Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dinnertime In Charleston

Just like I said in my post about the lunches we enjoyed in Charleston, it was hard to find a bad place to have dinner and luckily, we didn't! Everywhere we ate was very good and I would highly recommend. Again, reservations are basically necessary.

The first night it was cold and raining, so my mom and I chose to have dinner at the restaurant right next to our hotel, 82 Queen. I do have to say that the bill was on the higher end and we were a little nervous that every meal was going to come to $100, but they didn't. The restaurant is upstairs from the bar area, and you have to walk outside for a few seconds to get up there. It seemed a little iffy in the rain, but I guess they're used to these types of setups with so many restaurants being set up in former homes. It's what gives them charm!
The ambiance was intimate and quiet. You can enjoy a celebratory meal or a nice night out with friends and family here.

She crab soup is "the thing" in Charleston and 82 Queen is said to have the best, so my mom got a cup as an appetizer and loved it. I was so excited about the local seven salad- okra, carrots, corn, beans, heirloom tomatoes, radishes, greens, hushpuppy croutons and herb dressing. Smallest salad I have ever been served and in my opinion it wasn't worth $10. It was good, but I wouldn't suggest ordering it.
My mom was on a grits kick when we were down there since we don't really have them up in Jersey, so for her first dinner the BBQ shrimp and grits was an obvious choice. It had "southern comfort barbeque sauce," smoked bacon, scallions, and cheddar cheese. It was a good size portion, but maybe not for $27. This restaurant was just a bit on the pricey side.
I got the special catch of the day: pan seared snapper with carrot, spinach, cauliflower citrus, and pistachio. The funny thing is that it literally said "carrot" on the menu and that's what you got.. one carrot. The dish was really good and was totally worth it. The side portion wasn't very filling, but it was a large piece of fish for $28.

I met my friend, Lauren, for dinner on Tuesday night at her other favorite restaurant (Cru Cafe was the first), Blossom. Blossom is a sister restaurant of Magnolias and Cyprus. I can definitely see why this is a favorite of hers and it made it so much better since I got to see her! Lauren doesn't really come home much, even during the summer, so it was crazy when we realized we hadn't seen each other since New Years Eve 2012-2013. 

The front section when you first walk in. The restaurant has so much more seating behind where I took the picture from.

Reunited! We used to be inseparable
I didn't want to be obnoxious by taking pictures of everyone's food since I was more wrapped up in enjoying the time with my friend, so I just have a picture of my meal. My mom got a caesar salad to start (they're her thing) and the small plate cast iron scallops and grits (I told you that she loves grits)- white cheddar grits, creamy charred corn, leeks, bacon lardons, and beer mustard beurre blanc. The portion size was actually perfect for one person as an entree.
Lauren got the vegetarian meatballs with a parsnip puree, tomato and roasted garlic. It came with two (or three?) larger sized meatballs and this was also a perfect entree for one person. She got the sautéed spinach on the side and couldn't even finish it all.
I got the oven roasted salmon with Mepkin Abbey mushrooms, sautéed zucchini, and tomato broth with a side of sautéed spinach as well. Salmon is one of my new favorites as I've mentioned in other posts, and this dish was so good. I love everything it came with, too, so that was an added bonus!
Blossom restored our faith in normal priced restaurants, too. Coming from NYC, I always get told that food is so expensive somewhere and then when I get there I'm pleasantly surprised at how cheap it is because a $25 pasta dish that comes with no meat is the norm for me. After hearing nothing about Charleston prices we just assumed it would be average, but after 82 Queen we got a little nervous. For the salad, 2 small plates, 1 entree, and 2 sides, the bill came to about $95 with tip. Not bad at all!

The last meal my mom and I enjoyed might have been one of the best. High Cotton is always one of the first places people tell you to go, but for brunch. Brunch is such a big thing down there, according to concierge Neil, that they do it on Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately we weren't there over the weekend, so we decided to try it for dinner. Originally we had reservations at Hanks, but at this point we'd about had it with seafood. High Cotton had so much seating in multiple rooms. The decor was great and it was very intimate, but not too romantic. It was quieter when we went around 9 pm, but since there are so many tables it's probably safe to assume that when it's full it's loud. 

Mommy & I about to enjoy our last meal out in Charleston.
I started with the Ambrose Farms kale minestrone with olive oil & garlic croutons. I'm not much of a soup person, but I love soups where I can drain the broth off of the spoon and have something of substance. When I saw kale I knew I had to at least try it, but I ended up finishing it because it was so good!
My mom got the braised short rib cavatelli and couldn't even finish it because they give you so much. The description says "roasted parsnip cream, braising jus reduction, charred lemon parsley salad." I know.. you're probably drooling now. You should be.
Aside from fish I'm not much of a meat person (I know.. meat isn't fish. It is in my book). I loved that they had tofu on the menu and everything it came with was amazing. There were 2 huge blocks of pan seared cashew crusted tofu over sautéed spinach, eggplant caponata, ratatouille vinaigrette, and topped with baby watercress. I can't even begin to describe how delicious the eggplant caponata was. And I hate olive, which are usually in caponata, but not this one! The spinach was amazing and the chopped veggies (I guess those would be the ratatouille?) were a great addition. But seriously, the eggplant.. oh my. I dream about it.
High Cotton was a great way to end the trip, so I'm glad we chose to go there and got reservations. Even though people will tell you that you have to go there for brunch, I really recommend dinner in addition! 

