Monday, August 31, 2015

The Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston – The Kessler Autograph Collection 55 Wentworth Street Charleston, SC

The Grand Bohemian Hotel Is Now Open In Charleston

I’ve stayed at a few of the Kessler Autograph Collection hotel properties and know that each hotel is distinct in its’ design and feel.  With the completion of “four year” project that is now The Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston I was exciting to see the final “masterpiece”. 

Our Grand Opening Tour started in The Maison Café, a small café where we sampled rich, luscious pastries (baked fresh every day at Saffron), and delicious Intelligentsia coffee brought to the hotel from the fine Intelligentsia roasters in Chicago.
Maison Cafe 
The café is open for both guests and its Charleston neighbors.  With the limited availability of great coffee on the Peninsula, the café will most likely become a local favorite.

We were then ushered into the Wine Tasting Room that offers 32 tap-tasting options offered in a 1 oz. “taste”, a 3 1/2oz. “half glass” or a 5 oz. glass.  This room was both welcoming and beautiful and the sommelier (one of three), encouraged us to stop back and sample some of the many offerings that they served.
Tasting Room
One of the more unique aspects of the hotels (“the only one like it in the world”), is the gorgeous Blending Room.  In the Blending Room you can attend winemaking courses with a unique twist.  Attendees can create their own “private label” wine from their selections of percentages of Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Cabernet. What a great idea for  a birthday or holiday celebration with friends.  
Blending Room
It was our next stop – The Grand Bohemian Art Gallery that we started to see the unmistaken melding of Food + Art + Beverage that helps to define The Kessler Collection.   This particular collection is the largest of any in the Kessler properties.  Mr. Kessler, the founder and CEO, personally seeks out and represents “artists that are unusual, undiscovered and have great talent”. Even if you’re not staying in the hotel the gallery is worth the visit.  

We continued to the guest rooms with our host, Mr. Nick Saltmarsh, the General Manager of the property.  Before we entered the room he explained that the hotel has 50 rooms, all with an ‘element of surprise’ featuring memorable colors, European influences, and a ‘bit of gypsy’ in each. Although a modest size, they are beautiful.

Off we went to the terrace, an open air space just off the ‘Eleve’ restaurant on the third floor.  Overstuffed, large, “Mad Hatter” turquoise, black and white furniture filled the space.  The set up team was still completing this area when we visited but with the nice views of downtown and the surrounding areas, and the super-comfortable furniture, this could be the roof top lounge in Charleston . 

Our lunch was served in a show-stopping, beautifully decorated space also off the Eleve restaurant, where the food that was the ‘star’. The Grand Bohemian Charleston is proud of their relationship with the Junior League and some of the menu items are replicated from Charleston Receipts, a Charleston Cookbook first published 65 years ago.

Our first sampling from the cookbook was the Roast Beet and Butternut Salad.  This featured Butternut Squash, Toasted Hazelnuts, Organic Goat Feta, Arugula & Watercress, Citrus Vinaigrette and Mrs. Henry P. Staats Roasted Beets.  The salad was a favorite of the group!

The Tile Fish, our lunch entrée, was delicate, flakey with a melt-in-your-mouth texture.  It rested on a simple Butter Bean, Potato & Fennel Salad, with Rosemary & Grapefruit Burre Blanc.  Hats off to Chef Riley McGillis for this simple, yet exquisite dish.
Tile Fish
Saving the best for last, in this case is an understatement.  Our Dessert, an Apple Blossom (similar to an apple tart), was drizzled with caramel and served with Grand Marnier Gelato.  A gelato I’ve never tried before, but will certainly be having again!
Apple Blossom
The wonderful hospitality displayed by the staff of the Grand Bohemian was topped off with an open discussion with the CEO, Mr. Richard Kessler. 

He spoke of his quest to go “the extra 20%” with culture, food and beverage, attention to detail and artwork in his collection.  He closed by posing the question he’s wrestled with, “Is it worth it?”  And although they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, to me, it is a big yes. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Westendorff, Charleston, SCSmoked Chicken Wings

Go West(endorff) young diners.

