If you have not wound your way up Bridge Road for dinner under the red awning, you must put it at the top of your to-do list. I have had some great dishes. I have had some great meals. But this one… this one begs me to wax poetic.
We have reviewed South Hills Market and Café and I have written an open (love) letter to Chef Richard Arbaugh. The more I eat there, the more I love it. The combination of cozy atmosphere, friendly and attentive service, gorgeous white dinnerware, fantastic flavor combinations and artistic presentation is like nothing else in our area. (In fact, in my opinion, SHMC outshines the meal I recently enjoyed at the Greenbrier’s Main Dining Room.)
I am either talking about food, thinking about food, eating food, cooking food, reading about food, watching food programs on television…well, you get the point. I love food. Ron is well aware of it, too. So for Valentine’s Day he knew what I would love more than roses or a box of chocolates or even a pajama-gram stumped by Howard himself: a meal at my favorite restaurant.
He surprised me with his plan for the evening right after I shoveled in the last bite of food at the China Buffet, which included two visits to the Mongolian chicken pan, hot & spicy diced, lots of garlicky green beans and two crab rangoons – among other items. So much for “saving my appetite” for dinner that night. No worries, though – I should be good to go by our reservation time of 8:30.
South Hills Market & Café is a great lunch spot. The Fork You Crew likes to go there for hot sandwiches, salads and occasionally we order straight from the cases of prepared foods. But for dinner, the food is the stuff of magazines.
We reviewed the wine list, recently updated with some different options, and selected a Cotes du Rhone red blend for $30. The wine list at SHMC is great for two reasons: 1) there is a nice range of prices so you don’t need to spend a lot to get a nice wine and 2) I don’t see most of these wines at my Kroger so I am trying something new.
The menu changes frequently so you will not get bored with the dozen+ choices. Separated into three sections: soup and salad, appetizers, and entrees, the current menu offers six vegetarian options, a Kobe beef burger, foie gras and truffle essence. What to choose, what to choose?
Our meal began with the wine and the amuse- bouche.
The literal translation of the French term is “mouth amuser”. It is a single, bite-sized hors d’oeuvre intended to tease your tastebuds and introduce the Chef’s style to the diner. You don’t order it off the menu, it is simply presented to you at no charge. The Chef may change the amuse-bouche frequently, but all diners receive the same one on a particular evening.
On this evening, we received Virginia honey with a bit of honeycomb, Danish blue cheese and a brioche crouton. The crouton was a lightly crisped half-circle of brioche from Charleston Bread Company. Combined with the sharpness of the cheese and the sweetness of the honey, my mouth was definitely amused.
Next came the bread and butter. Literally! You are served a couple selections of bread from Charleston Bread Company in what Ron labels a “moon bowl”. It is a silver sphere-shaped bowl which sits with the opening at an angle. It is filled with a linen napkin and four slices of fresh bread. Accompanying the bread is a plate of olive oil and sea salt for dipping and the Chef’s compound butter du jour. Sage was the flavor of the day which paired nicely with both the brioche and the Kalamata olive bread.
We selected green lipped mussels as our appetizer. I could smell the coconut broth as the large plate with a square bowl was placed between us on the table. The square bowl held six or eight large mussels in a pool of light-colored, slightly thick yellow curry broth garnished with plenty of fresh cilantro and topped with a slice of grilled ciabatta. We were each given our own bowl and Chinese soup spoon. As you would expect in an upscale restaurant, the mussels were already loosened for us in the kitchen so I could enjoy the dish without worrying about flinging one across the table. The flavors, although pronounced, were not overpowering to the delicate shellfish. The crispy bread tasted of the grill and was a nice accompaniment to help soak up all the broth.
Then came my entrée. I am still daydreaming about this dish – trying to relive it in my mind. Here’s how the conversation went once I received my main course:
Susan “This looks great!”
Ron saying nothing, as usual
Susan (taking a bite of rice) “Ummmmmm”
Susan (taking a bite of shrimp) “Mmmmmm, this is fantastic.”
Susan (taking a bite with a huge shaving of parmesan) “This is absolutely delicious. Delicious!”
