On Thursday night, Guerrilla Cuisine did the unimaginable: chefs from Stars, Closed for Business/Monza, and Mercato cooked a 10-course meal for 80 people without a working oven. "But, that's Guerrilla Cuisine," chef jimihatt says.
As guests at the Michael Mitchell Gallery enjoyed the first three (uncooked) courses, they had no idea what sort of trouble was ahead. They were just out to enjoy a nice evening and help Darkness to Light, an organization that was benefiting from the dinner.
Up first was an amuse bouche from Ben Ellsworth of Mercato. His clam crudo — using Clammer Dave's product — came in a shell with bacon miso jus, scallions, sesame seeds. The wee mollusk was beaten up a bit by the bacon miso's strong smoky flavor.
We quickly moved on to the second dish, a pork rillette with plum mustard, pickled mushrooms, and micro-arugula. Prepared by Italo Marino from Closed for Business and Monza, the plum mustard brought the pretty little dish together nicely.
Next up was a raw bit of fresh cobia with pear chow-chow, hot sauce vinaigrette, benne seeds, and fennel.
At this point of the night, the time between courses grew longer. But the wait staff kept the wine flowing telling us to "take it slow, it's like foreplay," and guests seemed content talking amongst themselves. And then the fourth course finally arrived, a pho and ramen broth soup that riffed on the classic Chinese egg drop soup. Ellsworth's version used scrambled tofu with turmeric and had a pretty awesome surprise at the bottom of the dish — ramp kimchi. That kimchi would be hard to beat.
With a can of PBR in hand, Ellsworth explained his next plate, a deconstructed reuben. Beef tongue, brussels kraut, and a Russian-esque dressing dressed up the deli fave, and we were encouraged to get a bit of each element in every bite. Sauerkraut never needs to be served again after tasting brussels kraut.
An hour went by before the next course, and we were all getting antsy, but this was before we knew about those damn ovens being broken. Tom Swift and his Electric Cohorts provided some music while guests mingled and shopped around the gallery. At this point, I checked out the outdoor kitchen set-up and found that they were just setting up a light borrowed from a photographer as the lights from the parking lot were not cutting it. It must have been dark for close to an hour at that point, so the fact that they managed to put out any dishes at all is fairly remarkable.
This is also when we noticed the make-shift yakitori grills. Made out of cinder blocks, they had coals blazing and, compared to the two defunct ovens, were at least able to cook some food. Those ovens were turned into warming stations, using borrowed sternos from Fish.
Slightly hangry guests milled around, waiting for the next course and palpably relieved when Hatt took back to the mic to thank the crowd again for their donations to Darkness to Light. And to apologize for keeping us out so late, but since "it's delicious," he hoped it was worth it.
And, truly, the curry sauce in the next dish was indeed worth the wait. People licked the bowls clean — literally. The lamb yakitori, which was slightly overcooked, and peach lassi that accompanied the meal had no chance to shine over the yogurt curry dipping sauce.
Getting a good sear on a scallop is an art form, so managing to do that in one pan for 80 diners is a Michelangelo-like feat. But that's what showed up on our plate next. The massive diver scallop sat in a Sichuan sauce with dollops of coconut cream and a sesame cracker. The cream helped disarm the heat in the tongue-numbing sauce.
The last savory dish featured rabbit in a celery-citrus jus with a side of potato salad. The rabbit was delicious and resembled pulled pork, but the potatoes could have been left off the plate.
After eight heavy courses, we were more than ready for a sweet turn of events. The coconut sorbet and coconut broth with caramelized pineapple, basil seeds, basil oil, and some sort of bread crumbs was meant to be a palate cleanser. But Leila Schardt's (from Monza and Closed for Business) dessert was too delicious just to be considered a palate cleanser.
The final course was a doozy: a blondie with almond biscoff puree with a bacon pretzel brittle and malt powdered ice cream. The blondie was on the sweet side, but the salty-sweet combination of the ice cream and brittle was spot on.
After five and a half hours, the dinner was finally over. Guests said their goodbyes and thanked the chefs and hosts, but not before being a handed one last treat (as if we hadn't eaten enough): dark chocolate from Sweeteeth.
