Posts Tagged ‘Soup’

Plantation Cafe & Deli – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 by virginia


After lamenting the lack of good she crab soup over the course of our week in Hilton Head, we asked around whenever we had the opportunity to talk with locals, and the general consensus seemed to be that the best she crab soup on the island could be found at the Plantation Cafe & Deli. It’s a diner-like cafe that’s only open for breakfast and lunch, and there are two locations on the island – one on the north end and one on the south. We wound up going to the northern location on the morning that we were heading home from Hilton Head.

The menu is huge, as you would expect at any diner. There were lots of eggs and assorted breakfast items available, as well as numerous sandwiches and salads. We started with a bowl of the famous she crab soup.

She crab soup

She crab soup

Chock full of crab, thick, creamy, and rich, this really was the she crab soup of our dreams. The crab flavor was very pronounced, and it had a bit of a pepper kick to it that wasn’t overwhelming. A bowl was pretty filling though, so we were glad to have shared it, though I was craving more when we finished.

I don’t usually go for breakfast items at a diner, but a few of the breakfast dishes were calling out to me. I ended up sharing the crab cakes benedict and Elle’s southern breakfast with Josh. The crab cakes benedict featured poached eggs stacked on top of two decent-sized crab cakes and a toasted english muffin. The crab cakes had a good amount of meat in them, not a lot of filler, though they were on the mushy side rather than light and crisp. Still, it was a nice combination in terms of a runny egg on top of flavorful crab and a crunchy english muffin. We got the hollandaise sauce on the side and dipped lightly (I hate it when my eggs benedict are drowning in sauce). We had a choice of home fries or grits, and since the southern breakfast came with grits, we opted for home fries. They were shredded potatoes that were nicely browned and well seasoned on the outside, soft in the middle. We also had a choice of fresh fruit or hot cinnamon apples, and of course we went with the apples. They were like apple pie filling, though not as soft, but warm and comforting.

Crab cakes benedict with homes fries and hot cinnamon apples

Crab cakes benedict with hot cinnamon apples and home fries

Elle’s southern breakfast featured a big bowl of grits topped with three fried green tomatoes, two eggs any style (we opted for over easy), two sausage patties, and a choice of a buttermilk biscuit or toast (biscuit, of course). The fried green tomatoes were crispy on the outside and juicy and tart on the inside, but they seemed to be lacking something – more seasoning, some sauce, anything. It seemed odd that they were in the bowl of grits, so we just moved them off to the plate and doused them in salt and hot sauce, which made a big difference. The grits were buttery and creamy, and we tossed a little hot sauce in there as well for a nice kick. I’m not a fan of sausage patties in general (too many bad fast food breakfasts growing up!) but these had a nice browned crust on the outside and were milder in the flavor, which I preferred. The biscuit was fluffy and just plain yummy.

Elle's southern breakfast - fried green tomatoes, grits, eggs, biscuit, sausage

Elle’s southern breakfast – fried green tomatoes, grits, eggs, biscuit, sausage

Overall, we were pretty impressed with the food at the Plantation Cafe & Deli. It’s a cute diner that serves large portions at reasonable prices. The she crab soup was amazing (I would go back just to eat another bowl of it), and the ambiance is casual and friendly. It’s a great spot to grab a filling breakfast or lunch, and I hope that we can find the time to make it there again this year.

Plantation Cafe & Deli
96 Mathews Dr.
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

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

Carpenter & Main – Norwich, VT

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 by virginia


Josh and I recently spent our first weekend away from baby J, to attend a wedding in New Hampshire. While Josh has been away before for work, I’ve never spent a night apart from J and I was obviously a bit apprehensive about the situation. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to a responsibility-free weekend and spending some quality time with the hubby. We drove up on Friday and spent a few hours hiking Mount Cardigan in the afternoon, then got ready for what we hoped would be a nice, romantic dinner at Carpenter & Main in Norwich, Vermont.

