south hills market and cafe – South Hills Shops, Charleston, WV
The title deserves an explanation. It is drawn from the restaurant critiquing rules Ruth Reichl writes about in her book, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. She tells her dining companions during a trip to Daniel’s that everyone must order something different and that she gets to taste everyone’s food. So four of “The Five” decided to employee this technique on our epic night of fine dining.
Tracey and I met Ron and Susan for cocktails and appetizers at Bridge Road Bistro. It was happy hour until seven and they were serving two for one beer, wine and well drinks. I had an Appalachian Amber from Mountain State Brewery and a Vodka martini. I ordered up the Portuguese Fisherman Mussels, which was mussels cooked with roasted garlic and chorizo sausage with saffron, tomatoes and white wine sauce for $11. The shellfish were clean and very tender. The combination would have gone nicely over pasta, too. It was time to go claim our table across the street. We walked the short distance to the SHMC and I could tell Ron was upset. See, leaving a watering hole one minute before the end of happy hour for Ron is like Robert Ebert leaving a movie theater before the end of an Oscar nominated film.
We were met at the door by the hostess who showed us to our table in the back of the dining room. The table was dressed with a white table cloth and white napkins. The flicker of a single candle was reflected in the white and red wine glasses that stand tall above the spotless silver service. We were greeted at our table by out server, Kat. She passed out the menus and wine lists and took our beverage orders. Susan decided to defer the wine choice to me. I surveyed the menu quickly and decided to narrow my choices to the reds. I spotted a pinot I thought we might like, but ultimately chose a 2001 Chateau Les Sources De La Marine Syrah. As I was taking care of the wine selection we were presented with a beautiful pre-appetizer. Peeled, marinated baby tomatoes with homemade ricotta topped with micro-greens were served on bright white china. I thought if this is an example of what was to come we are in good hands. I was particularly taken on how fresh the micro-greens tasted and the smoothness of the ricotta.
The menu is broken down into to three simple categories – cold, hot and entrees. I was torn between the black grouper and the elysian fields lamb loin. I love fish, but lamb is not easy to find in Charleston so I went in that direction. I also thought I would like to try the young greens, too. Everyone had relayed their choices to Kat, and we had successfully ordered four different meals. Now it was time for the wine dance. Kat brought the syrah and presented it to me. Using her waiter’s friend, and with our encouragement, she uncorked the first of three bottles. This first red was silky smooth with chocolate and oaky notes. Ron ordered a Dead Guy Ale, which is one of my favorites and when I saw that frosty pilsner glass hit the table I had to have one, too. I am a member of the Rouge Nation after all.
As we enjoyed our drinks and conversation in the intimate dining room our second course arrived. My young greens were piled in a crisp white, square bowl with corn shoots dripping over the edge. I plated a portion for Tracey and a taste for Susan. Ron was drinking his second course. The tender baby lettuces, arugula and fresh parsley had been tossed in a dressing sweetened with clover honey and seasoned with a shallot reduction. Susan passed tastes around and I was very pleased with her course, too. Bread was delivered in a silver vessel with a tray of olive oil, sea salt and compound butter. We all took turns dipping the artisan breads into the oil and sea salt.
Our as our second course was cleared, the entrees were presented. My lamb was cooked to a perfect medium rare and had been rested so the moisture was in the meat and not on the plate. It was plated over a corn relish and parsnip puree. The tiny corn kernels went well with the lamb, which was sauced with a rich demi-glace. I cut the tenderloin with the table knife and savored its unique flavor. The parsnips were the color of a latte, but tasted of the savory earth in which the root was grown. I was enjoying my dish, but was distracted by Ron’s beef filet. I predict that it will become SHMC most popular entree.
We had run out wine before the entrees were served. Actually the bottle never made it back to my side of the table – it was being monopolized by Susan. So another Syrah was ordered, opened and poured. We all shared tastes of our entrees while Ron fended off attacks from both sides of his plate. Susan managed to out flank him and polished off his potatoes.
