Published on June 5th, 2012 | by Katie Elberson0
Charleston: Delicious to the last course [REVIEW]
I think it goes without saying that I’m a huge nerd when it comes to food, so I’m not ashamed to say that I spend a fair amount of time researching any reasonably meaningful or expensive dinner we’re planning. I check out menus, cocktails, price ranges, and a lot of the time I see the same names mentioned (and commended) repeatedly on Baltimore food boards. When review after review sings the praises of everything from the hostess to the bread basket to the dessert menu, it’s not surprising that we wind up sampling those restaurants ourselves. Still, one has to rack up quite a few occasions to warrant trips to all the best restaurants in the city, and a few very special events for the priciest options on the list.
So let’s talk about the most expensive meal I’ve ever had, shall we? First of all, before you set foot in Charleston, you need to understand how exactly this menu works. This isn’t the place to go if you’re not looking for a serious time, monetary, and flavor investment. But the first choice you need to make is what to drink. Charleston, like all of Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman’s restaurants, has an extensive wine list, including several reasonably-priced options by the glass or bottle for those of us who can’t quite afford the more extravagant offerings. Your second decision requires you to determine just how hungry you are, as you can opt to explore Charleston’s food with a custom-chosen tasting menu of three, four, five, or even six courses…before dessert. Your third, and I would argue toughest, selection is how you’re going to spend those courses.
My fiancé decided on the choose-your-own-adventure approach to the menu, while I selected the season menu: an ever-changing four-course menu of the foods that are the freshest and most reflective of the current season. Before we could even begin our first courses, however, we were brought an amuse bouche of spring garlic soup and gougeres. Though I’m not the biggest fan of soups in the warmer months, this soup was creamy, luxurious, and perfectly balanced. The soups we’d chosen as part of our actual meal came next: a bright, oniony artichoke soup for me, and a rich, decedent lobster soup with curry for my fiancé. Following our soups, we were brought a plate of asparagus with mustard cream and soft goat cheese, and a caprese salad of buffalo mozzarella, basil, and a fried green tomato. Our third course, and personal favorite, was a crabcake with jalapeno oil, avocado mousse, and tiny cherry tomatoes. The crabcake was crisp on the outside, but light and flaky, with only the breading necessary to just bind it together. With the spicy kick of the oil and the cool refreshment of the mousse, it was a perfect bite. Our main courses arrived next; beef tenderloin in a chimichurri sauce with fava beans and potatoes, and lamb over basmati rice with tzatziki. Although everything we ate was incredibly well-balanced and satisfying, it was the lamb that really stole the show – cooked perfectly, it completely melted in your mouth and was easily the best thing we’d eaten all night. Our waiter warned us early on that Chef’s cooking was rich and filling, and he wasn’t kidding. We were already full, despite the very reasonable portion size designed to enable diners to go the distance with this menu.
But even after four courses, plus amuse bouche, bread, and wine, it wasn’t over. Though we were invited to select something off of the standard dessert menu, we were also given the option of a “wedding cake” dessert, made to celebrate our anniversary and recent engagement. We of course selected the latter, and moments later a vanilla sponge cake with buttercream and lemon curd appeared at our table. In addition, we were brought a small plate of other dessert samplings, including a bon bon, macaroon, and apricot jelly.
When we finally finished (every last bite of) our cake, we realized that we’d spent literally hours at the restaurant. The pace of the meal is designed to allow you to savor every morsel, but give you a bit of time between courses to anticipate your next dish. I felt neither rushed nor overlooked, and our waitstaff was some of the best I’ve ever experienced. It was clear that the occupants of the tables around us were regulars who came repeatedly for the excellent food and constantly-changing menu, but also for the attentive staff who remembered names and drink preferences. So even though our meal at Charleston was the most expensive dinner of our lives, it was also quite possibly the best one we’ve ever eaten.