With so many incredible restaurant choices here in the Low Country, rarely, ifever, do I eat at the same place twice in one week.  Last week I made an exception and dined at one of Charleston’s newest additions to the dining scene, The Westendorff.

Given what has to have been a massive remodeling expense the restaurant is low key, comfortable and unpretentious. A large section is a Woolworth’s style counter with 28 seats.  It reminded me of a retro version of a community table, where diners can either enjoy the company of others or enjoy a private meal. 

The menu choices are purposely limited as the restaurant gets up and running.  The “Firsts” consist of several salads, a slider, grit Arancini, Ricotta Gnudi and Smoked Chicken Wings. The “Mains” include 6 items which this week consisted of a local fish entrée that changes daily, a burger, spareribs, hanger steak, green coconut curry and a roasted chicken breast. Rounding off the menu are 4 “Sides” which are both standard and unique fare. There are additionally a few daily desserts not listed on the menu. The desserts are the creation of one the pastry chefs at The Sanctuary Resort, who splits her time between the two locations.

This week I visited the restaurant with a gal pal the first time and my husband and I joined another couple there later that week so we had a chance to sample a good portion of the menu. 

Top picks:

Heirloom Summer Bean & Pickled Corn Salad with a corn bread crumble and a white balsamic gastrique.
Heirloom Summer Bean & Pickled Corn Salad
The first night we were there we had an exceptional server.  He walked us through the menu and highlighted some of his favorites.  Surprisingly he picked this dish as one of his favorites of the entire menu.  Although I probably would not have chosen this, with that endorsement we had to give it a try. 

This quite possibly may have been the freshest summer salad that I’d had in a very long time. The combination of sweet corn, fresh butter beans, green beans, pickled yellow peppers and a corn bread crumble had a bit of both heat (yellow peppers) and sweet (crumble).

Geechie Boy Grit Arancini – Cheshire pork chorizo salad, mascarpone filling, peach chutney.  These four bad boys were much better than I anticipated.  They had a crisp crust sealing in the oozing cheese and sausage filling. The peach chutney was a nice ending to each bite.
Geechie Boy Grits Arancini

The Lacinato (called cavolo nero or black kale in Italian), Salad was a heaping bowl including pickled beets, candied pecans, local figs, ricotta salad lightly topped with maple vinaigrette.  Another winner. 
The Lacinato

Smoked Chicken Wings – Coleman NC wings finished with house made apricot hot sauce, pickled veg; Off the bone tender with just a hint of heat, also large enough to share.
Smoked Chicken Wings

Also high on the list:

Po’Boy Slider – Fried Oysters, remoulade, fresh slaw topped with an in-house-pickled pickle (No freezer at the Westendorff.  They are curing, brining, and pickling to preserve seasonal produce).  The menu description was a bit deceiving.  We thought the dish would be on the small side since it was on the “Firsts” section, but there were two crispy sliders and this too, was very filling.
Po'Boy Sliders
Green Coconut Curry – Carolina Gold Rice, Seasonal veggies and the addition of Seafood (+$9.00).  With its unique fresh taste it received a two thumbs up from the table.
Green Coconut Curry

Summer Tomato Salad - Smoked SC Peaches, Peach Gastrique, Rocket; Fishing Creek Creamery Goat Cheese ($12.00) - This was such a big hit our friends were going to try to recreate this when they got home.
Summer Smoked SC Peaches


Hummingbird and Chocolate Layer Cake - big tasty, sweet wins. We were surprised at the reasonable $6.00 price tag.  
Hummingbird Chocolate Layer Cake
Peach Pie - warm sweet peaches topped with vanilla ice cream and a caramel drizzle.  This was a nice treat but the crust was a little under cooked. 
Peach Pie

The jury’s still out:

Debragga Dry Aged Beef Burger – Two very thin burgers with American Cheese, Pickle Aoili and Hand Cut Fries (Kennebeck potatoes from Maine).  A lot of effort goes into this dish. The beef comes from a butcher in NYC and the fries are soaked, fried, and flash fried when served – all told this dish was just OK.  
Debragga Dry Aged Beef Burger

