Charleston was founded in 1670 as Charles Towne in honor of Charles II of England. A small city of only 120,000 people it is a unique combination of beautiful historic houses and a modern vibrant cultural energy centered around food. The downtown consists of street after street of colonial masterpiece, stunning multicolored buildings one after the other. It is here where the civil war started. On January 9, 1861, Citadel cadets opened fire on the Union ship Star of the West entering Charleston's harbor. On April 12, 1861, shore batteries under the command of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard opened fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in the harbor.
In addition to its rich history, food has become a big part of the allure of Charleston. Chef Sean Brock, owner of Husk and McCrady's (read this great profile of Brock from a few years ago in the New Yorker), has become a leader of a revisionist food movement. His recipes are largely inspired by the techniques and ingredients he finds based on historical research. He is also a practicioner of farm to table cooking and many of the ingredients he prepares are sourced from a 1.5-acre farm he owns.
The McCrady's menu is the more modern of the two restaurants. The starter of pork belly with huckleberries and greens was crispy, flavorful and moist. The main course of Cox Farm Coulette was a very tender filet of beef served with smoked potatoes, mushrooms and pickled ramps. The beef was excellent but the pickled ramps added another dimension of flavor altogether. For dessert, a frozen parfait of grits was graceful and delicious.
The wine director at McCrady's, Cappie Peete, was in Napa preparing for a sommelier exam so we were served by Randall Niven, the assistant wine director. I asked Randall my usual restaurant wine question, can you recommend some reasonably priced but interesting wines. He recommended two German pinot noirs and a Lioco (Mendocino) Carnignan. We picked the Lioco; it was spicy and strong, with black fruit with nice acidity and accompanied the food very well.
Randall recommended our lunch spot, Two Boroughs Larder, which was located off the main drag in Charleston and has a Restoration Hardware feel to it--distressed, but with a purpose. It had a good energy and the food and service and wine list were all excellent. We had roasted brussel sproats, scallops and a terrific carbonara. I opted to go for a by the glass option and had a nice Viura from Rioja, but had I a little more conviction, the Massican "Annia" Ribolla Gialla blend looked like a real treat.
Our final dinner spot was FIG. We were told by Randall to get there by 5 pm in order to get a seat a the bar. Generally eating that early harms my digestive process, however FIG was worth the lack of wait. Prior to the food, a Matthiasson Chardonnay Linda Vista Vineyard acted as the warm-up. The food hews to a similar philosophy as that at McCrady's in that there is a real emphasis on fresh local ingredients. I started with a lamb crudo--raw minced lamb with walnut, celery heart and aged provolone. It was tangy, flavorful and commanded your attention. For a main course I opted for the fish stew which is a signature dish at the restaurant. The broth was dense and complex, with delicate pieces of white shrimp, mussels and squid bobbing across the surface. Our server recommended the roasted beets, which she said had once brought her to tears (a recommendation so strong is impossible to resist, and the beets were good). Dessert was a sticky sorghum cake, similar to a sticky toffee pudding.
The wine director at FIG, David McCarus, has put together an eclectic list. Having transplanted from San Francisco a couple of years ago, he has gone as far as obtain an South Carolina wholesale license in order to bring together the unusual group of wines on the list. We took David's suggestion of a Louis Dressner Selection, Yannick Pelletier Languedoc blend. It had that little bit of barnyard funk to it, but stong brambly dark fruit flavors.
The wonderful thing about eating early is you have plenty of time to walk it off, and what better place to take a stroll than the impressive colonial, cobblestone streets of Charleston.
Scallops at Two Borough Larder
Cox Farm Coulette at McCrady's
Fish stew at Fig
Beautiful colonial buildings - a nice walking city.