Eating in Charleston was truly an awesome experience and there are so many more places I'd love to try when I go, but it will be difficult because I fell in love with some dishes I had on my trip. Don't stress over checking Yelp reviews or anything because as I've stated a million times, good luck finding under-par food. It's safe to say that when a tofu dish blows you out of the water, there's not much worry to be had when choosing a restaurant if they're all consistent. The biggest concern you should have is getting reservations. 

Every Charleston restaurant I went to used OpenTable and I have to app, so it was super convenient! It took about a minute to make reservations and then I could easily import all of the information into my calendar. If you're living in the 21st century and have a smartphone and live in an area with a lot of restaurants, make an OpenTable account and download the app. You can accumulate points, too! So worth it.

If you're going to Charleston- happy eating! If you aren't planning on going just book your trip now. You'll love it! Three or four days is the perfect amount of time to spend in this gorgeous, tiny, quirky, quaint city.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Charleston: Where to Have Lunch

Since I was in Charleston from Monday until Thursday and breakfast was always at the hotel I ate 6 meals out. That's a lot of food reviewing to take in in one post, so here's where my mom and I had lunch! We found that what everyone says about eating in Charleston is true: it's very hard to find a bad meal. Every single restaurant, no matter what the price range is, is decorated so nicely. Most places have white tablecloths and the decor is so tasteful and unique. I guess that fact that the buildings are so old helps add character, but none of the restaurants appear old at all. They all must have been renovated relatively recently.

Tip for dining in Charleston: always make reservations. Almost every place takes them and they're almost necessary at 90% of the restaurants if you want to eat any time before 8:45. I even advocate making lunch reservations.

Right after we checked in to The Elliott House Inn we beelined it for lunch because we were starving. First stop? Magnolias on East Bay St.

I had the grilled vegetable wrap- portobellos, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, red onion, sprouts, spinach, fresh mozzarella, habanero hummus, and pecan pesto. It comes with your choice of a side, so I got the collard greens. Everything was good, but I do have to say that I didn't taste any habanero hummus (basically the reason I chose to order this wrap) and it could have used more than a teaspoon of the pecan pesto (the other part of the reason I ordered it). The presentation was nice and it didn't fall apart on me, though, so aside from those two little complaints I enjoyed my meal.
My mom got the Charleston crab cake sandwich with green tomato-caper tartar sauce and a side of jalapeño-peach coleslaw. She really enjoyed the meal and it seems that the coleslaw is the best side choice here for lunch.
Magnolias was very good, but nothing to write home about. The service was great, but I couldn't tell you when it wasn't the whole trip. The people were all so genuinely nice. 
Mommy and I still happy even after being up at 6:30 am to head to the airport.

The next day we had lunch at Caviar and Bananas up on George Street, right across the street from the College of Charleston. My friend was having lunch there and texted me that she completely forgot to mention this place and the kale salad is amazing. It's set up where you go to different stations and can build your own salad, sushi, etc. type of thing. They also have pre-made things, which is where the kale salad is and my mom got pan fried tofu, an Asian BBQ meatball, and a grain salad (I can't remember which one). I got the naked kale salad- kale, almonds, cranberries, blueberries, aged gouda, grape tomatoes, and lemon vinaigrette- and roasted asparagus. Everything we had was delish. I highly recommend this place for a quick, affordable lunch. You can see the full menu here.
They also sell grocery items in the center of the store where you can get everything from Bloody Mary Mix to pasta or olive oil.

Naked kale salad and roasted asparagus
In the marketplace there's also a little stand where you can get food from Caviar and Bananas! Fun fact: Blake Lively used them as a vendor for her wedding. Since I adore her it gave me all the more reason to try it out!

Our last lunch was at one of my friend's two favorite restaurants: Cru Cafe. From the looks of the outside of this place I don't think I'd really be enticed to try it, but apparently it's getting really popular and the concierge at my the Elliott House said he highly recommended it and it was possibly his favorite place to eat.

It's super tiny inside, so definitely make reservations for any meal here, especially if you're planning on eating during the "normal" lunch or dinner times (e.g. 11:30-2 and 5:30-8:30). That goes for most restaurants in Charleston, as I stated before. 

