Friday, August 5, 2016

Openings, anticipations, and musings

Hot Hyped Summer

Posted by Stephanie Barna on Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 9:02 AM

Le Farfalle opened in July - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Le Farfalle opened in July
Ah, that dreaded list of most anticipated restaurant openings. I’m sure we all silently cheered when Lewis Barbecue finally opened this summer, simply so we could stop hearing about it already. The hype machine on that one was in overdrive — as was the ballsiness, what with that mural proclaiming, “All Hail the King.” That’s one way to make an entrance. Another way is with humble excitement to be part of the Charleston community — a la the Toscano family, who moved down from New York, where chef Michael was kicking ass at Perla, and quietly got to work on finding a space for a new restaurant.

Mercifully, the hype machine for Le Farfalle only got cranking in January of this year, so two more months of waiting for them to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops in order to open didn’t seem so painful — that is, until I got a taste of Toscano’s food. Man, what took you so long!? I dropped in with PR maven Angel Postell (who does not represent them) the first week it opened for a little birthday toast and ended up eating a good bit of the menu. Since they moved to town in 2015, I’d run into Toscano and his wife Caitlyn at a few events and felt they were cautiously optimistic about fitting into Charleston’s food scene. No doubt, they were taking a big risk, all in the name of quality of life for their young family. Charleston should be glad they did.

First of all, they rescued a favorite space in town. Vickery’s may not have had the best food, but damn, they had the right sort of menu and hospitality (cheap, cold martinis) for it to be a stalwart neighborhood joint. And that patio. I always loved lunch on that patio. That is, until Leaf transformed it into a bland and boring canvas for really mediocre food. Remember Leaf? I didn’t think so. The Toscanos themselves started referring to the space as the “old Vickery’s” since no one took much notice of Leaf.

But back to the food. That little hunk of parm they start you off with is a good indication of the quality and attention to detail. Before I tell you more about the food, I should note that this column will not be a traditional restaurant review but more of my sense about a place. As a former editor of the City Paper and a longtime reporter on the local food scene, I have solid institutional knowledge of Charleston’s modern dining era (circa 1997) and have sat in many new restaurants and known in an instant if they were going to make it or not. I’ve also championed many great little spots that couldn’t hang on despite passion and quality simply because of bad business acumen or bad location or lack of capital or a combination thereof. I also like to pat myself on the back for recognizing what a game-changer Sean Brock would be and writing about him when he was still in the process of moving back from Nashville to take a gig at McCradys, way before any of us had ever had a liquid nitrogen berry explode on our tongues. Of course, that wasn’t such a hard prediction. The Nashville Scene had already done a cover on the young mad chef, and we were just picking up where they left off. Enough about the past, though. Let’s talk about what’s happening in Charleston now.

My prediction on Le Farfalle? This place will quickly become a favorite and oft-visited spot. It’s casual and comfortable (if still a little sparsely decorated). The menu is flexible — you can do nibbles at the bar with a delicious glass of Italian wine (the just-released happy hour menu has me itching to go back), sit down for a full-on multi-course feast, or graze on unique treats. I got an excited tip from Artisan Meat Share’s Bob Cook about the whole veal head situation. Apparently, in the future, the chef will take a veal head and break it down in the kitchen into various succulent dishes using all the pieces and parts. A food nerd’s dream if I ever heard one.

click to enlarge agnolotti_al_sugo_d_arrosto_1_jwb.jpg
My recommended dishes at Le Farfalle: Octopus carpaccio, veal tartare, sorghum orecchiette (my favorite of the night — a rich pasta dish of pork shoulder, cannellini beans, broccoli rabe, and chili), and of course, the meatballs. I liked those so much I ordered three to take home to the family.  

Speaking of family, we’ve been beating the heat recently by heading to Folly in the evening for a dog-friendly dinner (I take my silly Weimaraner Mochi with me everywhere) and a cooling dip in the ocean before sunset. As longtime fans of Jeff Butler and Krista Hines at ’Wich Doctor, we stopped in to check on Butler’s health and make sure he was back on his feet after heart surgery last winter. I’m happy to say he’s as curmudgeonly as ever, serving up some stealth pizza that is consistently delicious. The teens kept it simple with margherita pies (plus sausage) while my husband and I split a bowl of pork bhun thit — cold rice noodles piled with greens, herbs, spicy dressing, and topped with a seared pork chop. It was the right sort of dish for a hot day, with the signature Asian influence Butler picked up working with Mama Rose Durden at Carolina’s back in the day. Of course, we snuck a piece of pizza and marveled at the quality of the fresh mozzarella — you won’t find any plastic-y Polly-O here — creamy and melty on the perfectly crisp crust. I always forget how good this place is. Last time I was there, we had a pizza with shad roe bottarga, which is pretty much the best thing to put on a pizza since pepperoni was invented. Unfortunately, it’s not shad roe season, but the spicy sausage proved a fine substitute.

With the loss of Two Boroughs Larder last month, it’s a good reminder for us not to forget about the little mom and pop shops like 'Wich Doctor that continue to serve delicious food, day in and day out, without the hype machine behind them. I’m as guilty as they come about hitting the hot new places and neglecting old favorites, but with so many openings these days, there doesn’t seem to be enough time or money to do both, which has me worried. Who else will throw in the towel as more restaurants open? Will the tourist horde run us locals out of Upper King and NoMo too? Will the New York Times make good on that horribly dated story they published a few weeks back? Only time will tell, and I promise in this space to be honest, fair, and transparent while telling you what I really think. 

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