When I go to the theater, I eat. Even if I have dinner shortly before a film, I still order popcorn. When I heard the Food Film Festival was making its way to Charleston, I knew I had to check it out. Maybe there'd be no hot-buttered popcorn, but I would get to sample the food that I'd see onscreen Sounded good to me.
The Food Film Festival features several short food films with food pairings. The festival director, George Motz, founded the festival in New York seven years ago, and added another event in Chicago in 2010. This was the festival's first year in Charleston, which will become an annual event. More details about the festival can be found in an earlier post, but here's the lowdown on my recent experience.
The Hot Southern Shorts! on Saturday night kicked off with some tasty bites and cocktails courtesy of The Grocery. Kevin Johnson was serving a crostini with smoked mackerel, spicy dill and sumac yogurt, and cucumber, as well as Kurios bibb lettuce filled with strawberry bar-b-jus glazed pork belly and green strawberry relish.
Hallie Arnold crafted two cocktails to go along with Johnson's dishes. The Loretta lemonade consisted of strawberry infused Maker's Mark, fresh ginger, and lemon and my favorite of the two, the Gin and Consequence, was concocted of Dorothy Parker Gin, cucumber, mint, dill, and lime.
Guests had time to mingle while enjoying wine, cheese, and a few options from Palmetto Brewing Company before the lights were dimmed and the films began.
Seven short films were played, with Motz giving commentary in between. The list included the world-premiere of Motz's documentary, Head On, which gives fantastic insight to the world of Lowcountry shrimping. Shortly after the film we enjoyed a sample of spicy shrimp Fra'Diavolo, from Almifi's. The seductive short, Food Porn, involved two individuals feeding each other grapes, strawberries, and bananas to seductive music. The film was appropriately complemented with strawberries and cream.
Hot Wet Goobers gave an inside look at a Georgia boiled peanut business while we munched on the soft green peanuts from Hardy Farms, and Mama Sugar's Sweet Potato Cobbler, which was about as seductive as Food Porn, was followed up with incredible sweet potato pie made by Lauren Mitterer from Wild Flour Pastry.
The first two films were both inspiring and comical. Mr. Okra follows New Orleanian Arthur Robinson as he coasts the streets of NOLA in a truck filled with fresh produce, using his P.A. system to let residents know what he's currently got in stock. "Aint no sense in cookin' if you aint cookin' with fresh food and fresh vegetables," he says. He continues with,"As long as I have that wagon out there, I have no trouble getting women." In honor of Mr. Okra, Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill served a marinated kale salad with peas, corn, rice, and pickled radish and okra.
Mickle's Pickles is a tragic film about pickler Mickey Fluitt and the picklenapping of his most prized possession: a giant pickle. Ok, not so tragic, but pure comedy. The stolen pickle became so famous that when it was returned, everyone wanted pictures with it. After the short film, guests got to enjoy the Not Hot Jalapeño pickles as Mickey talked about the pickle business.
Sticking with the Southern theme, the night ended with an all-you-can-eat Lowcountry shrimp boil. What a fun, creative, and outstanding night. This is a great new festival to add to Charleston's ever-growing festival lineup.
When it comes to straightforward, descriptive titles, we think Revival Foods wins the blue ribbon here. The heritage meat distributor is partnering with Charleston Beer Exchange to host their first-ever Meat Beer Fire on LJ Woods Farm, a 680-acre wooded farm in Sylvania, Ga. that's home to around 600 cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. It runs from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, and tickets are $75.
Bradley Taylor, the farmer behind LJ Woods and founder of Revival Foods, got into the farming biz because he's passionate about preserving locally-adapted heritage livestock breeds like the Pineywoods cattle and Ossabaw hog. These and the other breeds that wander LJ Woods are smaller and hardier than commercial livestock — as Taylor says, they haven't had the survivability bred out of them. They're also adapted to every aspect of living in the Lowcountry, from the humidity to the bugs to the short winters.
These are the animals that will make up the meat portion of Meat Beer Fire. The menu will feature Pineywoods Rose veal, Gulf Coast Native lamb, Spanish goat, and Ossabaw Island pork, all of which offer unique flavors that you simply can't get from a grocery store. And that's not to mention that you'll be significantly cutting your environmental impact, as well as supporting humane livestock practices and the local food economy, by eating LJ Woods meat. There's honestly no down side here.
