Posts Tagged ‘Shrimp’

Ad Hoc – Yountville, CA

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 by virginia


Even though I knew we were going to be in Sonoma, not Napa, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat at a Thomas Keller restaurant, especially because it’ll probably be years before we’ll be “in the neighborhood” again. I know we have Bouchon Bakery in NYC, but it’s not quite the same as a regular sit-down restaurant. The drive from Healdsburg to Yountville was actually over an hour, but it was a pretty scenic trip past rolling hills of vineyards. While I would have loved to eat at the French Laundry, logistically, and budget-wise, Ad Hoc made more sense for us. Originally we had made a reservation for a party of ten, but our group dwindled down to four, which fortunately was not an issue.

I was actually surprised by the decor of the restaurant when we walked in. I don’t know why, but in my mind, I was picturing something a little more casual and countrified. Instead, it was a beautifully modern space with tall ceilings, large windows, and a contemporary vibe. Even though we had a somewhat early reservation, the place was packed and the atmosphere was hopping.

The menu at Ad Hoc changes every day, but whatever is on the menu that day is what you get. There is usually a salad to start, a main course with the option to add a supplemental dish, a cheese course, and dessert. The meal costs $52, plus an extra supplement cost if you choose to add the supplemental dish, and you get everything. It’s all served family style, with enough portions for everyone at the table to have a healthy serving.

On the night that we dined there, the salad course featured a gorgeous mix of little gem lettuce, shaved fennel, apricots, radishes, pickled red onions, and ricotta, with a chamomile vinaigrette. The gem lettuce, which is similar to baby romaine, was unbelievably fresh, with such a crisp texture and intense lettuce flavor. The radishes fortunately were not too bitter, and the fennel was pretty mild as well. The apricots were a great addition – sweet and juicy, while the dollops of ricotta added a nice creaminess to the greens. We all thought the salad was slightly under-dressed, until we discovered that they had brought us a gravy boat of extra dressing that no one had noticed until we were almost finished eating. Oh well. The vegetables were so fresh anyway that we were sort of glad to have tasted them in all their semi-naked glory.


Salad with little gem lettuce, fennel, apricots, radishes, pickled red onions, and ricotta

The main course was grilled hanger steak, which was nicely browned on the outside and perfectly medium rare on the inside. The steak was topped with wilted mustard greens, fried polenta, bell pepper stew, and turnip agrodolce. The mustard greens were soft but not overcooked, and the slight bitterness of the turnips was counteracted by the sweet bell peppers. My favorite part of the dish, aside from the steak, was the fried polenta, which had a perfectly crisp shell and a creamy center. It was a hearty, homey dish and they definitely didn’t skimp on the meat. We wound up boxing up the leftovers.

Hanger steak

Hanger steak with mustard greens, turnips, bell pepper stew, and fried polenta

The supplemental dish was shrimp scampi, which we added to our meal without hesitation (the additional cost was $16). It was a good call, as the shrimp were perfectly cooked and the pasta was clearly homemade, with chewy strands that clung to the well balanced scampi sauce. The dish wasn’t overly garlicky and had just the right amount of acid.

Shrimp scampi

Shrimp scampi

The cheese course was the Lamb Chopper from Cyprus Grove, a sheep’s milk cheese that has a mild gamey flavor to it. It’s a hard cheese but texturally smooth, and it was served toasted cashews and honey. The sweetness of the honey really brought out the tang of the sheep’s milk. It was a nice palate cleansing course.


Lamb Chopper cheese with honey and cashews

Dessert was ice cream sandwiches with sweet corn ice cream between shortbread cookies, rolled in blackberries. They were impossibly messy (the ice cream squeezed out the back when you bit into the cookies, and the blackberry juice got all over our hands), but they were delicious, whimsical, and just plain fun to eat. The shortbread cookies tasted like sugar cookies, though not too sugary, and the ice cream had a subtle hint of corn flavor. I was hoping to taste more of the corn, but the sandwich was just the perfect amount of sweetness to end the gluttonous meal.

Sweet corn ice cream sandwiches

Sweet corn ice cream sandwiches with blackberries

Immediately after our meal, we had kind of mixed emotions about the dinner at Ad Hoc. The food was really good – seasonal, well prepared, and plentiful. But there was nothing that knocked our socks off. Everything was properly seasoned and tasted great, but it was simple, homey fare, and I think we were expecting something a little more extraordinary from a Thomas Keller restaurant. In hindsight though, it was our own preconceived notions that had us a little disappointed at the end of the meal. Thinking back, we truly did enjoy our meal, and each course was amazing in its own right. The salad was unbelievably fresh, the steak was expertly cooked, as were the sides, the shrimp scampi was nicely balanced,  the cheese course was simple but delicious, and the ice cream sandwiches put smiles on all of our faces. It was a meal I would happily eat again, and a complete bargain considering the quality of the food and the size of the portions. If you’re expecting more composed dishes and creative combinations, then this isn’t the place. But if you’re looking for uncomplicated, straightforward, and perfectly executed food that is also unbelievably tasty, don’t hesitate to make a reservation at Ad Hoc.

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St.
Yountville, CA

While we would have loved to eat here (French Laundry), which is just down the street, Ad Hoc was still a great restaurant in its own right

While we would have loved to eat here (French Laundry), which is just down the street, we wound up having an amazing meal at Ad Hoc

The Sea Shack – Hilton Head, SC

Saturday, August 9th, 2014 by virginia


The Sea Shack is great little place on the island that I finally got to try two years ago. It’s a no frills joint where the specialty is – you guessed it – seafood. You order at the counter in front and then they call your name when your food is ready. Although we usually make sandwiches for lunch and eat by the pool every day, now we try to make a special trip to the Sea Shack once a year. It takes a bit of planning since they’re only open for lunch until 3 pm (they do serve dinner from 5-9 pm), and Josh and his dad don’t usually get back from golfing until about 2 pm.