The view from the top of Mount Cardigan

The view from the top of Mount Cardigan

Norwich is a picturesque, quaint-looking New England town. We didn’t have time to walk around but we drove past a lot of old colonial-style buildings along the way. The restaurant is located on Main St. and, as the name implies, the corner of Carpenter St. We had a reservation and were seated immediately, in a smaller room to the side of the entrance.

Our waitress seemed a little bit harried but stopped by our table to check in while we were looking over our menus, promising to return soon to take our drink order. Josh selected a bottle of Zinfandel that was wonderfully full-bodied and spicy once it opened up. We were served dinner rolls to start, which were warm, fluffy, and soft throughout.

Soft dinner roll

Soft dinner roll

The menu is divided up into three sections – morsels, small plates, and larger plates. We wanted to taste several items and so we decided to mix and match from the morsels and small plates to start, and then finish off with the larger entrees. We asked our waitress to bring the food out in whatever order she thought would be best.

The soup of the day and two morsels showed up first. Since the soup was chilled, it was set in between our plates while we tasted the morsels. I started with the braised short rib bruschetta. It was pulled short rib meat piled on three toasted rounds of bread and topped with horseradish gremolata. The short rib was a tad on the dry side but I really enjoyed the gremolata, which had a nice kick to it from the horseradish and really bumped up the flavor of the bruschetta – I just wished there was more of it.

Braised short rib bruschetta with horseradish gremolata

Braised short rib bruschetta with horseradish gremolata

Josh got the caramelized tofu triangles first, which were served with charred broccoli rabe. He was intrigued by this dish when he saw it on the menu but I was a little wary. Turns out that I was right, as the tofu was mushy and completely drowning in a soy marinade. It must have been sitting in the marinade for a while, as the inside of the tofu was completely brown and it was incredibly salty. It was a bit more balanced when eaten together with the broccoli rabe, but overall, we thought the dish tasted like bad Chinese takeout.

Caramelized tofu triangles with charred broccoli rabe

Caramelized tofu with charred broccoli rabe

In between bites of the morsels, Josh and I both tasted the soup, which was made from three melons – cantaloupe, honeydew, and banana melon. The puree was refreshing and sweet, though not overly so. I thought it was a nice mix of flavors, including a citrus note in the background, but Josh thought it was a bit boring. He was looking for some more acid and perhaps a savory component, like olive oil, to break up the sweetness of the melons.

Soup of the day - cold cantaloupe, honeydew, and banana melon soup

Soup of the day – chilled cantaloupe, honeydew, and banana melon soup

The next course was when the meal picked up a bit. I received the Moroccan lamb meatballs with spicy tomato glaze, which packed a punch of flavor. I was actually expecting something more Mediterranean, like kofte, but the spices actually skewed more Indian in flavor to me. The tomato sauce was creamy with lots of spices, reminiscent of tikka masala, and the lamb was coarsely ground and gamey, which I liked. The meatballs were definitely under-seasoned though, but it was an easy fix with the salt shaker on the table.

Moroccan lamb meatballs with spicy tomato glaze

Moroccan lamb meatballs with spicy tomato glaze

Josh got the vol-au-vent of escargots, which was snails piled in a puff pastry basket. The escargots were plump and tender, and the puff pastry was nicely browned and flaky. The garlic-herb cream sauce on the plate was fantastic. There were visible slices of garlic but it wasn’t overpowering. The garlic flavor was nicely balanced by the taste of fresh herbs, and the sauce was lighter than a traditional garlic butter. However, it also desperately needed more salt, but once I sprinkled some on, the dish really came together and popped.

Vol-au-vent of escargots with a garlic-herb cream

Vol-au-vent of escargots with a garlic-herb cream

For our entrees, we shared the crispy duck confit and trout ala meuniere from the larger plates section of the menu. The duck was a confit leg with tender meat and crispy skin. It was served with warm potato salad and mesclun greens. The meat was slightly under-seasoned, but when eaten with the whole grain mustard vinaigrette, the dish came together nicely. I enjoyed the lightness and brightness of the dish, and it was a good counterpoint to the heavier appetizers that we had been eating.

