Tag Archives: foodie

Hello, Charleston!

The time finally came to pack up our remaining belongings and head down the east coast to our new home – Charleston, South Carolina!

Penske Moving Truck

Driving this bad boy was a bit tricky at times, but we enjoyed the most beautiful drive through the Shenandoah Valley, watching spring blossom more and more with each passing mile.

By the time we reached Charleston, everything was in full bloom!

King Street Walking Tour English Flag

We couldn’t wait for our feet to touch the ground and stretch our stiff legs – we immediately set off on a stroll around town.

Charleston King Street Runner Leafy Spring

Charleston Morgan Driveway

Charleston Architecture

Charleston King Street 19 Architecture Home

Charleston King Street Palm Tree Building Plaque

Charleston Peninsula Striped Cabbages and Roses Knit Sweater Dress

Charleston Peninsula Park Walk Trees

We instantly fell in love with our new city! The charming streets, the regal antebellum architecture, the way everyone you pass on the sidewalk smiles and says hello. We both breathed a sigh of relief that it seems we’ve picked the perfect spot for our new adventure.

Then we realised we were famished from our exceptionally long journey! In Charleston, we will be spoiled for choice because the foodie scene is exploding here. We thought since we’re new in town, we better just start with some local Southern classics. So we popped in to Hominy Grill on Rutledge Avenue.

Charleston Hominy Grill Exterior Wall Sign

First thing they did, was plonk down a basket of boiled peanuts. I’d only ever heard of them once before, when I saw Francis Underwood chomping on some in an episode of House of Cards. Well, they are a pretty big deal in the South. Boiled in the shell, in salty water (for hours!) until they are nice and soft. Once you get over the mushy consistency, it’s still just a tasty peanut! And I have to admit, it didn’t take long to start to enjoy them!

Boiled Peanuts

Boiled Peanuts

Another curious taste of the south is the cherry-flavoured soda pop called Cheerwine. I had my first taste of it in the form of a Cheerwine Negroni. Ruby red in colour and sweetened with cane sugar, it’s a retro favourite in Charleston. I’ll be honest, I probably won’t be stocking up on it anytime soon – it’s a little too sweet for me. But it was worth a try!

Cheerwine Negroni: Aperol, Boodles gin, sweet vermouth and cheerwine

Cheerwine Negroni: Aperol, Boodles gin, sweet vermouth and Cheerwine

Fried Chicken Basket with pickles and pepper relish

Fried Chicken Basket with pickles and pepper relish

She Crab Soup with sherry

She Crab Soup with sherry

There was only one dish under consideration for my first meal in Charleston, and that was a heaping serving of classic Southern shrimp and grits. So many restaurants have their own version of it, and there’s always fierce competition for best shrimp and grits in town. But, boy, I think I picked a good ‘un.

Shrimp & Grits: sautéd shrimp, mushrooms, scallions and bacon over cheese grits

Shrimp & Grits: sautéed shrimp, mushrooms, scallions and bacon over cheese grits

This plate is a basically just a cheesy amalgamation of all of my favourite foods – mushrooms, shrimp, cheese, spring onions and, of course, bacon!

The catch of the day was soft shell crab, which had just come into season. Just a naked little crab, lightly sesame fried, with greens and a scoop of macaroni and cheese.

Sesame Fried Soft Shell Crab with house tartar sauce and two sides

Sesame Fried Soft Shell Crab with house tartar sauce and two sides

There was hardly room for dessert, but we had to share a slice of buttermilk pie. Who would have known it was originally an English recipe, which has now been adopted by the American South! The UK might want to ask for it back – it’s downright delicious!

Buttermilk Pie

Buttermilk Pie

Hominy Grill Interior Dark Outside Tables

Charleston Hominy Grill Shades Table

Our first meal in Charleston knocked our socks off. And the way things are looking, there’s no end in sight of good eating in this town.

A Pressing Matter: Otto’s Duck à la Presse

When I became engaged, my French mother-in-law offered her heartfelt congratulations, and said with relief “I’m just so glad my son is not marrying a vegetarian!”

The French love their meat, in some cases to extremes. I, on the other hand, have my boundaries. But last night’s dinner really pushed the limits of my culinary comfort zone.