The menu is surprisingly extensive but basic. You can pretty much get whatever seafood they have either fried, grilled, or blackened. The Shark Attack combo lets you try the most amount of items, though you can also get combo platters with 2 or 3 items of your choice. The Shark Attack comes with fried fish,  shrimp, scallops, oysters, and crab cake. It also includes hush puppies and your choice of two sides. We opted for mac n’ cheese and the veggie of the day, which was stewed okra and tomatoes. The seafood is fried on the spot when you order so you can be sure it’ll come out piping hot and crispy. Everything tastes fresh, and the oysters are big enough that you can taste their brininess through the breading. The crab cake is also excellent, not too heavy on the filler.

Shark Attack combo

Shark Attack combo

The okra on that day was delicious, not at all slimy, but crisp and bright. I wish I could eat okra more often! The mac n’ cheese can be a little mushy but there’s lots of cheese mixed in. And the hush puppies are great, light and fluffy on the inside.

Hush puppies, mac n' cheese, stewed okra and tomatoes

Hush puppies, mac n’ cheese, stewed okra and tomatoes

Since we already had a big plate of fried food, we decided to try out the jerk grouper. I asked them at the counter which they would recommend – jerk or blackened – and they said they make their jerk seasoning in house. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of the seasonings they used. There was something in it that had a floral quality that I didn’t like, though Josh didn’t seem to mind it. The grouper was also a bit overcooked, rendering it a little tough and chewy. I’ll skip this dish the next time, and go for something blackened. For our sides, we chose french fries (standard, but crispy) and sweet potato cornbread, which tasted a bit like pumpkin pie and was very dense but moist.

Jerk grouper, french fries, sweet potato cornbread, hush puppies

Jerk grouper, french fries, sweet potato cornbread, hush puppies

Overall, I think if you want to eat fried seafood, the Sea Shack is the place to go. Everything is prepared fresh, so that it’s not sitting out under heat lamps getting soggy. The restaurant has seats on the inside but it’s a pretty small place so it does fill up quickly. We tend to go later than normal lunch hour when it’s not as crowded, but it’s still tough to find tables together for our big group. There is also seating outside. Most sandwiches/platters will run you about $10-$15, but you get a pretty big portion of food and the quality merits the price tag. It’s definitely worth checking out.

The Sea Shack
6B Executive Park Rd.
Hilton Head, SC

Nick’s Steak and Seafood – Hilton Head, SC

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 by virginia

Nick’s Steak and Seafood is the sort of generic seafood restaurant that you’ll find all over Hilton Head. We’ve eaten there before, many many years ago, and now we know why we didn’t go back. What lured us in this time was the all you can eat snow crab legs, in which several people in our party partook. But our meal got off to a bad start when Josh asked our server what fish was local, and the response was, “Umm..nothing?” I guess we have to give points for honesty!

Nevertheless, I started with a bowl of she crab soup, which I hoped would be somewhat local, given that it’s a lowcountry specialty. The soup I got was very creamy and not much else. There wasn’t any discernible crab flavor, and it was actually incredibly greasy on top. It was so bad that I sent it back, something I generally never do, because I was convinced they had given me the wrong soup, or had forgotten to stir it before they served it to me. The she crab soup other people at our table received didn’t look anything like mine, and theirs at least had some crab in it. I got back pretty much the same bowl though, and our server said it was just a new batch of soup. I don’t know what that meant, but it wasn’t a good bowl of soup.

She crab soup

She crab soup

Rather than do all you can eat crab, Josh and I shared two pounds of snow crab legs (I think it was about $25 for two pounds and $35 for all you can eat) and the captain’s platter. The snow crab legs were steamed and were just ok. They didn’t seem super fresh in the sense that the shells didn’t have a good snap to them and the meat got stuck inside. When snow crab legs are prepared nicely, we can easily extract the meat whole. They tasted fine though. We also got to pick a potato side (we opted for fries), and it came with the vegetable of the day (green beans).

Steamed snow crab legs

Steamed snow crab legs

We chose the fried version of the captain’s platter, which featured tilapia, shrimp, and scallops. The tilapia was pretty mushy, both inside and out, and the scallops tasted a tad fishy. The shrimp were the best part of the plate, with relatively big pieces that weren’t too overcooked. It also came with a choice of potato (we picked fries again) and the house vegetable.

Captain's platter with fried shrimp, tilapia, and scallops

Captain’s platter with fried shrimp, tilapia, and scallops

Overall, we thought the food at Nick’s was pretty disappointing. From start to finish, our food was pretty poorly executed and bland in flavor. The only thing I could really see coming here for is the bar, as they had decent beers on tap and a Steelers theme going on. But it’s far from a dining destination, and I doubt that we’ll be making a return visit any time soon.

Nick’s Steak and Seafood
9 Park Lane
Hilton Head Island, SC

Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 by virginia


Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s is a restaurant in Hilton Head that I’ve wanted to try for years, but it’s got a reputation for being hard to get into. The daily hours vary depending on whether Dye is catering a party elsewhere. We were finally able to snag a reservation last year and I was thrilled to be able to taste home-style Gullah cuisine for the first time. Per wikipedia, the Gullah are descendents of African slaves who reside in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia. The cuisine reflects a blend of these African and Southern roots, and so it is a bit different from the usual Lowcountry fare we’ve eaten before in terms of flavors.

The menu isn’t very long and is pretty straightforward. We ordered a few appetizers to share, and we indulged on the complimentary cornbread with sugar cane syrup on the side. The cornbread was deliciously moist and didn’t even need the syrup or extra butter that came with it.

