A reader dines at Charleston
Nice to see the sun again, isn't it? Hal Laurent just sent me a description of a recent meal at Charleston, and you know how much I like mini-reviews. To think some people get to do this for a living. Here's Hal. EL
Neither of us had been to Charleston before, so this was a bit of an adventure. We opened with cocktails (Rusty Nail for Peggy, Manhattan on the rocks for me). We also had a very tasty amuse bouche of lobster salad. The lobster was incredibly tender. ...
For wine, we ordered a very nice 1997 Clos des Papes. Our waitress was quite knowledgeable about the wine, or at least the Chateauneuf-du-Papes that I asked her about. It's not often I run into a wine that old at a price I can afford. I think we got the next-to-last bottle of it in the wine cellar. [Owner] Tony Foreman was nearby, and seemed to take an interest in our wine choice.
For the first course, Peggy had Rich Lobster Soup with Curry, and I had Mushroom Bisque with Madeira. Both were very, very good.
For the next course, Peggy had Salad of Roasted Golden Beets, Baby Greens, Lardon, Sherry Vinaigrette, and I had Salad of Baby Arugula, Reggiano, Lemon Vinaigrette. Again, both salads were really, really good.
For the third course, Peggy had Cornmeal Fried Oysters, Lemon Cayenne Mayonnaise, and I had Shrimp, Andouille Sausage & Real Grits. The oysters were perfectly cooked, and were very lightly breaded. Peggy thought the oysters themselves could have tasted more "oystery," but all in all was very happy with them. The Shrimp, Andouille and Grits consisted of two rather large shrimp in a very tasty sauce with minced andouille and rather soft grits. I think smaller shrimp would have blended better with the other flavors, but still enjoyed the dish.
For course four, Peggy had Pan-Roasted Wild Rockfish, Mushroom Fricassée, Lemon Beurre Blanc, and I had Grilled Lamb Rack Chop, Local Kale & Potato Gratin, Grilled Local Zucchini. Peggy was a little disappointed in the fish. It was perfectly cooked, but she thought it was a bit under-seasoned. She was also getting rather full by that point and wonders if that affected her opinion. My lamp chop was perfectly cooked and tasty, but what I really liked in that dish was the kale and potato gratin.
Next we got a piece of Chevre and a piece of Stilton from the cheese cart. The cheese guy thought the Stilton really wanted some port with it, so he brought us some gratis. Both cheeses were good, but especially the Stilton.
For dessert we both got Chocolate Ganache with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. We also sampled two red dessert wines, both Banyuls from Languedoc-Roussillon. One was a 2007 Chapoutier, and the other was a 2001 Coumde Del Mas "Quintessence". The younger Banyul was sweeter, but the 2001 had a more complex flavor. A "dessert amuse bouche" came out with the desserts, consisting of two each of four little confections. It seemed a little pointless coming out with the "real" dessert. The first time we ran into dessert amuse bouches was in September at the Fountain in Philadelphia. At least there the dessert amuse bouche came out before the dessert did.
Service was very good. Almost too good, perhaps, as as soon as we finished a course the plates were immediately whisked away and the next course came quickly. A more relaxed pace would have been nice.
All in all we were quite pleased (although next time we go there we'll order one less course). We'd rate Charleston up there with other fine-dining places we've been to in DC, New York, and Phllly (I'm having trouble thinking of other ones in Baltimore at the moment).
This photo of the Charleston bar area tables doesn't make much sense with Hal's review, but it's such a nice photo I couldn't resist. (Kim Hairston/Sun photographer) EL