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Monday, March 17, 2014

Stella's Southern Bistro still in our top three.

From my experience with Stella's Southern Bistro, they were one of the first restaurants in town who shouted the praises of their local farmers and food producers, and even have an entire wall devoted to them. Stella's Southern Bistro is one of the best restaurants in Upstate South Carolina.  There's no question.  I doubt anyone would argue this point with me. But you really don't hear much about it because it is tucked away in Simpsonville.  People are always asking me what the best restaurants are in Downtown Greenville, but they are missing some of the best eating spots around by not leaving Main Street.

Chef's wicked skills in the kitchen are no surprise being that he, like many of our great Southern chefs, came up under the wing of Slightly North of Broad Executive Chef Frank Lee.  Jason worked his way up to Sous Chef at SNOB and then became the Executive Chef of High Cotton Restaurant in Charleston when it opened in 1999. There he caught the eye of The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Southern Living, The Washington Post and The Food Network. After seven years with High Cotton in Charleston, he relocated to Greenville to take the Executive Chef position at the newly opened High Cotton Greenville.  Then in 2008, he and wife Julia opened Stella's to rave reviews. You are seriously considering making reservations now, aren't you?

I've reviewed Stella's before, but Stella's owners, Jason and Julia Scholz, were so sweet to host me and my PR buddy Amy Corley of ACPR Media a couple of weeks ago to try some new items from Chef Jason. He even put together a special tasting menu for us.  How awesome is that?!  Our waiter was so stoked to even be serving the menu, that he kept a copy for himself.  I had a hard time getting pictures because each dish was so complex, but I'll give you the rundown.

This beautiful plate of Pan Roasted Charleston Sheepshead with citrus rutabaga puree, eggplant caponada, beets and curry oil was pure heaven. I love when a chef challenges my palate, mixing flavors I'd never put together in a million years. 

If duck is on the menu, I will always order it because it's not something I'd make in my own kitchen. (Yes, I know it wouldn't be THAT hard, but it's a mind thing.) I was totally pleased it was on the menu. This was a duck sampler plate with a crispy braised wonton, seared breast, confit, Crescent Farms shiitake, gingered plum and scallion salad, sesame roasted okra, bourbon barrel soy "umami". I ate my way around the plate savoring each and every separate piece of this dish. 

I have never had a pork ribeye!  I was mesmerized.  This plate included grilled belly rillon, ribeye and riblet, heirloom hominy, sea island red pea succotash, a Johnny cake, Southern Relishes, and BBQ Pork jus. Beautiful. 

I think both Amy and I were stuffed by this point.  Half of this dish ended up in a to go box for my husband. On the plate,  beautifully seared Deckle and Kobe Beef with Kobe beef bacon and a duck fat twice baked potato, with Crescent Farms carrots, caramelized cauliflower, and roasted beef au ju.

 There are no words: Chocolate Torte and Praline Mousse with bourbon ice cream, bourbon caramel and Cracker Jack peanuts.

This piece of warm, Spiced Carrot Cake Bread Pudding with cream cheese frosting ice cream, cinnamon anglaise, and rum soaked raisins was a bit of heaven.  It was a shame I was so full because I wanted to lick the plate.

Since opening Stella's has continually wowed diners with their coastal Carolina and American South inspired dishes.  Both Jason and wife and co-owner Julia have gone above and beyond to create a unique and inviting dining experience every time we've eaten at their restaurant.  They are in our top three favorite restaurants in South Carolina. No lie. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bacon Mayonaise, ASADA's new home, and a little more pasta than I can handle

 I went sort of food nuts yesterday.  In the guise of dropping off Greenville Small Plate Crawl postcards, I hit some exciting foodie stops in Greenville.  I bounced into Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery and happily was greeted by Amy (my Twitter buddy @SheGotMox) who pointed me in the direction of the new BACON MAYONNAISE from Empire Mayonaise Co. in Brooklyn NYC. Holy crap. For real?  I grabbed up a jar of both that and the Sriracha Mayo.  My intention was just to run in and grab a jar of the Big Spoon Roasters Chai Spice Nut Butter, but as you can tell, I was wide-eyed with excitement and ran out with a couple more things than I intended, including a Espresso Bouchon Brownie.

