Sunday, February 12, 2006

Alone in Charleston South Carolina. Nothing Could Be Finer...Than The Charleston Grill

I know that blogging once a year is probably counterproductive. Nevertheless our sister blogs really keep me busy and besides I don't want to write anything here unless it really knocks my socks off and not much has this year. Until now.

I am in Charleston South Carolina, stuck so to speak in the deep south due to a snow storm that has rocked Long Island. I came here to participate in a panel for the NACDL. You can read more about that here and here. Being snowed in however hasn't been the worst thing. I have used the time to sight see, exercise, and find new restaurants.

The prospect of eating alone much less in a hotel restaurant is however really an issue for me. I hate eating alone even with a book I think I look pathetic. Usually I eat hurriedly and leave ASAP. As I left the gym this afternoon however, I ran into a local attorney who put me onto The Charlestown Grill. Located in the Charleston Place hotel, I was quite taken with this restaurant and must say it is one of the best I have ever eaten in...Anywhere!!!

The experience began when I arrived for my 8:15 reservation. The decor is that of a dining room in a Charleston estate. It is really like three rooms in one. The bar area which is small is really not separated from the front of the dining area. The room is heavily wooded a painted mahogany and the far wall has windows that look out onto a patio dining area. It was too cold to eat outside but it looks like it could be fun in the springtime.

My hostess and her partner were both very hospitable. Friendly smiles and a bit of chatter about where I would sit and why I was in town helped me to feel more at home. I don't know about you but I hate eating alone and having "friends" on the staff goes far with me.

I sat in the "second" room of the dining area. I had a great view of the entertainers who were playing Violin and Bass Guitar. They played classical and easy listening music. In room three by the way there was a raucous birthday party going on which, had I allowed it to, would have distracted from the dining experience.

The nice thing about area two as it were is that it is spacious to walk through. Diners needn't worry about getting up and moving as the seats are wide enough to pass through. My Server was a very interested young man who is a recent graduate of college. He majored in Music but had a definite taste for the restaurant buisness. He was very friendly in a respectful though friendly manner. Deferential but secure.

After commenting on the breadth of the menu and my disappointment in not getting to try all of the dishes, Robert offered me the chance to do "a tasting". Although he did not give me a cost for this I had a feeling it was going to be over One Hundred dollars without the wine. I decided to go that way because the menu was extensive and extremely interesting. If I had dined alone and with wine the cost would have been close to One Hundred dollars any way.

The tasting (or sampling) consisted of 9 different courses with about two ounces of food per course. A different wine ( and one local beer) was selected to accompany each course.

The first course was a beautifully fresh Yellow Fin Tuna Carpaccio. There was a Passion fruit, Key Lime and Mint vinaigrette which brought out the taste of the Yellow Fin quite nicely. The Passion fruit - Key Lime was a nice sweet sour combination that enhanced the taste of the fish without overwhelming it.
The wine choice a sweet white wine a Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2004 from Marlborough winery had a moderate bouquet and the fruity wine pulled in the lime and mint flavor all the more.

Our second course also a fish course was a wonderfully flaky full bodied skillet seared Halibut filet. Served over a combination of cooked spinach tomatoes & orzo pasta. Pine nuts (a local favorite) were added to the concoction to an excellent result. The filet was perfectly seared and remained flavor filled and moist. The pine nut-orzo mix gave a very tasty consistancy to the dish. The tomatoes were not overwhelming and there appeared to be a hint of pesto in the preparation. In all this was a very well prepared dish. The dish was accompanied by a Au bon Climat 2003. The Charleston Grill's specially bottled white wine comes from Santa Barbara County and for a white wine the Pin noir was light and airy.

Course Three was a real southern specialty rarely seen any more on many menus. A Veal Tart of sweetbread painted with a Tapenade over Brasied Heirloom Tomatoes in an Opal Basil Miniature Caper Jus. It has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to eat sweetbread a favorite of my grandparents. This preparation would be the envy of the neighborhood. The puff pastry shell held together well and was light and buttery. The Braised Tomatoes and Opal Capers Jus add a tangy taste to the preparation, and the course was my favorite and was just plain fun to eat. Accompanied by a newer grape a Nero grape from Sicily the Firriato Nero D'Avola "Chiaramonte" 2002 is a heavy dry wine which offset the Tapenade well. This was as I said the highlight of the first half of the evening.

