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Mar 3, 2008 06:40 AM

Charleston Food + Wine Festival Reviews

So, there are bound to be some Chowhounders that attended the festivities. What did everyone think? My thoughts are below.

Grand Tasting Tents/Culinary Village
This was markedly improved from last year. There was much more room with the additional grand tasting tent and outdoor café seating. I’m still craving the roasted cauliflower soup with truffle oil from Middleton Place.

Bubbles & Sweets
This was very well-done. The selection of desserts from local restaurants and national outfits (Le Bernardin!) was excellent. This got a little crowded but was definitely manageable. Will attend this next year.

BBQ & Blues
I enjoyed this even more than Bubbles & Sweets. Friendly & casual atmosphere with a fantastic selection of BBQ. Chicken, pulled pork, ribs, collards, mac & cheese, so delicious! Fantastic hog display from Charleston Bay Gourmet. Awesome music too.

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  1. Attended the opening night Salute to Charleston Chefs, which was the most INSANE gourmet epicurean event I've ever attended. Unlimited opportunities to sample each chef's signature creation more than once (although after the 17th course, I was stuffed), and unlimited wine pours. Just LUDICROUS. Here's how I broke it down:

    Marc Collins, Circa 1886, BBQ Crab Sandwich with chowchow, micro cilantro and white cheddar
    Rating: *****
    Best dish of the evening. Succulent crab, wonderful chowchow.

    Jacques Larson, Mercato, Crespelle with duck confit carmalized onion gorganzola cheese *****
    My second favorite dish. Perfect. As good as the description implies. Immaculately executed.

    Ken Vedrinski, Sienna, Butternut Squash Soup with Italian Chestnut Honey and Wild Boar Mezzaluna
    Rating: *****
    Third favorite dish of the night - this chef used to be at Woodlands and is doing amazing things in returning to his Italian roots.

    Bob Waggoner, Charleston Grill, Wild American Shrimp Bisq scented with lemon grass Rating: *****
    Tasted like tom ka gai (the Thai soup) - very well done.

    Jason Murphy/Jonathon Banta, 39 Rue de Jean/Coast Bar & Grill, Virginias Fried Chicken & Collard Greens
    Rating: *****
    Outstanding. Juicy fried chicken, freshly sweet collards (best ever).

    Aaron Deal, Tristan, Vermillion Snapper, Golden Beet, Parmesan Vanilla Broth
    Rating: ****
    Fresh snapper filet and golden beet worked magnificently together.

    Sven Lindroth/Charles Arena, The Boat House Restaurants
    Cured Swordfish with Fennel Salad
    Rating: ***
    Interesting smoky flavor in a "'sashimi" style

    Jeremiah Bacon, Carolina's, Lacquered bacon
    Rating: ***
    Melt-in-your-mouth tender. Tasted like a very good pot roast.

    Frank McMahon, Hank's, Salmon Carpaccio,Pacific Oyster,Watermelon Cucumber Mignonette.Micro Mint.
    Rating: ***
    Beautifully shiny orange salmon.

    Frank Lee/Anthony Gray/Tim Armstrong, SNOB/High Cotton/Old Village Post House Sautéed Quail Breast with Cheese Grits, Field Peas and a Port Wine Sauce
    Rating: ***
    Classic Southern preparation - very yummy.

    Fred Neuville, Fat Hen, Shrimp & Crab Hoppin John
    Rating: ***
    Paradigmatic "Southern lowcountry" seafood preparation.

    Nick Romo, FISH, BBQ Skate with Fresh Persimmon on Sweet Potato Bisque
    Rating: ***
    Sweet potato bisque worked well with the "bitterness" of the skate.

