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Mar 5, 2009 12:08 PM

Charleston Food + Wine Festival

Anyone going? I'll be at the Grand Tasting on Saturday. Please post your experiences in this thread.

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  1. I'll be attending the 100-mile dinner at Fish. As its relatively low price of $35 per person indicates, it is not a sanctioned festival event. It will feature a set menu of three courses using ingredients found exclusively within 100 miles of Charleston. I hope lots of people make reservations for this, available March 5 through March 7, not only because it's a good deal and a neat concept, but also because I hope these kind of unofficial events catch on given the sky-high ticket prices of most of the official festival events. It's nice that some people are taking the initiative to offer alternatives to those of us not made of money, especially in these lean times.

    Here's a link to the 100-mile menu:

    11 Replies
    1. re: Low Country Jon

      I was wondering when I was going to read about others' visits...I wrote this elsewhere, but it is certainly applicable.

      Because the most popular restaurants were booked for Festival events (oh, if I could've grabbed tickets to Brock/Wylie Dufresne at McCrady's), we had to try something new. Our Charleston friends recommended Fish, on Upper King, where they had gone a few weeks ago.

      Fish is -outstanding-. The prices, too, are great -- six dollars for a cheese plate that even had gjetost fondue (a carmelized, melty, grainy cheese) for only $6. They had a local menu that night for 3 courses for $35, which none of us got unfortunately (I didn't know it was just that weekend. The menu is described as Asian-French fusion. My meal was something that I've always wanted to try -- cassoulet. However, it wasn't the traditional stew that I was expecting. "Nico's duck cassoulet" ($19) was deconstructed. There was an excellent seared duck breast on top, perfectly crisp green beans, other shelled green and white beans, and a fantastic aromatic sauce that was probably a gastrique. My wife's coq au vin, also a lighter version of the classic, was also as well-prepared as my dish.

      When I go out to eat and drop decent money, this is the type of food I hope for but rarely get. It was nice to find a pleasant surprise after I've had so many disappointments recently (in Atlanta).

      One other thing -- they had a great cocktail menu, and they are definitely trying new things. I had a High Fashion, which was a very good updated Old Fashioned. Another drink used hibiscus and was even garnished with sorrel. The vanilla sky -- Stoli vanilla, elderflower syrup, and dry lavender soda -- intrigued me with the last two ingredients, but was overpowered by the vanilla. Only $7-8 for those.
      The Pinot Envy event on the river was nice -- the view of the city, river, bridge, and weather just couldn't be beat. I enjoyed the food, but nothing really stood out except some freshly-caught and grilled fish.

      Bubbles & Sweets was really great -- huge crowd, lots of drinks (not just champagne -- port too), and every local pastry chef imaginable. Sanctuary at Kiawah had the most impressive presentation (chocolate box). Chef Payard was there, too; I didn't recognize him until his name started to ring a bell, then I realized that I had seen him on Throwdown (Bouche de Noel). His ganache on that was incredible.

      1. re: Reignking

        I have eaten at Fish and agree wholeheartedly. Their fish, while not the typical Southern-style seafood, is of superb quality and excellently prepared. Everything is local and very fresh. Prices are reasonable, and the atmosphere is cool. It's great for a date or dinner before night out on the town.

        The Grand Tasting Event was more about the wine and beer than the food. I was rather disappointed with both the quality and the amount of food offerings. However, there was an abundance of wine and beer to try, many of which was quite good. It was a beautiful day, and I had a great time, but I didn't exactly get full.

      2. re: Low Country Jon

        I understand people's concerns about the prices at the Festival (as a college student I can't afford to go to any of the events either), but you have to remember that the Festival is a nonprofit event (the main charity this year was the MUSC Children's Hospital with a focus on diabetes). The prices are what they are because it's an expensive event to run (Bobby Flay don't come cheap).

        As someone who has interned for the Festival in the past, I can attest to the fact that Angel Postell and the two other full-time festival employees aren't driving Rolls Royces and working in lavish office space over Broad St.

