2. You know, for a really memorable night, what about Robert's of Charleston? It's not your run of the mill night, nor is it something you can get somewhere else...

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: SuzyDerkins

                              My current favorites are FIG, The Fat Hen & Mercato and I think any of these would fit the bill for an impressive dinner worthy of a world class foodie. I really like Kellius' idea to call ahead and tell them that you have a vegetarian (or a picky eater in my case) in the party. My impression of the chefs in Charleston is that they are very customer friendly and would genuinely welcome the opportunity to satisfy any special requests. (That's the beauty of a relatively small town where everyone understands that great food & tourism are very tightly linked.)

                              If you wanted to go in a totally different direction to impress them, why not hire a personal chef to do a personalized tasting dinner for everyone at the house? I've been invited to these before and they are incredibly special. A chef friend of mine has just launched a personal chef/culinary instruction/personal catering business in Charleston and I'm sure there are other great chefs in the area doing similar ventures, so there should be a range of options on caterers, allowing you to offer your girlfriend's family a unique experience yet not at huge expense.

                            2. How come no one on this board ever mentions Cypress? The food is excellent, there is always a good bar crowd and the design is impressive. I also really love EVO in N.Chas.,fez in W.A. too.

                              1. I'm glad someone finally mentioned Fulton Five. I was beginning to think no one else knew about it. I stumbled upon it a few years ago and fell in love. The food innovative and delicious and the atmosphere romantic and intimate.