    Nathan Thurston, Jasmine Porch, Lowcountry Spring Salad: Split Creek Farms Goat Cheese Truffle, Anson Mills Organic Grit Crouton, Watermelon radish, Baby Beets, Tangle of Spring Greens,& Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
    Rating: ***

    Kevin Ives, The Ocean Room, Rioja Braised Ham Hock Terrine With "Fabada" Wild Mushrooms & Chorizo Oil
    Rating: **
    Pretty good, but tasted a bit too "fatty"

    Brett McKee/Adam Cloyes, Oak Steakhouse,Beef Braciole over creamy polenta with Asaigo & Sage
    Rating: **
    Beef and polenta were very good on their own, but didn't go well together.

    Sean Brock, McCrady's, South Carolina Tamworth Pork with Collard Green Consommé and Vegetables from our Garden
    Rating: *
    Bad. Almost inedible. Strange flavors. Just like when I ate at McCrady's in person.

    Charleston Crepe Company - ***** - their crepe cake was WILDLY GOOD. layers of light fluffy crepe pillows with creme and a wonderful chocolate ganache top. best slice of cake I've EVER HAD.

    Dishes I didn't get around to trying:

    Adam Close, Blossom, Olive oil poached local sheepshead, stewed navy beans, micro celery

    Peyton Smith Embassy Suites N. Charleston Airport/Convention Center Back Yard BBQ: Beef Short Ribs, Mac and Cheese, and Collards

    Mike Lata, FIG, Crispy Caw Caw Creek Hogs Head

    5 Replies
    1. re: mikeh

      Oh My GOD!! I so can not wait to get to Charleston next month!!

      1. re: mikeh

        Sounds incredible. Thanks for taking the time, and in such detail too! Guess that's on my "to do list" for next year. And in the meantime, some interesting takes on restaurants and their chefs. Several high ranking items from restaurants at which I haven't eaten yet -- so they move to the "gotta try."

        1. re: mikeh

          Good LORD! thanks for posting all that. Did you walk around with a notebook?

          Do you mind if I ask how much that set you back? what night of the week?

          1. re: danna

            Amazingly, all of that was only $100/person total. Considering the quality and sheer volume of what was offered (heck, unlimited rounds and wine pourings), I consider it the steal of the century.

            It was on a Thursday night, which actually made finding lux accommodations downtown much easier and less expensive than on weekends.

          2. re: mikeh

            Excellent detail and review of the chefs and their food at the Food & Wine Festival Kickoff Reception. I was also at the Thursday kickoff event as well as the Low County Food Bank event the previous Sunday, so I was able to see almost all the same great chefs twice in the same week. I agree with your ratings analysis almost line for line. For the kickoff reception, my two favorites were Ken Vedrinski from Sienna with his Butternut Squash Soup with Italian Chestnut Honey and Wild Boar Mezzaluna in a solid tie with Jacque Larsen from Mercato with his Crespelle with Duck Confit. I didn't try the bbq crab sandwich from Circa 1886 because my friend had it and wasn't impressed, but now I'm sorry that I didn't try it.

            I have to give the nod to Jacque Larsen from Mercato as my overall winner as his meatballs with gremolata at the Food Bank event was the best of all the chefs that night and his crespelle with duck confit at the Food & Wine Festival kickoff event was outstanding.

            I told Chef Jacques Larsen that he was my choice for overall winner and he asked me to let him know if we came in to Mercato. Since that night, I've now been twice with different visitors in tow and the food and service have been outstanding. The bar staff, Andy and Amy, are very professional yet personable and act as though they've known me forever. Andy now lets the chef know that I'm in the restaurant (without any prompting from me). The chef has come out each time to greet us and then afterwards to check on what we thought of the meal. The food has always been outstanding.

            I would DEFINITELY recommend that foodies check out Mercato, especially the pasta and especially the tagliatelle bolognese. If you ask, they will let people order the meatballs even though they aren't on the appetizer menu. I'm not even a meatball fan but these are are amazingly light and tasty. That view has been seconded by both my NY/CT visitors, who have regular access to great italian food. Mercato is on Market St., which is typically a tourist haven, but it seems to get both tourists and locals in equal measure.