Our Fourth and final appetizer was the Pan Seared Duck Foie Gras in a Pastry. Again the puff Pastry was splendid and held together very well. Broken by my Server Robert at the table he inserted a dollop of Chardonnay Vanilla Syrup. The sweetness of the syrup mixed with the gingered Vidalia onions to cover the liver flavor of the Foie Gras perfectly. Now this is the way to help the liverphobic find a love of iron. Accompanied by a Inniskillin Vidal "Ice wine" 2004 from the Niagra Peninsula in Canada the dish was a strong preparation. The Ice wine was of course served chilled and was very sweet. It was perfect for the dish but the wine's sweetness may not be everybody's taste.

On to the Entrees:

Course Five was a skillet seared French Quail Breast. Delicately sliced to include the egg it was mixed with a chicken fried (very Charlotte) foie Gras over a Truffled sawmill gravy that over took the quails natural taste. I enjoyed the dish but found that when I ate it in parts I enjoyed the individual tastes better. Robert selected a local beer (Palmetto Lager) to accompany the dish. I am an ale drinker and found the pale lager to be too weak for my taste but I agree beer is the way to go with this dish.

Course Six was the piaste de Resistance. The Colorado Lamb Chop. Dry Aged and Grilled it was outstanding. A meaty chop painted with a roasted garlic-rosemary puree and served over a Red Roma Concasse in a lime Jus De Viande & Nicoise Cream sauce, this chop came ready to be devoured. It was juicy and tender. If you are one to eat lamb well done, don't waste your money but if you love a rare lamb chop this is for you. Not chewy or tough at all this little critter lived a charmed life to come to me so very tender. This was my favorite of the evening. Served with a Les Pagodes de Cos 2002 from Saint-Estephe the wine was a full bodied grape with a strong fragrance and medium bouquet. It enhanced the natural flavor of the lamb and held its own nicely.

By the seventh course I was feeling quite full and it may have affected the way that I judged the course, however it was the one weak part of the meal. I had a Roasted Tenderloin of Venison over red onions and white Raisins in a local Muscadine reduction and drunken Cherries. I am a venison lover. I have had many times. This venison was tender and moist but held a decidedly gameyier taste that I usually enjoy. The Muscadine reduction masked the gamey taste a bit. I must also admit that the pairing of the venison with the muscadine reduction and the white raisins didn't really float my boat. With that said I probably would have preferred this in a brown wine sauce with truffles a lot better. Again the Fois Gras was used between slices of the Venison, which I found to be an interesting distraction, but a distraction none the less. In retrospect I should have asked them to stop at six courses but it was almost impossible.
I should mention the suggested wine was a Two Hands Winery Shiraz "Angels Share"2004 from McLaren Vale in Australia. I however merely tasted the wine as I felt I had drunk my share and Shiraz is not a favorite grape of mine.

Desserts here are highly recommended and with a world reknown pastry chef you could not go wrong with any. I had the Fruit Terrine in an orange reduction. It was excellent but one must remember it comes in a gelatin type mold and may not be for everyone. Nevertheless nothing ventured... It was served with a sweet Icardi Moscato d'Asti 2003 from Italy's Peidmont region. A nice bubbly end to a perfect dinner.

After asking for the check and a cup of French Roast coffee my hosts surprised me with some excellent concfections from their pastry chef. There was a great praline and molasses "bar" and a very nice pumpkin bread cookie. A chocolate truffle and a couple of other cookie/cakes tastes were offered but I new I had to walk home and could eat no more.

In all my experience at the Charleston Grill will stand out forever in my mind as not only a great meal but a wonderful experience for a stranded weary traveler. I want to thank the Charlestonians John and Debra O'Brien who sent me here and my Host Rick and waiters/waitresses Robert and Jennifer for their efficient and friendly service and their time and expertise. I have rarely been so impressed. Chef Waggoner came out of the kitchen to talk to me a bit about the meal and his life in France and South Carolina. He runs a great kitchen. I strongly urge travelers not to over look this multi star restaurant just because it is located inside a hotel.(The Lovely Charleston Place Inn.) It is the best Restaurant in Charleston or at least the best I ate in in over 10 meals there. Frankly it is one of the best I have eaten in ever. I cannot wait to return.

