Charleston - anniversary itinerary
Me and the lovely wife are heading back to Charleston for our 1-year wedding anniversary. I wanted to post our dining itinerary to make sure we're not gonna eat at restaurants that have fallen into disarray, and to get any useful feedback on what we might be missing.
Sienna (probably for our one special meal)
Langdon's (the other option for our special dinner)
SNOB (loved it last time we visited)
Al Di La (I heard the ownership has changed; is the food still amazing?)
EVO (is the pizza here better than Al Di La's?)
Pho Bac (I heard they moved, is the pho still a thing of beauty?)
The Wreck (gotta have me some fried oysters; is this place for real?)
Voodoo (Good bar scene? We loathe pretentiousness...)
Charleston Grill (we loved it a few years ago, but might try Langdon's instead)
Give me your input, if you will. I want my weary teacher wife to be dazzled at every turn.
I am well aware of, and commonly active in, most threads concerning Charleston.
I should have mentioned that we are in town for 7 days. We want any discussion we can ignite on narrowing down our list of options, as there are more really good spots than we have time for.
For instance, my post clearly indicated that we are torn between Langdon's and Sienna for our more expensive anniversary dinner. Also, I specifically asked whether the pizza is better at Al Di La or EVO. I also asked whether the pho at Pho Bac is still good after the move. None of these issues have been discussed recently as far as I can tell, and I think it entirely reasonable to post an intinerary of restaurant choices culled from previous or current threads in an effort to get right down to the very best choices. It's a common practice here on Chowhound.
re: uptown jimmy
Clearly. When I saw your list, it looked like mine. I have a Charleston dining guide and I have been making notes as I read the different opinions. There are so MANY choices and we also will be there for 7 days. I have not narrowed anything down yet. I am still trying to figure out a really nice Sunday brunch. We are driving down and the guide will be my travel entertainment.
What dining guide are you referring to?
Charleston is a bit of an anomaly in this country. A city of that size with a dining scene that good is absurd, no matter the number of tourists. I just wanted to vette our options, in light of the fact that we probably want to avoid places like Mcrady's (too self-consciously experimental?), 82 Queen (god-awful, and staggeringly dishonest in their advertising to boot), that sort of thing.
I also have yet to hear anybody weigh in on Charleston Grill since the menu change. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly there a few years ago, but it was staggeringly expensive and I felt pretty sluggish afterwards.
re: uptown jimmy
Charlestonmag.com/diningguide and I do not know if it is paid advertising, but so many restaurants are listed. I thought it would help me keep track of what I am getting from the threads. We are doing the Friday to Friday trip this vacation. This is the first destination that neither my husband or I have been to. I have ZERO to go on. There are tons of positive recs for McCrady's and this is the first time I recall hearing about 82 Queenand I do not see it in the dining guide. We are staying at Charleston Place and I think we will give Charleston Grill a try. There were a number of thumbs up for that one. No mention though of a menu change. Where are you from? We are from Philadelphia. We have amazing dining in this area. We like to have our dinners planned and reserved and wing it for lunch.
I envy you. Charleston Place is beautiful, and if you are staying there you should definitely eat there. Jon says they are better than ever, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly a few years back. Get a banquette and snuggle up, let the cool jazz wash over you. Awesome ambience, great, great food. The new menu looks to offer many lighter options than when we ate there, which is a good thing.
We're from the Athens area, and we crave good food, so when we travel we make that a priority. Athens is not a terrible town for food, and we have one world-class restaurant, but the rest is sorta college-town mediocre for the most part. I wish so badly that we lived in a big old city like SF or NY, or even Philly. ; )
We'll be there Saturday to Saturday. You'll love Charleston, it's such a lovely and vibrant town. Do try one of the tours of the old houses, it's fascinating. And if you guys like coffee, there's a lovely little (tiny) cafe just off Market near the Market itself that serves some of the best coffee in the country. I think it's called City Lights.
re: uptown jimmy
I am really excited to go. This is the first time in our many years together we are experiencing something totally new together. I have seen so many photos of the incredible architecture and I am a history buff. My husband is a coffee guy so we will definitely check out the coffee at City Lights. Love jazz and good food. We are going in April and it almost seems like a lifetime until then. We travel to NYC regularly and have been to SF many times. Awesome food to be certain.