Susan (puts down her fork – stares intently at Ron and mouths) “This is soooooo gooooood”
Ron “I’m glad you like it”
Susan (taking a bite of lobster) “Mmmmmmmmmm…..wow”
It went on like this throughout the dish. Ron was likely a bit annoyed, but he knew the risks when he booked the reservation. I get excited over food.
Let me tell you about the details: Creamy risotto was adorned with shrimp, scallop, and lobster, very thin slices of Meyer lemon and parmesan shavings. It was served in an individual oval dish placed upon a very large white plate with a Chinese soup spoon. Trust me, you don’t want to leave any of the cream sauce behind.
Risotto is often made from arborio rice, a particularly starchy variety. It is cooked slowly, adding liquids periodically, to help coax the starch out which gives risotto the creamy texture. It is finished with parmesan and cream. Meyer lemon is thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. It has a sweeter, less acidic flavor than the typical lemon. Chef Arbaugh uses Meyer lemon in this rich risotto as a palate cleanser to prevent a heavy mouth feel as you eat it.
The seafood was cooked to tender perfection. The pink on the lobster was a lovely color contrast to the all white presentation. The scallops were melt-in-your-mouth tender…the texture of buttah. Imagine that – great seafood in a land-locked state. I told you it was possible! Chef Arbaugh gets his seafood in fresh to guarantee delicious results.
Ron’s entrée was Pacific bass with polenta, arugula, cilantro, fennel and a white balsamic reduction. Chef Arbaugh describes this as his “heart-healthy” dish. Ron describes it as “maybe the best fish dish I’ve ever eaten”. I snagged a bite of the bass but he did not offer me any of the accompaniments. As a result of his generosity, I felt compelled to offer him a bite of my food and, darn it, he accepted.
I was pretty stuffed at this point, but there are three things on a dessert menu that I cannot refuse: tiramisu, a really decadent chocolate creation, and crème brulee. Wouldn’t you know it? Almond Brulee was on the list.
Perhaps I am so taken with crème brulee because I have not made one myself. Maybe it is the excitement of torching the sugary top. Or it could be because crème brulee is like grown-up pudding, and who didn’t love pudding as a kid? One day I will conquer the custard and the blow torch but for now, I will enjoy this one prepared for me by the pastry chef at SHMC.
Showcasing almond in the custard, the golden-brown crispy top layer was adorned with fresh sweetened whipped cream, fresh raspberries and blueberries, a cookie and a sprig of mint. The brulee dish sat on a larger plate garnished with candied macadamia nuts and a Bobby Flay-esque swirl of berry coulis. For the fourth time that night, I had to resist the urge to lick every bit of sauce off the dish. Absolutely delicious!
After dinner, the Chef presents each diner with a parting gift: a homemade marshmallow and a jelly. The marshamllow this evening was coconut-banana and the jelly was mixed berry. I don’t even like store-bought marshmallows, but these homemade ones are completely different and rich. The jelly is like a softer, grown-up gummy bear, but not shaped like a bear (or any other animal for that matter) and dusted with sugar. So even if you don’t order a dessert, you still have a sweet note on which to end your fine meal.
The entire meal was a homerun. I simply cannot put in to words how much I enjoyed it, although I have tried desperately for many paragraphs. I am not doing it justice. Thanks to Ron for knowing what makes me happy and taking me to SHMC and thanks to Chef Arbaugh and his staff for one of the best meals of my life.
I really wish I had a sixth fork for this one.
If WHEN you go:South Hills Market and Cafe 1010 Bridge Road Charleston, WV 25314 304-345-2585
Monday 7:00 am to 4:00pm
Tuesday 7:00 am -6:30 pm
Wednesday – Friday 7:00 am to 10:00 pm
Saturday 8:00 am to 10:00 pm
Happy Hour (appetizer and drink specials) Wednesday through Saturday 4 to 6
Dinner (reservations suggested) Wednesday through Saturday beginning at 5pm
(Note: Believe it or not, Fork You was not compensated for this sickeningly glowing report.)