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Charleston - anniversary itinerary

u
uptown jimmy Mar 7, 2008 01:03 PM

Howdy!

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.

For sure:
Sienna (probably for our one special meal)
Langdon's (the other option for our special dinner)
SNOB (loved it last time we visited)
Basil
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...)

Maybe:
FIG
Hank's
Tristan
Charleston Grill (we loved it a few years ago, but might try Langdon's instead)
Cru Cafe
Mustard Seed
Boulevard Diner
Fish
Chai's
Circa 1886

Give me your input, if you will. I want my weary teacher wife to be dazzled at every turn.

  1. u
    uptown jimmy Mar 17, 2008 02:18 PM

    Howdy, kids. Reporting back from our 1st anniversary visit to lovely Charleston.

    I would mention that there are rumblings that certain restaurants are in danger of hitting the chopping block. I am not surprised. There is a bewildering variety of restaurants in Charleston, but one of the main trends over the past several years seems to have been a proliferation in upper-mid-scale joints devoted to ultra-fresh, often local ingredients, with varying degrees of "creativity" in the kitchen, entree prices hovering in the $15.00 to $20.00 range, and dining rooms notably lacking in the sort of ostentatious decor one finds at Charleston Grill, Peninsula Grill, etc. I'm talking Fish, Cru Cafe, Sienna, Coast, McRady's, Circa 1886, FIG, etc. If our experience at FIG is any indicator, I wouldn't be surprised if this particular restaurant becomes one of the casualties. And so we begin:

    FIG - My in-laws were right: this is a thoroughly unimpressive physical space. Like two of our favorite restaurants, Al Di LA and Basil, it is located in a plain-Jane former retail space, but unlike those two places, FIG manages to accentuate the negative, not the positive. The lighting is far too bright, the walls are painted a lime-ish green, and it all just seems sorta "not cozy". As for the food, it was Jekyll and Hyde on a plate. We started with the duck confit. To be blunt, that wasn't duck confit, and it wasn't very good. The leg was rather chewy, with nicely crisp skin, but therein lies the rub: duck confit cannot have crisp skin. Duck confit is defined by slow cooking the leg quarter in duck fat for several hours, which produces absurdly tender meat, usually accompanied by some sort of cherry sauce to balance the extreme unctuousness of the duck with a little tartness and a little sweetness. FIG's "duck confit" was chewy and too salty, sitting in a salty meat jus, topped with an absurdly crackly disk of pancetta, which was, obviously, very salty. Not a good dish. This attempt on the part of the kitchen to be "creative" failed miserably. They took a time-honored classic and ruined it with silly touches and a thoughtless monotony of flavors. Our salad, on the other hand, was divine, frisee lightly dressed and decorated with chewy lardoons and a beautifully poached quail egg. Perfect.

    Once our plates were cleared, the wait for the next course was longer than ten minutes. That's just not cool. When it arrived, the Wagyu "Bistro" steak was perfect, one the best dishes I ever had, cooked perfectly, sliced thinly, served with a bit of Bourdelaise and a fresh little salad with a side of mashed potatoes. Awesome. Moan-inducing. The wild bass, on the other hand, was as bland as could be, and slightly over-cooked. Again, a monotony of flavors, with the bass sitting in a pool of jus and mushrooms, with nothing to balance the flavors or textures.

    We will never return. There are far to many places in Charleston that serve consistently excellent food in a competent and timely fashion for me to waste my time playing Russian Roulette with that kitchen. FIG is just not up to snuff, and I ain't wasting my money paying those prices for boring food, ill-advised recipes, and inconsistency and poor execution.

    Hank's - We sorta ended up at FIG by accident. We had wanted to try Hank's for some raw oysters and such, but we were left sitting in our booth literally for 10-12 minutes wile our server scurried about with other business. He approached us twice to say he'd be with us in just a minute. When he approached us a third time to get things started I asked him if this was how things were going to go for the rest of the meal. He apologized and said he was a second-day trainee. We promptly got up and left. Memo to "nice" restaurants: putting a second-day trainee on one of your best sections at peak hours is just stupid. So, we walked over to FIG, which gets much love here on Chowhound and elsewhere. See above.