Hanger Steak & Farm Egg – Garlicy Rabe, Crispy Potatoes, Sunny Side Up Farm Egg, Salsa Verde.  Despite the fact the menu said it would be served with rabe it actually showed up with Brussels sprouts, which were tasty.  The steak was tender but the egg was a touch over done.  I was looking forward to having the yolk ooze over the steak but when I cut into the egg, it barley moved. 
Hanger Steak & Farm egg

Cheshire Pork Spareribs – Smoked, Vietnamese Raw Slaw, Peanuts, Cilantro – this dish lacked flavor and the spareribs were over cooked and dry.  Of all the options on the menu this item might be one you skip. 
Cheshire Pork Spareribs
Although I might not be back to the restaurant a few times this week, I will be back!  Looking very forward to their Sunday Brunch that they hope to start in the near future. 

We gave The Westendorff four plates.

Click to add a blog post for The Westendorff on Zomato 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Zero Café + Bar Charleston, SC

Contemporary Awesome And Unexpected Ingredients

Nestled in the bottom level of Zero George Street Boutique Hotel’s original circa 1804 carriage house and spilling out onto an open-air patio is Zero Café + Bar. Once a bit of a sleeper in the Charleston restaurant scene it was recently voted one of the Top 5 Foodie Hotels in the World – the lion awakes.

I was fortunate to have personally interviewed Chef Vinson Petrillo a few months ago.  He was fresh off his Top Chef win, but more importantly still beaming from the arrival of his daughter, Sawyer. 

When I asked him to describe his menu he said that it was, “Contemporary awesome and unexpected ingredients.”  Not having yet had the pleasure of dining there we decided to meet friends for dinner this past weekend.

At the corner of George and East Bay Streets is the Zero George Street Hotel.  Although it is a collection of five historic buildings both the signage and the property itself is so subtle that you can easily miss it.  For me, it is this subtleness that makes both the hotel and restaurant stand out.

In case you get a bit confused, as we did, the entrance to the restaurant is in the courtyard of the hotel and marked only with a small sign.  We missed the sign and ended up on the patio where a server showed us the way in.

The restaurant is small with interior seating for about 35-40.  The “décor” reflects the low ceilings, restored heart pine floors, original brick and stucco walls, again, simple, but lovely.

Our friends quickly arrived and we ordered some beverages.  Our server explained the layout of the menu, “snacks”, “appetizers” and “entrées” and then left us to visit.  It took some time before we were ready to order our appetizers as we caught up on our family’s activities throughout the summer.  Our server was more than patient.

Our appetizers arrived quickly and were impressive from the start.  Our friends ordered the “Deviled Eggs”, each with a different flavor profile – Poached Black Truffle, Pickled Mustard, Bacon & Egg, and Caviar.

Deviled eggs
Light and delicate, these could have easily been the “Faberge” of deviled eggs.  When Faberge created his eggs for the Imperial Family they were regarded as his greatest and most enduring achievement. These were both beautiful and delicious.

My husband ordered the Cantaloupe Gazpacho, which was also an exquisite presentation. The tiniest of cantaloupe ribbons, pickled onions, Sicilian Pistachios awaited as a Greek yogurt based cantaloupe “broth” served table-side, fell upon the dish.  The Shiso Asian herb garnish added to the flavor in the smallest of ways. 
Cantaloupe Gazpacho

For my appetizer I chose the Pan Roasted Octopus.  Chef Petrillo won Top Chef with a pressure cooked octopus dish and also used octopus in the San Pellegrino World Young Chef Competition in Milan.  I thought that I had a chance of selecting the “dish of the evening” and very well might have.

Pan Roasted Octopus
The octopus was served with roasted Ambrose Farms Beets, Seasoned Octopus and topped with an Ink Squid Emulsion.  Various “leaves” topped both the beets and octopus and their slight bitterness enhanced the flavors even more.  

I have never had octopus before and will now be the first one to raise my hand if it’s ever offered.  It was similar to calamari but each bite was melt-in-you-mouth tender.  The hazelnut/beet accompaniments were a wonderful, unexpected flavor match.

