Saturday, July 7, 2012

Monthly Wine Dinners from Ben Berryhill at Next Door in Mount Pleasant!

The Next Door Crew
from left: Charlie Chance (owner), Lauren Levine (general manager), Ben Berryhill (executive chef), Nathan Hood (sous chef)

Last month Next Door Restaurant hosted their first in a series of dinners featuring a seven course tasting menu with regional wine pairings for $45 per person.  This past monday I had the opportunity to enjoy their second such event. 

Next Door is a newer venture from Executive Chef Ben Berryhill and his partner Charlie Chance, of Red Drum in Mount PleasantUnlike Red Drum's more constant menu, the one at Next Door is ingredient driven, regularly changing based on local and seasonal items. Luckily for the diner, Sous Chef Nathan Hood ensures that both menu regulars and special offerings are true delights. I've been going to Red Drum for close to 7 years now and I know to expect consistency and a welcoming atmosphere from Chef Berryhill. He and his team take a hands on approach and they are never far from either restaurant to ensure quality. Next Door, just shy of reaching its first birthday, is still working on gaining a solid following. Berryhill concedes that the pace has been slower than he would like, but he is confident in word of mouth. 

Guests enjoying their meal and wine.

The July 2nd dinner featured wines from Austria to Sicily, along the E-55 Auto Route. For me the wine stars of the evening were the white Borgo M. Friulano 2010 from Alto Adige in Northern Italy, and the red Cottanera Fatagione Nerello Mascalese 2006 from Sicily. Both of these are beautiful summer wines. The Friulano is a rich, nutty white which came with a creamy chilled cucumber soup and dill whipped cream. Both Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio lovers can agree to go gaga over a bottle of this. Nerello Mascalese is a fairly unknown red grape grown in the volcanic soils of Southern Italy. It has an inky quality balanced by acidity and the fruity flavor of fresh grape skins. Paired with a lovely light summer tomato sauce over al dente orecchiette, this combo could not be beat.  John Julius of Ben Arnold Beverage Company and Sous Chef Hood both pointed out how natural it is to pair Southern Italian wines with the summer foods we enjoy in Charleston because the regional cuisines both revolve around gorgeous ripe tomatos and tons of fresh seafood.

Although the food was very enjoyable and the wine pairings were spot on, the experience fell a little short in execution. The temperature of individual components seemed to be a problem. I also noticed a lot of variation in the doneness of the meat courses. Most importantly for me seemed to be the errors in service from this particular crew. The servers were unable to tell us what they were serving during multiple courses. Plus, the menus were incorrectly printed, leaving my table mates and I rather confused about what we were eating. As the front room filled with regular diners our wait got much longer. This left the wine drinkers to get a little rowdy, but on the plus side it allowed some time for John to teach us a little about why the pairings were chosen and the regions the wine came from. There were a few missteps, but I'm confident that these particular issues will work their way out as the servers gain more experience. On previous trips to the restaurant I have experienced flawless and confident service along with fantastic food. 

John Julius of Ben Arnold Beverage Company pouring some Grecante for a couple of diners.

As an added bonus we got to watch the guys uncork bottles of Movia Puro. I know that doesn't sound exciting, so let me explain a bit. This particular wine is made in a method champenoise stlye, the same way champagne is produced. The wine has sediments in the neck of the bottle from the aging yeast which must be removed. This process is called disgourging and is usually done at the winery. However, Puro chooses to leave the sediment in the bottle as a fun gimmick for restauanteurs and the like. Basically, you have to store the bottle upside down and open the bottle in water in order to clear the sediments. It creates a bit of hoopla for the viewers, and is a yummy wine for the drinkers.

Overall, I was impressed by the pairings and how well they suited the delicious food. Next Door just needs to polish their corners when it comes to wine dinners.  However, Berryhill is a fabulous mentor for the young Sous Chef Hood, and I think with a little more time the two will shine. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Walk Softly and Carry a Spider Stick - Chantrelle Foraging in Charleston

It's July 1st in Charleston and I'm wearing long sleeves, long pants, and full body armor, courtesy of OFF bug spray.

Buddy and I are in the middle of the West Ashley woods foraging for chanterelles. I have never been chanterelle foraging before and I have no idea what to look for. I'm following each of Buddy's footsteps, head down, hoping for something to appear. 

