Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Slightly North of Broad

I feel very fortunate to have experienced many superb meals at some of the finest restaurants in the country, even though I am only fourteen years old.  And because of this it can be pretty difficult to find a meal that truly impresses me.  Little did I know that only two hours northeast of Savannah I would have one of the BEST culinary experiences of my life!

My mom and I went to Charleston, SC recently with one of her best friends, Sandra.  Sandra’s sister owns a carriage house there and she invited us for girls’ weekend.  She also set up dinner reservations for us on Friday evening. The restuarant?  Slightly North of Broad, affectionately known as "S.N.O.B."

Arriving at the restaurant, I was bowled over to learn that not only were we eating at one of the best restaurants in Charleston, Sandra’s sister had reserved the best seat in the house for us…the Chef’s Table! 

I was beyond excited because I had never eaten at a chef's table, and I had heard many great things about S.N.O.B. and the head chef, Frank Lee. Now I was going to sit front and center and watch all of the magic of the night unfold.  Who needs Disney when you have a ticket to this ride of a lifetime? Cue the theme song from "2001 A Space Odyssey."  
When we arrived we were immediately greeted warmly by the hostess who took us to our table. We had an amazing view of the kitchen, which had a beautiful brick arch in front of it.  Fresh, local ingredients were in bins in plain view, which was their way of letting you know that the real star of this place is the food.  And speaking of the food, it was absolutely some of the best I have ever had. 

On their website, the restaurant is described as "an eclectic low country bistro that brings together an abundance of local ingredients and thoughtful, expert presentation with a friendly, contagious energy." I couldn't agree more!  

Chef Lee was genuinely one of the nicest, most personable people I have ever met. He spent a great deal of time at our table explaining everything that was served in detail.  He even surprised me with a personal tour of the kitchen.  We were served eight courses total...yes eight!  I know that sounds like a lot, and it was, however, each course was a mini version of the items from the menu, so it was a perfect dining experience for me.  Like our friend, Sandra said "just when you think the food can't get any better, you get the next course"!  I documented every morsel with a photo and took detailed notes about the ingredients. Let me tell you about our awesome experience in detail... 

Me with chef Frank Lee

View from the Chef's Table
At the Chef's Table listening to Chef Lee

When we sat down at the table our waitress, Sarah, took our drink orders and brought me the specialty of the house, The Maverick Punch. It was incredibly delicious with different fruity flavors and just a splash of grenadine to make it sweet and give it that beautiful red color.  After our drinks, Chef Lee came out and talked to us for a while and asked if we would like to order off of the menu or have them just "cook for us." We opted for the more adventurous, fun route and told him to surprise us. He did not disappoint us!

The first course, known as the amuse bouche (the French term for palate amuser), was a salmon croquet atop a homemade bread and butter pickle and topped with a homemade mustard remoulade. It was absolutely scrumptious. Perhaps you're thinking that salmon and a pickle would not go together, but let me tell you, these flavor combinations were fabulous!

The second course played upon Chef Lee's southern roots.  It was okra and tomato soup with a slice of homemade kielbasa sausage and a perfectly cooked shrimp. Since my father is from New Orleans, I have grown up enjoying all of these rich, hearty and spicy flavors. What made this dish especially great was that the okra was pan sautéed rather than just boiled in the tomatoes. Many times okra can be slimy, but this preparation kept it crisp-tender. It was absolutely extraordinary!

The third course was one of my favorites. The sheer beauty of the dish was aesthetically pleasing and the taste was exquisite.  We had a pan seared sea scallop with a butter bean puree and sunflower sprouts finished with a truffle oil vinaigrette. I love scallops. I have eaten many, many scallops and this was hands down THE best!  I also learned an interesting bit of trivia while eating this dish.  Chef Lee came over and talked to us before each course. During this one, he told us that sometimes scallops in the store are soaked in a chemical called sodium tripolyphosphate (STP) to make them appear extremely white and heavier.   This chemical also makes them water logged and when you cook them all the water comes out and they will not brown if you try to sear them.  It also makes them rubbery.  So, if you have had problems cooking scallops at home before, you may have purchased "wet pack" scallops.  Chef Lee only uses "dry pack" fresh scallops that are shipped to him twice a week, without any additives, and you can sure tell the difference!

The fourth course was swordfish over black beans on a base of green pea coulis and topped with pickled red onions. This was my first time eating swordfish. Sad, I know. I've been tempted to try it many times, but somehow always ended up ordering something else instead.  However, dining at the Chef's Table gave me the perfect opportunity to try a little of almost everything on the menu.  I'm so glad the swordfish was one of the offerings. It was flaky and moist and the tartness and acidity of the onions perfectly balanced the creaminess of the coulis and black beans. Simply divine!

The fifth course was grilled tuna with a mustard based barbecue sauce and fried oysters served with a country ham butter and fresh corn. Yes, you heard me right.  Barbeque sauce with tuna!  Chef Lee said he always thinks of tuna as a red meat and being from the south he said, "why not put some barbeque sauce on it."  It not only works, it is a genius combination.  This was definitely my favorite course. Not only was the tuna spot-on, so were the oysters.  Living on the Georgia coast I have eaten many fried oysters. As with the scallop, these oysters win hands down as the best ever!  Sometimes oysters can be rubbery, like scallops, but these were both crispy and juicy. Ah-ma-zing! What an outstanding dish!

And the courses keep on coming!  The sixth course was another first for me. A seared quail breast filled with a cornbread stuffing served with a side of collard greens and a savory sauce made with duck stock. The quail was succulent and moist and the cornbread stuffing had a hint of sweetness. Another marvelous pairing.  The collard greens, a southern favorite, were seasoned to perfection and a great companion to the quail. 

Now it was time to start slowing down a bit and get ready for dessert.  After experiencing all of these wonderful savory flavors, we had an opportunity to cleanse our palates.   For our seventh course we were presented with a homemade coconut sorbet that was garnished with a small wedge of fresh pineapple.  The coconut and pineapple flavors blended perfectly.  It was a refreshing way to prepare for the sweet ending to our meal.   

Our eighth and final course was dessert.  It was a beautiful, freshly made profiterole stuffed with a light, fluffy chocolate mousse and topped with homemade chocolate sauce as well as hot, salted caramel sauce.  The caramel sauce was poured over the profiterole at the table as part of the presentation.  What a decadent treat.  It was light and very satisfying without being too heavy or rich.  The perfect ending to a perfect meal!

The only part I didn't like about this meal was leaving!  If you find yourself in Charleston, you should definitely make time to visit S.N.O.B.  If you are a foodie like me and have a hard time deciding on an entree when dining out, you should consider planning ahead and get a reservation for the Chef's Table.  It will be an experience of a lifetime!

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