Therese and I were overjoyed to spend my recent birthday weekend in one of our favorite U.S. cities, at the Charleston Insiders Weekend. It seems that nowadays every serious traveler wants to go beyond just visiting the popular sights and eating at the best restaurants. We all want to experience the places we visit with the finesse of a local, doing the things that the average traveler couldn’t hope to know about.
Traveler & Leisure understands that desire, and it was with that in mind that, together with other sponsors like Coastal Living magazine, they put together this “insiders’ weekend.” From Friday evening through Sunday brunch, there were ticketed events to guide us to places that we might not otherwise think of, and do things that might not normally be available to us.
We love Charleston, and so we wanted to do more than just attend the events. We wanted to wander the neighborhoods, do some shopping, and generally drink in everything that makes Charleston so special. So we left New York fairly early on Friday. And we started off the day, even though we were still in NYC, in what I felt was true Charleston fashion, by eating a great breakfast at LaGuardia Airport. I stopped at Biergarten at LaGuardia Airport and had their duck hash (and a nice glass of cranberry juice).
Our Delta Airlines flight was late getting off the ground, which set us back a bit. Luckily, they did offer us my favorite airline snack, Speculoos Cookies!
When we landed in Charleston, plenty of the afternoon still lay ahead of us, so we taxied to our hotel, the Embassy Suites Historic Charleston, right on Meeting Street and not far from lots of great downtown spots. We checked in, freshened up, and then went right back out into the sunny warm afternoon. After spending the afternoon getting reacquainted with the city, we found that we were incredibly hungry (the Speculoos Cookies being by then just a pleasant memory), and our evening event was still more than an hour away.
So we took a taxi to Charleston Place, a complex of a luxury hotel and shops, and found the Charleston Grill, got a seat at the bar and ordered some drinks and appetizers to hold us over until dinner time.
This was sweet for two reasons: one, as I said, we were very hungry; and two, the waitress who helped us, passed on information about my dairy allergy to someone who was working the evening’s event, and he had already spoken with the kitchen and confirmed that it would be possible for them to make a couple small adjustments on the menu but otherwise serve me the same wonderful food that everyone else was getting. That gave me great vibes for the evening’s proceedings!
The dinner at Charleston Grill was one of the weekend’s events that was sponsored by Coastal Living, and as a result, the magazine’s travel editor, Tracey Minkin, hosted the dinner and spoke a couple of times. She also introduced the restaurant’s chef, Michelle Weaver, who told us a bit about the restaurant’s philosophy (the usual treating of fresh local ingredients) and gave us some idea of what the dinner ahead held for us.
And what a dinner it was!
It all started with an octopus salad that featured an ingredient new to me: petite mache. It is a miniature green that provides a mild nutty flavor.
The second course was a repeat of the appetizer that I had eaten when we first arrived at Charleston Grill, their Charleston crab cake. This is a little different from the usual Maryland crab cake that everyone tries to copy. It features creek shrimp and a vinaigrette of dill and lime with grape tomatoes.
During this course, Tracey Minkin visited our table, sitting right next to me. We talked a little about food allergies, and she told us more about her magazine and what sorts of stories she is working on for the near future. The couple sitting directly across from us, Henry and Lexi Van de Walle (Lexi’s blog is the Lighthearted Locavore, and she is an accomplished food photographer), were also from New York City, so we all talked about New York. It was great chatting with Tracey – it made me feel like I was at the big kid’s table – and I hope to run into her again soon!
The main course was a prime beef tenderloin with Bourguignonne sauce. By that point, some people were hitting the wall, but I soldiered on. I don’t eat beef that often, so I took advantage of the opportunity, and enjoyed the dish immensely.
Dessert was, as usual, the hardest course for accommodating my allergy. We went the sorbet and fresh berries route – coconut and raspberry sorbet, to be specific.
The fresh berries were lovely, but I think the dish needed a unifying feature, like a drizzle of simple syrup. Or maybe if the berries had been macerated with some caster sugar before being tossed with the sorbet, that would have done it.
On Saturday, we ate breakfast at the hotel. Then we set out, walking through the Marion Square Farmer’s Market on our way to some downtown shopping. The day was already growing hot, so we stopped at the Cannonborough Beverage Company booth for some refreshing artisanal ginger beer.
After exploring some of the food booths at the farmer’s market, we headed downtown toward the Charleston City Market. As part of the dinner the evening before, there was a giveaway of a Le Creuset Mini Cocotte, a small lidded pot that is the perfect size for an individual portion of macaroni and cheese, for example. The giveaway had an additional part to it, that if you brought the accompanying coupon to Charleston’s Le Creuset store and made a purchase, you would get a second Cocotte. Therese had been asking me what I wanted for my birthday, and it seemed like a great idea to pick up some goodies (as well as our additional two Cocottes) at Le Creuset. And when we left Charleston Place Friday night, we wandered by the Le Creuset Boutique Charleston near the market, so that was where we returned to, to do our shopping.
Little did Therese imagine, though, that visiting the Le Creuset store would mean not only shopping, but me having a chance to talk cookware with the knowledgeable store clerks! We talked about the new colors Le Creuset is adding to their lines of cookware, and what colors are being phased out. And so on, and so on. It was fun. And I picked out some goodies that we needed: some tongs, trivets, and pot handles. All in all, I made out like a bandit that weekend.
All this shopping was making us hungry. Luckily, our first culinary event of the day was taking place. With half the weekend still ahead of us, we were plenty excited! In my next post, I will tell you all about that next event, and finish up telling you about our incredible weekend in Charleston!