Then the wall of heat hits us. It's a little after 10am. We look at each other's drenched clothing. We have been discussing the prospect of melting to the ground. Buddy says to me "It isn't even 11am yet." My response: "It's 11am somewhere!". The air down here drinks in humidity like an alcoholic drinks a handle of bourbon.

Buddy stops mid-stride and I nearly run him over. He grabs a long stick and starts prodding at the air in front of us. I wonder if he is hallucinating... until I see her.

We've nearly walked face first into this lady. She is cooly observing our movements, not willing to waste her own energy on scrambling away like most of the others. Her leg span is the width of my outstretched hand. We turn the other way but keep the spider stick. 

The bugs are ringing in my ears, getting caught in my eyebrows, and dripping from sweat droplets off my nose and onto my lips. You know how you experience vertigo laying in bed after a day on the boat? I'm thinking the ringing in my ears will haunt me the same way later this evening. The buzzing reminds me of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 

Trudging on, it smells like dead things. A deer skull and backbone mark the path. Further back we passed a wild boar, gorged in the belly and bloated, laying on the side of the road. Vultures three times the size of fat Chihuahuas were guarding the carrion.

I'm making this chanterelle foraging thing sound like a horror movie.

Despite the bugs, and the spiders, and the dead things, and the smell, and the heat, and the sweat, I'm really enjoying it.

At the end of the trip we have at least a pound of fresh chanterelles, and we leave unscathed, save a mosquito bite on my left eyelid.

I was expecting at least a little digging, but really you can't miss the bright melon colored beauties popping out of the leaf cover.

You know it's a true chanterelle if the gills are part of the cap, not a separate thing you could scrape off like a Portobello.

There are a few basic things to know about where to find the fungi...

-go to inland forested areas
-near trails
-near streams
-near oak trees (if you can identify them. I honestly have no idea what an oak tree looks like vesus, say a maple, but I do know how to identify non-pine and non-palm trees, so thats the key in Charleston)
-after rains the mushrooms are more plentiful, but not impossible to find when its sunny and dry.

Also do the following to prepare:

-bring a bag for collection
-use scissors to cut the base so the mushrooms can grow back
-try not to disturb the ground around the mushrooms too much, it upsets the spores and can inhibit regrowth
-drink water
-don't forget to check for ticks

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Guest Post Sunday: Picnic Spots in the Holy City

            Being in the south, it can be tough to find a good time and place to get outside, what with all the heat and humidity we deal with around here. Yet, when the weather finally lines up for once, there can be great times to head around Charleston for a good old-fashioned picnic. Whether it's the water shining peacefully in the bright daylight, or the cool shade to escape the unforgiving heat down here, this town has plenty to offer!

            Personally, I like sitting along a waterfront, especially when there's a good breeze going in the midday. That's why I enjoy visiting the North Charleston Riverfront Park!  The river is beautiful to stare into (although not too long - don't need to be blinded by the sun's reflections!) I've had some good friends over for a picnic more than once there and enjoyed myself greatly. After picnics, I'll occasionally stroll over to the memorial for some quiet thinking alone. It's a very peaceful place.

            Of course, the weather isn't always so cooperative. I like to use Plymouth Park as a good backup for some nice shade for when the picnic's ready, but the weather just doesn't give the right way. A breeze is always a good complement to a picnic, though, don't get me wrong. I only have a problem when the entire table's napkins go flying off 50 feet away from us in the span of half a second. Then the picnic turns into a mad scurry for the things as they move on further away, just barely settling back into order after several minutes. Great fun, nonetheless!

            A great place to hold a picnic that involves some grilling is the Wannamaker County Park - grills are already in place, just light 'em and cook up some home-style burgers, hotdogs, you name it. Hanging out around its lake is great, too - it's a great backdrop to all the forestry you can see across it. Heck, the park has covered places for rental, too, just in case I really need shade and plans are already set.

            Now, I haven't listed exactly everything there is - nowhere near it! But these are my personal favorites for a good time while having a picnic with friends and family whenever we can. And really, isn't that the point of a good picnic?

About Guest Blog Post: 
Manilyn Moreno is the Online Catering and Food Manager at BetterCater.  She enjoys writing about her passions which include outdoor activities, cooking and organizing events.