Six nights of Charleston Restaurant Week. Six nights of reservations booked. Color me thrilled!
But it’s not just me doing a happy dance. Excitement reached a fever pitch this week with the official announcement of all menus, immediately followed by several restaurants posting Facebook photos of some of the dishes they’ll serve.
The menus themselves are drool-worthy, but those mouthwatering food pics? Pure torture.
Folks are already jamming phone lines to score a table when participating restaurants will offer special three-course menus for $30 from Jan. 29 through Feb. 3.
Although I expect most of the 21 participating restaurants to step up to the plate, it’s part of The Food Guy’s “thing” to pick favorites, right? That’s why you’re here, and never fear.
I’ve studied the menus, looked through all of the photos and balanced both with my insight on which restaurants and chefs usually deliver — or come up a little short — based on my experience.
So without further ado, here are The Food Guy’s Pre-Restaurant Week Awards honoring the individual dishes and restaurants I predict will knock it out of the park at the end of the month.
Anticipated new dishes
Speaking of park, Paterno’s at the Park has slayed the last two Charleston Restaurant Weeks, something I completely expect they’ll do again.
You can’t go wrong with their popular pasta trio (sausage and pea rigatoni, shrimp scampi and papperdelle Bolognese) but I’m excited to try this year’s other entree: a surf and turf featuring sauteed pork tenderloin with prosciutto sage cream and sauteed prawns with sun-dried tomato risotto.
I also recently had the restaurant’s thick, rich, creamy, decadent butterscotch pudding, which is one of this year’s dessert offerings. I know what you’re thinking. Pudding? What’s so special about that? Try it, then call me. Life-changing.
Both appetizers from Su Tei sound intriguing as well. I’m torn between the grilled scallops with red radish and cherry soy sauce or the grilled shrimp salad with peppers, onions and tomatoes in a Thai sweet-and-sour sauce.
The Block’s blackened salmon with truffle risotto, Parmesan asparagus and dill cream sauce is screaming my name, and this wine bistro usually does a great job with desserts. Choices this year include a lemon tart with mixed berry compote or a pearl sugar waffle with vanilla ice cream and bourbon caramel sauce.
Ichiban’s wasabi pork dumpling starter sounds delish, followed by a jerk-grilled West Virginia rainbow trout with housemade ginger-lime slaw and rice.
I already mentioned Bricks & Barrels’ intriguing sounding Ferrero Rocher cake last week. If I try it, it will definitely come after the pork schnitzel served over spatzle with cream sauce and asparagus. I'm also looking forward to Italian sausage and peppers, breaded veal and eggplant Parmesan plates at Leonoro’s Spaghetti House. With spaghetti, of course.
And while Soho’s is offering a rarely seen traditional cioppino with mussels, clams and shrimp, I’m downright giddy over the featured creamy polenta with wild mushroom demiglace appetizer, which I hope and pray is the same dish from the old Blossom dinner menu that I once wrote about for Bon Appetit magazine.
Returning fan favorites
Restaurant Week also gives you a chance to rediscover some of your old favorites — dishes that appear on menus year-round, yet you still can’t get enough of them.
I’d put Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille’s deep-fried feta bites in that category.
The Chop House’s lobster bisque — elegantly presented with your server delicately pouring the silky soup over fresh lobster artfully placed in the bowl — never disappoints, nor does sister restaurant Tidewater Grill’s sauteed chicken Nicole with asparagus and red peppers in sherry cream sauce.
And down at the East End’s Bluegrass Kitchen, the incomparable blueberry buttermilk pie is ready to throw down in the battle of best Restaurant Week desserts. It’s a hard one to beat.
Best menus for the money
With prices that make them “special occasion only” places for many, Bistro at The Barge, Laury’s and The Chop House’s $30 Restaurant Week menus all offer incredible deals.
Whether you go with The Chop House’s Atlantic barbecue salmon over creamy Parmesan risotto or the 6-ounce filet mignon with Cabernet demiglace, mashed potatoes and fresh haricot verts for dinner, don’t miss the chocolate decadence cake for dessert. I had it just last week, and it’s melt-in-your-mouth divine.