Cornbread with cane syrup

Cornbread with cane syrup

We got a few orders of the shrimp devil eggs, which were deviled eggs with shrimp mixed into the mashed yolks. These were well seasoned, not too heavy or mayo-y, and made for a nice bite to start.

Shrimp devil eggs

Shrimp devil eggs

The seafood hush puppies were fantastic. They were served to us piping hot, and had a delicately crisp outer shell. There was a mixture of crab and shrimp on the inside, and these were surprisingly light, not too dense. The hush puppies came with a homemade tartar sauce, and they were one of our favorite dishes of the night.

Seafood hush puppies

Seafood hush puppies

We also got steamed shrimp, which were bathed in a garlic butter and served with cocktail sauce. The shrimp were cooked just right so that they were tender and plump. Simple, yet tasty.

Steamed shrimp

Steamed shrimp

Lastly, we all shared a crab cake plate as part of our appetizers. The crab cakes were two big patties bursting with blue crab meat and very little filler, aside from a few veggies and seasonings. Since this was technically a dinner plate, it came with our choice of two sides. We opted for collard greens, which were more rustic in flavor than the typical collard greens we’ve tasted before, allowing the slight bitterness of the greens to shine through. We also chose the mac n’ cheese, which was baked and on the dry side, though had decent cheese flavor.

Crab cakes with collard greens and macaroni and cheese

Crab cakes with collard greens and mac n’ cheese

For our main course, Josh and I split the country fried chicken and the smothered shrimp and grits. The fried chicken came with a breast, thigh, drumstick, and wing (half a chicken) and was nicely crisp on the outside, not the least bit greasy. The meat was tender and juicy, and everything was well seasoned. We had a choice of two sides and opted for more collard greens, plus lima beans, which were savory in flavor and buttery in texture.

Country fried chicken with collard greens and butter beans

Fried chicken with collard greens and lima beans

The smothered shrimp and grits were covered in a rich brown gravy and came with bacon and smoked sausage on the side. While I liked that you could crumble in the bacon yourself, thus ensuring that it stayed crispy, there was too much gravy on the plate. I get that it’s supposed to be smothered, but the grits were totally lost in the sea of thick gravy. The shrimp were also overcooked, rendering them tough and chewy. It was too bad, because I like the flavors of the dish, but it got to be overwhelming very quickly.

Smothered shrimp and grits

Smothered shrimp and grits

Overall, we were generally pleased with our meal at Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s. Everything is homemade, and you can see the thought and care put in every dish. The only miss of the evening for us was the smothered shrimp and grits, but everything else was fantastic, especially the appetizers. The hush puppies, the crab cakes, and the fried chicken were our favorites f the evening. The food and the ambiance are nothing fancy, but that’s part of the charm. Dye herself was in the kitchen and came out to speak with us several times. She’s pretty straightforward and no nonsense, but you can tell she’s passionate about her cooking and about sharing Gullah food with newbies like us. Her niece, who was about 12, was our server for the evening, and she was extremely polite and efficient. J took a particular liking to her and wouldn’t eat unless she was around, which we all thought was pretty adorable. It’s definitely a place worth checking out, if you can get a reservation!

Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s
840 William Hilton Pkwy.
Hilton Head Island, SC

Tam Deli and Cafe – Austin, TX

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by virginia


The last day of our Louisiana/Texas trip was really just a travel day. We had an early afternoon flight out of Austin and needed to return our rental car by midday, so we took it easy in the morning. We did have one last stop planned though, on our way to the airport. Rather than suffering through bad airplane food, we picked up some banh mis from Tam Deli and Cafe to tide us over.

The banh mi that I had read the most about during my research was the fried garlic shrimp banh mi. When we opened up the sandwich though, it looked more like a po’ boy than a typical banh mi, as it was dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, rather than cilantro, jalapenos, and pickled vegetables. We laughed that our trip had come full circle, considering we started out in New Orleans and ate more than our fair share of po’ boys while we were there. Nevertheless, it was a delicious sandwich – the shrimp were perfectly fried and covered with crunchy, pungent bits of garlic. The garlic flavor wasn’t overwhelming, but it definitely makes its presence known. The french bread was crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside, and wrapped around the fillings nicely, without getting soggy or too messy.

Garlic shrimp banh mi

Garlic shrimp banh mi

We also ordered a grilled pork banh mi, which ended up being more like the traditional banh mi that we’re used to. It was filled with flavorful strips of savory grilled pork and topped with pickled shredded carrots, sliced cucumber and jalapeno, and of course, cilantro. It wasn’t as stuffed to the brim as the banh mis we’re used to from back home, but it was still tasty nonetheless.

Grilled pork banh mi

Grilled pork banh mi

Lastly, we also got two cream puffs, because, why not? These were fresh when we ordered them (and we devoured them right away), with a delicate choux pastry exterior and creamy custard inside. They were two lovely petite bites.

Cream puffs

Cream puffs

Overall, we thought the banh mis from Tam Deli and Cafe were pretty solid. The fried garlic shrimp sandwich was delicious in its po’ boy format, but might have been even better dressed with the traditional banh mi ingredients; I’m not sure if you can request it that way, but it’s worth a shot. The garlic shrimp itself is worth the detour, though this place is pretty far outside of downtown Austin. But if you have a car and are heading to the airport, it’s not too out of the way. Don’t forget to get a cream puff for dessert. We ended up eating our banh mis by the gate while waiting for our flight, and they held up really well. It was a nice conclusion to our week and a half of pigging out through Louisiana and Texas, and it definitely made us want to do more food-related road trips in the future.

