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Jan 23, 2014 02:08 PM

Charleston Gift Certificate Conundrum

Going to Charleston this Sunday for a few days and have gift certificates for Hank's and Magnolia's/Cypress/Blossom. The only one of the four I've been to is Magnolia's, and although it was some time ago I was underwhelmed. With only four dinners, would any of those make the cut or should I use them for lunch? My other candidates are Fig, Ordinary, Macintosh, McCrady's and Tristan. Also, is Bowen's Island worth a dinner? I love oysters and beer, but we have good places in eastern NC for that. I'm not worried about the price of Bowen's, but does the experience warrant a dinner slot? Can you take a taxi there and back without spending a fortune?

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  1. I'm eager to hear what the Charleston crowd says, but I can tell you that my dinner at Fig a few years ago was out of the ballpark good.

    1. Bowen's is nothing special...especially since you are coming from NC. I would suggest skipping it and trying something you have a harder time getting at home.

      1. Just ate at The Ordinary last weekend, and it was hands-down the best seafood experience I've had. The oysters (local, as well as RI, MA, and NB) were exemplary--pure, clean ocean. If they have a crudo dish, that one also is a must. They have a great bar and can help you pair a beer or cocktail with whatever you are eating. Oh, and the fried oyster sliders are fun as well. Mike Lata (who also owns FIG) can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Jeff C.

          The Ordinary may be one of best seafood restaurants anywhere. I know there's nothing like it in DC, and I'm hard pressed to think of some place in NYC that serves such great simple yet imaginative seafood.

        2. I would go to Hanks before the Magnolia stuff. But yeah....there are better choices. Lunch is when I would try to use the gc's, but Hanks is not open then.

          16 Replies
          1. re: danna

            Thanks Danna. I figured out that Hank's was only opened for dinner, so we decided to use the gc for oysters and wine/beer/cocktails before a later dinner. We planned to do the same along with lunch for the other gc. And away we go.

            Sunday we rolled into town just in time for brunch at Macintosh. Loved the look of the menu, liked the space, and liked the drink program. We ordered a couple well-deserved beers after 4+ hours in the car and settled on our meal. Poutine (gravy on the bottom, super thin fries, very tender and very delicious cheese curds tossed with some reddish chili stuff on top), Kale Salad (local kale that looked something like chicory, white anchovies, creamy bagna cauda underneath) and benne seed bagel (crisp pig trotter, cheese and oozy egg) comprised our starters. Outside of the Kale salad, these were too rich/big to qualify for starters. That being said, everything was delicious. If I lived in Charleston and woke up with a hangover on Sunday, I would drag my ass to Macintosh and order the poutine (and nothing else), along with a beer and bloody mary. Huge portion, delicious and a great deal. The Kale pretty much kicked ass, and the bagel (while not Montreal caliber) was a great breakfast sandwich.

            That was way too much food for the two of us, but our intense desire to provide y'all with a great synopsis of their brunch compelled us to order a couple main courses (truthfully, if we had any idea how much food was coming out for starters, we never would have ordered more). Our two entree's were the mac attack and the garbage plate. Mac attack = bone marrow bread pudding in a rectangle topped with crispy nuggets of pork belly, slow cooked egg and hollandaise with some arugula thrown it to make it healthier. Stupidly rich, stupidly good and ironically, a sane portion. The garbage plate was a big, tasty mess set over crisp potato threads. Goodies on top included field peas, arugula, corned beef, another slow cooked egg, bacon and some porky gravy. The best drink we had was a beer from Westbrook called White Thai. New to me and seriously tasty.

            Next up, dinner at McCrady's

            1. re: veganhater

              God, that's a lot of food! Thanks for taking one for the team!

              The salads are always so good at Macintosh I feel guilty about what I order next....

              White Thai is interesting, huh? Ginger and ...I forget? I like it for a few tastes, but a full growler turned out to be too much for me.

