Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Low Country Love at Husk: Charleston, South Carolina

It wouldn't be right to visit Charleston, South Carolina without feasting at one of Chef Sean Brock's acclaimed eateries. Set in a restored colonial house in the downtown historic district, Husk's facade exudes southern grace and deceptively houses an elegantly modern interior.

We arrived early to patronize the adjacent, renovated barn-cum-bar, serving custom twists on the classics as well as modern innovations. We scored a comfortable couch in the upstairs lounge and, in no time at all, selected our poisons. Clearly we had to order the cocktail called "Everything but the Goat". Made with Gordon's gin, strawberry gastrique, arugula and pecan bitters, this pretty drink was a summer salad in a glass. Any shred of refinery flew out the window when we caved to the irresistible need to awkwardly retrieve the strawberries and spicy arugula from the glass. Tart and strong, the "Copperhead", consisted of Rittenhouse rye, absinthe, wormwood bitters and fresh lemon juice. Served in a recycled wine bottle glass, the drink felt good in my hands where it lingered as a slow sipping pleasure.

After lounging over our cocktails, we strolled next door for our next sensory adventure. Chef Brock is known for developing strong relationships with local farmers and fishmongers, as evidenced by his daily changing menu. The eye-candy winner of the night was the Alabama blue crab salad. Big meaty lumps of crab were mixed with sweet red peppers and mint and served over a tangy cotton candy pink, strawberry buttermilk sauce. While eating this masterpiece, and clearly feeling excitable from my earlier cocktail, I found myself getting heady and deep at the mere joy of living on a planet where nature provides such astounding delicacies as crab and the edible, intricate and beautiful nasturtiums that garnished the salad.

The trend of adding an egg to burgers, sandwiches and soups, is one I hope is here to stay. In the deeply colorful English pea soup, a softly poached farm egg added silky texture, while the Virginia guanciale ham provided a salty chew. Hints of Meyer lemon brightened the many layers of flavor and lastly, the soup was topped with shredded, house-made sheep milk manchego and a dollop of creme fraiche. While the soup included classic southern ingredients such as pork, egg and cheese, this light, silky interpretation is a perfect example of what so many across the country are loving about fresh, modern, southern cuisine.

We continued our guttural praises with the main course. Two generous fillets of mild, South Carolina Rudderfish were served over sweet peas and charred turnips, with a Meyer lemon herbed broth. This dish was clean and earthy, everything tasting as if it had been picked fresh from the farm or sea that morning.

North Carolina Guinea hen terrine is not a dish you see everyday on menus. Dark meat was ground, seasoned and wrapped in the white meat, pressed for hours until set and served warm with roasted baby carrots, spring onions and rainbow chard over a rich mushroom broth, in a beautiful wooden bowl. Classic meets modern in this dish; think Sean Brock sporting his colorful and rebellious tattooed arm sleeves communing with Julia Child, clad in her apron and sensible shoes. 

Our server irresistibly sold the deserts, not that lemon pie in a jar took much arm twisting. Pretty as a picture, the small mason jar was layered with a sweet and tart Meyer lemon curd, thick, espresso ganache, some sort of a cookie crust and topped with a marshmallow meringue. The garnish of edible parsley flowers added to the cute factor and was yet another disparate flavor that completely worked.

Husk is just one of the many reasons we look forward to returning to Charleston. We fell in love with the city, and fortunately there is so much more we need to explore, like the famed beautiful beaches, historic forts, and sister city, Savannah. Rest assured I am already planning a return trip to the low country...the pull is undeniable.

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