    SNOB - once again, a perfect meal. Love the space. Our server was spot-on and friendly, so happy to be doing her job. We had the oyster stew, a lovely little dish kinked by the inclusion of little savory bits some sort of pork product and little diced potatoes, the oysters just barely warmed through, plump and lovely. This is actually an oyster chowder, strictly speaking, but who cares, it was really, really good. Next was the beef carpaccio, which was wonderful as usual. The charcuterie plate was different from last time, but just as good (Lord I love me some nasty bits). We finished with the tuna dish, and I was surprised to find it as good as the other dishes, as normally a meat-heavy restaurant like SNOB will offer a few half-hearted fish preperations and fall short due to lack of interest. Not so here. As you can tell, we dined on appetizers; I highly recommend this for couples at places like SNOB. Why grind away at one entree when you can share smaller plates, sample several flavors and textures, and compare notes? It gives you so many tastes in one meal. And I do think that appetizers are a strong suit for SNOB. Highly recommended. Also, I've heard several folks complain about the ambience at SNOB. I don't get that at all; we find it lovely and vibrant, moderately noisy but not overly-so. Just a really eclectic place, full of space and color and people. And really good food....

    EVO - Lots of buzz about this place. EVO's pizza certainly looks the part, and it is very good, as are the salads, but we prefer Al Di La. My experience with Neapolitan pizza extends to A16 in San Francisco, a place started by a certified pizzaiolo, so I think I have a handle on the dish. I'll stick with Al Di La. Never mind that EVO is a bit of a drive. It's much easier to dash across the Ashley River bridge to Al Di La. See below.

    Al Di La - This, for us, is the gold standard for Charleston restaurants. So many places in Chucktown shoot for excellence and many, at least occasionally, fall short. I love culinary creativity, but I find that it often leads to underwhelming results due to over-reaching. Al Di La sticks with its Italian basics, using the highest quality ingredients and rendering consistently beautiful dishes day in and day out. They don't seem to feel the need for endless tinkering, and therein lies the lesson we learned last week, a lesson I will always hold dear to my heart as one of the major insights of my culinary journey: I think most cooks and chefs are better off honoring tradition, sticking with the tried-and-true, resisting the diabolical urge to monkey about with what already works perfectly. Don't get me wrong, there are some truly gifted culinary artisans out there. But take FIG for instance: they are at their best when doing things in a classic, traditional manner, and they are at their worst when they try to reinvent the wheel. The wheel simply doesn't need to be reinvented, and neither does duck confit. They're already perfect. How can one possibly improve upon perfection?

    Anyway, we sat at the bar and ate a Margherita pizza (perfect), the bruschetta with house-made mozzarella, marinated tomatoes and a small salad (my god), a sardine plate served with a tangy, citrusy sauce and a small salad (again, perfect), and the frisee salad with asparagus, procioutto and parmesan (wow). The bartender was really cool. He said he used to work for the Italian import company that supplies Al Di La and other area restaurants, and that even High Cotton wasn't willing to pay for the best stuff the import company offered, but that Al Di La wouldn't purchase anything less than the best, and a very high cost. I believe it. And that's the thing here: the best cuisines in the world rely on the best, and freshest, ingredients. When you do that, there's no need for "creativity"; you just try to honor the food and otherwise stay out of the way. No cuisine exemplifies this concept better than Italian, and Al Di La has it down. Beautiful food, nicely dark interior, utter devotion to ingredients, execution and consistency. You're dealing with one of the world's 2 or 3 great cuisines, developed over millenia; why mess about with it? Just be honest and true to it. Al Di La is perfect. We'll eat here several times on our next visit.

    Pho Bac - They've closed down their run-down but cozy little location on Mt. Pleasant where we had such a nice time last year. They are currently located in (very) North Charleston. Man, that was a bit of a drive for a bowl of soup. And what is up with the huge and very empty interior? Sorta creepy. A few other customers came in while we dined, but otherwise it was a weird environment. The pho was, as last time, excelent, with the most subtle yet gut-satisfying flavor profile of any soup I've ever had. But we probably won't go back. It's just too far a drive, and it's just too weird in there, too empty, too quiet.