Now, we asked about the desserts early, but Kat teased us that they were a secret. When the menu was delivered we all quickly decided what we wanted. I love chocolate, but I knew that one of the women would go that direction, so I chose the Lemongrass Crème brûlée. This burnt cream and sugar sweet is flavored with vanilla and lemon. I busted through the hard sugar crust and savored a few bites. I found that I liked Susan’s chocolate pyramid as much as she liked the crème brûlée. We traded and finished off the desserts as Ron enjoyed his dessert: a bottle of Pinot Noir.
I decided, even though the babysitter was on the clock to linger a little longer. I order some coffee and two of their bigger than your head chocolate chip cookies. One for the table and one for the babysitter. As our coffee and cookies were prepared, I asked if the chef could come out to talk. I was really trying to be the last to leave. Chef Arbaugh came out and let us praise his and his wife, Anne’s, efforts to create Charleston’s newest fine dining establishment. He was very nice and explained how some of our dishes were created. We talked his ear off until he had another masterpiece to prepare.
So here are my Do’s and Don’ts to having a FIVE Fork experience at the south hills market and cafe:
- Do make reservations,
- Don’t get seated at the potty table (a three-top placed between the restroom doors),
- Do order a bottle of wine,
- Don’t forget to ask questions about the entrees,
- Do order dessert, even if it’s a chocolate chip cookie, and
- Don’t rush your meal.
We scheduled swim lessons, a baby sitter, even hair cut appointments around the 2nd night of dinner service at South Hills Market and Café. So, I was thinking, this better be good. The evening started with discussion about what to wear, what to wear. Since I never get to go anywhere fancy, I wanted to dress up a little, but when Dan appeared wearing a Hawaiian shirt, I decided to tone it down a little. We arrived for our pre-dinner cocktail at Bridge Road Bistro. I had a french martini which was raspberry and tasty. I never drink (unlike the other three at my table, hee hee) and that one crazy drink kinda got to me.
As we dodged raindrops crossing the street to the Café, I was really ready to enjoy some dinner. Oh, those fancy restaurants and their drawn out table service… We were seated and proceeded to irritate our unfortunate waitress, Kat, with a million questions. Throughout the course of the evening, we learned that she was suffering from return-to-the-real-world syndrome, having just returned from vacation. I was content to just order one of the three vegetarian selections on the menu, but poor Kat had to go over each menu item with the food lovers at the table. Alls I needed to know was that a duxelle was indeed a mushroom and I was good to go.
I will let the others expound on the virtues of the décor (including veggie bathroom mirrors and that one ill-placed table) and just tell you about my Squash Blossoms. My white oval platter arrived with three little green squash leaves each sitting upon sweet pea puree. Stuffed into each was a flavorful mixture that made me think of Thanksgiving, so I think there was some sage and maybe some celery or water chestnut in there. They were tiny, but extremely flavor packed. I thought that I would still be hungry, but after the house start of heirloom tomatoes, microgreens, and homemade ricotta cheese, a slice of crusty bread with herbed butter, and part of a young green salad, I was pretty full.
It was more difficult to choose a dessert from the fancy offerings. I picked Chocolate Bouchon. It was beautiful! Two sinfully dark chocolate cakes side by side on the plate with a generous dollop of fresh cream between them and a chocolate “twig” on top. The cakes were so dark and rich that they almost gave me a headache. Mmmmmm.
Anyway, I had pretty much decided that I was not cut out for all this fancy schmancy business and was really (REALLY) ready to get up from this table when Dan, having had a little too much wine, asked our friend Kat if the chef could come out. She looked alarmed, which in turn alarmed me. But when he came out, I was so glad we got to meet him. Chef Arbaugh was very friendly and receptive to our questions and comments. In a Fork You first, we disclosed that we would be reviewing the meal experience. He had the courtesy to look nervous-as if he had anything to worry about! Hearing him talk about the combinations that he had put together and some of his plans for future menu ideas was my favorite part of the evening. I just love to listen to people who are excited about their work!
Overall, it was a perfect experience, if you like that sort of thing. I give South Hills Market and Café (nighttime) FIVE Forks! But, I think I would have been satisfied with one of those giant cookies too!