Next up I grabbed my buddy Josie and we headed to Asada's new brickand morter place at 1237 Pendleton Street in Greenville's Pendleton Arts District.  My TR Cookbook Club girl, Gina, and her husband Roberto own Asada and have done a bang up job on the inside of the place.  The art on the walls and the big picnic style tables are made by Roberto. What a talented guy!  And the food, like their food truck, still knocks it out of the park. Seriously best tacos since my last trip to San Diego. I ordered up the Chicken Karaage Taco, a homage to Gina's Japanesse ancestory: Japanese style friend chicken marinated in Sake, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, topped with Latin-Asian slaw.  And they have these amazing thick chips with fresh tomatoes and onions.  Asada is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday starting at 11:30am. 

Asada's place shares a space with Mac Arnold's new music venue which brings in big crowds during the weekend music line-up. He'll be playing tonight, March 15, at the venue from 8:30-11pm.  Go check out some tunes and grab a taco.  And heavens to Betsy, don't miss the Coconut Flan on the Asada's menu!  I somehow walked out without seeing it on there and I dig some good flan.

While I was in the area, I finally got a chance to pop into Naked Pasta at 1286 Pendleton Street. The fresh made, locally sourced, pasta company has gotten raves from all my buddies, so I had to get my hands on some to try.  I walked out with four kinds of fresh cut pasta (Spinach, Mushroom, Plain and Tomato Basil Fettuccinie and Vodka and Italian Sausage and Basil Marinara).  $19 for at least four dinners for the fam.  That's pretty amazing.  They also have a TON of Gluten Free options including ready made gluten free Spinach and Artichoke, Five Cheese and Italian Sausage Lasagnas Along with Gluten Free Fettuccine.   Don't want to cook?  They offer Hot Lunch Take-Out 11am-5pm.  I can't wait to make some pasta this week! Keep an eye out for them at your local farmers' market, too!

And one last thing:
I'd like to say goodbye to our friends Lauren and Graham at Neue Southern Food Truck. I'm so glad I got back for one more bite. I wish you all the best with your food cart in Portland and I look forward to following your adventures via Facebook and Twitter!

Mark your calendar!!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A little bit of Asheville Small Plate Crawling

I've been so buried in Greenville Small Plate Crawl and some of my other projects that I'm just now getting around to telling you guys about the AMAZING food I had at Asheville Small Plate Crawl last month! Shame on me!  I tried so many new restaurants, a couple of which, I cannot wait to get back to for the full meal experience.  I'm just going to run down my passport and give you a wrap up with some of my favorite stops and dishes. Here we go.

I totally have a strategy when it comes to crawling, being that this was my third Small Plate Crawl.  I print out my passport and then list the places I want to go to.  The crawl website has a nifty tool that lets you put in the addresses of the places you want to visit and then plots your best path. I number my stops. Print out the menus, pick out the dishes I want to try ahead of time, and I'm ready to go.

Red Stag Grill at Grand Bohemian
If you haven't been in the Grand Bohemian smack dab in the middle of Biltmore Village shopping, you are missing out.  It's like a mini-Grove Park Inn.  Seriously.  It's small, but grandiose inside.  I swear they spent millions on just the furniture.  But we're here for the food, right?  After sitting down in the dining area we had to wait forever before ordering.  This is not optimal when crawling, but the food was amazing. I can't pick a favorite, so here's both.

We ordered the Elk Carpaccio with Blackberry powder, Celtic sea salt, Theros olive oil, farm fresh ventures micro arugula, and lavash.  It was quite the gastronomic experience!

Our second dish here was the Brioche Doughnut with Black truffle cream, caramelized white chocolate mousse, zinfandel gastrique. This was (insert expletive) fantastic.  


