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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Chef Vinson Petrillo – Zero Cafe +Bar, Charleston, SC

Recently the San Pellegrino, reached out to me to see if I wanted to spend some time with Chef Vinson Petrillo, who is hot off his win in San Pellegrino's Young Chef Competition and will represent the United States at Expo Milano in June.

Chef Petrillo had to beat out 9 other chefs from across the country to claim this
title.  The judges, Chef Paul Qui of qui in Austin, Texas, Chef Blaine Wetzel of Willows Inn in Washington, Chef Wyllie Dufresne of NYC and Chef Amanda Freitag, co-star of the Food Network's "Chopped" were more than impressed with the level of innovation and creativity that Chef Petrillo demonstrated. 

In order to prepare for the next step of the competition, Petrillo and Wylie Dufresne will head to Milan to strategize for the Expo competition. The 20 finalists, all from different countries, will be paired by Vogue Italia with a rising fashion designer. Each pair will collaborate to create dishes and clothing designs that complement one another. The cuisine and couture will be judged independently and as a pair.

Meeting Chef Petrillio
Zero George is quite simply a lovely, boutique hotel at the corner of East Bay and George Streets.  Their small placard "0" at the front entrance can easily go unnoticed, but I actually thought that it added to the charm of the place. There is nothing that screams, "Hey, here we are", but their attention to detail and quality appears to be impeccable. 

As I entered the hotel I was quickly ushered to meet the Chef.  He was working with what appeared to be small, spun sugar items that would probably garnish an item for the evening’s fare.  He said “hello” and never moved from his stance and task at hand.  He then went on to finish something else in his workspace of this very tiny, 110 sq. ft. kitchen.

When I sat down with him Chef Petrillo was quick to say that what he thinks distinguishes Zero George’s restaurant is that it’s not “southern”.  It’s a mixture of “contemporary awesome and unexpected ingredients”, not heavily laden with batter, sauces or gravies.

The restaurant seats about 40 people and they literally serve 8 people every 30 minutes. He creates 3 appetizers, 3 entrees and 3 desserts each evening. Because, as the Chef noted, “everything has to be perfect.” 

Chef Petrillo’s early memories of cooking go back to his Italian heritage and when his mom and dad both did the cooking - Sunday dinners were a “big deal”.  When asked what some of his favorite dishes were he smiled as he talked about his mom’s Chicken Francaise, which “really wasn’t Chicken Francaise”, but it was a “wonderful, clean dish served over rice”, which he still remembers with much fondness.

His dad’s eggplant parmesan was second to none.  “It was so thin, so delicate, that to this day I am still not able to replicate it, try as I might.”
Chef Petrillo’s style of cooking clearly continues with this “clean” approach.

Not a trend follower, Chef says he doesn’t like the phrase “farm to table” as he believes that’s the way everyone should be cooking (he has a point there), and waits to be inspired to create his menu that changes weekly.

On the day that I met him it was his first day back since the birth of his daughter, Sawyer a few weeks ago. It was mid-afternoon and I asked him what would be on the menu that evening.  “I’m not sure, “ he said. Chef then went on to say that fresh cod had been delivered that afternoon but the dish, if he was to use the cod, would be “clean and beautiful, and the cod would then be added.” He did not want to create the dish around the cod, “why bother?”

My time with Chef Petrillo was inspiring. This 30-year old chef seems un-phased by his successes to date.  His passion for cooking shows in his clean, simple, yet elegant dishes.  If you haven’t had a chance to experience his creations, I suggest you do so soon, as you can then say you sampled his fare before he won the San Pellegrino's Young Chef Competition in Milan.

Good luck Chef Petrillo!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Uncle Maddio's Pizza Joint - Mount Pleasant, SC

10 Minute Pizza Served With Love

I was invited to Uncle Maddio's Pizza Joint's pre-opening VIP party and while at first I was hesitant to go, who doesn't like free pizza? 