              1. re: veganhater

                Many years ago I had a few amazing meals at McCrady's. This was when Sean Brock had just taken over the kitchen. Didn't know who he was, but absolutely loved the food. I'll always love the space, service and drink program. We settled in for dinner very excited about the night.

                Firstly, the drink program is unreal. Sat at the bar for 15 minutes and was served the best cocktail I've had in the past few years, called the st. street pearl. Alcohol and beet soaked tapioca pearls studded the cocktail and were irresistible when sucked up through a straw. So balanced and delicious.

                Headed to our table and sunk into the wine list. First class list, with tons of fun stuff for wine geeks. Opted for the tasting menu and got hit with a flurry of snacks. House coppa, squid ink crisp with bottarga and a sweet potato bite that was fantastic. The menu started with a beet and nasturtium dish that was beautiful. The best dish was a lightly smoked trout fillet with a crisp skin cracker on top. The only thing i didn't dig was a middle course called charleston ice cream. It turned out to be a ball of tasty rice with some micro herbs scattered over the top. Kind of a filler course. Everything else was very good.

                The service was fantastic, and the wine pairings were pretty amazing. All in all, a great meal. Didn't have the surprise aspect of our meals years ago, but still a great night.

                1. re: veganhater

                  The following day we skipped breakfast to prepare our appetites for lunch at Husk. This place got so much great press out of the gate I think it was impossible to live up to the expectations. I've read and heard many so so reviews lately, so I didn't have really high expectations. This ended up working in our favor, as we had a very good lunch.

                  Started with tilefish fritters (really well done on the fritters, not much pickled ramp flavor in the remoulade), smoked chicken wings (delicious, in a honey mustard sauce. 12 were way too many for us), and fried pork terrine with what appeared to be house-made mustard and pickled veg (just fantastic).

                  Next up was a fabulous parsnip soup studded with cornbread croutons, braised oxtail and pear. When you got every element in one bite, it tasted like thanksgiving. We followed that with an arugula salad (solid) and shrimp & grits (perfectly executed, with smoked tomato, sweet shrimp, great grits and a tasty pink sauce. There was andouille in the mix which gave a nice flavor to the sauce, but overpowered if you actually ate a piece. I prefer bacon.)

                  Wanting a bite of something sweet, we ordered a citrus infused rice pudding that was delicious. Enjoyed a couple SC beers which I can't remember and had excellent service. It was neat that they offered an array of Southern soda's, but I guess Coke (Atlanta) and Pepsi (New Bern) are too mainstream.

                  I found Husk to be a very good restaurant after our lunch. Great beverage program, great service, pretty room and solid food. If your expectations are to be dazzled by tweezer garnished creations, I could see being somewhat disappointed. The reality is their food is not fancy or overwraught. It's more straightforward, solid cooking that highlights Southern ingredients.

                  1. re: veganhater

                    I've had a few snacks at the bar at Fig a few years ago and, while everything was tasty, have been amazed at the amount of praise it receives. I remember good deviled eggs, good chicken liver pâté, good meatballs, good everything, but not necessarily great. I always liked what I've seen on the menu, but haven't been blown away. When we sat down for dinner, I had no idea we were about to be.

                    We began with two cold starters - razor clams (tossed with pine nuts, golden raisins, shaved fennel. Unbelievable. One of the best dishes I've had in the last year) and lamb carne crudo (celery leaves, parsley, frisée, nuts, perfect). Next course was two hot starters - Ricotta gnocchi with lamb bolognese (so soft and tender) and local clams with Brussels leaves in broth (nice). Final course was triggerfish with potato puree, cauliflower, peppers and caper butter (just amazing) andtilefish with oxtail bourguignon (I expected to like this more than the trigger but didn't. Perfectly cooked fish, nice bourguignon but they didn't play perfectly. Still solid).

                    Great service (again, pretty much every meal), great wine and now I understand why they've been so highly praised. Very happy

                    1. re: veganhater

                      We're happy you're happy! ;-)

                      Your description made me long for Fig fish. Damn that 3 hours of interstate between us!