I got regular coffee, which was hazelnut flavored. I'm not sure if that's what they always have or if it changes, but I'm not too big on flavored coffees and theirs was good. It wasn't a really noticeable hazelnut flavor.

I got the Chinese chicken salad- julienne napa cabbage, carrots, peppers, daikon, red onion, and ginger dressing. Also, I ordered a side of the seared mushrooms. Everything was incredibly good. I was nervous about the size of the salad because in the pictures I had seen of it it didn't look very big, but it was quite large and filling. Also, it's hard to tell from pictures that there's chicken because it's all shredded, but there's enough chicken that you get some with every forkful. The mushrooms were so full of flavor and were the perfect texture. I think my mom ate 3 and I finished the rest, which was a lot. 

My mom got the 1/2 sandwich & a soup option. You can't choose any wraps as a sandwich if you do this, but they have plenty of yummy sandwich options. She chose the grilled marinated chicken club on sourdough bread. There were two soups that day: tomato bisque and some creamy mushroom soup. Clearly from the picture my mom chose the tomato. Both the sandwich and the soup were really good.

All of the three spots we went to had awesome menus and so many options that sounded good. If you're in the mood for a heavier meal then you're better off at a restaurant like Magnolias, but for a lighter, more normal sized lunch then Bananas and Caviar or Cru Cafe are for you! 

As I said, the service everywhere was great and the decor was always nice. When choosing a restaurant it's not so much a factor of what people said about it (because there really aren't bad reviews), but more of what the menu has and what you're in the mood for. 

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Charleston: Where to Stay

Last week was spring break for me and I spent part of it at home and part in Charleston, SC. A friend from high school goes to the College of Charleston and posted pictures on Instagram last year; I immediately fell in love with Charleston from the pictures and decided I had to go. Brilliant me decided that since I'm so lucky and turn 21 the week after spring break, I should do an early birthday present trip with my mom.

Since there's so much to post about food and everything I'm going to break my trip up into more than one post. We flew in early on Monday and then left Thursday morning. It was the perfect amount of time because there wasn't as much to see historically as we thought. There are a bunch of house tours and a few museum-type places, but nothing that will take days to get through. There are also plantation tours you can take, but you need to provide your own transportation (aka rent a car) or take a cab that we were told costs about $40 each way. Since we did plantation tours in Louisiana we skipped out on these, but next time I'm down there I must go to Boone Hall Plantation where part of The Notebook was filmed and Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively got married there.

My dad took care of the flight stuff and accommodations, so he found The Elliott House Inn and got us a room there. I seriously couldn't have asked for a better place to stay. Upon checking in we met the concierge/front desk employee, Neil, who was extremely helpful and fun to talk to. My mom and I needed opinions on things to do, places to eat, etc. and he gave us his honest opinion and input on everything. Matthew was another employee that was there later in the afternoon to early evening and he was just as great with everything as Neil. I couldn't find my camera and was afraid I left it on a bus, so I called the hotel and Matthew checked my room to make sure I left it there and it wasn't on some random tour bus in Charleston. All of the following pictures are the "lobby" portion of the Elliott House. I loved the decor and couldn't get over how quaint this place was. Well, really all of Charleston is just so quaint and that's why I fell in love.

I'm not sure if each room is different, but I'm assuming they are because the Elliott House Inn has been around since the 1860s and was a private residence until 1981. It was closed from 2009 to 2011 for renovations and you can tell because the bathrooms are new, which is not something you'd expect in such an old place. The decor of the bedroom really made you feel at home and like you were at a bed and breakfast and not staying in a hotel. 

The sign outside the hotel said "Bed Breakfast Spirits," so I don't think referring to it as a hotel is correct, but I'm not quite sure what to call it.

The lobby portion was separate and then you walked back to the courtyard and all of the rooms have a door that opens out to the courtyard.

Another awesome thing about this place? The complimentary breakfast. Wait.. it gets even better. You are given a card that you put on your door each night and you check off which of the three breakfast options you want, if you want coffee/tea/orange juice, what half-hour time frame you want it delivered in, and if you want it brought to the courtyard or the room. When I saw complimentary continental breakfast under amenities I figured they had the usual buffet-style setup in the lobby or by the courtyard, not that it was delivered to me. They call about 5 minutes before they deliver your breakfast so it's a perfect wakeup call, too! No need to set alarms on this vacation!

I like to stay at different places when I return to a city, especially when there are a million quirky boutique hotels to stay at, but I don't think I can go back to Charleston and stay somewhere else. My experience at The Elliott House Inn was too perfect and I've never been more satisfied. There were zero issues with cleanliness, checking in, checking out, rooms not being ready, etc. I 100% recommend staying here to anyone visiting. It's in a great location, too. Nothing is a far walk at all (20 mins max to the furthest point you'd probably want to go) and you're right in between the major shopping street and another main street.

Stay tuned for where to eat! 

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