        Still, I'd love to see more official Festival events with a similar idea and price point to the 100-mile Dinner at Fish. That sounds great. I think it's a great way to show off what Charleston has to offer the culinary community as a whole, as well.

        1. re: DavidHeiser

          not to mention that the Thursday night's "Salute to Charleston Chefs" which is ostensibly a 20-course tasting menu (with as many repeats as you want) and unlimited wine pours (including a fantastic pinot noir from Oregon) for $100/person - well, I defy you to find a deal like that for the quantity and quality of food anywhere else or at any other event.

          1. re: mikeh

            The fact that a $100 per person event is considered a good deal at the Festival sort of proves my point. And while I'm glad that the Festival raises money for good causes, to my mind that doesn't exclude the possibility of featuring more reasonably priced events. I don't have anything against splurge events, but I think there should be more of a balance at the festival.

            I've said it before and I'll say it again: the CFWF should be studying very closely the great model that Spoleto is. And Spoleto wouldn't be nearly the success that it is without Piccolo Spoleto sponsoring 10x the number of events as the main festival and usually at much lower ticket prices (and sometimes for free).

            It's great that the CFWF has done well, and I'm sure many will say, why mess with their model when it's not broken? But after several years of success, I think maybe it's time the organizers consider what they can do to make the festival more of a community event, rather than one that seems to cater almost exclusively to wealthy citizens and tourists. The discount Culinary Village pass for locals this year was a start, but there's lots more that could be done.

            1. re: Low Country Jon

              I have to agree with LCJ, I think CFWF should do more to have lower price point events. I also agree that they would be wise to look at the Spoleto/Piccolo Spoleto model.

              While I agree that $100 for "Salute to Charleston Chefs" is a good deal, if you can't afford the ticket to begin with it's a moot point.

              I haven't attended CFWF yet because of price. At one point I looked into volunteering and I found out you have to pay them for the privilege. I think CFWF has a lot of work ahead to ingratiate themselves with the locals.

              1. re: lizzy

                wow you have to pay to volunteer? Interesting.

                1. re: LaLa

                  Yeah, that's kind of crazy! Do they not want volunteers? Or is it just another way to turn a buck?

                  1. re: Low Country Jon

                    When I looked into volunteering, and I will admit this was a couple of years ago so things may not be the same today, I believe the fee was $25. If I remember correctly this was to cover the boxed lunch for the mandatory training session and possibly the uniform, an apron maybe?...possibly a shirt? If I have my facts right, and I think I do, I still think they came out ahead of the game. If you did decide to volunteer, I believe you received a daily pass good for one day and only good for a block of time, I think it was four hours. Obviously I didn't volunteer.

                2. re: lizzy

                  I think you're definitely onto something with mixing in more low-priced events. While it's true that $100/person is an amazing deal within the context of haute tasting/wine events, there's no reason that the Festival should be limited exclusively to that.

                  What you say about making this a "local" even also caught my attention - my wife and I are in our late 20s and were one of the few couples our age at the event. One older wealthy lady talked to us about how almost everyone she meets there (ourselves included) were from out of town. Another woman asked us what brought us there (duh, the food), and then when we said we like food a lot and enjoy events like these, asked if we were "culinary students" (as if people our age can't do chowhounding as a hobby). I think a lot of that has to do with these events pricing a lot of such "chowhounds" out of the market such that it is expected that attendees are either middle-aged or older locals/tourists or younger folks who wouldn't be dropped that wad of cash just for the pure enjoyment of it.

                  1. re: mikeh

                    I am not that much older than you, and I agree price is an issue with the younger crowd. I think they would do well if they had some more events geared towards locals, and even younger locals as well. For example, there is a foundation in town that has a party for people, mainly locals, and it gears older. The same foundation also has a party geared towards locals in their 20s, 30s and 40s that is less than half the price of the first party...maybe CFWF should take note.

                    I think the marketing of CFWF in Charleston leaves something to be desired. I really enjoy paying attention to the culinary happenings in and around Charleston, and I didn't hear that much about the event. Having said that, I also think that what may be of interest to a Charlestonian may not be of interest to an out-of-towner.