We then ordered each of the three Entrée selections offered.  You should know that the menu is small yet thoughtfully prepared by Chef each week and included 3 snacks, 4 appetizers and 3 entrees. These change weekly and are determined by “what inspires” the chef.  He appeared to be truly inspired this week!

The Pan Roasted Snapper was served similar to the Cantaloupe Gazpacho, with the Bouillabaisse poured from a mini carafe when the entrée was served. Underneath the snapper lay caramelized fennel, Shisito peppers, mussels and squid, a different texture and taste in each bite.
Pan Roasted Snapper
The East Coast Halibut was described as having “Elements of New England Clam Chowder” and contained Combahee clams, and poached black truffles.  The interesting twist to this dish was that it was served on a 15” round “slice” from a tree that doubled as a plate.  An element also featured in the Milan competition.  This dish was delicious.
East Coast Halibut
The last entrée was the 30-Day Dry Aged Duck Breast, a confit cooked leg, corn and chanterelles. The delicate, flavorful, tender duck was sliced thin and its accompaniments again, were winners. Though the dish was a tad overcooked it was still excellent.
30 Day Dry Aged Duck Breast
It’s hard to summarize our incredible experience at Zero Café + Bar.  Chef Pertrillo described it best when he said – “Contemporary awesome with unexpected ingredients.”

We gave Zero Cafe 5 plates and highly recommend whatever the chef's fancy is that day. 

Click to add a blog post for Zero Cafe + Bar on Zomato

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How Not To Handle A To-Go Order - Bricco Bracco, Mt. Pleasant

"The Toss"
I landed at Bricco Bracco just off Hwy 17 in Mount Pleasant a bit
after 6:00 p.m. after running a few errands.  I thought I would grab quick to-go order and call it a day. 

I sat at the bar and the one bartender working, took my order.  I ordered a Zinga, their house specialty pasta dish made with black olives, peppers, sausage, marinara and rigatoni and a Caesar salad with anchovies and dressing on the side. Nothing difficult.

As I waited I chit-chatted with a few guests and noticed the bar get busier. Our bartender was clearly in the weeds.  

'Don't know if you're watching a new show called "The Slap", but there is a defining moment that changes things for many people.  I'm going to call mine, "The Toss".  

I watched as the bartender was given a to-go order at the bar.  Because he was very busy he literally turned around and like an Olympian hurling a shot-put, tossed the order a few feet to land on the back bar.  Fifteen minutes after "The Toss" I asked, "Is my order coming any time soon?" He said, "Soon".  

He then started this frenzied dance, almost in a circle, trying to add things to the dish that had been tossed and sitting right behind him the whole time. 

Ironically enough I was sitting directly in front of the salad maker and when he finished my Caesar he tossed it to the bartender who stuffed it in the bag.  It gave a whole new meaning to "tossed salad".
Salad, no side dressing, 6 croutons
By the time he set the bag down in front of me it had looked like it had been thrown out of a car. I told him that the order was sitting right there for the last 15 minutes.  He said, "I bought your beverage hon." 

Long story short I asked to speak with a manager, who was cooking and unavailable.  A nice server came to my aid and asked if I'd like the pasta dish remade, which I did.

I then sat and waited another 5 minutes or so and was delivered my order.  Which was now missing the bread that originally had come with it.  So I flagged down the expediter and she replaced it. If you're keeping track I'm now into this small order for 40 minutes.

When I got home I unpacked our dinner.  The salad was so warm that we had to put it in the freezer to cool down.  And the salad dressing on the side? Not so much.  No dressing at all. 

All in, the pasta was good but the experience was painful enough to have me just about lose my appetite. 

Two plates, hon.

Bricco Bracco on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cannon Green - Charleston, SC

A Welcome Addition To The Neighborhood

Located in the up and coming Cannonborough-Elliotbourough neighborhood Cannon Green is without a doubt one of the new shining stars in a trendy area.

Even though I had seen posts on line that spoke to how pretty Cannon Green’s was, I was still surprised.  We were met with a warm welcome from the hostesses, very high ceilings and a contemporary, yet warm feel to the restaurant.

