Midnight in the Holy City

It is somewhat ruffling acknowledging that we were last in Charleston going on two years ago. We went the day after Christmas to enjoy the seafood tower at The Ordinary. I had read about it in Bon Appetit and poured over gorgeous photographs. It was the business. We hit multiple other gems in between. Refer to the full review here and please excuse my horrendous haircut. Where in the world has the time gone? Is it just me or does one's 30s invite time to move full steam ahead at an obscenely warped speed. My 20s crept by at a comfortable place. I came, saw, conquered. I was informed last night that time doesn't slow in one's 40s or 50s either. Great. Honestly, it feels like just yesterday that I was celebrating my 30th. My closest friends, siblings and I were at a bar in the West Village. We had a fabulous, intimate dinner at our favorite sushi spot beforehand. My sister gave me a treasured bracelet in an orange box that I wear every day. It came with a handwritten note that read "for my sister, who has the memory of an elephant". These words were an introduction to the elephants on my bracelet. Best gift ever. My mother flew in from Germany to recognize the occasion. A handful of minutes shy of midnight I looked at my mother and said, I cannot believe I am about to turn 30. Given the volume of alcohol consumed I am sure some colorful language was inserted between the turn and 30. What a grand evening we had that October night. It ended around 3 o'clock in the morning in Union Square. Insert your own imagination here. My brother just celebrated his 30th. Yikes, now I am really getting old. 

Back to the Future time warp aside, we decided a pair of weeks ago that 36 hours in Charleston was just what the doctor ordered. It should be noted that we always do this. We plan for a night and lament not staying the entire weekend. Next time. We did a number on my list but were forced to leave a few stones unturned for the next time, which will be soon. It should be known by now that I have a passion for travel, food and exploration. Charleston fits the bill for all three, each and every time. Saturday morning we were up at sparrow's crow to hit the road. We arrived in Charleston around 11.00 am. As luck will have it, our room was ready so we dropped the bags and began. We headed to our first stop, Xiao Bao Biscuit for amazing Asian food "inspired by kick-ass grandmothers everywhere". We grabbed two seats at the bar, struck up a conversation with our waitress and started our culinary tour with libations. I had a tequila number with ginger beer and apple juice and Matthew enjoyed local beer from Laos. For lunch, it was suggested that we order the Japanese cabbage pancake - fully loaded - with a fried egg, pork candy, bacon and bonito flakes. Ridiculous. We also selected the black bean fried chicken over rice and papaya salad. It should be noted that we love Asian food. More specifically that of Vietnamese and Thai. This meal was out of this world. If we didn't have an afternoon and evening of grazing ahead, I would have ordered the entire menu. Insert happy face here.

From XBB we headed down Kings Street to burn off lunch and build an appetite for the next stop. In between, we went to a favorite of ours, The Griffin, on Vendue Range. This unique spot is a British styled pub that is plastered in what must be thousands of autographed dollar bills. We spent about five minutes trying to find the bill we last put up to no avail and so signed another. If you happen to be there, it is in the corner near to the window on the left hand side of the place facing the front door. Our marker was red and I adorned the bill in hearts. I don't know why but I figured that it should be easier to spot the next go around. From here, we went down East Bay Street in search of Sean Brock's new taco joint, Minero. While we weren't famished, we split two. The grilled steak taco and the pork carnitas. What impressed us with this space - decor and service aside - were the tortillas. Apparently the chef is enamored of dried corn and doing his thing accordingly. These puppies are the real deal. Trust me, a Texan with an affinity for Mexican food, I know my tortillas. Our waiter informed us that his last name was near identical to that of Matthew's. Turns out their great-grandfathers came over from Ireland around the same time. Small world and love small talk in the south. Sean Brock is one of my culinary heroes. Next time I am ordering the lamb shank barbacoa paired with the works.

After satiating our palette for the second time, we picked up bottled waters from the local bodega and walked for a pair of hours. According to my Jawbone, come days end we mapped 12 and a bit miles. Charleston is a wondrous city for walking and discovering happy and charming surprises at every turn. No trip of ours is complete without a glass of vino at Bin 152. Over a glass of Albarino, the gentlemen behind the bar told us of their new sister restaurant Chez Nous. It is on my list for the next visit. Around five pm, we made our ways back to the hotel. While getting ready, Matthew played Edwin McCain's "Midnight in the Holy City". We had grand plans for an evening of nibbles here and there but we put this plan on pause when arriving at FIG to learn that the wait would be only an hour. In times past, this has never been the case. In turn, we took a seat at the drinking bar to await coveted seats at the real bar. A cause of all the walking, I was thirsty and started with a cocktail. I told the lady what I usually drink when I drink alcohol - which is not often I noted - and she returned with a refreshing cocktail made especially for me. Within an hour and after having made a pair of new friends including a father visiting his daughter who was about to graduate and another couple who were excited about being in the South, we took our seats. 