The most anxiously anticipated meal in Fork You history set sail at the Bridge Road Bistro. Fortunately for our Ron’s pocketbooks, we lucked into a happy hour special. (Don’t let him fool you. He paid around $40 at the Bistro and I paid for the bill at shmc. I think he made out pretty good.) I chose a glass of Riondo Prosecco (Italian sparkling white wine) at a price point of $9 a glass. At the risk of sounding chinsy, that is more than I pay for most bottles of wine at Kroger. But since it was happy hour, I received 2 for the price of 1, so in doing the math quickly in my head: $9/2=$4.50 per glass (see how my accounting degree comes in handy?) I proceeded to sip it away guilt-free. That was until I researched the price. If you clicked the previous link on “Riondo Prosecco”, you can see that I can buy a bottle for $11.95. Wow.
I realize this is not a review of the Bistro, but being my first visit, I feel I must comment on the big price for such a small portion of the appetizer I ordered. The Fried Tomato and Roasted Garlic Ravioli, for $10, turned out to be two wonton wrappers encasing a tomato filling, served with a small mound of chopped olives on a lettuce leaf. I neither saw nor tasted the goat cheese promised by the menu description. I want to go back to the Bistro and give them a proper Forking.
Having whetted our appetites and lightened our wallets, we sauntered across Bridge Road to the bright red awning of shmc. The transition from lunch to dinner involved crisp white linen tablecloths and napkins, and candles on each table. I noticed the refrigerated case that was on the wall opposite the door had been replaced by two comfy-looking booths. That is where I would want to sit if I were on a date with just Ron.
I prefer to obtain a menu in advance so I can properly study it and ready my tastebuds hours before I arrive at the restaurant. Since I was unable to adhere to my standard procedures, I went in blind – not knowing what to expect. We received smallish cardstock menus – plain white with black lettering and no graphics to muck up the presentation. In fact, throughout the evening, from décor, to place settings, to plating – there was a theme of elegant simplicity.
My selections: from the Cold: Surf & Turf Tartare and from the Hot: Scallop with Arugula and Pancetta. At $13 and $12, respectively, that caused my meal to total $25. (At the Bistro, that would have yielded me only 5 wonton raviolis.) The tiny heirloom tomatoes with homemade ricotta were really delicious. And I was excited to eat the microgreens that I always see them using on Iron Chef America. They were so cute and tiny.
As you can see from the photos, the plating was simple and attractive. The red of the tuna against the complementary color of the green avocado made the dish pop off the perfectly spotless white plate. The steak was molded into a burger shape with a piece of toast and a quail egg on top. If you have read any of my rants about eggs, you know I really don’t like eggs. You might even say I detest them – and you’d be right. I must have had a look of surprise/horror on my face because Kathryn asked if it was alright. I told her it was, I could take one for the team. Tracey mentioned that such a key component to the dish maybe should have received a notation on the menu, but I was determined not to let anything, not even an egg, ruin this meal. I sliced through the entire steak presentation, egg and all, and took a bite. The egg really didn’t bother me, the toast was crisp, and the first chew of my steak…good. And then it happened. The thing that not even the shocking receipt of a barely cooked egg could do: my meal was tainted by the gristle in the first bite of my first dish. I simply cannot handle that and did not eat any more of the steak side of my plate. The tuna was tender and perfect and helped make a comeback for the Surf & Turf.
My second plate arrived with the entrees. One large scallop sat atop a shell, beside that laid the arugula and then next to the greens was the pancetta. My plan for this dish was to combine a taste of each component into every bite. I did some of my best allocation work on that dish, mixing the warm tender scallop with the peppery arugula and the crispy, salty pancetta. This was a delicious dish.
When I saw the entrée Ron chose being placed beside me, I had serious food envy. I was fully prepared to stare him down until I got a bite, but I didn’t need to – he offered bites right away and I gladly accepted. His tenderloin was cooked to perfection. And the potato gratin….OMG. I will DEFINITELY order the Steak Toronadoes on my next visit. Daniel shared a bite of his lamb, which was unbelievable. Hmmm….maybe I’ll get that on my next visit…
In true restaurant swinger fashion, we all ordered dessert. It just so happened that Ron’s dessert was in liquid form. Nothing wrong with that, I sampled his, too. It is true that I enjoyed the crème brulee more than the $8 chocolate pyramid I ordered. Strange, that I would prefer something non-chocolate, but the delicate lemon flavor that came through in the custard was splendid. Plus, it was fun to break apart the crispy sugar top.