Designed in the style of Moe's (Uncle Maddio’s CEO was the co-founder), Chipotle, Qdoba and Your Pie – where the customer walks down a straight line building their own pizza, I wondered what would make this new-ish brand stand out?

Located in the Mount Pleasant's Town Center (1795 N Hwy17) it was a bit difficult to find.  Even our GPS system had us going in circles.  To eliminate the mystery, it's across from Lowes, case closed.

When we entered we were greeted by a team member (who, as I found out later, is on the corporate marketing team), who explained they were offering three things – pizza, paninis and salads and that everything was free.

I can see that there might be a bit of a log jam at the front door when it gets busy.  The entry way is small and that's where the menu boards are.  After we decided what we wanted we made our way to the queue. 

Although I'm certain this can be attributed to the team member’s fine-tuning their skills, the ordering process was a bit confusing. I ordered a create-your-own pizza and told the first gentleman what I wanted.  I didn't realize that he was just the sauce and dough guy – there are three types of dough and six sauce options, I then had to tell my order to the next guy who was standing right next to him.  I imagine that once they have a rhythm this process will be improved but it was a speed bump to our experience.

We sauntered down the line and took a few of the free fresh baked daily cookies and cannoli's (delicious) and found a seat.

 Uncle Maddio's layout and design is user-friendly and upbeat.  Orange and red walls dot the interior and the stools and booths are very colorful.  Clearly a kid-friendly place the families that were there seemed to be having a blast.

Advertising "10 minute" pizzas ours arrived in just over 13 minutes.  Not bad, but I would worry with a lunch or dinner rush this could be a problem for their execution. Again, most likely a fine-tuning issue that will get better over time.

The food runner greeted our table asked who had which pizza and said, "These were made with love", which is part of their branding slogan. She then asked if we needed anything, smiled and was on her way.  Nice job.

Our pizzas were terrific.  The thin crust, light sauce and cheese allowed my spicy sausage (they offered three types of sausage), to shine.  My husband's Buffalo Chicken signature pizza was dotted with spicy tomato and buffalo sauce, mozzarella, grilled chicken, blue cheese crumbles, celery and homemade ranch dressing.  This too, could become my new favorite.  I also want to mention that menu is not expensive.  My pizza was $7.99 and the Buffalo Chicken was $8.99.  We could have easily split a pizza and it would have been enough for a meal.

The question that I posed at the beginning of this blog, "what would make Uncle Maddio's different" without a doubt centers on the owner, David Moulton.  

A former Domino's guy, this whirling-dervish-uber-passionate gentleman was a

delight to speak with.  He explained in detail that what makes his restaurant different is "everything is made with love".  

David believes 3 things will make Uncle Maddio’s successful:
  • Great food
  • Fair prices
  • Great service
David will also do anything to make his customers happy.  Customer first came to mind as he was speaking.

Everything at Uncle Maddio’s is made in house, dough, sauce, you name it they make, chop, shred, and slice it there.  There are only a couple of items (ciabatta rolls as an example) that are NOT made in house.  They make everything by hand.  There are no freezers or microwaves.  

In a day and age where many things in "chain restaurants" revolve around speed and ease of execution, Uncle Maddio's is "old school", which is refreshing. It also shows in the quality of their products. 

David has already given back quite a bit to the community but is offering something very special on this Saturday, February 14th.  From 11:00 a.m. To 2:00 p.m. David will give a way free pizzas to any/all customers in line.  “No strings attached".  You don't have to buy a beverage, cookie or salad, (although it would be nice if you did…), he just wants to meet his customers and give folks a chance to try his great food. 

Although we might not visit on Saturday, Uncle Maddio's Pizza Joint might be a nice place to take your valentine!

We gave Uncle Maddio’s 5 plates and highly recommend you give them a try the next time you’re in Town Center.
Uncle Maddio's Pizza Shack on Urbanspoon

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