(May 21, 2009) Susan says…
I have a crush.
Last night, flavors, colors and textures joined hands to create a symphony on our plates at South Hills Market & Café under the masterful direction of Chef Richard Arbaugh. Let me take you through the concert, one number at a time.
First, the atmosphere: white linen tablecloths, white linen napkins, white plates in artful shapes. Simple table décor of a candle and small potted plant, making for easy conversation around the table. An intimate, quiet dining room with plush seats to keep you comfortable for the time we lingered.
Next, the menus: a single rectangle of cardstock announces the dishes available that evening. Another details the wine list and a smaller square shows the beers. The menu is separated into three categories: cold appetizer, hot appetizer, and entrée – about a dozen different creations in all. The Café is currently offering a prix fixe menu, meaning you can choose three courses for $35 per person, or four courses for $45.
The wine: we chose the 2006 Catena Malbec priced at $40. Made from high-altitude grapes grown at the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Mendoza, Argentina, this wine features flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and mocha. Enjoyable with or without food, it was a perfect choice to begin our meal and is one of the more popular wines at The Café.
The Amuse Bouche: three items adorn a small rectangular plate. Beet, microgreen and goat cheese. As this course is meant to be a single bite, I combined the three components on my fork. The goat cheese was creamy with a tangy bite. The microgreen, nicely seasoned, added a peppery hint and gentle crunch. The beet was sweet and smooth, having been formed into a gelatin-like ruby red triangle. The sweetness of the beet and the tangy goat cheese complemented each other perfectly. We are off to wonderful start.
The bread: The assortment of breads, baked locally at Charleston Bread Company, arrived at the table in round, silver vessels lined with a white linen napkin. Even the butter and olive oil received special attention from the Chef. Cumin and orange were combined with the butter – the orange sweetened the flavor and the cumin gave a slightly smoky finish to the bite. A dish of vanilla-infused olive oil was also presented along with sea salt.
First Course, Japanese Yellowfin: two triangles of seared yellowfin tuna were arranged with thin sections of grapefruit. Shavings of fennel and baby arugula were placed in the center upon a pool of tunato sauce, a sauce which may remind you of a Caesar. The outside of the tuna was a light golden color, turning dark pink toward the inside of the fish which easily flaked and melted in my mouth.
The Entrée Wine: for the second course we selected the 2003 Perlat Unio priced at $28. With more pronounced acidity, this red from the northeast region of Spain is a blend of three grapes: Carenena, Garnacha and Syrah. The flavors of black cherry, blueberries and herbs complemented the food nicely.
Second Course, Atlantic Swordfish: a grilled polenta cake served as the base of the sculpture that was my entrée. Atop the polenta was a thick section of swordfish, fennel, and another piece of fish. A dark red puttenesca sauce pooled at the base of the polenta cake. The aroma hinted at capers, tomato, and garlic. The fish, taken off the heat at precisely the right time, was silken and tender. Nicely browned, the griddled polenta cake provided a crispy texture to offset the smooth fish.
Third Course, Crème Brulee: a creamy custard of eggs and cream became a crispy shell after caramelizing a layer of sugar on top. Accompanied by fresh whipped cream and sliced strawberries, this dessert was smooth and satisfying.
True to form, I also sampled Ron’s yukon gratin which was as heavenly as the last time I ate it. It was this gratin which inspired me to create something similar for my turn as Co-Chef of Underground Kitchen. I also savored a bite of the quail dish, and as no surprise, it was amazing.
During the first course, Ron asked our server, Matt, about his Georgia smoked quail. The plate consisted of three quail legs placed on a bed of mustard greens accompanied by a blackberry gastrique. On the side were three spheres of apple atop dots of a white wine gastrique. Two of the three spheres were adorned with a sprig of microgreen, leaving the middle sphere bare. Ron’s question was ‘why no microgreen on the one in the middle?’ Matt replied confidently: “because the Chef did not want it to have one”. And Ron was sufficiently shushed! (My favorite quote of the evening.)
Yes, I definitely have a crush on Chef Arbaugh.
I didn’t worry about what was in the dish, I just made a selection and trusted him. Individual ingredients transform when combined with others and Chef has the talent to make those ingredients sing on the palate, rewarding me for my faith. I would not ordinarily choose to eat beets, yet I loved what he did with them. Apple, quail and mustard greens: nothing I would be interested in. But coming from this kitchen, the combination was delicious. My point is – don’t let your preconceived notions about certain foods hold you back. When you find a talented Chef, let him feed you.
With the affordable prix fixe menu, I hope many of you will experience a meal at South Hills Market & Café.
I don’t have a crush on Mr. Arbaugh. However I do have a crush on his Potatoes, and I’m glad he made me some for Desert.
I had a great time so much so that words escape me…………..
(I said the words have escaped me so I’m done)
When asked if I wanted to dine at shmc again I answered quickly, “When?” I’ve eaten some hoity-toity meals in my life. My father enjoyed good food. A trait that he got from his mother and uncle then promptly passed it on to me. It didn’t matter if we were visiting my great uncle John in Eldred, PA or dining at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa. We ate well. My uncle John loved to cook and would procure the best ingredients when preparing a meal for out of town guests. He was a fan of cooking shows before the Food Network and had a complete collection of Jeff Smith’s Frugal Gourmet cookbooks. My father admired my great uncle and his love for fine food, but my grandmother never failed to expose her children to good food. It might be Maryland blue crab cakes made in her own kitchen or an elegant meal in a three star establishment.
My father used vacations as the vehicle to get us to some nice places. I showed an interest in cooking at a young age and more than once my father asked the waiter if I could get a tour of the kitchen. I can remember ordering hasenfeffer in Denver and soffle in Montreal. To this day my father doesn’t think twice about dropping a benjamin on a meal, but don’t try to get him to purchase a nice gas grill or good lawn mower. He’ll figure out a way to value engineer a couple of used ones together. He would really enjoy shmc.