Crispy duck confit with warm potato salad and mesclun greens with whole grain mustard vinaigrette

Crispy duck confit with warm potato salad and mesclun greens with whole grain mustard vinaigrette

The trout dish was a huge portion of fish, definitely the biggest plate of food we had all night. The fish itself was nicely prepared – lightly dredged with a delicate crust. The sauce was classic – lemon, parsley, and brown butter – which paired nicely with the flaky fish. It was served with wild rice and the vegetable of the day, which happened to be green beans. It was a homey yet refined dish, but once again, I had to make liberal use of the salt shaker.

Trout ala meuniere with lemon parsley brown butter wild rice medley and green beans

Trout ala meuniere with lemon parsley brown butter, wild rice medley and green beans

Overall I really enjoyed our dinner at Carpenter & Main, although I think I liked the food better than Josh did. While the under-seasoning was a problem for both of us, it was easily rectified by adding some salt to finish off the dishes. I thought the flavors were good otherwise, although I would pass on some of the morsel plates next time, like the caramelized tofu (which was surprisingly too salty), and the short rib bruschetta, which was a bit boring compared to some of the either items we tasted. I absolutely loved the escargot vol-au-vent, which was a refreshing take on a classic dish, and both of our entrees, the duck and the trout, were superb as well. Prices are on par with the food, with morsels ranging from $4-$6, small plates from $8-$14, and larger plates from $12-$29. Service was warm and friendly, and the ambiance was casual but subtly polished. The best part though was that Josh and I were able to have a delightfully romantic meal, just the two of us, which is something that we’ve been missing.

Carpenter & Main
326 Main St.

Norwich, VT

Sea Grass Grille – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 by virginia


The Sea Grass Grille was a new restaurant for all of us, and it seems to get great reviews online. The restaurant has a definite seafood focus, though there are options for meat lovers as well. The meal got off to a good start with a basket of crusty baguette slices and some delicious herbed biscuits.

Slices of baguette and herbed biscuits

Slices of baguette and herbed biscuits

Josh and I both ordered the she crab soup for our first course. It was the only she crab soup we had that week, and it was pretty good. The soup was creamy and rich, not too thick, with a decent amount of crab flavor.

She crab soup

She crab soup

For my main course, I ordered the special of the day, monkfish with a mushroom cream sauce. The fish itself was well prepared, lightly coated and pan seared. The allure for me was the mushroom cream sauce though, which I think was finished with truffle oil because it had the wonderful aroma and earthiness of truffles. It was a pretty heavy dish for a hot summer day, but I didn’t mind.

Monkfish with mushroom cream sauce

Monkfish with mushroom cream sauce

Josh ordered the grouper piccata, which looked beautiful on the plate with a golden brown crust on the outside, but looks were deceptive. The fish itself was a bit soggy, and the caper/lemon/butter/white wine sauce completely overwhelmed the flavor of the fish. It wasn’t a bad dish, in that it tasted ok, but it wasn’t a combination that made a whole lot of sense to us.

Grouper piccata sauteed with lemon, butter, white wine and capers

Grouper piccata sauteed with lemon, butter, white wine and capers

For dessert, we ordered the key lime pie and the peach cobbler to share for the whole table. The key lime pie had a good amount of tartness to it, not too sweet. The filling was smooth and custardy, which I liked. Instead of a graham cracker crust, it had an oreo cookie crust, which I thought was a bit unusual. I love oreos, but I think I prefer a graham cracker crust with my key lime pie. There was also a caramel sauce drizzled over the top that was a bit out of place – I don’t think it was needed, and detracted a bit from the tasty key lime filling. Whipped cream would have been a better complement.

Key lime pie

Key lime pie

The peach cobbler was the special dessert of the day. It had a flaky top crust and the filling was sweet and soft. It was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that melted quickly over the hot cobbler. Not bad, not great.

Peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream

Peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream

Overall, we were a bit underwhelmed by the food at the Sea Grass Grille. Nothing was bad, but everything was just ok. I was a bit surprised to see that all of our main courses featured the same exact sides – broccoli, string beans, carrots, and a potato gratin. Sadly, the common sides just reminded me of bad banquet food – mushy, bland, ordinary. I’m more excited by restaurants that tailor the sides for each entree, depending on the protein, sauce, etc. It’s also on the pricier side, with appetizers generally in the $8-$10 range and entrees in the $20-$30 range, so I expected a bit more from the preparations. It’s not a place I see ourselves going back to.

Sea Grass Grille
807 William Hilton Pkwy #1000
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

CQs – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 by virginia

The summer is upon us in full swing, and our annual trip to Hilton Head will be coming up soon. I realize now that I still haven’t posted about last year’s restaurants, and so I have limited time to remedy the situation before we head back down there again. Following our delightful roadfood trip to South Carolina last year (the trip home, on the other hand, was not so great), we spent a full week basking in the hot Hilton Head sun. Dinners out were a bit hectic with our large group, but we managed. We tried a mix of new (for us) and old restaurants last year.


One of the “old” restaurants was CQs, a place we used to love. Traditionally, it was the restaurant we would always go to on our very first night in Hilton Head each year, but gradually, the food began to disappoint and we stopped going altogether. Last year, we heard that the food had improved greatly and decided to go back to check it out, for old time’s sake.

The menu reads very well, with lots of low country dishes and local seafood. Josh and I shared the shrimp bisque and the crispy glazed pork belly to start. The pork belly was glazed with barbecue sauce and served with roasted peaches on a bed of grits. The belly was beautifully cooked, caramelized on the outside, and melted in our mouths. The sweet peaches complemented the salty pork belly, and with the grits, it was a great combination of flavors and textures.

Crispy glazed pork belly with smoky barbecue and roasted South Carolina peaches

Crispy glazed pork belly with smoky barbecue and roasted South Carolina peaches

The shrimp bisque, however, was a huge disappointment. There was virtually no shrimp flavor; it almost tasted like canned tomato soup to me. The pimento crostini floating in the middle added absolutely nothing to the soup. I took a few spoonfuls and then passed the rest back to Josh, who didn’t love it but didn’t hate it as much as I did.

Shrimp bisque with pimento crostini

Shrimp bisque with pimento crostini

For the main course, Josh and I ordered the pan roasted Carolina rainbow trout and the grilled pork chop. The trout was nicely cooked, with a cornmeal dusted crust on the outside. It was served with a zucchini pancake that was a bit bland and chewy, and some sweet corn kernels and salty bacon pieces. There was a peach compote on top, similar to the roasted peaches on the pork belly. It was a decent dish but lacked pizazz.

Pan roasted Carolina rainbow trout with zucchini cakes, roasted corn, house bacon, and peach compote

Pan roasted Carolina rainbow trout with zucchini cakes, roasted corn, house bacon, and peach compote

After the delicious pork belly, I was looking forward to the grilled “prime” pork chop (their quotes, not mine). It came out looking wonderful, with a perfect diamond grill mark pattern seared onto the outside of the meat. The inside was a completely different story; it was extremely rare in the middle. Normally I don’t mind my pork slightly pink, but this was much rarer than that. And considering that I was almost eight months pregnant at the time, I was a bit alarmed about eating barely cooked pork. We alerted the waiter, who was apologetic and took the plate back to the kitchen. He returned a little while later, with the same exact plate, and the same exact pork in the same exact position that I had left it. The goat cheese napoleon and sauteed peppers and sausage on the side that I had picked at were also just as I left them, fork marks and all. The edges of the pork seemed a bit more cooked this time around, but when I cut through it again, it was the same level of rareness in the middle. I don’t know what was done with the plate when it was returned to the kitchen, maybe it was stuck in the microwave for a few seconds, but whatever they did, they certainly didn’t check it to see if it was more well done the this time around.