We drive into town tomorrow.
Definitely take a tour or two, and don't be afraid to ask questions, as they tend to try to rush you through. Charleston is somewhat unique, really, a bit of a time capsule but much more vibrant than other old-school Southern cities like Savannah and St. Augustine.
You guys might not need to get you some Thai food at Basil, as I assume you have good Thai in Philly. You should consider skewing your choices towards stuff you can't get up North. There's a BBQ joint a few miles outside of town that gets some of the best reviews of any BBQ restaurants in the country, I think it's called Sweatman's. Might be worth a drive, get some of that local flavor.
Be careful about winging it for lunch, as one can definitely find really bad food in Charleston. Trust me. We don't talk anymore to the (former) friend who bought us that gift certificate to 82 Queen.....just joking, sorta....
And we only had espresso at City Lights, but it was divine, and I do know my coffee.
A few comments that may (or may not) be helpful:
I love both Langdon's and Charleston Grill, but I don't really think of them as the same "type" of restaurant. You leave Charleston Grill feeling pampered and stuffed; you leave Langdon's feeling satisfied and smart (for dining on such great food in a Mt. Pleasant strip mall for less moo-la than you could manage Downtown). I guess I'm trying to say that Charleston Grill is way more over the top than Langdon's, not to mention much more expensive. The new menu at Charleston Grill is better, IMO, than their old one (though the service may have taken a slight step back). I've always loved the menu at Langdon's, and their duck breast with sweet potato, red curry, and honey is one of my favorites of all time (they don't always feature it though). Langdon's just hits the sweet spot for me when it comes to flavor profiles. The chef really has a way with sweeter type entrees.
I haven't tried the pizza at Al Di La's, but the pizza at EVO is probably the best I've ever had. I especially recommend any of their nut pesto sauces. Pistachio is a standard item; others sometimes appear as specials. BTW, they were recently featuring salads using hydroponic tomatoes from Kurios Farms in Moncks Corner, and they were as good as many local summer tomatoes I've had. Nice find this time of year.
Speaking of Al Di La, my one visit there didn't blow me away. It was good, but nothing to break my addiction to Sienna, though admittedly they are very different types of Italian restaurants.
Regarding Circa 1886, I think they are at the top of their game right now. This is the place for an over the top, romantic dinner in my opinion. I put it in the same category as Charleston Grill, though more private and slightly less expensive (only slightly). I also place McCrady's in this category, and in their defense, they've toned down the experimentation a bit, if my last visit during the fall was any indicator. There is much more emphasis on local produce now, much of which they are growing themselves. I don't mind so much that McCrady's doesn't always blow me away; instead, I like how they challenge my tastebuds and preconceptions, and I consider it a unique dining experience in Charleston in that regard.
A recent visit to Fish was nearly flawless. I really like their Asian-style take on local fish. Chai's is a favorite still--if there is a better tapas place in town, I haven't been (though I've heard rumors that Soif in Mt. Pleasant may be in the running). Mustard Seed and Boulevard Diners are favorites for more casual dining and are great for lunch. They are both owned by Sal Parco and share a lot in common, though MS is more Southern meets Mediterranean while BD is Southern diner with a twist, I guess you could say. BD's boneless fried chicken with green tomato chutney, mashed sweet potatoes, and speckled butter beans is a favorite comfort food combination for me.
I think that's all for now. Hope this helps!
Voodoo is fun and if you are here for a week would be fun after dinner at Al di La. I haven't been to Al di La since it changed ownership but I'm told the atmosphere and food have remained top notch.
You've made some great choices. Try to get to the Wreck before sunset, it will be beautiful. Langdon's is also fantastic, I would try it if you are looking for something new.
