Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Weekend Getaway in Charleston

This past weekend Gavin and I went to Charleston to celebrate my birthday. Not only was it a great chance to get away just the two of us before the craziness of the holidays but it was an absolutely fantastic culinary experience. I did a lot of research before we left to pick the restaurants we would go to so that we got the most out of our time there. You could easily spend an entire month in Charleston and eat at a different amazing restaurant every night. Unfortunately, we only had two nights so I wanted to choose wisely. I asked the masses on Twitter, read reviews on Urban Spoon, and was fortunate enough to have Bon Appetit's Charleston review from the November issue. The two restaurants I decided on were Charleston Grill and McCrady's. Although I can't compare them to all of the other great restaurants in Charleston, these two definitely did not disappoint.

Tuna Sashimi at Charleston Grill
Our dinner at Charleston Grill started late, around 9pm or so, when we arrived after driving from Durham. We got a great table near the piano where Jazz musicians entertained throughout our meal. Dinner started off with a complimentary appetizer of sashimi tuna with the most perfectly cut assortment of beets, cucumbers and olives. (It was either complimentary because it was my birthday or because the sommelier really liked us; either way we were quite pleased.) Each flavor complimented the others to create an amazing dish but I'm serious when I say that they were cut perfectly. Having been graded on my knife skills, I really appreciate some good knife work. Gavin then enjoyed a Thai beef salad and found the first white wine he actually really loved - a dry German Riesling. I had a salad that combined the spicy, somewhat bitter tastes of arugula, radicchio and frisee with sweet marinated grapes, pomegranate seeds and Marcona almonds. I was almost disappointed I had gone with something as basic as a salad but this dish was anything but basic. I was pleasantly surprised at how wonderfully everything went together.

Butter Poached Maine Lobster at Charleston Grill
For our entrees, Gavin enjoyed a butter poached lobster and I had a delicious scallop dish with a black bean sauce. The kitchen staff was even kind enough to adjust the sauce a bit to make sure that it was gluten free. And not only that, but the waitress brought out some fresh-from-the-oven gluten free bread to start the meal as soon as I told her I was allergic. The gluten free bread was delicious and Gavin decided to eat most of that instead of the usual bread offering. I was amazed overall at how gluten-free friendly I found Charleston. Definitely a bonus for anyone suffering from a gluten allergy.

Beef Tenderloin at McCrady's
After a full day of shopping around King St. and admiring the beautiful Louis Vuitton bags that we would never actually purchase, we got all dressed up and took a bike taxi over to McCrady's. Bike taxis are these great little carts pulled by guys riding bikes. We felt like we did a good deed to the environment and enjoyed a nice chat with our bike "driver" (peddler? not sure what you'd call him). McCrady's has a ton of history - it's told that George Washington himself dined there - and boasts a James Beard award winning chef (Chef Sean Brock, James Beard 2010 Best Chef Southeast). The atmosphere was definitely more serene than Charleston Grill without the lively Jazz band but we did sit near a very cozy fireplace. Both of our meals were absolutely delicious but they had a hard time living up to our first incredible experience dining in Charleston.
Cocktails at The Gin Joint
Because we ate on the earlier side on Saturday, we decided to hold off on extra drinks at the restaurant and instead, go to a few bars in the area. We enjoyed our first cocktail on a rooftop bar with a perfect view of a beautiful full moon. The next stop was The Gin Joint, a recommendation from one of Gavin's coworkers. What a great suggestion! This tiny little bar serves only authentic pre-prohibition drinks in the appropriate vessels. Staying true to this time period means absolutely no vodka on the menu, since vodka wasn't popular until prohibition. The drink menu however, is extensive, including several wines by the glass and a whole variety of cocktails made from all types of whiskey, gin, and tequila.

Julep No 1: A mint julep in the classic pewter glass (The Gin Joint)
The highlight of our time at The Gin Joint, however, was meeting and chatting with the couple at the table next to ours. We just so happened to sit next to Tamara Reynolds of the blog The Sunday Night Dinner and author of the cookbook Forking Fantastic: Put the Party Back in Dinner Party. A cook and food blogger living in New York, Tamara is also a part of Unique Eats, a show on the Cooking Channel featuring, well, unique things to eat in different parts of the country. She was at The Gin Joint to taste the different items that will be featured on an upcoming episode about Charleston. How cool is that! And not only is Tamara a food blogger/cookbook author/TV personality, but she's really nice and incredibly fun to chat with. From reading her blog, you'll find that she would probably be a hell of a lot of fun to cook with too!

All in all, Charleston makes for an awesome getaway - whether you're celebrating something or not. It's an easy 4 1/2 hour drive from Durham and full of great things to do for a weekend. In addition to our amazing eating experiences, we also checked out the farmers' market on Saturday and took a harbor tour on Sunday. We will definitely be heading back, hopefully sometime soon, to check out some of the places we didn't get a chance to visit.

*My apologies for the dark photos. Low light is great for ambiance in a restaurant, not so good for taking pictures.

Charleston Grill on Urbanspoon

The Gin Joint on Urbanspoon


  1. You are a fast blogger! Glad you enjoyed Charleston, and I'm totally jealous of that bar! I didn't know it existed. I also had a poached Maine Lobster dish last week, at the Fairview at Washington Duke. It was divine, and now I'm curious how it would match up to the Charleston Grill's. Oh, the tough ponderings of a foodie. ,)

  2. Could you please tell me if you preferred Charleston Grill or McCrady's? I am trying to decide between Circa 1886 (Gift Certificate here) and the following night either McCrady's or Charleston Grill for Charleston Restaurant Week - I prefer Charleston Grill's menu but McCrady's but has very prestigious awards so I dunno... btw I had planned on going to the gin joint too! Thinking we may just have to leave late the last day in Charleston so we can at both at this point!

  3. Hey pfa, I hope this advice comes in time. If you've already gone to Charleston, let me know as I'd love to hear your thoughts. I absolutely liked Charleston Grill better. McCrady's has definitely won a lot of awards and is good but Charleston Grill was just amazing. The Gin Joint is awesome so definitely check that out!