Char grilled "prime" pork chop with pepperade, sausage, snap beans, and goat cheese napoleon

Char grilled “prime” pork chop with pepperade, sausage, snap beans, and goat cheese napoleon

By that point, everyone else had finished eating and I didn’t feel like sending the pork back a second time, so I just left it. No one commented about it when they cleared my plate. Since Josh and I had shared trout dish, we weren’t starving, but I was pretty unhappy with how the incident was handled. It certainly left a bad impression for us, and the rest of the food fell short as well. With the exception of the pork belly appetizer, we weren’t excited or impressed by any of the dishes we sampled. The prices are also on the higher side, with appetizers averaging around $10 and entrees in the $25-$30 range. After this experience, I doubt we will go back. It’s too bad because the restaurant itself is quite lovely, and there’s a lot of history behind it. But none of that is enough to get past the so-so meals that we’ve had there.

140 Lighthouse Rd,
Hilton Head, SC

Le Hobbit Bistro – Quebec City, Canada

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 by virginia


I had done some research on restaurants in Quebec City prior to our trip but I wasn’t set on exactly where I wanted to eat, and I wasn’t really sure where the restaurants were located relative to our hotel. I wrote down a bunch of names and addresses, and so when we finally arrived in Quebec City late on Thursday night, we zeroed in on the restaurants closest to our hotel. There were two restaurants on the same street nearby so we walked past both and settled on Le Hobbit Bistro, which seemed like a slightly brighter, more upbeat and open space than our other option (where we ended up eating the next night).

There restaurant was busy, but not overly crowded, which was fortunate since J’s stroller takes up a lot of space. The waiter was pretty accommodating about shifting the tables around a bit so that we could put her (and all of her stuff) out of people’s way. It was after 9:30 pm by the time we settled in, and the waiter informed us that the kitchen would be closing soon so we quickly placed our order. Josh was in charge of the wine while I picked the dishes that we would share.

He wound up ordering a 1999 Bordeaux from Chateau Les Mangons. It needed a little time to open up a bit but wound up being smooth, medium bodied, not too dry, and very drinkable. The bread basket, on the other hand, was kind of sad with some limp pieces of baguette that had virtually no crust on it.

Bordeaux and baguette

Bordeaux and baguette

For our appetizers, we got the French onion soup and the sweetbreads with fig and truffle oil. The French onion soup was warm and comforting on a cold night, exactly what you expect, but nothing extraordinary. It was well seasoned, hearty, and had lots of melted cheese on top – there’s not much more you can ask for from a French onion soup.

French onion soup

French onion soup

I was really excited for the sweetbreads but I had started with the soup while Josh had started with this dish, and look on his face after he took one bite was not encouraging. He wouldn’t really explain to me what the issue was so after we made our customary swap midway through, I gingerly dug in to see what the face was all about. Immediately, I noticed that the texture of the sweetbreads was off. It should be crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, but this was chewy and gristly. I don’t know if that was intentional or if they didn’t clean the sweetbreads properly, but the texture is what threw Josh off. We both agreed that the plating, however, was gorgeous.

Sweetbreads on top of celery root puree with fig and truffle sauce

Sweetbreads on top of celery root puree with fig and truffle sauce

Flavor wise, the dish was screaming for salt, which was scattered about the plate in little flakes, but not actually on the sweetbreads themselves. There was also almost no sauce on the plate, and whatever sauce there was didn’t really taste much like figs or truffle oil. That was pretty disappointing, since I love both. The celery root puree underneath the sweetbreads was properly seasoned though, as was the little microgreen salad next to it. When I got a little bit of everything on my fork and dragged it through the salt flakes, the dish was actually pretty tasty, if a bit subtle, but the texture was still bad. I had very mixed feelings about the dish overall, but I didn’t hate it as much as Josh did. If the sweetbreads were the crispy/creamy texture that I’m used to, I would eat it again. But they weren’t, and Josh thought it was just bland and bad in general. Oh well.

The main courses fared much better. We shared the venison skirt steak and the duck confit. The venison was tender and not too gamey, perfectly cooked so that it was pink and juicy on the inside. However, it also wasn’t seasoned enough. A little bit of salt would have really elevated the flavor of the meat. Nevertheless, the pureed sweet potatoes underneath were super creamy and perfectly balanced between sweet and savory, and the melted leeks were buttery and mellow. Except for the lack of salt, we both really enjoyed the dish.