As we were waiting for our server and looking around we noticed that there was a large outdoor courtyard that we would need to explore.  And then, I looked up and there was the front of a house right in front of me. For a moment I thought it was an optical illusion.

It’s literally an 1840’s Charleston single home façade that has been restored and lines an entire wall of the restaurant.  The odd thing is that it’s subtle. My husband did not have the vantage point that I did and if I hadn’t pointed it out, I don’t know if he would have noticed it.  As you make your way up one of the two staircases the front door is also the gateway to the restrooms and kitchen.

Our server took our beverage order and we were encouraged to tour the outdoor courtyard. Cannon Green is set up to host weddings/functions for up to 200 people.  The palm tree lined courtyard with its hushed water features is striking.  The Old Trolley Warehouse, which is its adjoining building, also completely refurbished, would be a lovely venue for any event.

When we returned we began to peruse the menu.  It’s made up of the usual Charleston suspects: charcuterie, pate and cheeses and then lists their “provisions” in a very unique way.

“Garden”, “Water” and “Pasture” are the menu headings. In each section there are 4-5 items, some tapas like and a few that are entrees.

We chose several small items to sample.  The Brussels Sprouts are a dish you must try.  Roasted sprouts in a small casserole with spearmint, caramelized orange, garlic aioli and pomegranate seeds that are put in at the last minute to, as the server told us, “add flavor and pop”.  The melding of tastes was delicious.
Brussel Sprouts with pomegranate seeds
The Baby Beets Salad – yellow beets, prosciutto, toasted hazelnut ubriaco cheese nestled on herb pesto was not only beautifully plated, but heavenly.  Who knew that beets and Brussels Sprouts could be such a palate pleaser?
Baby Beet Salad with prosciutto picante
My husband’s Grass-Fed Beef Carpaccio was the best he’s ever eaten.  This is no small feat as he had held up Bonaratti’s (a restaurant in Virginia), Carpaccio as the one to beat for the last 20 years…
Grass-Fed Beef Carpaccio
My Little Gems Lettuce, although tasty, fell into the category – with so many unique items on the menu, what was I thinking?
Little Gems Lettuces with apples and marcona almonds

For my entrée I chose one of the newer dishes on the menu (as per our server), the Cioppino. He described it as a San Francisco style stew created back in the day when fishermen “chipped in” items of the day and collectively made a stew.

It was a delicate dish with a nice piece of flounder, a few clams and fennel in a light tomato broth.  Although good-tasting it was tepid at best, which I felt took away from the dish.
The Carolina Calico Ceviche was an over-the-top beautiful presentation of avocado, Jicama, radish, jalapeno, grapefruit and crispy yucca.  A true fan favorite at the table.
Carolina Calico Ceviche
The Raviolo (sic) was described as house made thin pasta encasing a small duck egg.  It was to sit on a light sauce and when you cut into it – bam!  The egg would cascade into the dish.  This sounded sexy but didn’t deliver.  There was no sauce, the egg was over cooked and although also tasty, this dish did not live up to the duck egg explosion promise.
The Cox Farms Beef Medallions were served with grilled trumpet mushrooms atop of Chimmichuri and topped with pine nuts. A beautiful, savory dish that could have used a better cut of meat.  Just sayin’.
Cox Farms Beef Medallion
The portions at Cannon Green aren’t over the top so we decided to sample two of their desserts – the Meyer Lemon & Olive Oil Cake and the Mexican Chocolate Pot de Crème.

The Chocolate Pot was an ever-so-delicate mousse with Guajilo chili, hazelnut crunch and mascarpone.  It was fabulous.  So was the Cake, served with thyme gelato and a vin santo reduction.
Mexican Chocolate Pot de Creme

Meyer Lemon & Olive Oil Cake
Classically Italian trained chef Amalia Scatena and the Cannon Green owners have a big win on their hands.  As they continue to hone and develop the menu offerings and their delivery, rest assured that you are in great hands with the service team in the restaurant. Our server was quite possibly one of the best we’ve ever had in Charleston.

We look forward to our next visit, which I’m certain will be in the not-too-distant future.

We gave Cannon Green 4 out of a possible 5 plates.

Cannon Green on Urbanspoon

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