Along the river at Laury’s, I’m looking at the blue cheese salad, followed by the 6-ounce petite filet mignon with black-and-white truffle butter, demiglace and whipped Yukon Gold potatoes.
Finally, Bistro at the Barge’s beloved lobster tail over risotto cake with creamed leeks is on their Restaurant Week menu, along with my favorite crispy pork belly with sweet-and-spicy glaze over potato puree.
Most surprising menus
I’ve got to hand it to the folks at Sam’s Uptown Cafe and B&D Gastropub for putting out two ambitious, delicious-sounding menus. Although both serve good food, they’re places you tend to associate more for the liquid libations they offer.
Downtown, Sam’s will offer a charcuterie and cheese plate with house pickles, jams and toasts, or a farro, radish and golden beet watercress and arugula salad with Champagne pear vinaigrette for starters.
Next comes either seared halibut with rutabaga barley risotto, apple beurre blanc and roasted asparagus, or a boar sausage roll with hen of the woods mushroom, heirloom tomato ragu, sauteed escarole and house ricotta.
You can end your meal at Sam’s with either warm apple crumble with a limoncello shot or chocolate ganache raspberry cheesecake with a Thin Mint hot chocolate shot. There we go!
Up the river in Kanawha City, B&D Gastropub kicks things off with a roasted red pepper and smoked Gouda soup, or ahi tuna with wasabi creme fraiche on mixed greens with ginger dressing. Entrees include West Virginia beer-braised short ribs with flash-fried Brussels sprouts and whipped sweet potatoes, or classic coq au vin with aromatics.
B&D dessert options are an apple crisp with whipped cream and cinnamon drizzle or a chocolate trifle topped with candied nuts.
Charcuterie, farro, rutabaga and coq au vin. At a bar. I like.
Best overall menus
But now, let’s cut to the chase.
My coveted (by me, anyway) “Best Overall Menu Award” for the restaurants I think have put together the most creative and taste-tempting three-course lineups are ... Black Sheep Burrito & Brews, Bluegrass Kitchen and South Hills Market.
Just get a load of these choices:
Black Sheep Burrito & Brews
Appetizers: baby back rib wings with chili-mirin glaze, pickled Fresno chilis, sesame seeds and green onions, or ahi tuna wonton nachos with carrot-daikon slaw and green onions
Entrees: pork and housemade chorizo tamales with pico de gallo, lime-sriracha crema, black beans and rice, or a select flock of new tacos
Desserts: Cream ale stroopwaffel cheesecake or buttered and toasted chocolate pound cake with spicy chocolate sauce and coffee ice cream
Appetizers: caramelized Roma tomato burrata with housemade focaccia, or avocado toast with JQ Dickinson Salt-Works ricotta and heirloom radish on Starlings sourdough
Entrees: Venison meatballs with West Virginia bloody butcher heirloom grits, Black Oak Holler bacon and herbed-tomato butter sauce, or organic pinto bean stew with roasted poblano stuffed with local cheese and fermented buckwheat johnnycake
Desserts: Blueberry buttermilk pie or pineapple upside down rum cake
South Hills Market & Cafe
Appetizers: short-rib and smoked cheddar egg rolls with Napa cabbage and citrus soy sauce, or spanakopita dip with smoked tomato relish and pita
Entrees: Buttermilk-fried chicken with smoked jalapeno waffles, braised greens and honey bourbon gastrique, or pan-seared salmon with crayfish pastina, braised pork belly, fennel and leeks with lemon beurre blanc
Desserts: Petite doughnuts with chocolate sauce or dark chocolate walnut brownie with ganache, berry compote and tuile
Full disclosure: Bistro at The Barge should be in this category, too, it’s just that I’ve already sampled everything they’re offering.
I really wanted to settle on just one winner here — to make it more exclusive, more special — but I just couldn’t do it. These three (OK, four) restaurants have outdone themselves with menus I’ll be sampling that week.
You can check out this year’s menus yourself now at cwvrestaurantweek.com.
Stay tuned for more Restaurant Week updates next week, followed by a full bite-by-bite report during and after Charleston’s most-anticipated culinary event of the year.In the meantime, I’d love to hear where you’re making your Restaurant Week reservations this year. Post your choices on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages — and be sure to tag them #cwvrestweek when you do!