Venison skirt steak with pureed sweet potatoes and melted leeks

Venison skirt steak with pureed sweet potatoes and melted leeks

The duck confit was served with a port sauce and roasted vegetables. The duck was perfectly prepared, with the meat falling off the bone at the slightest push of the fork. I was amazed that the skin was still super crispy, a great textural contrast to the tender meat. The port sauce was intensely flavorful, slightly sweet, and paired perfectly with the wine. And unlike the venison and the sweetbreads, this dish was perfectly seasoned, which made it our favorite of the evening.

Duck confit with port sauce and sweet potato puree

Duck confit with port sauce and roasted vegetables

We passed on dessert, opting to enjoy the last bit of our wine instead. Overall we really did enjoy our meal at Le Hobbit, despite the few missteps with our dishes. While the texture of the sweetbreads was definitely problematic, everything else was just a seasoning issue and could have been easily fixed with a dash of salt. We liked the vibe of the restaurant, which seemed to be full of locals – most tables were groups of friends chatting in French, eating, and drinking. Our waiter was very accommodating, and we did not feel completely out of place dining with a baby. Prices were pretty reasonable – not cheap, but in line with a nice meal out. With two appetizers, two entrees, and a nice bottle of wine, dinner cost about $165 after tax and tip. It’s definitely a place I would recommend to someone traveling to Quebec City.

Le Hobbit Bistro
700 Rue Saint-Jean

Quebec City, Canada

Hilton Head 2011 Day 4 – Old Fort Pub

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 by virginia

On our last day in Hilton Head, Josh and I were supposed to fly out at 7 pm from Savannah, which would have gotten us back to NYC at around 9 pm. Around 1 pm, however, a few hours before we were headed to the airport (which is about 45 minutes from the island), Josh got notification that our flight had been cancelled due to weather. We weren’t sure where exactly the “weather” was, given that we were sitting at the pool at the time and the sky was clear and blue. We figured the bad weather was in NYC, where it was raining, but nothing out of the ordinary. After trying to figure out alternative routes home, including flying through Charlotte, we ultimately booked a flight for first thing in the morning. I was worried that we would get stuck in Charlotte and have to spend the night at the airport, whereas if we stayed in Hilton Head, at least we had a guaranteed place to sleep.

The cancellation of our flight was kind of bittersweet. I was looking forward to getting home and having a night to readjust before heading back to work the next day. Flying out at 6:30 am meant that we would have to get up around 3:30 am and take a 45 minute taxi ride from Hilton Head to Savannah. Our flight would get in at 8:30 am and I would have to go straight to work feeling tired and looking disheveled. On the upside, we got to finish out our day at the pool, and we were able to join everyone for dinner at the Old Fort Pub.

During our trip to Hilton Head last year, the Old Fort Pub was my favorite restaurant of all the places we went that year. Even though I was dreading our early departure the next day, I was excited to have the opportunity to go back to the Old Fort Pub. Luckily they were able to add us to the reservation on short notice without any issues. As we left for the restaurant, the sky grew ominously black, and it started to pour. In retrospect, perhaps our flight was cancelled because they were anticipating this rain for around the time our flight was scheduled to take off. In addition to the downpour, there was plenty of thunder and lightning.

The torrential rain slowed us up quite a bit, as it was hard to see out the windshield because it was raining so heavily. We wound up being late for our reservation, and the restaurant called to make sure we were still coming. We assured them that we were on our way and quite close, but that we hadn’t brought any umbrellas. They said it was no problem, and that someone would be out front to meet us. Sure enough, as we pulled up, there was a person (who later turned out to be our waiter) standing in the rain holding several umbrellas for us. Now that’s what I call service!

We all finally made it into the restaurant, safe and mostly dry. It did get a bit hairy when a lightning bolt must have struck very close to where we were standing; the thundering crack that it made was absolutely deafening (I almost jumped out of my skin), and we were all pretty spooked by it. Nevertheless, we were happy to finally be inside, and we settled in to enjoy our meal.

