Cypress / Charleston, South Carolina

Michael and I

Michael and I

There is a lot to be said about Charleston’s history, food culture, and the lovely people who inhabit the peninsula.  What most sticks out in my mind about that town, however, is the rain.  In the Midwest, we get a significant amount of rain, enough to make you want to stay home and read a book or something moody like that.  We don’t though, because we have lives and rain boots.  The rain in Charleston is nothing like this, though.  Because the town was built on a marsh, when it rains, there is no stopping it-and nowhere to put it.  Below is what we drove through.

Flood

108_6385

After this, the town essentially shut down.  Shops closed, people went home, and that was that.  Had we not had dinner reservations at Cypress, we might have joined them.  I am glad we didn’t.

We entered the massive dining room, immediately feeling underdressed in our raincoats and soaked hair.  Our gracious hostess immediately calmed our worries, and led us across the empty dimly lit purple dining room.  Seated next to the open kitchen on tall white clothed seats, our waitress chatted us up about the weather of Charleston and filled us in on the chef’s impressive credentials.  A James Beard award winner for his charcuterie program and a tantalizing menu that highlighted local food, I looked over as Michael’s eyes began to twinkle.

Cypress's Open Kitchen

Cypress’s Open Kitchen

Promptly ordering two charcuterie boards and oysters, we tucked into our house made bread.  Soon, our appetizers arrived and we discovered why the chef was so celebrated for his meats.  The salami board featured fennel salami, picante, saucisson sec, and Tuscan beef, all plainly displayed on a white platter.  Flavorful, succulent, and expertly crafted, there was no oversalting or overpowering flavor.  The second board featured summer sausage, pork pate, braunschweiger, and bologna with a few pickled vegetables and flaky buttermilk biscuits.  It was difficult to sneak in words to describe our satisfaction between bites.

The boys daringly tried their oysters adorned with tuna.  Marveling at the briney, but less than fishy taste, they finished the slippery, fresh buggers in minutes.  Our main courses arrived promptly, and my mom and I dove into our toasted ricotta gnocchi with corn relish.  A mere side dish on the menu, this selection deserved its own category.  Each little pillow was cooked just enough to make the outside crunchy, but leave the ricotta smooth and creamy on the inside.  Our side of charred okra and eggplant was a little too rich for our taste, but the char really brought out the divine flavors of fresh okra.

The boys meals faired equally.  Between Michael’s scallops and pork belly with succotash, and my dad and Austin’s pork and egg, they were all in carnivore heaven.  The heirloom tomato and dill sauce salad was an effortless homage to the beauties of a Southern summer.  The sauce was a tangy contrast to the vibrant burst of the tomatoes.  The croquettes were the only low point to the boys’ meals, as instead of the traditional mashed potato mixed with cheese, these were simply breaded and cooked whole baby reds.

Finally, our bellies were sufficiently stuffed, but we couldn’t leave without dessert.  The chocolate hazelnut torte created small bubbles of sugar on our tongues, simultaneously cleansing our palette and satisfying our sweet tooth.  Our creme brulee was nothing short of the expected crusty custard.  The chocolate sauce on top was decidely decorative, but detracted from the overall flavor.  Finally, our cheese board, filled with Fiscalini, Green Hill, Point Reyes, and (my absolute favorite cheese) Humbolt Fog, topped off the meal nicely.

Walking out of the restaurant into the sprinkling shower summer night, we all agreed that driving rain or not, we were sure glad we stayed.

Advertisements

Husk / Charleston, SC

My Mom and brother on the front porch of Husk

My Mom and brother on the front porch of Husk

Husk was a restaurant I had been salivating over for quite some time.  After a coworker showed me an article written up about the chef in a favorite magazine, I was dazzled with the idea of a restaurant that served nothing native to North of the Mason Dixon.  I thought that maybe this place would have to reside in my dreams for a while, but on a family trip to Hilton Head, I finally got my chance.

Austin, Michael, and I a few blocks from Husk

Austin, Michael, and I a few blocks from Husk

It would be unfair to say that Husk is the most beautiful building in Charleston, because, well, every building is beautiful.  Set in the scenic downtown where historic antebellum homes sit atop cobblestone walkways, Husk’s gleaming white exterior beckons you to sit atop its porch and relax.  I felt as if I was walking up to a long lost grandmother’s home, not a restaurant.  Inside was a similar vibe.  I was surprised with how contemporary the place seemed, grey walls, tall ceilings, and detailed features steered very clear of the kitschy kitchen I had in mind.  The waiters all wore plaid and many had impressive mustaches, so the pretenses were kept low.  We were seated exactly at our reservation time (reservations are very difficult to get-plan ahead!) and greeted by a cheerful waiter.  Then our fun began.

We started off with the compressed watermelon, which our waiter was happy to explain to us.  Put in a bag and sucked of all air, the watermelon is left looking a little pinker than usual.  Sprinkled with a smattering of salt and served on a beautiful tray, we gobbled it up.  It was great watermelon, but perhaps I missed out on something, for it tasted just like other watermelon.  The bread, however, was divine.  With a choice of duck fat butter and regular, we smeared our little buns with plenty to keep us licking our lips for more.

When the food arrived, we were most impressed by the presentation.  My mom and I’s salads came in large wooden bowls that looked as if they had been carved out of a tree that day.  Diving into the bibb lettuce, beets, and most delectable bleu cheese, we were hooked.  The buttermilk dressing that tied it all together made the whole thing as flavorfully indulging as the most decadent hamburger.  Each fresh ingredient was able to shine and we were happy.

Michael had no words for his wood fired quail, farro, peaches, and arugula, only smiles.  Finally stating that it was, “cooked perfectly and delicious,” we concluded that those would be his last words of the dining experience.  My dad was equally as pleased with Carolina catfish with fried cabbage and sweet peas.  My brother, whom we had suspected to be the most unadventurous, was pleasantly surprised to learn that his hamburger of choice had actually been rated as one of the top ten in America.  “It was really good,” he said, shaking his head and looking down at the burger.  Our waiter even informed us with a chuckle that some people come from all over to try the famous slab of meat, only to ask for it plain.  Our sides, bacon cornbread and cheesy mushroom grits left us feeling satisfied and a little overstuffed.  Rubbing my stomach, I wondered what would happen to myself if I ate those grits every day of my life.

As with any Oswalt family meal, nothing ends until the sugar arrives.  Our waiter realized at this point that we were all ears when it came to the process of making the foods, and quickly filled us in on the desserts.  After much hesitation (how can you say no to so many booze infused goodies?) we decided on the Blueberry Boy Bait, a 1950s recipe that included lime ice cream and smoked pecan crumble.  The flavors, mixed together, were the best way to beat the Carolina heat any day.

The meal was lovely, the service was great, and the atmosphere was cozy, so what am I complaining about?  My only qualm with Husk was the lack of vegetarian food.  Don’t get me wrong, my salad was spectacular, and the grits were amazing, but I would have loved to see something that allowed their farm fresh produce to shine, not take a supporting role to meat.

Satisfied and happy, we left with the assurance that we had not only filled our bellies to the brim, but ate at a true gem.

The streets of Charleston

The streets of Charleston