Tam Deli and Cafe
8222 N. Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX

Red Fish Grill – New Orleans

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 by virginia


The Red Fish Grill, a Ralph Brennan restaurant, was recommended to us by a friend of a friend. After we gorged on five dozen oysters at Luke Restaurant during happy hour, we were feeling pretty full and unmotivated to do anything too wild. We walked around the French Quarter for a while, listened to some live music while standing around on Bourbon Street, and then tried to pop into the Red Fish Grill for a late dinner. It was still pretty hopping in there, but the vibe was still casual and low key, so we put our names down, took another loop around the Quarter, and then settled at the bar with some Abita beers to wait for our table.

Fortunately we weren’t waiting there for too long before our number popped up, and after we settled our tab, we moved over to the main dining area. It’s a tall, airy space with large Alexander Calder-esque fish mobiles hanging from the ceilings. After debating for a while on what to order (the menu choices are actually a bit limited), we tore into the crusty french bread that was cleverly served in a white paper bag. The bread was wonderful, with a crispy crust that shattered nicely and an airy, chewy interior.

Crusty french bread

Crusty french bread

Josh had his eye on the BBQ blue crab claws so we split an order for our appetizer. His inspiration was the crab claws Provencale that we had at Arnaud’s during our last trip. While we were disappointed with our overall meal at Arnaud’s, Josh loved those buttery, garlicky claws with a dash of Pernod that paired so well with the crab flavor. Sadly, these were nothing like those  claws. Part of the issue was that we misunderstood what New Orleans style barbecue means, which does not refer to grilled or smoked, but rather, cooked in a sauce comprised mostly of butter, Worcestershire sauce, and creole seasoning. We didn’t know that at the time, and so we were a bit perplexed when we received breaded crab claws that had either been fried or baked, sitting in a bowl of  brownish sauce that tasted mostly of butter and unidentifiable seasonings. We didn’t love the sauce, which didn’t have a lot of discernible flavor, and the crab meat got a bit lost under the breading. My favorite part of the dish was cheddar scallion biscuit on the side, which hard and dense but softened up when soaked into the buttery sauce, and had a nice cheesy taste. I was not a fan of this appetizer in general, and although Josh didn’t dislike it as much as I did, he conceded that it didn’t compare to Arnaud’s crab claws.

BBQ blue crab claws with

BBQ crab claws with cheddar-scallion drop biscuits

Our confusion regarding New Orleans style barbecue also translated into our entree order of BBQ shrimp and grits. While this time the shrimp did seem like it had been grilled, the dish was covered in the same brownish barbecue sauce as the crab claws. However, in this case, the sauce worked. The buttery sauce acted as a gravy and bound the shrimp with the cream cheese grits underneath. The shrimp were well seasoned, and I appreciated that they kept the heads on, which is my favorite part. On the downside, I was surprised to see that the fried green tomatoes had been cut up and were mixed in with the shrimp and sauce, as they got a bit lost in the mix.

BBQ Gulf shrimp and grits with fried green tomatoes

BBQ Gulf shrimp and grits with fried green tomatoes

For our other entree, we picked the black drum, a local fish. It was grilled and served with bacon braised brussels sprouts, roasted portobella mushrooms, and a charred tomato lobster beurre blanc. The drum was very meaty though mild tasting. The sauce prevented it from getting dry, but I didn’t detect much lobster flavor. I was also surprised and disappointed to see only two and half brussels sprouts on the plate, and they didn’t taste much like bacon. The mushrooms were a nice accompaniment though and added a bit of bulk to the dish.

Wood grilled black drum with brussels sprouts and portobella mushrooms

Wood grilled black drum with brussels sprouts and portobella mushrooms

Josh surprised me by ordering dessert at the start of our meal, since we weren’t that hungry to begin with, and we’re generally not dessert people. He got the double chocolate bread pudding, which needs to be ordered in advance rather than at the end of the meal because it takes 20 minutes to prepare. I think he was inspired to order bread pudding because we both had been dreaming about the creole bread pudding souffle with warm whiskey cream from Commander’s Palace that we ate on our previous trip. We had hoped to make it back there this time around for their incredible lunch specials and 25 cent martinis but ultimately decided that it would probably be too upscale for J to enjoy. This bread pudding was very different in that it was chocolate based, not vanilla, but it was still pretty delicious in its own right. The middle of the bread pudding was soft and fluffy, similar to chocolate souffle, while the edges were crispier and chewier. Although we didn’t ask for it with ice cream, it was brought to us a la mode with vanilla ice cream on top. We were a bit annoyed that they charged us more for that when we didn’t order it, but the ice cream was a good addition and helped to cut through the richness of the chocolate. White and dark chocolate ganache was poured over the top table-side, making it a truly decadent and chocolatey experience.

Double chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream

Double chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and white and dark chocolate ganache

Overall, I was slightly disappointed with our meal at the Red Fish Grill. I think I was just expecting a bit more, and the food was really sort of meh; not bad, not great. The restaurant has received a lot of accolades, and it was recommended to us by a local, so perhaps my expectations were set too high. Even though our appetizer and entrees were properly prepared and nicely presented, none of the dishes wowed us with flavor. There was just a slight chain restaurant vibe to everything, which made the prices a bit of a shock. There was only one seafood entree under $20 (catfish and shrimp creole at $18), with the rest ranging from $25-$33. Appetizers were a bit more reasonable at $7-$9 for soups and salads and $9-$10 for starters. A dozen raw oysters was $15. Portions were decent but not huge. I was also a bit surprised by how limited the menu was. There were only six seafood entree choices, plus one chicken and one steak entree. It’s definitely a fish-centric restaurant, so if you’re dining with people who are seafood-averse, they won’t have much to choose from. I did like the atmosphere though, casual and bustling, and I might hang out at the bar once in a while if I lived in New Orleans. As a visitor, however, I didn’t find the food very special, and it’s not someplace that I would plan on going back to the next time we’re in town. There are so many other places with better food at cheaper prices, and I just don’t think it’s worth it.

