Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Lowdown on Charleston, S.C.

I spent four full days in Charleston, S.C., and I ate lunch or dinner at just about all the big names among the city's hallowed dining scene. It's a great city for foodies.

Here's my quick take on restaurants:

Best Dinner Meal: Peninsula Grill - This restaurant is located in the Planters Inn, and everything here (food, service and ambience) clicked beautifully. The blackeye pea and smoked ham soup was a plesant starter, and the trout was flaky and wonderful. My dining partner had bourbon grilled shrimp, which were cooked to perfection. The sorbet trio (apple, lemon and raspberry) was a cool and not so heavy conclusion.

Best Lunch Meal: Blossom Café - The Grilled Salmon BLT wasn't the most elegant dish I had as I ate my way through Charleston last week, but it was an absolutely marvelous lunch meal. The tomato was juicy and fresh, and the salmon was cooked to perfection.

Best Soup: Cypress Grill - The lobster bisque here was worthy of an aria. It was the kind of flavor that proves the kitchen didn't cut any corners. It reminds me that an excellent bisque doesn't require an abundance of cream.

Best Design & Space: Cypress Grill - The facade is typical Charleston Victorian, but the interior is fun, open and whimsical. The huge glass case that holds the restaurant's red wines is quite a conversation piece. The bathrooms are sleek and smart.

Best Service: Dining Room at The Woodlands Resort - This restaurant is about a 35-minute drive N.W. of Charleston in the fast-growing, but architecturally dazzling community of Summerville. Its location on a ridge with ample pines made it the spot that many wealthy Charlestonians retreated to during summer months in the 18th and 19th centuries. The service at The Woodlands was impeccable from start to finish. There were no brusque questions or clumsy arrivals from the server or staff; they seemed to know when to step forward and remove a plate or ask a question without interrupting the conversation at our table.

Best Al Fresco Dining: Blossom Café - Sitting out on the hedge-lined patio for lunch at Blossom was absolutely delightful. The tower of St. Phillip's Church loomed only a few blocks away. (After Memorial Day, the heat and humidity would probably make Blossom and any other outdoor space less desirable.)

Most Pleasing Dessert: Circa 1886 - The roasted banana souffle with chocolate ice cream was marvelous. Those eggs died for a very good cause.

Most Disappointing Dessert: Cypress Grill - The strawberry trio sounded so good, but of the three, only the strawberry creme brulee met my expectations. The strawberry preserves atop the pound cake were advertised as homemade, but they tasted as though they could just as easily have been scooped from a Smucker's jar. Worst of all was the homemade strawberry ice cream. I'm willing to bet that the ice cream wasn't removed from the freezer until just before it was scooped onto the plate. It was vritually impossible to penetrate the surface with a spoon, and there was little creaminess to it.

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