The farmers market are worth a visit. Downtown's begins 4/12 and runs from 8-2 on Saturdays. You can get pizza from EVO, local crepes and other goodies. Mt Pleasant's begins 4/8 on Tuesday afternoons and also has crepes, pizza and local bbq.
I can't speak to everything on your list, but I will tell you what I know.
I have not eaten at Al di La since the ownership change, but I am still hearing good things. I also cannot tell you about the pizza at Al di La, but I am always up for pizza at EVO. The pizza is top notch, and every time we go there is at least one featured item with local ingredients. The last time I had pizza from EVO we ordered a pistachio pesto pizza topped with house made sausage, fresh mozzarella and arugula...out of this world.
I agree, go to The Wreck in time for the sunset, but I think SeeWee does fried seafood better.
I think you will have a good time at Voodoo Lounge, it is laid back and not at all pretentious.
I was at Basil about a month ago, and the food is still fantastic. FYI: Chai's is owned by the same people who own Basil. I suggest putting your name on the list at Basil and walk next door to Chai's and sit in their covered outdoor bar area. The hostess at Basil will call you when your table is ready, and you can walk next door with your drink for dinner. While I have never eaten at Chai's, only drank at the bar, I know they have happy hour specials on their appetizers while you wait. Chai's is also located a block or two away from Fish if you wanted to go out after dinner.
I think Fish is one of the more under appreciated restaurants in town. I think they do seafood quite well. It is another laid back neighborhood type place, and they have a small courtyard if you wanted to eat outside.
If the last time you were in town you ate at FIG, Hank's, Tristan and Cru I can understand not wanting to repeat every restaurant you visited, but if you haven't tried them I would recommend any of them in a heartbeat. As you probably know FIG and Hank's are dinner only, but still very good. The last time I ate at Tristan was for lunch, and they offered a prix fixe menu in addition to their regular lunch menu. I believe the price was $15, and you got a choice of soup or salad, entree and dessert. The food was wonderful. I would call to see when and if it is still offered. Cru, I love this place, and I'm sure people are tired of hearing it...I will say if you went there last time for dinner try it for lunch or vise versa. The food is very good, and the menus are different for lunch and dinner.
Lastly, Mustard Seed and Boulevard Diner. I have never been a huge fan of MS, but I do like BD. Honestly, I don't think you need to do both, I would pick one or the other.
I heartily recommend Sienna for your special meal. And if it is truly a special occasion, you should do the ultimate tasting menu, it is quite an adventure (although pricey. . .).
I love Al Di La, it is dangerously close to my house, and way to easy to walk down there to eat when I'm feeling lazy. I have eaten there a few times since the ownership change and there is no difference in the food, it is still wonderful. The new owner has been with the restaurant for a long time and knows better than to mess with a great thing. The wine list has changed though - they've had to find a new distributor, and are still messing around with the list. As for the pizza, they're really different, Al Di La has a really crisp crackery crust, whereas EVO's is more typically doughy. I haven't eaten at EVO's brick and mortar location, only the mobile ovens, but my husband is a pizza fiend, has eaten at both and prefers EVO.
Pho Bac has moved, my husband and I wasted a Friday night trying to find it, to no avail, can't comment on if the beauty continues. . .
Voodoo is awesome, it's another neighborhood hangout for me. I love the lack of TV's and kitchy decor. And I can't resist the fun drinks. . . the tacos are great, and if you get there before 7 you can get three duck club sliders for $5! It is in NO WAY pretentious!
Basil is still good, but I'm sure you're aware of the awful wait. They do a good lunch, so maybe go mid-day to avoid waiting forever.
Heard many negative Fish stories, may not be worth it to go. Mustard Seed and Boulevard Diner old standards that won't disappoint - but aren't "special."
I'm going to FIG for the first time this weekend and I'm really excited, I've never heard a bad thing.
Chai's is fun, trendy setting, good jazz on Saturdays. Can't really comment on the food as the couple times I've been there I didn't really eat much.
Whew, hope that helps, sorry for rambling.