In a departure from our usual tactic of ordering two different things per course and then going halfsies, Josh and I both decided to order the she crab soup. She crab soup is probably our favorite lowcountry dish and it’s something we always want to eat when we’re in Hilton Head. The version at Old Fort Pub is a bit different from most other versions we’ve tried. It’s very thick and creamy, which I like, but it has a very strong sherry taste to it. While the sherry flavor cuts through the richness of the soup, it masks some of the crab flavor and is slightly bitter. I thought when we tried it last year that we had just gotten a particularly boozy batch, but it was exactly the same this year. It’s not a bad version, but I definitely prefer less sherry flavor.

She crab soup

For our main course, we shared the lamb chops and the bouillabaisse. The lamb chops were cooked rare, as requested, and served with a pea and bean cassoulet, braised collard greens, and roasted tomato jus. I’m not sure if the sauce on the plate was the tomato jus because it was dark red in color and syrupy, both in texture and in taste. It was slightly too sweet to match well with the lamb and clashed with the cassoulet and collards as well. The flavors really didn’t meld, and I was pretty disappointed with the dish.

Lamb chops with pea and bean cassoulet, braised collard greens, and roasted tomato jus

We enjoyed the bouillabaisse much more, which featured shrimp, scallops, crawfish, mussels, tasso ham, roasted tomatoes, and collards. The seafood was all nicely cooked, especially the scallops, and the broth was rich and flavorful thanks to the ham. I think there was some cream in there but it wasn’t overwhelming, and the bouillabaisse was hearty and comforting.

Sea Island bouillabaisse

Overall I have to admit that most of us were pretty disappointed with our meal at the Old Fort Pub. Perhaps we had high hopes and expectations coming in, especially since we all had great prior meals there, but this particular visit didn’t measure up. The lamb chops didn’t work and there were also issues with the dishes that some other people in our group had. The upside to the experience was definitely the service. In addition to being nice enough to stand outside in the rain with umbrellas for us, our waiter was friendly, attentive, and efficient. I’m glad that we were able to spend an extra night in Hilton Head, though this meal was kind of a downer to end our vacation with. I don’t know if it was just an off night but for the price, I definitely expected more. It may have been our favorite restaurant last year, but now I have mixed feelings about the place. I think next year we’ll probably seek out some new restaurants to try.

Old Fort Pub
65 Skull Creek Dr.
Hilton Head, SC

Old Sichuan Cuisine

Sunday, June 12th, 2011 by virginia

When Josh and I first moved into the city, we spent many weekends in Chinatown searching for the best soup dumplings. We never really found a soup dumpling that we didn’t enjoy, but one of our favorites was New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe on Bayard St. We hadn’t been there in years but when Josh’s parents suggested Chinese food in Chinatown for Sunday night dinner, we recommended going to New Yeah because we remembered the dining room being nicer than some of our other favorites (Nice Green Bo, Joe’s Ginger for example).

It took us a little bit to find the restaurant, however, because the name had changed to Old Sichuan. To make matters more confusing, there was a place called Old Shanghai Deluxe on the corner. Yet on an advertisement outside of Old Sichuan, it said New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe. We peeked inside Old Sichuan and it didn’t look like the decor had changed much since its New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe days, so in we went. We ended up at a table in the front where the decor is kind of nonexistent but we didn’t mind. The dining room in the back is a lot nicer though so if ambiance is important, ask to be seated in the back room.

They brought us a plate of peanuts while we looked over the menu. It looked like tables with Chinese patrons received plates of seaweed salad, but the peanuts were fine for us. They were slightly toasted and warm and crunchy – good for snacking on with some Tsingtao beer.

Complimentary peanuts

We had ordered some appetizers and a few main dishes to share but they brought everything to us pretty much at the same time, so that some of the entrees arrived before some of the appetizers. We found that a bit weird, and it made the service seem rushed. Nevertheless, we were all pretty hungry so we dug into each dish as they came. Soup arrived first – we got a corn egg drop soup for 2 and a wonton soup for 2. The serving sizes were big enough that we were all able to get a taste of each (there were seven of us altogether).