Now for the beer. Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of EvilTwin Brewing is creating two special craft brews specifically for the event. EvilTwin Fire is a pale ale brewed with jalapenos, and EvilTwin Meat is brewed with Pineywoods beef jerky. There will be other options too if spicy, meaty beers aren't your thing.
And finally, the fire will be tended by Cypress chef Craig Deihl, who's a big fan of Taylor's heritage meats and uses them in his restaurant. Deihl will be cooking everything outside using grilling, fire roasting, and smoking methods. The bluegrass group the Mosier Brothers Band will be playing throughout the afternoon.
The trip to Sylvania will run you about two to two-and-a-half hours each way, but if you don't want to do the driving yourself, Revival's reserved a party bus that will take you from the Beer Exchange in downtown Charleston to the farm. And they do mean party bus: along the way, you can enjoy EvilTwin beer and Deihl's famous charcuterie.
There are only 150 spots total for the dinner, and 50 spots on the bus, so make sure you get your tickets soon. Reserve them online.
Last week, Halls Chophouse hosted an elegant dinner with Peter Mondavi of Charles Krug Winery as part of the Charleston Wine +Food Festival. Charles Krug Winery is Napa's first winery, which started in 1861. The Mondavi family bought the winery in more than 69 years ago and it's still a family run business (unlike that of Robert Mondavi Winery).
The night started off with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc and small bites before moving into the main courses.
Four carefully crafted courses were created by Executive Chef Matthew Niessner. A confit of quail, fall-off-the-bone tender, crisp gaufrette potatoes, and a medley of forest mushrooms paired well with the 2011 Chardonnay, which exudes citrus and peach flavors with a buttery texture. The spicy berries and hints of vanilla of the 2011 PInot Noir complimented the antelope pate, pistachio biscotti, and black cherry gastrique.
Each dish was tasty in its own way, but there's no leaving Halls without a perfectly cooked steak. The dry-aged prime New York strip was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, sliced, and then fanned out on top of a creamy bed of black truffle risotto. The 2010 Reserve Generations, a deep garnet blend, revealed a mouthful of dark berries and nutmeg, which went hand in hand with the beef.
The good company and great pairings made for a wonderful night. Before the dinner, I had heard of Charles Krug Winery but had not tried any of the wines. I must say, the wine is quite impressive. Yesterday, I picked up one bottle each of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Cheers to Halls Chophouse and Peter Mondavi for that.
Butcher & Bee hosts an array of full-flavored pop-up dinners — Vietnamese, Gullah, and Italian cuisine to name a few. Last week, we were fortunate enough to snag some seats at the sold-out Sustainable Seafood dinner starring Chef Charles Arena from The Boathouse on Breach Inlet.
Chef Arena teamed up with Mark Marhefka (Abundant Seafood), Tommy Edwards (Miss Judy Too), George Nelson (Sweet Bay Produce), and E.T. and Mark Van Buren (Tobias Seafood) to create a five-course dinner with local fare.
The meal kicked off with a zesty amuse bouche of smoked black sea bass ceviche with pickled onion and pickled avocado. Fresh from the sea, this little bite was a clear winner.
City Paper editor Stephanie Barna says she loved the ceviche but was head over heels for the Carolina Gold rice cake, which held a crispy red flounder filet. The irresistible grains were surrounded by a savory and salty country ham jus.
I particularly liked the South Carolina shrimp that was poached in olive oil and skewered with crispy twigs of rosemary. Bibb lettuce was wrapped in thin slices of cucumber and then topped with toasted pine nuts, prosciutto chips, watermelon vinaigrette, and heirloom tomatoes — a vibrant, flavorful dish.
Other courses included a creamy smoked amberjack spread and Breach Inlet clams with greens, house-cured bacon, oven-roasted tomatoes, and ricotta gnudi.
I’ve now been to two pop-up dinners that featured Chef Arena (The tequila-fueled Patron dinner in April was amazing), and both have been quite delicious. It's nice to see him step out of his shell at The Boathouse and flex his creative muscle. The Boathouse has a simple plan and it works, but Arensa obviously has more to offer.
I'll leave you with dessert: ricotta creme brûlée with local berries and basil.