    Charleston Grill - We had a late snack of champagne (happy anniversary, dear one), an absolutely delicious crabcake (cough*butter*cough) with sweet rock shrimp and a lime dressing, and then the most delicious fried oysters on a salad of Romain leaves with an hard-boiled egg vinaigrete dressing. Amazing service at the bar from Cane, and just a lovely, lovely embience, with the jazz trio back in the corner and oh! that sumptious interior. An all-around class act, this place. We will return next visit, no doubt. It's expensive, but this is the place to go when you want to be in the hands of professionals. When it comes to a creative touch with the food, this is the kitchen to trust implicitly in Charleston, IMO,. They tend to stick with international favorites, but there is high degree of bad-assery back of the house. I understand the new 4-part menu has breathed life back into the restaurant. Well-done, folks. Impeccable.

    Shi Ki - By the middle of the week, we were tired to death of fauncy food, and took the advice of the local paper that the sushi here is good. And it is pretty darned good. The space is rinky-dink, but the guy behind the counter seems to know his stuff. Not the best execution I've seen, but the fish seemed very fresh. We enjoyed ourselves, and we've had our share of sushi, so we're not rubes wandering blindly through the world of raw fish. It isn't the best we've ever had, but I'd recommend it as solid, tasty and trustworthy. Probably better than anything in Georgia, but that ain't saying much.

    East Bay Deli - Not awful. Worth a trip to share a sandwich and the salad bar with your sweetie. You can't eat insanely well at every meal on our budget.

    Bowman's Island - We love this place. The sunsets on the water are priceless. The osters were really good this time. They do decent fried fod, and the ambience is right down my alley. I'm bringing some horseradish next time to "doctor" their cocktail sauce. This place is perfect after a long day at the beach.

    Daily Dose - (James Island) These folks really need to straighten up around the place, as it's a bit disheveled. But the food is really good, and the employees are happy and friendly. They do veggie wraps, and the two we shared were very tasty. This is the sort of place that makes you forget you're eating vegetarian. We'll be back to grab some to-go lunch on the way to the beach, next time we're in town.

    Fast & French - You know what? The food is merely pretty good, and the employees need some serious lessons in professionalism, but the ambience is so nice for a lunch date. It's just a cool little place. We'll return, as it's sort of a tradition for us now.

    Taco Boy - (Folly Beach) Yay, Taco Boy! This place is priceless. Beach bar kind of setting, just a block from the beach itself. They do California-style fish tacos, as well as other variations like carnitas (meltingly tender pork), portabello, beef, chicken, etc. Get both the fried and grilled mahi tacos, good lord they're good. Their salsas and guac are divine, the tequila flights are fun (duh), the back patio is heaven, the service lovely. We went twice, and will go again and again next time we're in town. Perfect. This place is just perfect, sandy feet and all. I want a Taco Boy t-shirt.

    Lastly, I must speak of Little Thai II in venemous tones. It came recommended (you know who you are), so we ate there first night in town, not wanting to make a big deal of dinner at 7:30 on a Saturday night. Good lord. We sent one dish back and didn't eat the other. Awful. This place is a sham. I asked the waitress when we sat down if they were as good as Basil. She replied: "They're our competition." No, dear, they are not. They are your superior, to put it politely. I've had better food at Americanized Chinese take-out joints, and that's saying something. How can anyone eat repeatedly at such a shoddy restaurant? It's just plain bad. Avoid.

    Next time we're going to do more cooking at the condo. We'll go to the farmer's market, and were shocked to find Ted's Butcher Block on our last day, and look forward to patronizing them. I wish we had a good butcher in Athens. Also thinking about 39 Rue de Jean, Fat Hen, Tristan, Sienna, La Fourchette, See Wee or the Wreck, Langdon's, and Boulevard, in addition to old favorites like Basil.

    Thanks to all for your help. And thanks to the lovely people of Charlestown for being such gracious and civilized folk (mostly, anyway).

    7 Replies
    1. re: uptown jimmy
      crazyspice Mar 17, 2008 03:04 PM

      Hey uptown - been waiting for your report. Many thanks! We head down 4/18.

      1. re: uptown jimmy
        b
        BlueHerons Mar 17, 2008 04:29 PM

        I've never been a fan of FIG and went twice when they opened a couple of years ago and had bad experiences. Never could figure out why so many people raved about it.

