Charleston's best vs. we have it pretty good here in the Triangle
We spent a few days in Charleston this week which in the end makes me appreciate how good we have it here in the Triangle. FIG was good (with notably / exceedingly fresh seafood) but really no better than Nana's, Panciuto, and often Mandolin. Better wine list though, with a number of food-friendly reasonably-priced personal favorites. Husk's setting in a beautiful old southern home was great, but I otherwise kept thinking dressed-up Angus Barn :-); well executed classics played way too safe. The only place that exceeded expectations was Xiao Bao Biscuit - those guys really nailed the in-your-face, sweet-sour-salty southeast Asian theme. Pan-Asian is normally a somewhat negative description, but in this case each dish and cuisine had its own distinct regional flavors, and it's a good value as well.
By the way I was surprised at the number of tables at FIG with kids more or less the same age as ours (at least 4 groups); they were surprisingly kid-friendly and welcoming.
Charleston's more casual offerings are where it really excels compared to the Triangle. Where in the Triangle can you get the spread of farm-fresh southern-style veggies like at Tomato Shed Cafe, SeeWee, Martha Lou's, Dukes, Gullah Cafe or Hominy Grill? Other than Saltbox in Durham, where can you get exceedingly fresh casual seafood like at The Wreck, Bowen's Island, or Dave's Carryout? Where can you get charcuterie like at Craig Diehl's Cypress? Where can you get true "Tuscany or Umbria-wall-town" quality Italian like at Ken Vendriski's Trattoria Lucca?
Husk doesn't really compare well to Angus Barn - Husk's style is Tennessee/Kentucky/Appalachia more than anything else. I'd describe it more as a dressed-up version of Tupelo Honey Cafe.
Don't get me wrong, the Triangle is, aside from Charleston, my favorite foodie city in the Southeast. But I think if you go to Charleston for the food traditions specific to the Lowcountry (Gullah-influenced, hyperfresh seafood, hoppin' john, she-crab soup, farm-fresh veggies, etc.), that's where they shine. And as an aside, we owe it to Mike Lata at FIG in Charleston that any Triangle restaurant even serves triggerfish and other "by-catch" that he singlehandedly helped make popular again by developing relationships with purveyors and a lot of trial-and-error.
Hey Mike, the Angus Barn reference wasn't a literal comparison. It was more a spontaneous reaction to the packaging, from the cute plaid uniforms to the bourbon list before the wine list to the singular lack of creativity in the desserts.
I am in complete agreement with you on the importance of looking at the big picture not just the high end - good point.