Food Talk: These are a few of my favorite places
By Kathleen Parramore
Black Cocoa Cured Foie Gras Torchon and French Onion Grilled Cheese at Bar Vaute. Images by Charleston Mercury staff.
Bar Vaute is a place I almost don’t want to mention because I like the fact that it is a hidden gem in a basement at the corner of Broad and East Bay. It is a place for a drink before a night out, a brasserie dinner or late-night after-dinner-drink type of place. It’s a true neighborhood bar. Walk down a flight of stairs and have a seat at a small table or the bar furnished in an Art Deco style and beautiful lowlights. Both are inviting.
The experience starts with mixologists cocktails. My friend and I started out with dry martinis and French 75s. The martini was served in a coupe glass, which is a matter of aesthetics to the drinker but, for me, an elegant way to savor dry gin. I have enjoyed most of the menu items and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Chef Jeb Aldrich has crafted a menu of favorites and creative specials.
The frites are outstanding: crispy and addictive. The French Onion Grilled Cheese is not your grandmother’s grilled cheese. We also enjoyed the Black Cocoa Cured Foie Gras with Sauce Caline, a mixture of lychee, orange juice and lemon juice. It was truly sublime and the foie gras had a mousse-like texture. The burger is an absolute stand out, and from the orders I have seen coming from the kitchen on multiple visits, it is a crowd favorite.
For a total change of pace, I headed next to FishBowl Poke Stop newly located on King Street. Open seven days a week and with a morning menu from Wednesday through Sunday, it offers many opportunities to drop in. Poke is a native Hawaiian dish consisting of diced raw fish. Ahi poke is made with yellowfin tuna but may be made with raw salmon or various shellfish and poke seasonings. Poke is different from a ceviche dish, as it does not use citrus fruits as a curing agent. Food historian Rachel Laudan notes that poke became popular around 1970. It uses skinned, deboned and filleted raw fish with Hawaiian salt. Poke Stop has a very large menu sure to please everyone: steamed buns, seaweed salads, soups, the signature poke bowls, fusion bowls, Makimono and sashimi. The portions of the poke bowls are enormous. I had a big crew at my house and we made a large order for pickup. Put your order in early online (only) to have it picked up at the time you want. You may eat there as well. The sushi was good and half price between 4 and 6 p.m. (a pandemic special). The steamed dumplings got a five-star rating from my crowd, as did the buns. I preferred the raw tuna, which was served with a side of a light sauce. This is definitely a place to check out when you are feeling the urge for sushi/poke.
Chubby Fish is not a new find, but I had to mention because I ate there recently and if it could get any better it has! It is definitely worth the wait and the hostess is very good at predicting the timing of when a table will be available. In the meantime head over to Pink Cactus for a good margarita to start your evening. Once seated, we sampled the oysters from our home state which were all small, briny and a very good start. The standout was the B-liner red snapper whole fish. With a ginger and scallion sauce as a light additive, it was beyond delicious. Next up, the tautog tempura. Tautog, also known as blackfish because of its dark mottled color, can grow up to 25 pounds and is a bottom-feeding saltwater fish found in the waters between Cape Cod and Chesapeake Bay. It loves to eat shrimp and lobster, and that succulence comes out in its buttery taste. We had to order another one of these. There is nothing on this menu short of excellent. Also note that Chubby Fish gets each and every seafood item tagged. This allows the anglers to get a premium price for their catch, while the consumers and chefs have assurance of exactly what species of fish, the date it was caught, the fisherman who made the catch and within ten miles where it was harvested.
There are also many good options “across the bridge” and I want to acquaint you with two of my favorites.
I first became aware of a drink called a Paloma, which is a mix of fresh grapefruit juice, fresh lime juice, tequila and club soda, on the island of Mustique in the Grenadines. It became my “island drink” and I didn’t think I could find one back in my hometown until I found it at the Community Table! The bartender there not only makes an excellent Paloma but adds a twist of a salted grapefruit slice ... yum. It gives me a feeling like I’m back on the island.
It wasn’t on the menu the last time I was there, but regardless, if the pickled shrimp are being offered then you need to order. These are better than my best homemade pickled shrimp. The burrata toast is an excellent starter. The burrata sits on sourdough toast with pickled mushrooms (sense the trend?), marinated tomatoes, boiled peanut hummus and, just to kick it up, candied lemon. If you have never had boiled peanut hummus, it is delicious. My first taste was Tommy McGee’s when he brought it to Bill Moore’s place in Yemassee; he told me the process of how this hummus is made. Suffice it to say I will only be eating this dish away from home. There are so many good entrees at Community Table that it’s hard to pick one or two; I’m going with the Cast Iron Fish. It’s butter and bacon braised — how could you go wrong? The white fish has an excellent sear from the cast iron and just melts in your mouth. I also recommend the Nantucket scallops with butternut risotto and brown butter; the risotto adds a hint of sweetness to the buttery scallops, which taste like they just came out of the water. I’ve had the burger for lunch and the Cobb salad — both great choices. Absolutely do not miss the Crack Pie for dessert! No need to say any more.
As the weather has become autumnally perfect, choose the outdoor seating, which offers good peoplewatching and a fun crowd. If you prefer bar seats, however, this is a great place to meet your neighbors or new friends.
Little Miss Ha delights customers with fresh, delicious Vietnamese cuisine, including daily specials and an inviting bar. Image by the author.
Last but not least, next to Whole Foods is a terrific Vietnamese restaurant, Little Miss Ha. Some of you might remember the original Miss Ha, who worked for years at the old Piggly Wiggly on Meeting Street. She was a fixture there. Her specialty, egg rolls, filled the deli case. Now we have Little Miss Ha, whose family recipes are, as she says, “like having a little bit of home in a new place.” My go-to on a Monday night is cauliflower fried rice with extra veggies, nothing greasy, just a lightly fried and intensely flavored dish. The spring rolls are an excellent starter, fresh with a really good peanut sauce. The steamed dumplings with ground pork and ginger are good enough to come over the bridge even if you are not shopping. It’s casual dining and they do have a full bar.
Hope you can get out there to support local restaurants and try some new places or make return visits!
After 25 years in the technology field, Kathleen Parramore earned an MSc in nutrition from University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and then a degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Tech. She is a writer, consultant and dinner party caterer in the Charleston area.