We love eating at the bar. I find it lends to an interactive dining experience marked by great service and a cool heir of intimacy. This meal was no exception. My first question for the bartender who oozed cool was what does he usually drink to ensure A) evening longevity and B) a minimal headache the next day. He informed me that he never drinks the same elixir twice and always matches a glass of water for every alcoholic unit. So I went with his mantra and switched to the white, then red and later back to white. I also heeded his hydration advise. While pondering over the exceptional menu, we made new friends who were seated catty-corner to us. Gabbie and Deva were visiting the south from the UK. They were the jam! We bonded over food, accents and our impressions of both countries. We have a date to rendezvous in the UK at some point this summer. After vino, engaging banter and laughter the grub arrived. Our food was altogether spellbinding. We started with pillowy ricotta gnocchi and lamb bolognese, which was dusted with parsley. I could not get enough of the freshly baked sourdough bread. I am a massive proponent of utilizing food to wipe plates clean and bread is no exception. For our main, we split the elegant fish stew served in two sweet Le Creuset dishes. We were too full for dessert, which is a shame but we shall return. It should be noted that the head chef, Jason Stanhope, just this week won the prestigious James Beard Award. Mazel tog. In short, get thee to this restaurant on the immediate. After dinner, we painted King Street red. We discovered live ska music at a cool spot called King Dusko and even made time for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones at a crowded spot.

We awoke early sans headache (merci FIG bartender) and headed to Black Tap Coffee for our morning Joe. From here, we walked to Glazed Gourmet Donuts for maple bacon and Mexican chocolate numbers. Still wired from our coffee and preparing for an imminent feast, we put them in a to-go box for a return journey snack. They were awesome and I only wish we had gone for a half dozen. Brunch was a dynamite experience at Leon's Oyster Shop. I would rank our food in the top ten best meals I have ever eaten. The grub was forthright, simple and delicious. We ordered the fried chicken, which we learned would take 25 to 30 minutes to prepare. No problem. After the long walk wearing inadvisable shoes we were happy to rest our puppies and enjoy ice cold two dollar PBR. The fried chicken was magical. Matthew remarked that it was as good as that of his late grandmother. Crisp, brown and well seasoned skin hugged juicy white meat. A dash of their hot sauce and we are in business. I am beginning to salivate just thinking about it. We also ordered the Siam salad comprised of crisp Napa cabbage, avocado, peanuts, orange slices, fried shallots and fresh herbs. We paired the salad alongside chilled roasted carrots dressed in harissa creme fraiche, peanuts and lime. I am a carrot fiend so this was a given. We cannot wait to return to sample their fried oysters. En route home we stopped at the nearby Butcher and Bee for a look around. I had hoped to make it here the night before for one of their 11.00 pm cheeseburgers and a six pack of beer but the bowels of King Street had us in its grip so another time. Holy City, thank you for a wonderful 36 hours of sublime food, fun, livery and total romance. We shall see you again very soon.

Alaskan Cod with Thai Inspired Salad (from Leon's)

You Need


Small head of Napa cabbage - chopped
1 carrot - grated
1/4 cup peanuts - ground
3 green onions - chopped
Handful of Thai Basil - chopped
Handful of Basil - chopped
Handful of Mint - chopped
Handful of Cilantro - chopped


The juice of 2 limes
1 Tbs sesame oil
1 Tbs chili oil (this is for heat, you can also chop a chili or jalapeƱo or a dash of red pepper flakes)
1 Tbs rice wine vinegar
1 Tbs tamari - soy sauce works too
2 cloves of garlic - chopped
2 inch knob of ginger - pealed and chopped
*If you want to add sweetness (advisable) add 1 TBS brown sugar, honey or maple syrup


1 lb Alaskan Cod - or any other white fish, this called to me at Fresh Market
2 Tbs coconut oil
1 lime - sliced
3 garlic cloves - chopped
3 inch ginger - chopped
4 green onions 
1 tsp star anise 

Get Cracking

For the salad, chop up your goodies, whip up the dressing and mix in a big bowl.

For the fish, drizzle a dish with olive or coconut oil - even Pam spray will work - and lay your green onions to rest. Put the fish on top. Drizzle with oil of choice. Now throw the garlic cloves and ginger on top, a generous tsp of star anise and lay the sliced limes on top of the fish. I roasted ours at 450 for 30 minutes. Dish up and enjoy!

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