I’m writing this post fresh off a solid weeknight dinner. I made some mojo-marinated pork chops, yellow rice (out of a Vigo bag — sorry), roasted asparagus, a big chopped salad, and fresh-off-the-cob fried corn with scallions and cilantro. Tonight’s dinner was a welcome recovery meal after a Labor Day weekend of junk. But before we get to Labor Day, let’s rewind a bit. Last Sunday, I started my food week with a back-to-school pool party, for which I consulted Edward Lee’s Smoke & Pickles cookbook. I had just interviewed the chef and had yet to write my article about him. I was sure delving into his recipes would help me dial into the Lee’s psyche and finish up my piece (several days after my deadline).
The bourbon-peach glazed beef brisket was a huge hit. I bought a whole brisket from Earth Fare and spent the afternoon cooking it at what seemed like a very high temperature (350 degrees, according to the recipe). Luckily, I checked on it and pulled it out when it was perfectly ready to be eaten (way before the 4.5-hour recommendation). I also made the Lime Beef Salad, a bright and fresh jumble of beef and cabbage that could have stood a bit more jalapeño. I was worried the kids would find it too spicy, so I held back on the peppers, but in retrospect, I should have gone full bore with the heat. I wholeheartedly recommend Lee’s new cookbook for experienced cooks. Use your instincts if you feel like the recipe might be leading you astray, but his flavors are impeccable. Next time, I’ll cook the brisket at a lower heat and feel more confident in the end result.
After a successful Sunday afternoon party, I barely had time to recover on Monday before heading out after work to a special dinner at Xiao Bao Biscuit. The crew over there welcomed Daniel Heinz from McCrady’s into the kitchen for a special guest chef dinner. The place was crawling with foodsters like Angel Postell (Home Team PR), Brooks Reitz (The Ordinary), Scott Shor (Charleston Beer Exchange), Timmons Pettigrew (chsbeer.org), and the Kulicks (Jen & Mike of Tattooed Moose, Voodoo).
The dinner featured food courses from Dan-o (as the dudes call him), cocktails, and supplemental dishes from XBB’s Josh Walker. Overall, I think it was a cool dinner, but I’ll let you be the judge. The menu flirted with an Asian theme. Here are the pics:
This little amuse bouche was my favorite (before the world-rattling coconut dessert). Crunchy, sweet, salty. Interesting.
Celery and cucumber roll-ups with Asian pear proved to be a winner when you mixed them all up with the benne seed and fermented buttermilk stuff at the bottom of the plate.
Under the foam (which I haven’t encountered in a while), there was a pile of field peas and some crunchy pig ear strips. I left the ears, too crunchy, but ate all the peas.
The main dish of the night — squab — featured orange peppercorn sauce and mung beans, from Josh of XBB, which were hot and spicy. I’m not sure about the squab, the little bird was hard to enjoy, but the accompaniments were much easier to dig into.
The meal ended with a cracked coconut piled high with some sort of Carolina rice pudding and a scoop of ice cream with frozen shards of meringue. The entire crowd licked that coconut clean and some people were seen trying to scoop the coconut meat out.
After this whimsical meal, a group ended up at Warehouse where Eva Keilty told us to make plans to come back on Sunday for their first Sunday brunch. Unfortunately, we went out of town, but the menu seems very promising (if only the seating at Warehouse was actually conducive to eating a hearty Sunday brunch. Fix that, will you?)
On Thursday, I made reservations for the pop-up dinner at Butcher & Bee to eat some of Chef BJ Dennis‘ Gullah-Geechee food. The menu was full of local specialties, like this Charleston Gumbo, swimming with local okra, squid, conch, shrimp, and a half a blue crab. My son wasn’t too sure about the conch (those yellowish chunks), which he found too tough to chew.
Later that night, the visiting Edward Lee and a group headed over to Big John’s Tavern, which is now owned by Cory Burke of The Green Door. He served up some late-night eats that included fried chick peas and a bowl loaded with spicy fried rice topped with a fresh egg. No pictures of that, but believe me, it was good eats. Cory says he’s going to be doing some new flavors in the future — perhaps Ethiopian. Keep your ears open, because they are always up to new tricks that are worth checking out over there.
On Friday afternoon, I secured a spot at the luncheon Chef Ken Vedrinski hosted for Lee at Trattoria Lucca. Vedrinski and crew reinterpreted items from Lee’s cookbook with an Italian flair. There was octopus panzanella, served family-style.
A tender housemade porchetta with arugula
A creamy and seductive burrata with coffee-pickled beets.
My favorite dish was the interpretation of Lee’s Whiskey Ginger Cake, which was an olive oil cake with peach conserve and whiskey whipped cream. Oh dear. Why do Italians do dessert so well? Maybe cause they don’t make it too sweet.
As soon as lunch was over, with leftover dessert in tow, I hightailed it over to Queen Street to pick up an Artisan Meat Share from Craig Deihl at Cypress before hitting the road to Atlanta. If the idea of a bag of salty, cured meat has your mouth watering, then plan to get your own bag at the next pickup. They are already taking pre-orders for the fall meat share, which will be packed with braunchweiger, picante, knockwurst, Tuscan beef, and pork paté.
In Atlanta, after a long day people-watching at Dragon Con (the annual nerdfan convention), I considered visiting Cardamom Hill, which Jennifer V. Cole at Southern Living deemed a top restaurant in the south, and the editors from Locale Palate highly recommended, but it seemed like way too popular a spot on Saturday night, so we decided to hit Buford Highway’s Gu’s Bistro for some fiery Szechuan Chinese. I ordered the mapo tofu, since I’m obsessed with the version at Xiao Bao Biscuit. Gu’s version was just as hot, but had the added effect of making my tongue tingle and numb in the most unpleasant way. Apparently, that’s a thing that happens with Szechuan peppers. Weird.
If you ever get to Atlanta, spend some time on Buford Highway. It’s Atlanta’s suburban version of Chinatown (known by locals as Chambodia). Instead of an inner city enclave, Chambodia is a typical ex-urb four-lane road that’s full of stellar Vietnamese, Korean, and Mexican food instead of typical fast food fare.
But speaking of typical fast food fare, on Sunday, hungover and lacking coconut water, we stopped by a Krystal in Decatur for a 24-pack of cheeseburgers. Ashamed? Maybe. But they were good enough to get rid of my headache, and it seemed an appropriately junky end to a week-long dive into indulgence.
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