In a Charleston State of Mind

27 Apr

Charleston, South Carolina: home of historic plantations, antebellum architecture, blooming, fragrant gardens, Rhett Butler….and some of the nation’s best culinary experiences.  One of the most delicious meals I’ve had in a long time was recently served to me by Charleston’s most celebrated chef–Michelle Weaver, of the famed Charleston Grill.  The food: Nothing short of exquisite.  The location: West 52nd St., in Manhattan.

Before I go on, I will address the fact that at times I can sound like a broken record.  I obsessively gush over Orient-Express, their hotels, and their service.  No–I don’t work for them, nor do they pay me to blather on about my love for them–they’re just really, really (really!) good.  And the 21 Club, Orient-Express’s only restaurant, and NY’s truly authentic speakeasy/fine-dining establishment, is a perfect example of this.  It’s as NY as they come; in fact, if the Statue of Liberty suddenly came to life and asked for a good restaurant recommendation, I’d send her there.

21 Club

While I’ve tried and loved many of their classic menu items, I’ve also enjoyed a handful of excellent meals prepared by visiting chefs at 21 Club.  Not only have I traveled back in time with each visit to the restaurant, but I’ve traveled to Spain, South America, Italy, and now, Charleston.

Chef Weaver, a charming, lovely woman with a passion for good, pure, soul-satisfying cooking, served us a feast that was, what I imagine to be, the epitome of  Charleston, her restaurant, and the Orient-Express.  It was visually beautiful, flawlessly prepared, decadent yet not over-the-top, exemplary of its region, and avoided cliches and trends, focusing on ingredients and flavors.  These, I believe, are the qualities of a special hotel or restaurant.

She started with a platter for the table of the season’s freshest vegetables: radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes, lightly dressed, to enhance rather than mask their loveliness.  She then served a deviled egg–the best I’d ever had–followed by white bean soup with country ham and mustard greens.  It was satisfying in every way, and I decided I could eat this every day of my life.  She then served her famous (for good reason!) Charleston Grill crab cake, topped with creek shrimp and a light lime tomato dill vinaigrette.  Loaded with crab, surprisingly light, and simply perfect, this, too, was the best I’d ever had.  Sides of phenomenal beer braised collard greens and sinfully good baked pimento cheese grits were shared by the table, and the dishes were practically licked clean.  Finally, we devoured strawberry shortcake with chantilly cream, orange ginger syrup, and fresh mint.  Chef Weaver brought the strawberries, lovingly cradled in her arms on the plane ride, from Charleston to NY, and they were topped with a biscuit that I could write a love letter to.   Obviously, I went a little crazy over this meal.

If you’re about to run to 21 Club to experience this meal, unfortunately, Chef Weaver has returned to Charleston–her loyal following of southern foodies couldn’t let her leave them for too long.  However, if knowing that Charleston is acknowledged by travelers as one of the world’s best cities isn’t enough reason to get down there–Michelle Weaver, the Charleston Grill, and its home, Charleston Place, are.

Charleston Place, an Orient-Express hotel, oozes Southern charm and hospitality, coupled with modern luxury and award-winning service.  Here you’ll find an Italian marble lobby with a grand Georgian staircase leading to lush rooms and suites.  You can swim in their horizon-edge pool, indulge in their spa, or maybe just sip a mint julep and feel like a southern belle (or beau).  Explore historic Charleston which is steps away from Charleston Place’s front door, and then dine at Charleston Grill, where you can not only enjoy the meal that I was luckily enough to experience, but Chef Weaver’s other dishes, which range from traditional southern through contemporary, internationally-inspired, and modern.  If you see Oprah, Richard Gere, Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman, or Prince Charles there, don’t be surprised–they, too, have fallen for Charleston Place’s charms.

For more information on Charleston Place, visit www.charlestonplace.com

Charleston Place Entrance, photo by Joe Vaughn

Charleston Place Lobby, photo by Joe Vaughn

Charleston Grill, photo by Joe Vaughn

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