A commercial break: 
If you're headed to the Greenville Small Plate Crawl (< click) March 24-26, here are some crawl tips to remember: 

1) Pay with cash because it's faster.  
2) Order your drinks and food together and ask for your check when the food comes.  
3) Tip well. Remember your servers are working twice as hard so let them know they are appreciated and please tip them well.
4) Don't sit down with a group of 15 and order two plates.  Now, that's just rude.  Sharing is encouraged, but don't take up valuable real estate with a large party for only a few dishes. 
5)  I think the optimal crawl number is 2-8.  If you're traveling in packs larger than that, you might want to split up so you can crawl faster.
6) Ask about drink specials! Many of the crawl restaurants are running drink specials during the crawl.

French Broad Chocolate Lounge
I absolutely love this place.  There was a lady working on her computer at one of the tables and I told her I would gain a thousand pounds if I sat in a chocolate shop and worked!  I guess I really would be a kid in a candy store. (She laughs.)  We ordered the Chocolate and Wine offering: two half-pours of wine, each paired with a truffle and a caramel.

A glass full of chocolate fluffiness caught my eye in the case so we ordered the chocolate moose, too. Mercy! The candy bar (see picture above) was not included, but they are heaven, too and available at Kitchen Arts and Pottery at McBee Station in Downtown Greenville!  (I just temporarily borrowed it for special effects.)

Gnudi della Casa, the house made ricotta dumplings in Sherry Tomato Cream sauce was silky and savory and magnificent. My favorite dish of the entire crawl. We also ordered the Tuscan Stuffed Figs with Basil Whipped Goat Cheese and Prosciutto, which completely convinced me that I absolutely must get back there as soon as possible to tour the whole menu.

Blue Kudzu Sake Co
Blue Kudzu Sake was our last stop of the morning.  We ordered several items off their crawl menu including the Chinese Deviled Tea Eggs, but the Mini Fukuoka style Tonkatsu Ramen with pork broth, slow roast pork, fresh Ramen Noodles, pickled ginger, roasted sesame seeds and poached quail egg stole the show.  Blue Kudzu is in the process of making their own Sake!  It should be ready some time next month.  A must visit for Sake lovers.  They also have Sake Education classes here and have three Certified Sake Professionals on staff.  They know their stuff.

My friend Nina accompanied me for the first part of the day.  We hit 5 restaurants before 3pm.  And we were stuffed.  I came back down the mountain, switched friends and cars and headed back up for round two with my bff Kim in tow to hit five more restaurants.

Carmel's Kitchen and Bar
I was disappointed when the waiter said they were out of the Apple Tart at Carmel's (what?!), but he totally redeemed himself quickly by telling me that I COULD still have a scoop of the Vanilla ice cream from Asheville's Ultimate Ice Cream that was supposed to top off that dish.  YUM! I love their ice cream.  And being that we were already sipping on Biltmore Estate Wine's Chardonnay, we found out that Vanilla ice cream and Chardonnay go quite well together!

I was really there for the Mini Chicken and Waffle with Sriracha syrup with a side of greens.  Eye rolling good. I am so recreating this at home one day.

Isa's Bistro
I was not over the moon about any of the dishes at Isa's but it's totally worth a mention because they have Charles Krug Cab by the glass on their wine list.  No one ever has my favorite red by the glass.  I was so excited. They had some pretty good risotto on their menu, too.

The Lobster Trap

I finally made it to The Lobster Trap. I've been wanting to go for a while.  Kim ordered the Oysters and Pear Mignonette. I'm not a fan of raw oysters, but they were really pretty and paired with Biltmore Estate Chateau Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2010. I ordered the Jumbo Sea Scallop with Lime Caviar, Duck Confit, and Blood Orange paired with Biltmore Estate Riesling 2013 NC. Lovely.The Butter Poached Lobster Claw with Citrus, Gnocchi and Beach Mushrooms was pretty fantastic, too. This was one of our last stops and I was already stuffed and a little tipsy on the three glasses of Biltmore Wines I'd had that day.  I want to go back for a tour of the menu. (And better pictures.)

Greenville Small Plate Crawl is coming March 24-26.  I hope you'll get out there and crawl. Check out the menus on the website, print out your passport, plan your path and crawl!  So much fun.  I'll see you out there.