Red Fish Grill
115 Bourbon St.
New Orleans, LA

Robert Irvine’s eat! – Hilton Head, SC

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 by virginia


This year’s trip to Hilton Head was especially exciting because it was Baby J’s first time there (outside of my belly at least). We were excited to take her to the pool and beach and watch her play around. Sadly, she did not take like a fish to water. While she loves her bathtub and inflatable kiddie pool, she did not like the salt water, sand, or the bright Hilton Head sun. It was a struggle to get her slathered from head to toe in sunscreen (she also refused to wear a hat), and trying to wrangle a squirmy, greased up baby into a bathing suit is no easy feat. By the time we got her from the room to the pool, she was already tired and cranky, and being in the water didn’t help. We tried various floatation devices – rings, tubes, life vests – and nothing made her happy. Oh well. There’s always next year!

On the upside, J was great by the time dinner rolled around each day. She usually had a long, restful nap by the pool in the early afternoon and woke up refreshed for meals out. On the first night, we decided to try Robert Irvine’s eat! restaurant. Josh’s parents had eaten there before and enjoyed it, and we were curious because we knew of Chef Irvine from the Food Network but didn’t know much about his food.

The menu is split into two main sections – tapas and entrees. There are also various salads and sides available. Since the rest of our large group wasn’t due to arrive until the next day, we were able to take advantage of the tapas format and share a few of the small plates to start. The gnocchi with short rib bolognese was delicious, with chewy yet tender rounds of gnocchi and a rich, meaty sauce.

Gnocchi with short rib bolognese, pinenuts, and charred lemon oil

Gnocchi with short rib bolognese, pinenuts, and charred lemon oil

The fried green tomatoes, on the other hand, were a disappointment. They were heavily coated in a tempura-like batter that was soggy and flavorless. Clumps of surprisingly bland feta cheese were sandwiched between the tomato slices, which also did not help textural issues, and the only thing I could taste was the balsamic vinegar drizzled about.

Fried green tomatoes with brown butter, feta cheese, and balsamic

Fried green tomatoes with brown butter, feta cheese, and balsamic

It was pretty dark in the restaurant so I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the rest of our tapas. The she crab bisque, a Hilton Head staple, had a nice creamy consistency and a relatively good amount of crab flavor but was way too peppery. The pepper really hit the back of our throats and had us coughing a bit, which wasn’t a pleasant feeling. The coconut crusted Carolina shrimp was well executed with a nice and crispy crust, and the accompanying orange jalapeno marmalade was sticky and sweet, but it was sort of a pedestrian dish.

For our entrees, Josh and I shared the pork chop and the blackened snapper. The pork chop was massive and packed a lot of flavor as well, likely because it had been brined. The meat had a nice crust to it and was tender on the inside, and the accompanying sweet potato and corn hash, green tomato peach chutney, and red eye gravy added a nice balance of salty, sour, savory, and sweet.

Fennel brined pork chop with sweet potato and corn hash, green tomato peach chutney, and red eye gravy

Fennel brined pork chop with sweet potato and corn hash, green tomato peach chutney, and red eye gravy

The blackened snapper was surprisingly on the blander side. It was served with grits, red pepper and goat cheese coulis, and a balsamic reduction. The dish just needed more seasoning, as the individual components were cooked well but needed more pizazz.

Blackened snapper and grits with bay shrimp, tomato harvati grits, red pepper goat cheese coulis, and balsamic reduction

Blackened snapper and grits with bay shrimp, tomato harvati grits, red pepper goat cheese coulis, and balsamic reduction

We saw Tabasco ice cream as part of a dessert so of course we had to satisfy our curiosity. It was served alongside sweet potato bread pudding, and while it was an interesting combination (the ice cream did actually have some Tabasco flavor), it’s probably not something I would eat again. The bread pudding itself had potential but half of it was burned, which was a bit of a turnoff. We also tried an apple crisp that was nothing extraordinary.

Overall, Josh and I both thought that eat! was a bit of a miss. There were some hits, like the pork chop, which was the best dish of the evening, and the gnocchi with short rib bolognese, but the rest of the dishes were just so-so for varying reasons. Some were execution issues (the fried green tomatoes, the bread pudding), and others were seasoning issues (the bisque had too much and the snapper had too little). The meal as a whole was just inconsistent. It’s a pretty popular restaurant though, particularly on Tuesdays when tapas are half off. Usually, most of the small plates are in the $7-$10 range and entrees are on the pricier side at $25-$35. The only two entrees below $20 are a burger ($16) and fried chicken ($19). Our search for more go-to restaurants in Hilton Head continues (so far Red Fish has become our favorite place, and One Hot Mama’s has merited a repeat visit).

Robert Irvine’s eat!
1000 William Hilton Pkwy.
Hilton Head, SC

Skull Creek Boathouse – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 by virginia


Skull Creek Boathouse was a new Hilton Head restaurant for me and Josh, although we’ve eaten at other restaurants run by the same group (One Hot Mama’s, Giuseppi’s Pizza & Pasta). We had to wait a while to be seated due to the large size of our party, and we still ended up splitting up into two tables, though they were side by side.

The menu is pretty huge, but given that the restaurant is right on the water, we decided to stick with mainly seafood. For our table, we shared an order of the Boathouse Sampler, which came with coconut shrimp, deviled crab balls, calamari, and hush puppies. There was a good amount of food in the sampler, which made it easy for us to taste most things. My favorites were the crab balls, which weren’t spicy but had a decent amount of crab flavor to it, and the hush puppies, which we liberally dipped into the accompanying honey butter. Everything on the platter is fried though, which is kind of hard to mess up. To their credit, everything was hot, crispy, and not overly greasy.


