The mapo dofu on the menu at Xiao Bao Biscuit isn’t new, but the tongue-blistering heat might take you by surprise. Co-owner Joey Ryan says the latest version of the mapo dofu is the hottest it’s ever been, thanks to a new housemade sichuan pepper sauce. I ate lunch there earlier in the week and a friend warned me away, saying it was too hot to bear — and she's one who prides herself on having a high tolerance for heat. If you've got a predilection for spice, this is the dish for you.
It's been way too long since I stopped in to see Walter and the crew at Two Boroughs Larder, but I regularly stalk them on Facebook and Twitter. Today's picture of a big bowl of chilled corn soup ($11) is enough to make me drop everything and head over there. I'm also intrigued by the Franks and Beans ($12), a TBL hotdog with butter beans, chanterelles, and brussels sprouts. Say what?
One of my favorite dishes of all time is the 9-vegetable salad at FIG. Apparently, Chef de Cuisine Jason Stanhope has a new version of this instant classic which includes avocado and pumpkin seed. I've got plans to get over there and try it out. You should too. In related news, the appetizer menu at FIG right now is sort of a greatest hits, with the tomato tarte tatin, beef tartare, chicken liver pâté, and ricotta gnocchi with lamb bolognese all making an appearance (what? no coddled egg!?). We gorged on most of these appetizers recently and fell in love with a new one: the lemon-marinated razor clams. Get a glass of Massican "Annia," which manager David McCarus has brought to Charleston from California (literally, he created his own distribution company to get it here), and eat it up.
Zero Cafe at the Zero George Hotel opened to the public yesterday, and they've got a seasonal menu that will change regularly. A sample menu circulated this week, and I can see that it's a good place for a pre-night-out snack and glass of (small production, boutique) wine. The bronze fennel in the heirloom tomato salad ($10) caught my eye, along with the trio of local corn with a Geechie Boy johnnycake, corn puree, and corn and roasted poblano pepper in a Thai basil sauce ($9). The cozy restaurant is located in the renovated carriage house.
It's a good time of year to dine out. The local farms are back to harvesting more than okra and eggplants, and chefs are getting reinvigorated with new ingredients. Over at Charleston Place, Chef Michelle Weaver has kept her famous crab cake but added some new creations, like the tuna and scallop ceviche with nuoc cham, melon, and grapefruit and the yellow tomato gazpacho with poached shrimp, Old Bay croutons, and avocado. Might be a good time to indulge in that epic six-course tasting menu ($60) over there.
If you're looking for a cozy bar stool to park yourself tonight, consider High Cotton. Every night from 4 to 7 p.m. they have a serious happy hour for the well-heeled. House liquors and wines are $5 and draft beer is $4, but it's the food menu that's got me excited. Smoked salmon deviled eggs ($9), fresh pretzels with a duo of dips ($9) and a dish of clams and mussels ($14) would be a good start (or end) to any night (or long day of work).
Sometimes, the weekend simply calls for an amazing glass of wine and maybe some stinky cheese. If that's what's on your mind, then do we have the place for you. Bin 152 announced this week that they had added the 2011 Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas to the by-the-glass menu. Which means you can get you a taste of some fancy French wine. Be warned, though, it's $25 a glass, so this is for you budget-minded oenophiles looking to explore a new wine. Here's what the Wine Advocate had to say about it: "The 2011 Gigondas exhibits a dense ruby/purple color as well as powerful blueberry, mulberry, black currant, licorice, graphite and truffle notes." Sounds like a perfect wine for the fall.
And finally, I would be remiss not to mention the whole cronut thing. A cronut is a mashup of donut and croissant created by a guy in NYC that has received a summer's worth of hype. Kaminsky's has decided to bring Charleston its own version. This weekend, they'll be selling Kronuts (with a K!) Friday through Sunday. If you want one, best get there early. They sold out within the hour of opening last weekend. Be there around noon, and you should get one.