                      1. re: danna

                        It's such a great restaurant. If it makes you feel any better, we have 4 1/2 hours of interstate between us.

                        The following day we opted for an early/late lunch combo rather than breakfast/lunch. Enjoyed a nice walk to Two Boroughs Larder. I would eat here once a week if I lived in Charleston. Funky, comfortable, casual feel with great food. Beer and Wine only, but well chosen and priced. The breakfast sandwiches are a steal, and I ordered the fried mortadella version served on an unreal benne seed bun. I really appreciate that you can order the whole menu at lunch. Grilled octopus, local clams, lamb ribs and buccatini with bottarga were all delicious.

                        1. re: veganhater

                          Our second lunch was Xiao Bao Biscuit. Old car garage turned into a restaurant. Small menu (5 items) at lunch. Drink program leans heavily in favor of cocktails and beer. Very little wine, although we scored a fun bottle. Ordered the Tom sum chicken and okonomiyaki (pictured). Totally delicious. I really want to go back at dinner where their menu expands a bit. Great bargain

                          1. re: veganhater

                            Holy cow, veganhater, you have my mouth watering at 5:30 in the morning. All these meals sound great. I've got 5 hour between me and Charleston but am now thinking it might be fun for a few days over Lulu's spring break. Was there enough for your daughter to do so she didn't get bored? Seriously- I want to go back now asap, will she have as much fun?

                            1. re: LulusMom

                              We were sans kids for this one. Our daughter (9) could have handled it, but our son (6) would have been a disaster. Lulu's 8 or so, isnt she? We actually talked about bringing the kids and what we would do with them. I would definitely go when the weather is nice. There's the aquarium, beach trip, many tennis courts, musc gym with pool, spa day and a few kids stores we passed while walking all over downtown. It certainly would've changed our cavalier daytime drinking.

                              1. re: veganhater

                                Yeah, Lulu is kind of used to our cavalier daytime drinking (bad mommy, bad bad mommy). In Barcelona I found a playground that had a bar/cafe right next to it with outdoor seating. Perfection. Thanks for the info - that helps. I do think a mid-April trip would be lots of fun. We'll see if I can make that work. She'll be thrilled at the idea of a trip that doesn't involve an airplane. And I know foodwise she'd be willing.

                            2. re: veganhater

                              That Okonomiyaki is the best app. in Charleston IMO. We love it so much, we went straight to XBB upon arrival a few weeks ago and ordered two!

                              1. re: Jeff C.

                                No doubt. I've had dreams about it since Tuesday. You were spot on with the Ordinary as well. Just amazing seafood

                                1. re: veganhater

                                  Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for your report.

                              2. re: veganhater

                                Luckily we picked up a third for dinner, as we were running out of things to say to each other. Headed to rarebit for a Moscow mule, then on to the Ordinary for dinner with high expectations.

                                Set in an old bank, the space was very cool. We let the server create our meal after ordering a raw tower. Perfectly shucked oysters and clams were followed by crab toast, raw Nantucket bay scallops and blood orange (like eating candy), razor clams with jalapeño (popular clam in charleston currently), smoked oysters, pickled shrimp (liked this a lot more than I expected to), oyster sliders, and lobster roll. Great beverage program and service made for an amazing night.

                                1. re: veganhater

                                  Woke up to a half an inch of ice the next day, effectively stranding us in Charleston. After my flight was officially canceled, we began the search for an open restaurant. Luckily the Butcher and Bee was open and on our list of places we wanted to check out. After a very long walk, we arrived starving. Great lunch menu of sandwiches on house baked bread and sides. Huge emphasis on local products. We enjoyed a short rib sandwich, Mibek roast beef sandwich with pickled peppers and a few sides. Worth the walk.

                2. We had dinner at FIG and it was one of the best meals I've had at any price point in a long time. My husband felt the same way about Macintosh.