By Lynne Funk
The Humble Gourmand
Charleston, S.C., is a city with grand architecture, charming garden nooks off quiet cobblestone streets, all topped off with a moss-covered oak-tree Southern drawl. And, might I say, it could just be the foodie destination between New York City and New Orleans.
A few things are a must in this city, and its proximity to the Atlantic puts seafood at the top of that list. Head to Coast in downtown Charleston, where things are a bit more upscale but still casually cool, with some of the best, classically prepared fresh seafood around. Try to get a table outside in the alley, where palm trees and strung white lights — and a glass of red — made us feel much more comfortable. Inside, though, has a different vibe. A funky horseshoe bar with a separate, long, bar-like seating area has a view of the open kitchen. It would be great for a date. There’s also a patio, and a dining room with ocean-themed tables.
The menu spans ceviche, a killer raw bar, and tons of appetizers and soups. A diner has a hard time with decisions here, for sure.
I say start with oysters from the raw bar. The selection changes to what’s freshest that day, and it’s fresh you can count on. Briny, salty, and served with a squirt of lemon, they get the dinner started off just right.
Seafood is offered grilled, fried, baked, poached… hard to narrow down, but try the “Charleston classic” crab-stuffed tilapia. Served with sweet onion jam, Parmesan mashed potatoes and haricots verts, all topped with a lemon white wine butter sauce, it’s a recipe for a pleasant seafood coma.
Right next door to its sister Coast is 39 Rue de Jean, where the fare is French-bistro-meets- Japanese-influence. Gorgeous brick walls and menus painted on mirrors throughout gives it a true French bistro feel, save for the soaring ceilings and large open space, which remind the diner she’s still in America.
Try the sushi – maguro and hamachi – as it’s flavorful and fresh. The beef tartare, aged and prepared traditionally, with toast points, was delicious (though a fondness for capers is a prerequisite).. The moules (mussels) are exceptionally succulent sea creatures, but the missing crisp frites were a notable downfall of the dish. Moules are available in six varieties — Provencal, pistou, curry, etc. — but the aioli offering was arguably the simplest and most flavorful.
While it was an appetizer-only evening, my hosts assured me that the rest of Rue de Jean’s menu did not disappoint. It has all the classics – foie gras, escargots, steak frites, Pissadlaierre. It will certainly be a stop on my next visit. Charleston is a lovely city with a booming dining scene, beckoning foodies and eaters of all types to be enveloped in its charms. As this reviewer’s sister resides there, I’ll conclude by saying … to be continued!