Boathouse Sampler – coconut shrimp, deviled crab balls, calamari, and hush puppies

Josh also wanted an order of fried pickle chips, which were served with a spicy ranch dressing for dipping. These were pretty good – briny, crunchy, and the breading on the outside didn’t overwhelm the pickle chip on the inside.

Fried pickle chips

Fried pickle chips

For whatever reason, I really wanted soup that night even though it was 90+ degrees outside. I’ll blame pregnancy cravings. Nevertheless, the SCB seafood chowder was worth tasting, so I was glad that I ordered it. It was like New England clam chowder, but with crab, shrimp, fish, scallops, and potatoes. The seafood was chopped up into small pieces so it was a bit hard to discern what was what, but it still had a pleasant seafood flavor. The soup wasn’t as thick or heavy as regular clam chowder, but it was still creamy and rich, with a buttery finish.

SCB Chowder

SCB seafood chowder

The chowder and tastes from the sampler platter were more than enough food for me, so I was pretty full by the time our main courses arrived. I ordered the Royal Seafood Sampler, which let me try three different dishes – coco seared sea scallops, a “salt and vinegar” crab cake, and stuffed jumbo shrimp. It was a lot of food, and I barely made a dent in the plate, but I liked being able to taste so many different things. The scallops had a tropical flavor to them, as they were topped with coconut butter and pineapple salsa. They had a nice brown sear on each side but I think they sat for a little while and wound up being a little chewy on the outside rather than crispy. The crab cake didn’t have too much salt and vinegar flavor, but there was a good amount of crab and little filler. The stuffed shrimp were my least favorite, as the deviled crab stuffing was too heavy and the shrimp were overcooked. I wound up packing up most of my plate in a doggie bag and eating it for lunch the next day.

Royal seafood platter

Royal seafood sampler – coco seared sea scallops, a “salt and vinegar” crab cake, and stuffed jumbo shrimp

Josh ordered the Seafood Extravaganza, which is basically a seafood boil with shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, snow crab legs, sausage, potatoes, and corn. There was a decent amount of seafood, but it must’ve been sitting in the pot for a while because it was all slightly overcooked and a bit soggy. The shellfish was chewy, and there wasn’t enough spices in the broth to liven up the dish. It’s too bad, because the seafood itself seemed relatively fresh, it just wasn’t well prepared.

Seafood extravaganza -

Seafood extravaganza – shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, snow crab legs, sausage, potatoes, and corn

Overall I had a mixed impression of the Skull Creek Boathouse. The food was decent, but nothing earth shattering. I don’t think that’s what they’re aiming for though. It has a bit of a chain restaurant vibe to it, but I liked the casualness of the place. The restaurant was pretty bustling, with lots of families and other big groups dining. The vast menu makes it easy to dine out with lots of people with different tastes – there’s something for everyone. Even though the main focus seems to be seafood, they do have steaks and other meats available. Prices go from low to high, depending on what you order. Appetizers are generally just  below the $10 mark (minus the sampler platter), and entrees can range from about $15-$35. They also have some good beers on tap and pretty reasonably priced wines and cocktails. Is it a must-go dining destination? No, I don’t think so. But it’s good for groups and the food is passable. It’s a place I can see coming back to for a few drinks and sharing some snacks.

Skull Creek Boathouse
397 Squire Pope Road
Hilton Head, SC

Two Fat Bellies Hit the Road – Roadfood Trip to South Carolina

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 by virginia

Instead of flying down for our annual August vacation in Hilton Head, Josh and I decided to take a short road trip and drive down, making a few food-related stops along the way. I was inspired after reading Two for the Road by Jane and Michael Stern, who wrote about their various adventures in exploring the country’s best roadfood experiences. I loved the idea of just packing up, getting in the car, and driving off to taste the local cuisine at hole in the wall kind of places all over the U.S. I used their website,, in finding good stops along the way on our own road trip down south.

We hit the road on a Thursday morning, waiting until just after rush hour to get started. We decided to forgo a proper breakfast and picked up some of our favorite bagels to eat in the car instead. Our first Roadfood stop was about five hours away so we had quite a distance to travel before we could have lunch. We hit a little bit of traffic outside of Allentown, PA, so we were a little behind schedule by the time we got to our first destination in Winchester, VA, the Snow White Grill.

The Snow White Grill in Winchester, VA

The Snow White Grill is a small burger joint that features sliders, one of our favorite eats. We’ve been big fans of the sliders at White Manna in Hackensack, NJ, although the last few times we’ve gone there, the burgers were unseasoned and dried out. The Snow White Grill had a similar old timey feel, with seats at a long counter and a small menu. It’s in a quaint part of town, down a pedestrian mall with lots of restaurants and shops. It’s really a small place though so it might be easy to miss.

The menu board

The counter and grill

Josh and I both ordered red birch beer to drink, which is similar to root beer, but less sweet and not as medicinal-tasting, in my opinion. Josh and I both got sliders and shared some fries and tater tots on the side. We were surprised when the sliders came out of a warming tray instead of being cooked fresh on the grill. I was disappointed that we couldn’t watch their slider cooking method, but fortunately, the burgers still tasted fresh and hot. The meat was well seasoned and the onions were soft and sweet, though not super caramelized.

Slider with tater tots

Josh had his sliders with cheese, but because they were added after the burger had already been cooked and put together, the cheese wasn’t melted on. The residual heat softened it up though, and Josh didn’t have any complaints. The fries were the shoestring variety, which I prefer. They seemed to be the frozen kind though, as were the tater tots, but both were fried well – hot and crispy, so we enjoyed them.

