Charleston Day 1 review: great food, great wine, sunshine, sleep

Oh my goodness, y'all, this trip is such a gift at a time that couldn't be more perfect (most notably, in the desperation department). Since we arrived, we've seen nothing but blue skies and sunshine; we have literally felt the warmth of the sun. I cannot tell you how massively underrated this experience is. Glowing light and associated warmth do wonders for the soul and spirit. So does sleep! My god I slept until 9am this morning. Incroyable! So much to say... my portfolio of pics from yesterday is, by and large, an abomination. I do believe that in my sleepless state, I just couldn't get with the program of metering, flash and so forth. As such, only a few photos were reparable but perhaps they'll give you a small sense of Charleston's utter loveliness. Strolling this city, I was smitten with all the nooks and crannies, courtyards, and just-out-of-eyesight gardens and paths; so beguiling and mysterious, so charming, so aesthetically inspiring. Too, I love the use of color in juxtaposition with the vibrancy of the flora. Against a rich green, almost any color pops- just look at the hue of this exterior!

charleston doorway

I was also completely taken with this façade which looks Italianate in some ways, as if the sun has dappled the wall for so long that of course such marbling has happened. And, as I mentioned yesterday, the iron work here is just beyond. I love the ruffled edge of this lamp shade!


charleston exterior

After a lovely walk, we forced ourselves to return to the hotel to rest and ready for dinner. We had a reservation at McCrady's, the oldest restaurant in Charleston and one about which I'd heard much. The entrance is on Unity Alley, another seemingly innocuous short-cut between larger roads, and is marked by a charming gas lamp hanging from an iron scroll. T would do just about anything to have a gas lamp at our home, but the thought of using all that gas for nothing, really, about gives me hives. Even T says he'd feel wasteful and so we simply enjoy others. McCrady's is a really handsome restaurant, all dark wood, high ceilings, wine cellars and white tablecloths. This sort of setting usually leads in one of two ways: obnoxious pretension or wonderful conviviality. Fortunately, McCrady's takes the latter direction. Everyone was wonderfully professional and equally friendly; it almost felt like being at a Danny Meyer joint, one that takes enormous pride in the entirety of a fine dining experience but never takes itself too seriously, knowing how much that can spoil the experience of the diner. Amen to that!

We opted for the Restaurant Week tasting menu and in the meantime, T ordered a Hennepin as it was on tap, and I a glass of Chablis. Soon, our first courses arrived. I'd chosen the brassica salad which was a melange of mustard green, Brussels sprouts and other greens' leaves, shaved cauliflower, a fried disk of cauliflower custard, kale juice-infused panko, and Meyer lemon gelee. The fried B. sprouts leaves were such a great element in this salad, especially if you could manage to fork one of those and a bite of the fried custard. brassica salad McCrady's

Meanwhile, T was really pleased with his appy: a poached farm egg dusted with sumac and perched atop some grits, braised leeks, leek jelly and crunchy miso'd farro. I loved the idea (and taste) of leek jelly! poached egg, grits, leeks, sumac McCrady's

Next up was a dish the chef had created from a slew of ingredients that had arrived just hours earlier: fresh stone crab, baby beets and kumquats. It was both invented and only available yesterday and was thus an optional add-on. My only regret is that we decided to share one order rather than each getting our own. This was absolutely remarkable food. The saltiness and utter freshness of the crab was highlighted by a delicate brown butter drizzled on top, thinly shaved beets, candied kumquats, some kumquat curd and a small mound of Caroline ice cream, or gold rice. Not only was I glad to have a bit of Chablis left, a perfect match for this dish, but also that fresh bread had just arrived and T was, therefore, torn at every bite: bread or crab. I think I was able to poach a heftier share of crab! stone crab, beets, kumquats at McCrady's

If you can believe it, we then each had a proper entree and dessert. I'll spare you my detail except to say that with T's beautiful sirloin came a dollop of black truffle puree that made me swoon, and with my perfectly golden chicken came some exceptional spaetzle and more B. sprouts. Delish. The highlight of this course though was a glass of red wine from Lebanon that was the most memorable I've had in some time: the 2004 Cabernet/Carignan/Cinsault from Chateau Musar. I will definitely attempt to hunt this wine down in DC- you should find it too if you can! It was so soft, so velvety but not the least bit wimpy. Each sip filled my mouth in such a pleasing way. Aah!

T chose the chocolate ganache-peanut butter-caramel concoction for dessert (I was underwhelmed but other than a Reeses or Buckeye really don't groove on PB + chocolate) but I had the most marvelously creative, delicious frozen brioche parfait with, wait for it, tamarind curd and more kumquats. This was simply divine. They'd steeped the brioche in milk, pureed all that, and then frozen it (with liquid nitrogen, boo; I asked; was hoping my ice cream maker at home would suffice which it might but it'd never be able to approximate the ethereal creaminess of the parfait's texture), scooped it and topped it with toasted, candied brioche. The kumquats and tamarind were the most decadent finishing touches.

We felt happy to walk home, happy to tuck in and watch an episode of Downton Abbey, happy to fall asleep knowing nothing would wake us before we were ready. Off to the races, or more accurately, Day 2!