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The Food Guy: A sneak peek (and taste) of Charleston Restaurant Week

Gazette-Mail file photo
Mi Cocina de Amor is at 711 Bigley Ave. on Charleston’s West Side.
Photo credit: Florentine Films
Chef Mike Solomonov sampling the wonders of the Levinsky Market in Tel Aviv.
Photo credit: Florentine Films
Chef Michael Solomonov talks Israeli Cuisine with Meir Adoni at his Mizlala in Tel Aviv.

Before Saturday night’s big “WWE Live” rasslin’ throwdown at the Civic Center (oh, the things we do for our kids!), we popped in for dinner at nearby Mi Cocina de Amor for two reasons.

One, its convenient location. By parking there on the near West Side, having dinner, then enjoying a nice walk across the bridge to downtown, we avoided getting stuck in crazy post-event traffic.

Two, its fabulous food. I’ve always been a fan. But with chef/owner Frank Gonzales working his magic in the kitchen, a talented new sous chef (Robert Lutsy) learning the ropes, a strong back-of-house guy (Jim Matatall) keeping things running smoothly and a solid staff firing on all cylinders, Mi Cocina is now better than ever.

The salsa is crazy fresh and flavorful. The lineup of gourmet tacos (stuffed in flash-fried soft tortillas) is rock-solid. The decadent enchilada options are drool-worthy. And the house margaritas are the best in town, although new signature cocktails are giving them a run for their money.

If you haven’t been in a while, have been waiting for a reason to go, or tried it out once and had a less-than-stellar experience (hey, it happens), now’s the time to give it a shot — especially during Charleston’s upcoming Restaurant Week.

Before leaving Mi Cocina Saturday night, Frank gave me a sneak taste of one of the dishes he’s offering on that week’s special menu. The wedge of baked green chile cheese grits was to die for, and he’ll top it with shrimp sautéed in a light lemon cream sauce for a cool riff on the classic “shrimp and grits.”

It’s one of several dishes I can’t wait to try out during Restaurant Week.

What are some others, you say? I’m so glad you asked. If I can still snag a table, my Restaurant Week hit list will include:

n Nori-wrapped brook trout with crayfish cornbread stuffing (and Guinness cupcakes!) at B&D Gastropub.

n Local venison stew with heirloom carrots, potatoes and pearl onions, or local pan-seared rabbit with bacon-leek bread pudding at Bluegrass Kitchen.

n Spinach and mushroom gnocchi with prosciutto in a light Parmesan cream sauce at The Block.

n Sautéed shrimp with peppers and onions, topped with tasso ham gravy and served over grits at Bricks & Barrels.

n Braised short ribs over creamy Parmesan polenta, roasted Brussels sprouts and red wine demi-glace at Bridge Road Bistro.

n Chicken curry served with mango chutney and risotto at Celsius.

n Filet and daikon tower with shrimp, roasted sprouts and ruby teriyaki glaze at Ichiban.

n Filet mignon and balsamic-glazed salmon over a crispy polenta cake and truffle mashed potatoes at Paterno’s.

n Petite chicken and pecan waffles with Jameson gastrique and braised greens at South Hills Market & Café.

Restaurant Week can’t get here soon enough! For more details and complete menus, follow “eatlocalcwv” on Facebook or Twitter.

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Another local event true foodies won’t want to miss is a film showing at this Sunday’s West Virginia Jewish Film Festival at Park Place Stadium Cinemas downtown.

Yes, a film.

The Federated Jewish Charities of Charleston is offering a screening of “The Search for Israeli Cuisine” at 2 p.m. that day.

Group member Fred Pollock arranged for me to preview the film ahead of time — and it’s a fascinating, delicious piece of cinema that attempts to answer “What is Israeli Cuisine?” and “Does such a thing even exist?”

It’s a fair question.

Even though that country is still fairly young in the grand scheme of things, it has cultivated quite the culinary scene. But can a nation in its relative infancy really have its “own” identifiable cuisine — as do the French, Italians and so forth — or is it just a mishmash of other Middle Eastern cultures?

In the film, Chef Michael Solomonov (who owns Zahav, the popular Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia) takes us on a wide-ranging tour — from mountains to farms, from desert to sea — to sample the country’s street food, elite restaurants and home kitchens, posing those questions along the way.

The ultimate answer is open to interpretation, but my takeaway is this: Israeli cuisine, as it will eventually be defined, is being created right now — evolving thanks to the home cooks who are preserving age-old traditions and the rising professional chefs who are adapting them to modern tastes.

Not only will the film look great on a large screen, but admission is free and the folks at Bridge Mart & Deli on Bridge Road will offer a selection of Israeli/Middle Eastern snacks (including baklava made with rosewater and walnuts) for guests as well.

Free, film and food. That’s a tri-fecta right there. To whet your appetite, you can watch the film’s trailer at www.israelicuisinefilm.com.

I also snagged one of Chef Solomonov’s gorgeous Israeli cookbooks (thanks Frank!) featuring some dishes highlighted in the film, so stay tuned for some tasty recipes in the weeks ahead. Two copies will be given away during the event also.

And speaking of staying tuned, it’s a busy week for The Food Guy.

I attended a special wine pairing dinner prepared by the new chef at Paterno’s Monday night, judged the Sweet Charity Dessert Competition Tuesday night and will be heading out to J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works for a special Charleston Restaurant Week preview party tomorrow night.

I’ll be sharing all the delicious, bite-by-bite details here, on The Food Guy blog and via the social channels below. (Between extra runs on ye’ ol’ treadmill, that is.) Bon appetit!

Steven Keith writes a weekly food column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or by e-mail at dailymailfoodguy@aol.com. You can also follow him on Facebook and Pinterest as “DailyMail FoodGuy,” on Twitter as “DMFoodGuy” and read his blog at http://blogs.charlestondailymail/foodguy.

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