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The French recipe for Canard de Rouen à la Presse, principally crushing a cooked duck carcass in a silver press, is a bit barbaric. But as gourmand bucket-lists go, it’s a dish every foodie must see prepared and taste once in their life.

Pressed duck is the epitome of decadence, involving a complex and careful process which takes over an hour to prepare – mostly in front of the customer. And it goes without saying, that you’d better like duck, as there are three courses of it!

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The ducks are sourced from the House Burgaud in Challans who for nearly 60 years have exclusively supplied these precious ducks to the Tour d’Argent Restaurant in Paris. Otto worked there as a young chef in 1976, where he learned to prepare this celebrated dish – one of the most spectacular in the classic French repertoire.

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As the duck is escorted away to the roasting pan, Otto gets to work on the sauce, reducing red wine, port and cognac (plus, a little pyrotechnics thrown in for good measure)!

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While the sauce simmers, we ordered an appetizer to share – the sea urchin soufflé. Sea urchins are tricky little creatures; they grow on exposed rocks and must be hand-harvested by scuba divers. The best ones dwell in rougher seas, making them very dangerous for the divers to hunt down. They have a spiked spiny shell, but inside they are delicious! Incorporating them into a soufflé with a little bit of saffron? Well, that’s just sheer shellfish virtuosity!

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Meanwhile, Otto has brought up the roasted, finely chopped duck liver and is stirring it into the red wine reduction. Once the liver has thickened the sauce, the bits are strained out and served to us on a crouton, accompanied by a shot of 15-year-old Madeira.

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The duck is roasted to rare and carried to the table where thin slices are cut from the breasts, and the legs removed. The rest of the carcass is pressed in the special screw press.

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A crowd gathered round to watch my strapping dinner date turn the press, extracting all the juices and nutrients from the bone marrow.

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The juices obtained from the press are incorporated into the reduced cognac and liver sauce, thickened with stock, and poured over the slices of breast which finish cooking in the sauce.

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Completing the duck trifecta was the final course, grilled leg of duck with wild mushrooms, mustard and breadcrumbs.

One look at this, and it was clear I would be waddling home like a duck myself.

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Just one parting glass of France’s finest before heading home…

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Otto’s was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience – a treat to watch, and (ooh-la-la!) flavors that leave your mouth panging with food euphoria! If you’d like to try the Canard à la Press at Otto’s, you must book in advance – leaving you with plenty of time to anticipate this magnifique meal!

Sunday Picnic in Paris

Don’t go to Paris on a Sunday. Don’t waste your time. Why bother? None of the Parisians do – everything is closed (at least the authentic bits are). The only places where people show up to work on a Sunday are the Louvre and the d’Orsay. I wouldn’t deign to step foot in either. The queues are an English person’s heaven – lampoonish queues – literally queues without an end in sight. Hey, I love art probably more than the next guy, but I am so over cold, cavernous galleries and corridors filled with the same plundered antiquities. Frankly, it’s a bore and it has been for some time. Those limp hoards queuing for hours don’t know what they’re looking at once they’re in. It’s a mess.

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As long as the weather was going to hold out for us, we were determined to take Paris by foot and cover as much ground as we could. After a prolonged roam through the Latin Quarter trying to seek out a mind-blowing petit déjeuner when everyplace was closed, we settled for a cafe across from St. Sulpice on the corner of Rue des Canettes. It was all locals. We ordered an emmantel omelette to share – but our garçon informed us they were already sold out of the croissants we’d desperately been craving. “You slept too long,” he told us. Touché.

The sights of Paris gleamed a little bit brighter after a strong coffee had awakened our senses.

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We took in the ancient streets and alleys, the monumental architecture, the views from the Sienne, and a few artisan vendors who graced us with their sheer availability to conduct business. Here’s a run down of our foodie finds:

a gooey pot of St Marcellin from the Marché Saint-Germain

a gooey pot of St Marcellin from the Marché Saint-Germain

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Warm baguette and artichoke quiche from Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger

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And an assortment of fresh salads from the sweetest lady at deli-of-the-gods Le Traiteur on Rue Saint-Dominique.

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Oh, everyone should go here! Treat yourself to everything. Then go picnic on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower and feel fully and completely indulged.

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It was a wicked whirlwind of a weekend, but by the end of it I was a bullet in the chamber, ready to be shot back across the English Channel.

An exciting week ahead in London – stay tuned!