Sliders with cheese and fries

I only got one slider so that I could also try the chili dog. We had recently tried the chili half smokes at Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC (more on that trip later), so I was in a chili dog mood. The chili was the ground meat variety, not too thick nor too thin, and fairly standard in terms of seasoning. The hot dog was also pretty standard, and overall it was not bad but definitely not as good as Ben’s.

Chili dog

Overall, we really enjoyed the sliders at the Snow White Grill. They were flavorful and well prepared, not overly greasy, and I wonder if they would have been even better if we had gotten them fresh off the grill. I could pass on the chili dog the next time, but the fries and tots were tasty. We were off to a good start on our roadfood trip.

Our second stop was a snack break just under two hours later, at Wright’s Dairy Rite in Staunton, VA. It’s a drive-in restaurant (although you can also sit inside if desired), which I was excited about as I had never experienced that before.

Wright’s Dairy Rite in Staunton, VA

We pulled into one of the drive in spots and took a quick look at the menu, which is fairly big but features basic grill and fry items. Since this was supposed to be our “snack”, we decided to each order a milk shake and to split one of their famous Superburgers. We placed our order through the intercom, and it was brought to us shortly by the car hop and placed on a tray next to the menu.

The menu, ordering intercom, and food tray

Josh got a vanilla milkshake while I chose strawberry. The shakes were thick and creamy, though not too thick so that we could still suck it up through the straw. The vanilla tasted like melted high quality vanilla ice cream, and was pretty delicious. The strawberry was even better in my opinion, with real bits of strawberry blended into the shake.

Vanilla and strawberry milkshakes

The Superburger was supposedly created a few years before the Big Mac. It features two beef patties, American cheese, shredded lettuce, and special sauce on a triple decker bun. It was definitely similar to a Big Mac, but tasted fresher. The meat was beefier, though we found the special sauce (similar to thousand island dressing) a bit too sweet. We liked the novelty of it but would probably get a regular burger next time, if we ever go back.

The Superburger

Overall, we loved the milkshakes at Wright’s Dairy Rite. I would definitely go back for another if we’re in the area, and maybe try some of their ice cream. The Superburger was a notch above standard fast food burgers, but nothing extraordinary. Still, we thought that it’s a great place to stop by for a quick snack, and having your food delivered to your window by a car hop is pretty neat.

After leaving Staunton, we headed towards our destination for the night, my brother’s home near Charlotte, NC. We planned to stop in Greensboro, NC for a barbecue dinner at Stamey’s, which I also read about on Unfortunately, we hit massive amounts of traffic en route and wound up arriving well after all the barbecue joints in the area had closed. Luckily my brother had saved us some marinated flank steak so we still ended up having a tasty late dinner.

The next morning we hit the road again and headed to Charleston, SC. Even though it wasn’t really on the way to Hilton Head, I really wanted to have lunch at the Hominy Grill. The restaurant is listed on, but I’ve wanted to eat there for many years now, ever since I read a profile about it in The New York Times. I was looking forward to having my first lowcountry meal of the trip, and it didn’t disappoint.

Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC

We arrived just in time for a late lunch, so the restaurant wasn’t too crowded. They brought us some boiled peanuts to start, which were easy to crack open and fun to eat.

Boiled peanuts

To start off our meal, we shared the fried green tomatoes and okra and shrimp beignets. The fried green tomatoes were perfectly breaded discs, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The tomatoes were just slightly tart, and they paired well with the creamy ranch dressing on the side.

Fried green tomatoes with ranch dressing

The shrimp and okra beignets were loosely bound fritters that fell apart delicately when I cut into them. Though a bit messy to eat, they were delicious, with lots shrimp chunks inside, and just a hint of the oozy texture of the okra. They were served with salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream, providing a southwestern twist to the dish.

Shrimp and okra beignets with salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream

For our entrees, we split the big nasty sandwich and the shrimp and grits. The big nasty features a fried chicken breast topped with cheddar cheese that is sandwiched between a biscuit and smothered with sausage gravy. It looks and sounds like a total gutbomb, but it actually wasn’t overly heavy. While I wouldn’t call it a light dish either, the fried chicken was moist, the biscuit was fluffy, and the sausage gravy was creamy but not too salty or rich. Splitting the portion was spot on, leaving us plenty of room to enjoy our other dish.

Big nasty biscuit with fried chicken breast, cheddar cheese, and sausage gravy

The shrimp and grits featured plump shrimp topped with sauteed mushrooms, scallions, and bacon over a bed of cheese grits. There was a lemon wedge on the side that we squeezed over the top, and added a healthy dose of hot sauce as well. It was a great combination of salty, sweet, tangy, and spicy, a big plate of comfort food at its best. My only quibble was that the dish was only served warm, not piping hot, and the grits weren’t as creamy as I prefer.

Shrimp and grits with with mushrooms, scallions, and bacon

Overall, the Hominy Grill was one of my favorite meals all year. I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, since I had been eager to try this restaurant for years, but the food was well executed and really tasty. The menu features lots of southern/lowcountry classics, and there were so many things that I wanted to try. And even though this is a highly acclaimed restaurant, all of the dishes were under $20, with appetizers and sandwiches all under $10. I would definitely go back again, and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Charleston.

We arrived at our final destination, Hilton Head Island, in the early evening, just in time for dinner. So while our first Roadfood trip was pretty short, and we weren’t able to make it to all of the places on our list due to traffic, we had a lot of fun and got to try a lot of good food. Roadfood isn’t about finding the fanciest or best restaurants. It’s about eating locally, seeking out gems that represent the cuisine of the region. All the places that we visited served solid, down to earth food, and for cheap. It’s the best of all the worlds, and I look forward to our next Roadfood adventure.