Corn egg drop soup for 2

The corn egg drop soup had sweet kernels of corn and strands of egg mixed throughout. The soup had a nice, clean taste to it, though I thought it was a bit bland. It just needed a bit of salt, but Alice really enjoyed it a lot. I preferred the wonton soup, which looked pretty clear and nondescript, but the amount of flavor in the broth was actually very surprising. It was well seasoned and a bit peppery, with lots of umami flavor that I enjoyed. The wontons were soft and had a good amount of filling in them (pork I believe), but I really enjoyed just drinking the broth.

Wonton soup

Alice and I both wanted an egg roll but the only thing they had on the menu was called a vegetable roll. It turned out to be more like a spring roll, though the size was more in line with an egg roll. While I found the spring roll wrapper to be pretty crispy, Alice thought it was a tad oily. I liked the filling though, with lots of crisp shredded veggies. It was flavorful and seasoned enough that we didn’t need any sort of dipping sauce.

Vegetable rolls

One of our favorite dishes to order at any Chinese restaurant is the pan fried noodles. Old Sichuan’s version was really tasty – chock full of crunchy vegetables and lots of meat. We got the house special version that came with chicken, pork, and shrimp. My only wish was that there were more noodles in the dish. The serving of noodles was a bit paltry, and there was so much sauce and toppings that they got soggy very quickly. The best part of pan fried noodles is the fried noodles, which should be thin and super crispy. While the dish tasted good, the noodles weren’t the star that they should have been.

House special pan fried noodles

Pork with garlic sauce is one of Josh’s favorite dishes, and Old Sichuan’s version was one of the best that we’ve ever had. The dish featured plenty of shredded pork sauteed with crunchy celery and wood ear. The garlic sauce was flavorful and had a nice kick to it, with just enough spice to tingle your tongue and lips but not to overwhelm your taste buds. It’s great spooned over a nice pile of white rice, which helps temper the spiciness.

Pork with garlic sauce

We ordered sesame chicken at my request. Kind of blasphemous I guess, considering this is more of an authentic Chinese restaurant rather than a place that caters to American tastes. But I was in the mood for a sweet, sticky sauce, and I was actually blown away by how good this dish turned out to be. Usually the chicken in sesame chicken is heavily battered and fried, so that it’s hard to tell if you’re eating breading or chicken. This chicken barely had any coating on it, and it was super tender and juicy on the inside. The sauce covering the chicken wasn’t overly sweet or gloppy, and had a nice savory aspect to it. There were lots of sesame seeds sprinkled on top, and there was some plain broccoli on the side that I enjoyed dipping into the sauce and eating.

Sesame chicken

We also got an order of house special fried rice that had lots of scrambled egg and pork, chicken, and shrimp mixed in. It was fine, not too greasy, and a good complement to our other dishes.

House special fried rice

Surprisingly, one of the last dishes to arrive at our table was the soup dumplings (usually they come first as an appetizer). We got an order of the pork ones, and they were absolutely fabulous. The skins were super thin but still had a nice chew to them, the filling was intensely porky, and there was lots of hot broth to slurp up. We doused them with a bit of black vinegar and ginger, and they were just perfect.

Pork soup dumpling

Overall we really enjoyed the food at Old Sichuan Cuisine. I wonder if the owners are still the same as when it was New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, but regardless, I would definitely go back there. Even though service seemed a bit off, with appetizers and entrees arriving all jumbled together, the food was some of the best Chinese food I’ve had recently. We ordered the perfect amount for seven people – every dish was polished off and we were all satisfied but not bursting full. Prices are incredibly reasonable, even for Chinatown. I think our bill was about $65 in total. The menu is extensive with lots of authentic Chinese dishes as well as standard Americanized favorites. Definitely try out the pork in garlic sauce if you go; Old Sichuan’s version renewed our love for this dish. And don’t forget about the soup dumplings!

Old Sichuan Cuisine
65 Bayard St. between Mott and Elizabeth St.
New York, NY