        However, I'm one of the few that loves Poogan's Porch (brunch only) and Jestine's Kitchen (all the time).

        Sorry you had a bad experience at Hanks. It truly is a great restaurant and has a great local following.

        SNOB and Peninsula Grill are my two go to restaurants in Charleston that never fail me.

        Love SeeWee. It is your classic Low Country seafood dive.

        1. re: BlueHerons
          crazyspice Mar 17, 2008 04:49 PM

          FIG is officially off my itinerary next month when we are there!

        2. re: uptown jimmy
          danna Mar 18, 2008 04:40 AM

          Thanks for the report...the info is really appreciated, and it was good reading as well.

          I'm SO disappointed and confused about FIG. The first time I went was 2-3 years ago, and I gave it the "good but not great" rating. I remember a pasta dish w/ chanterelles that was divine, and a suckling pig that was disappointing. HOWEVER, I tried it again this past December and had a fantastic experience. My Wahoo was delicious and the accompaniments - white beans in brodo if I recall - were excellent. The highlight of the meal were the contorni...we had roasted cauliflower, broccoli rabe, and collard greens for the table...all were eye-opening. Sounds like you're never going back, but if for whatever reason you do...eat your veggies ;-)

          That's funny about SNOB, i've never been because everytime I look at the menu I think the apps look good, but when I get to the entrees I'm bored. We should do exactly what you did.

          Al di La is indeed a gem, and I'm thrilled to hear about Taco Boy, since we like to stay on Folly when we go to Charleston.

          I hope your trip home was safe. We were already packed to go to Charleston this weekend when found our cat had been fatally wounded by - we think - a vicious horse (wanna buy a horse?). A long evening in the vet ER followed by the dreaded phone call kept us in Greenville. Anyhow, on my eating list was Bowen's Island, Fat Hen, and since Sienna was closed for a party, either Al di La or FIG. Thanks for letting me do a little vicarious eating.

          1. re: danna
            u
            uptown jimmy Mar 19, 2008 10:34 AM

            If we lived in Charleston and had a big budget, I would certainly return to FIG. There's real talent in that kitchen, but some of the more radical inconsistency I've ever seen. Weird.

            We learned the "apps only" thing here in Athens at a place called 5 & 10. It's easily one of the best restaurants in all of the Southeast. I've forgotten if we were urged by a waiter years ago to concentrate on apps, or if we just stumbled into it ourselves and received the winking thumbs-up from various waiters on return visits, but it just works so well. Me and the wife are very close, and we just love to sit shoulder to shoulder and graze on various bits and pieces. I probably internalized the concept from eating banquet-style with friends at Chinese places out in California. But at places like SNOB, the apps are just more interesting than the entrees.

            We got home safe. We ran right into that horrid weather system south of Columbia, and were forced to wait it out at a Ruby Tuesdays. Would never have set foot in there otherwise, and never will again, but it wasn't awful. There burgers are pretty good, the salad bar is what it is, and the staff were quite nice, helping me keep track of the storm patterns on the bar TV when I would run up there every five minutes to check on things.

          2. re: uptown jimmy
            m
            mle17 Mar 18, 2008 07:24 AM

            Interesting comments on FIG. I was just there this Saturday and had a very similar experience. I had really been looking forward to it, and I came away thinking it should have been a lot better. You're lucky with your 10 min wait between courses. We must have waited a half hour for our starters and another half hour (at least) for our main courses. Very long dinner! I got the beet salad, which was surprisingly tasteless, a similar salad Al Di La was serving recently was much better. Then I had the seafood stew - the broth was delicious, but the seafood itself didn't have much flavor, left me thinking the seafood was cooked separately and put into the broth for service. Most people at the table had the short ribs, they all enjoyed them, but the from bite I had from my husband's order, I think I've had better at Fat Hen and the now defunct Cordovi. Interesting to hear that so many have had mediocre experiences, since it is such a widely praised restaurant. We may give it another shot though, probably on a slow weekday night though!!
            I adore Taco Boy! They really put a lot of thought into their food. They're opening a new one on the upper peninsula, where the old Mt. P. bridge span was. It is going to be a completely green building. Supposed to open this spring, but I hear things have been delayed a bit. . .
            I agree with little Thai Too, it is no where near Basil in the quality of the food. But as long as your expectations are low, it is good for getting your Thai fix when you don't want to wait a few hours.. . .good lychee-tinis too.
            Ted's is great - sign up for their emails and maybe you can time your next visit with one of their craft beer dinners - yum!
            As for the Daily Dose - if they straightened up they'd lose all their charm! I think they got all that furniture for free. They're wraps are super tasty, just watch out for garlic breath.