Snow White Grill
159 North Loudoun St.
Winchester, VA

Wright’s Dairy Rite
346 Greenville Ave.
Staunton, VA

Hominy Grill
207 Rutledge Ave.
Charleston, SC

Hilton Head 2011 Day 3 – A Lowcountry Backyard

Sunday, September 18th, 2011 by virginia

I did do a little bit of research on Hilton Head restaurants before we went down, and one restaurant that I found was called A Lowcountry Backyard, which featured local lowcountry cuisine. My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew left that afternoon so we had a slightly smaller group for dinner, though there were still 12 of us. This restaurant also does not take reservations, though they said that if we called ahead they would put our names on the list and try to accommodate us. We arrived at the restaurant, they told us the wait wouldn’t be too bad, but we ended up waiting for over 45 minutes. The restaurant is on the smaller side so we had to stay outside. There’s a pretty garden with tables and chairs but the wait was uncomfortable because the mosquitoes were relentless.

We were bitten up and slightly annoyed by the time we sat down. Again, we had to split up into two tables because they didn’t have anything large enough for a group of our size. Josh and I sat with Jessica and Eric while the “adults” were squeezed into the other table. We started off with a round of local beers as we perused the menu. The menu wasn’t very long but there were lots of things that I wanted to try. We ended up getting a few appetizers to share. First up was the fried green tomato stack, which was pretty self explanatory. A few pieces of lightly breaded and fried green tomatoes were stacked together and served with pickles and ranch dressing on the side. The breading was well seasoned though slightly soggy. We could taste the sweet/sourness of the green tomatoes though, and overall we enjoyed the flavors of this dish.

Fried green tomato stack

We also shared the blue crab dip, which was lump crab meat blended with cheese to make a warm and creamy dip. I always thought that seafood and cheese shouldn’t go together, but the combination worked well in the dip. We could taste the sweet brininess of the crab meat while the cheese added a rich tang. The texture was smooth and creamy, with little lumps of crab. There was flat bread and tortilla chips on the side for dipping.

May River blue crab dip

Lastly, we got an order of pimento cheese with grilled flat bread and tortilla chips. I was curious about pimento cheese since it’s pretty popular in the south, but I hadn’t really ever tasted it by itself. Basically it’s a combination of cheddar cheese, mayo, and pimentos all blended together. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan. I found the spread to be too chunky and the texture was slightly off-putting for me. There would be little lumps of cheese and little clumps of mayo, and the flavors didn’t meld for me. We ended up passing the dish over to the “adult table”, where it was quickly gobbled up. The adults raved about the pimento cheese, preferring it over the blue crab dip that we liked. I guess it’s just a matter of personal taste!

Homemade lowcountry pimento cheese

For our entrees, Josh and I shared the shrimp and grits and the Bischick. The Bischick was a lightly breaded and pan fried piece of chicken breast served over a homemade biscuit and topped with lowcountry gravy. The chicken breast was thick, juicy, and tender, and the breading was well seasoned. The homemade biscuit wasn’t as salty or as buttery as the fast food biscuits that I’m used to, but it had a nice fluffy texture to it and stood up well with the chicken. The gravy was thick and creamy, adding seasoning and richness to the sandwich, though the amount was slightly overwhelming and I ended up scraping some of it off. I did enjoy the dish as a whole, as it was fun and flavorful.

The Bischick

The Bischick came with a choice of one side dish so I opted for macaroni and cheese. It was a very good version with lots of tangy, sharp cheese. The noodles were al dente, the sauce was creamy, and there was shredded cheese on top that added an extra punch of flavor.


Macaroni and cheese

The shrimp and grits were a combination of sauteed shrimp and sausage slices mixed with a creamy bacon sauce and served over grits. This dish definitely packed in a lot of flavor, though it was on the border of being just slightly too salty for my taste. But the shrimp was cooked perfectly so that they still had a light, bouncy texture. The bacon cream sauce was truly decadent, and the creamy grits had soaked up all the flavor of the other ingredients. It was a pretty heavy and rich dish so I was glad that we went halfsies, since I think it would be hard to polish off a full portion of this by yourself.

Shrimp & grits with sausage and bacon cream sauce

We also got an extra side dish of collard greens, which definitely helped to counteract the richness of our two entrees. The greens were just a little bitter with a slight tang to cut through the rich gravy on the Bischick and the creamy bacon sauce on the grits.

Collard greens

Jessica ordered the potato chip meatloaf for her entree, which was something I really wanted to try. She generously gave us tastes of her dish, and although I couldn’t taste the potato chips (which they use instead of breadcrumbs), the meatloaf itself was well seasoned and flavorful. They use a combination of ground pork and beef, and they grill slices in a skillet before serving so that there’s a nice outer crust while the inside has a softer texture. The meatloaf was glazed with a peach barbecue sauce that was sweet and tangy.

Potato chip meatloaf

Overall I really did enjoy the food at A Lowcountry Backyard but the wait for a table was kind of ridiculous, especially since we had called before we went and they said we should be ok. It seems unavoidable to wait because the restaurant doesn’t take actual reservations and the place is pretty small. The food was flavorful and well seasoned, though the preparation is simple. It’s definitely home-cooked food, hearty and comforting, but not refined or mind-blowing. Portions are big and prices are extremely reasonable. Perhaps that’s why the restaurant is so popular; I just wish they would take reservations. If you have the time and the patience – go. If not, you might not think it’s worth the wait.

A Lowcountry Backyard
32 Palmetto Bay Rd.
Hilton Head, SC