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Carolina’s Caters to the Companionless

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Carolina’s Caters to the Companionless
Text by Kristina Held / Photo by Tim Hussey

A PERFECTLY PAIRED DINNER

A swirl of mixed feelings surrounds the concept of dining alone. A friend recently told me she would rather take a pill that gave her all her nutrients than eat alone; for her, coming together with people over a spread of food is integral to the act of eating. Having moved to cities alone (including one European stint), I am very accustomed to dining solo. It can be intimidating at first, but eventually you learn that it can provide you with a unique experience to truly enjoy and savor what you eat…and the people watching is outstanding.

Carolina’s held a Perfectly Paired dinner last Friday evening for the BB&T Charleston Food & Wine Festival, and I happened to attend it alone. What truly saved this experience was the company I kept that evening. A few factors went awry, including the guest chef for unfortunately falling ill at the last minute, but luckily I was surrounded by entertaining and festive people. One fellow diner proudly exclaimed as each new wine came, “This one is definitely white, yes, yes,” or, “I can tell this one is certainly a red by the notes of different smells.” Another guest at the table even indulged our group with a special mélange of spirits when he sensed the festivities were taking a hit. It was all in good fun and the jests were certainly appreciated. I was reminded how coming to dinner solo doesn’t always mean dining alone.

The food and wine at the event proved to be good company as well. Carolina’s executive chef Jill Mathias was originally paired with executive chef Jeff McInnis of Miami’s Yardbird Southern Table, but McInnis’ untimely illness required Chef Mark Steuer of Carriage House in Chicago to step in. Michael Honig of Honig Vineyard & Winery in Napa, California was on hand to pair the wines with the last minute menu.

The first course was a trio of seafood: Nantucket Bay scallops paired with grapefruit, grilled octopus interestingly combined with hazelnuts and orange purée, and a striper belly salad on a slice of toasted ciabatta. Honig Vineyard is known for the Sauvignon Blanc and it was an ideal match for this first course. Mr. Honig paired a different Sauvignon Blanc with the second course of chicken fried stuffed quail. This course was so delightful, I completely forgot that I gave up fried foods for Lent and dove right in. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me until Sunday night that I had broken my promise, but this, this was worth it.

Cabernet Sauvignon is Honig’s second most popular variety. The third course for the evening was braised lamb shoulder ravioli with local pea greens, and was joined with Honig’s 2010 Cabernet. Everyone professed this to be their favorite course.That is,until the fourth course came out. For one guest, the seared beef striploin was “why you go out to dinner in the first place.” Plated atop subtle blue cheese grits and a smoked foie gras sauce, the steak was the best portion of the evening. It encompassed what each course before was trying to achieve: food that is flavorful, approachable, and yet complex enough to keep the meal interesting. The 2009 Bartolucci Cabernet Sauvignon was pulled from reserve especially for this evening and made the course truly special.

Since I don’t posses an active sweet tooth, I found the three-year aged Gouda just right for dessert. The house made caramel kept the sweet-seekers happy and the Sauvignon Blanc, which was subject to a special round of botrytis, reigned it all in. I enjoyed my evening at Carolina’s immensely. Between the exceptional food and the consistently entertaining company, I look forward to my next wine pairing dinner—