            1. re: mle17
              u
              uptown jimmy Mar 19, 2008 10:41 AM

              I really enjoyed the food at Daily Dose. The staff was incredibly upbeat, and the the dub/reggae pumping from the stereo was perhaps a tad too loud, but we'll definitely return. I'm a confirmed omnivore and meat lover, but I have days when I just want to eat vegetarian, and we just simply hit a "fauncy food" brick wall early in our trip. We get tired of all the ritual and rich food, I guess.

              I'm excited about Ted's. We're going lighter on the luggage so we can fit a cooler in the trunk next trip. We don't have anything like it in Athens. The array of meats and cheeses was mind-blowing to me.

              Next time we'll space out our fauncier meals and pace ourselves a little better. We didn't get to try some of the more admired restaurants this time, which I regret. Sienna, Langdon's, and Fat Hen all sound really good to me. But I do want to explore more places like Taco Boy and Daily Dose, unpretentious and delicious and laid-back. And I certainly won't be waiting in line for hours to eat anywhere, but we usually eat a bit earlier than many in Charleston, around 5:30 or 6:00, so Basil shouldn't be too tough for us to get into.

          3. crazyspice Mar 15, 2008 08:33 AM

            Hey uptown! Your week is just about up and I am on the edge of my seat waiting for your reviews.

            1 Reply
            1. re: crazyspice
              u
              uptown jimmy Mar 15, 2008 10:22 AM

              Will report Sunday, maybe Saturday night. Massive storm system between us and home is mucking about with our plans...

            2. m
              mle17 Mar 13, 2008 01:29 PM

              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.

              1. l
                lizzy Mar 8, 2008 07:25 AM

                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.

                Lizzy

                1 Reply
                1. re: lizzy
                  LaLa Mar 13, 2008 01:09 PM

                  I am not crazy about Thai food but I love the Tapas next door at Chai's...very very good.

                  http://stores.ebay.com/The-Slippery-M...

                2. c
                  charlestonebayer Mar 8, 2008 03:58 AM

                  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.

                  1. Low Country Jon Mar 7, 2008 04:22 PM

                    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!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Low Country Jon
                      crazyspice Mar 7, 2008 04:58 PM

                      Thank you so much for that feedback. I am very excited to head down to Charleston!

                    2. crazyspice Mar 7, 2008 01:14 PM

                      I do not know how to attach links from other threads. There are at least 3 threads currently active on the subject of Charleston. Guess that is something I should learn!

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: crazyspice
                        u
                        uptown jimmy Mar 7, 2008 01:23 PM

                        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.

                        1. re: uptown jimmy
                          crazyspice Mar 7, 2008 01:32 PM

                          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.

                          1. re: crazyspice
                            u
                            uptown jimmy Mar 7, 2008 01:59 PM

                            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.

                            1. re: crazyspice
                              u
                              uptown jimmy Mar 7, 2008 02:00 PM

                              Tristan's is commonly mentioned for Sunday brunch, BTW. Not sure if we'll make it, as that's our first full day in town, and we'll sleep late for sure.

                              1. re: uptown jimmy
                                crazyspice Mar 7, 2008 03:17 PM

                                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.

                                1. re: crazyspice
                                  u
                                  uptown jimmy Mar 7, 2008 05:06 PM

                                  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.

                                  1. re: uptown jimmy
                                    crazyspice Mar 7, 2008 05:22 PM

                                    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.

                                    1. re: crazyspice
                                      u
                                      uptown jimmy Mar 7, 2008 05:36 PM

                                      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.

                                      1. re: uptown jimmy
                                        crazyspice Mar 7, 2008 06:40 PM

                                        Please! Report in after your trip. I am most anxious to hear what you think of the restaurants you choose. We definitely have some fantastic Thai here in Phila. Good trip!

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