I can appreciate fine food and thoughtfully prepared flavors. It is apparent that a great deal of thought, planning and testing goes into each one of Chef Arbaugh’s original creations. On my last visit I enjoyed a perfectly executed lamb dish. This time my culinary compass pointed to the sea and sky.
My first course: I chose the quail. The quail was roasted to a golden brown and glazed with a blackberry gastrique. The bird was deboned in a way that made five small quail lolipops. The lolipops were plated on top of wilted mustard greens and garnished with poached apples. The use of the seasonal berry to enhance the sweetness of the quail took this dish to the next level. Futhermore the mustard green played off this sweetness with a pleasant bitterness that tasted like thanksgiving. Maybe a touch of sage was added. The Malbec paired nicely and didn’t get in the way of these flavors. This dish was rustic in its inspiration, but not in its execution.
My second course: My second course was the same as Susan’s and her description does it justice, but I will add one word – balance. Looking at the picture you might think a skewer was keeping all those ingredients upright. That is not the case. The presentation is in perfect balance and so are the flavors. Delicate is not a word that I would use to describe swordfish or puttenesca sauce. They both have stong flavors that don’t compete with each other in this dish. These strong flavors are then paired with the muted flavors of the fennel and polenta thus giving the dish balance. This dish is a winner, but I always get a little food envy when the beef tournedos are presented.
My dessert: This dish had my name written all over it – peanut butter cream puffs with dark chocolate ganache. It appears to be a pretty simple execution, but the flavors are in their purest form. There will be no preservative aftertaste with any shmc desserts. The peanut butter cream was velvety smooth and the chocolate was intense. I would get this again and again for the flavor and after a couple glasses of wine it looks like, oh….draw your own conclusions.
The final flavor: Our palates were offered one more original treat before leaving. Homemade marshmallows and pina colada jellies. The marshmallow was soft and creamy. I bet it would make a great smore made table side. 😉 The jelly tasted as described. Bryan, Misty’s husband, says pina coladas taste like suntan lotion, so he passed.
Unlike Susan I do not have a crush on Chef or Anne Arbaugh. They are nice folks. What I do love is that they are trying to do something unique and special in Charleston. A visit to shmc is a must. Beit for lunch or dinner, I doubt you will be dissatisfied. In fact, I am sure your tastebuds will fall in love with shmc.
I was very anxious about going to South Hills Market and Café for dinner for many reasons:
- We go there frequently for lunch and I haven’t had anything there that I didn’t like- the chicken salad is the yummiest around.
- I was absent from the original Fork You trip- SHMC started serving dinner on or about the due date of my second daughter. Susan and Daniel just couldn’t wait on me…or at least that is what they said. Maybe they didn’t want a 40 week pregnant woman around eating all their food or me showing up with a 3 day old infant. Either way, I have wanted to go there since their trip…I was envious …they have done nothing but talk about how great the food was. I wanted to taste the food to see if it measured up to the hype.
- It was a dinner without kids- Bryan and I had a date with someone over the age of 3- need I say more.
As soon we were seated, the waiter came by to explain the menu. You could order each item individually or exercise the prix fixe option. We all chose the prix fixe option and I ordered the Georgia smoked quail and the beef tournedos.
Before we began the evening, I decided that this was going to be a different dining experience for me. Usually, I am a picker. When I get my food, I pick out the things that I don’t like or I tailor my ordering to my known-liked tastes. This evening, I was going to try everything and trust the chef.
I loved the first wine that we ordered- it was the 2006 Cantena Malbec. I am not a huge fan of red wine, but this one was great. It was very smooth and fruit forward. Daniel gets a thumbs up for picking this one.
Next, everyone received a plate of goat cheese, a microgreen, and something that looked like Jello. Our server explained this was a beet. I did not get to try the microgreen as my husband really like it and I traded my microgreen for his goat cheese. The goat cheese was very smooth and creamy. Sticking with my food plan for the evening, I tried the beet. It was ok- I just didn’t like the beet taste.
When the quail dish came out, it looked great. I could barely wait for the rest of the table to get their food before I dived in. The meat was tender and the sauce was slightly sweet. I have heard that quail is sometimes hard to eat because of all the little bones. However, this was easy and only had a small leg bone to grab onto to eat. The apple spheres on the side were deliciously tart and sweet. Then, there were the mustard greens…another item I wouldn’t usually try. But I did, and I’m glad I did. They were yummy.
My beef tournedos were next. The steak was tender and perfectly cooked. But I have to say and agree with Ron, the potatoes were the star of this plate. They were the best. My only complaint…there should have been more.
[Side Note] I’ve noticed that they often have some type of potatoes in the glass cases to the left of the store. Next time we eat lunch at SHMC, I will have to see if these are the same potatoes. If they are, I am going to get some and take them home for my dinner. This is one of my favorite things about SHMC- You can take their delicious food home and pretend it is yours!
I have obviously left the fancy culinary dissection to Susan and Daniel. I’ll just say- this food was awesome.
What I really like about this meal was the entire experience. I had a great time with everyone who joined us. The food was interesting and really created a lot of conversation among everyone seated at the table. I think each person at the table sampled a bit of everything.
Also, I wanted to add, the service was great. Our server explained all the dishes and was very friendly. He contributed greatly to our wonderful experience.
SHMC lived up to all the hype…If you want to have a unique dining experience in Charleston- go and eat at SHMC.
1010 Bridge Road
Charleston, WV 25314
Tuesday: 7am – 6:30pm (No dinner service Tuesdays)
Wednesday – Friday: 7am to 11pm
Saturday: 8am – 11pm
Closed Sundays and Mondays