Ps. See Jen I didn't even mention your dropping that tray of dishes...Opps!!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cipollini's of Manhasset and Nemo's of South Beach

About 28 years ago I was talked into writing restaurant reviews for a college newspaper. I enjoy writing ( see our other 2 blogs and and when friends heard I had done reviews in my early life they encouraged me to do it again. I thought about it and realized that I was doing reviews my whole life. I cannot resist telling people about the cool places I have had the chance to go to. And I especially like to hear friends who took my advice had a good time doing what I suggested. This blog is really meant for my friends and family who want my experience when picking just the right place to take a: Date; Boss; Spouse; Parent; Out of town friend/ relative; etc. etc. etc.
However I remember thinking how much I hated a) deadlines and b) doing negative reviews. After all for the most part people who put on plays or run restaurants work very hard and well bad reviews can kill their businesses. Yes I know that reviewers just want to help these owners to improve their businesses and that they also want to stop others from wasting their hard earned money, but I have a different calling in life and so this is just a hobby for me and I would rather not criticize with negative reviews. Hence if I liked a place chances are sooner or later you will see it here.

Ok so here goes first I am going to link you to a review I posted on a sister site recently and STRONGLY URGE you to go to this place while you can still get a seat. I really had a good time there last Saturday with my family. Now some five days later I think back on that Polenta and realize just how good this place Cipollini's really is.

Now earlier I flew into Miami and settled into the world famous Fountainebleau Towers in South Miami Beach. I will probably review the Fountainebleau in my next report but let's just say that the view of the beach and Atlantic Ocean from my private bacolny is ... Sublime.
Anyway I became hungry and wanted to go to dinner at a place that specialized in fish. I was headed to another restaurant when while passing Nemo's on Collins between First and Second, My cab driver told me that it too was a really good place to stop. I decided that I wanted to go there tonight. I mean I am a sucker for a restaurant where the patrons seem to be having a good time.

The restaurant was making good use of the beautiful if windy weather South Florida is experiencing and so most patrons where sitting outside of the main building in what is a very inviting street side patio. Being from NY and having had a pretty cold and snowy winter and rainy spring, I couldn't wait to eat outside. I was promptly seated and had my choice of people watching views. Peoplewatching is a big hobby in South Beach. I think it is fun, especially if you smile at the people as they are walking or give 'em a little wave. They think they know you. One has even sent over drinks! Anyway I digress... Oh yeah, I was seated and my waiter took my drink order. As it was over Ninety degrees (90*) Fahrenheit in my cab ( and at least 75 outside) I wanted a beer. They did not have my favorites Amstel light or Bass Ale. They instead suggested a Belgian Beer a Chimay ( see this sight for a fun pronunciation guide It looked like a Stout beer; very dark with a slightly chocolate cream looking foam head. I was not really happy at the sight of it, because Bass is tan, an Ale and not a Stout. Stouts tend to be bitter. However after I tasted the Chimay I realized that this was a very fine ale. It was a little creamy but was filling and really quenched my thirst. I followed this up with a portion of grilled South Florida Octopus. It was well grilled and chopped up with roasted tomatoes and lima beans over a puree of Spinach. Great dish. The Octopus was not a bit chewy, nor was it over cooked. The tomatoes gave the spinach puree a sweet taste which brought out the flavor of the grill used on the Octopus. The wait staff also provided a verynice chick pea hummus mixed liberally with olive oil and paprika. The Italian bread served with that was really good. I would be surprised if it were not made in a brick oven.
The main course was a grilled Florida Grouper served over a bed of Lettuce mixed with hearts of Palm and a shelled Crab leg under an Italian seasoned oil and vinegar dressing. The dish is served with a chimera sauce. That helped because the grouper while mostly tender and well moistened was dry around the corners and ends. This was served with Garlic mashed potato and any other ala Carte item you may want (the salad was part of the cost of the Grouper.) The portion size was about seven (7) ounces and it was filling.

I like the no rush attitude of staff. It is a laid back place but plenty of help is available if you ask for it. I wanted to save room for desert but instead had a cup of very bold expresso mixed with Sambuca. After about Forty minutes I was ready for the Chocolate Napolean served with brulee'd bananas and praline Ice Cream which was homemade. The desert was decadent. It is probably illegal to serve in most states it was that good. The Napolean was layered thin pieces of chocolate with what tasted like a very silky smooth chocolate mousse. The bananas mixed nicely with alcohol used in their preparation. The alcohol brought out the flavor of the banana. It enhanced the tangy presentation which was quenched by the various tastes of the chocolates in the Napoleon. A desert wine or sherry was recommended but I couldn't finish the Napolean and another drink would have been gluttonous.

Any way, I was way impressed and hope I get to go back to Nemo's in the near future. If you have a favorite restaurant or a favorite (positive) review of something you can send it to me at and if we like it we will use it. You can also reach me at my website We also would like to encourage you to read our sister blogs listed above.