Talking with Chef Arbaugh was one of my highpoints of the evening, as well. Even though I was instantly nervous when I heard Dan asking if he could “come out”. When Dan orders a martini, you know he means serious business, and serious business had started at least an hour before this. Chef was friendly and obviously excited about his work at shmc. He told us the menu would be changing every three to four weeks, so if you want to taste the dishes available now, don’t hesitate too long.
The service we received from Kathryn was excellent. She was proficient, friendly and took all our foolishness in stride. All in all, this was a top notch experience from entering the door under the awning until the time we exited. The menu choices, the table, the presentation, the prices, the food quality… Had I not taken that one bad bite (which I am still having trouble shaking the thought of), I would concur with my friends and award the highest rating. However, I did, and it was, and so I have to go with FOUR FORKS for shmc. But I will definitely be back.
RON SAYS – “FOUR OF THE FIVE”????? What the heck Dan???? I thought the five were – yourself, Susan, Phil, Misty, & Ben. Who are the Five? – you have to either throw me or your wife – Tracey, under the proverbial BUS.
Who’s it going to be???
I know that I have tarnished my “culinary journalistic credibility” but , but , but , but……
I digress –
The Bridge Road Bistro – eh…. yeah it’s pretty except for the front wall, reminds me of sitting in a submarine or something, small windows, all in a row. eh…
However the beer was good, and cold, and it was nice to have some home grown beers to be served in the Charleston area. But I don’t know, this just didn’t do it for me… I won’t “fork” this joint just yet, as this wasn’t the target of our stakeout this eve.
Dan & Susan have been talking about eating at the South Hills Market for some time. Dan I think just discovered Google Calendars about two months ago, and sent out about five invitations for our evening’s festivities.
I have to say that I think Dan and Susan have pretty much covered the “culinary journalistic criteria” of any culinary review. So I’m just going to say…
We had about six courses, I lost count and probably am confusing some of the bottles of wine as actual courses of our dining experience.
The first course was brought out by our waitress – who btw was very friendly, taking our pictures, and such, telling us about her Folly Beach fling she had. This course, we got three cherry tomatoes and some, what I think was ~ clover. Albeit small clovers- they call ’em microgreens. Just kidding, but even though, at first site of this dish I thought: “holy crap, I’m getting raped tonight”. However these had to be the tastiest cherry tomatoes that I’ve ever tasted.
Don’t know what they marinated them in… but after eating just one… I was thinking to myself.. ok this may be expensive, but I think I’m in for a treat tonight.
A treat it was.
My dinner – the steak and au gratin potatoes… was grade A. The steak was probably the best I’ve had since I was in Charleston, South Carolina last time and eating at Oak. This steak was expensive, but once tasting just one bite – you realize the difference between a quality steak and the gristly Outback Special.
Yes the Outback will say – “You ordered it rare, it’s supposed to be gristly.”
NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND – to quote everyone’s least favorite college football analyst.
I ordered this steak rare, and it was AWESOME. The stories above about Susan and Dan flanking me – are true. They wined me up, so that my fork stabbing at their hands was futile. If Tracey would have tried one bite, she would have thrown her vegetarian ways out the door – baby in the bath water style.
I would gladly eat this meal again… I love steak. I typically do not put A1 on a steak unless it stinks. However I love A1. Kind of a catch 22 I found myself in this eve. Somehow it got out about the A1 and I recall our Summer of 69 waitress saying something to the affect of “as long as you don’t request A1″… I was dumbfounded, as I really wanted A1 with this steak much like I want chips with dip.
This desire for A1 was only because of how good this steak was and how I wanted the dip with my beef chip.
We had dessert, talked to the chef… I think he will be doing a fork you questionnaire to be determined later. He seemed game enough. We shall see.
If you want to splurge for some reason then
EAT HERE FOR GOOD FOOD.