Monday, September 27, 2010

Mesh on Mass Avenue: Better than Scholars Inn, anyway.

I was not a fan of Scholars Inn, especially after they decided to rebrand the place as “SI.” Weren’t they aware of Sports Illustrated? Anyway, my feelings on that now-defunct restaurant are neither here nor there because today I’m writing about the new restaurant that has taken up residence inside the bones of SI, Mesh on Mass Avenue. Yeah, I know, “Mesh” isn’t a great name. As a child of the 80s, my mind automatically goes to this:

Undeterred by the questionable name, however, I decided to give Mesh on Mass Avenue a try this past weekend. And I’m glad I did. It wasn’t a perfect dining experience, but, overall, it was nice. Given that they’ve only been open for a month or so, I’d say “nice” is a good sign of things to come.

The first thing I noticed about Mesh was that it still looks quite a bit like Scholars Inn with one major exception – they’ve painted the interior from top to bottom. The choice of browns and earth tones is a big improvement over SI’s garish blues and turquoises. Because it was a beautiful night, we asked to sit outside, which means I didn’t get a chance to nose around inside the restaurant or go upstairs. The outdoor seating area was comfortable and cozy, though, with a roaring fireplace that should keep diners warm well into fall. There was a lack of lighting outside, which made it kind of difficult to see your food at times, but I suppose a little darkness is preferable to having a spotlight shine in your face.

Our server arrived promptly to take our drink orders. She was fun and communicative, but never annoying. I gave her a little good-natured ribbing at one point and she replied, “Watch it! I'm feisty!” I like that in a server. After taking our drink orders, she left water on the table in an old-fashioned stopper-topped glass bottle, which was a nice touch. We tried two different cocktails, the Hemingway daiquiri and the bourbon peach smash. I can’t say that I was crazy about either of them. The Hemingway daiquiri was kind of sour (it was made with grapefruit juice) and a little too rummy for me while the bourbon peach smash didn’t really make much of an impression. Maybe it’s just me, but when I order girly cocktails, I expect them to be a little bit sweet, which neither of these drinks was. Our server did bring the daiquiri out in a cocktail shaker and shook it tableside, which I thought was another nice touch. One final word of warning on the beverages – the iced tea comes from a soda fountain; it is not fresh-brewed tea. As a person who cannot stomach fountain tea, I was unpleasantly surprised when I tasted it.

As a starter, all diners at Mesh get a basket of bread with an olive oil/vinegar dip. This was delicious. I’m not sure if they bake the bread in house or not, but it certainly tasted like it, warm and fluffy. And the dip was quite flavorful as well. For an appetizer, we ordered (at the suggestion of our server) the wild mushroom strudel. She did not steer us wrong! The strudel was a mushroom-lover’s delight wrapped inside a puff pastry and topped with a savory cream sauce. The strudel was paired with a lightly dressed salad, which I thought would be odd, but I actually ended up liking. The crispness of the lettuce made a good counterpart to the richness of the rest of the dish.

I decided to start my meal with a wedge salad. I was hoping for a towering, standing wedge salad covered with tons of blue cheese (like my favorite wedge salad at Bonge’s Tavern). This was not that. No, this was a lazy wedge salad that had collapsed onto its side. It was drizzled with vinaigrette and just had a few, stray pieces of blue cheese on it. As Obi-Wan said to the storm trooper, “This is not the wedge salad you're looking for. You can go about your business. Move along.” The lobster bisque, on the other hand, was pretty dang good. A little salty, maybe, but not bad.

Next we waited for our entrées. And waited. The kitchen service was rather slow. It wasn’t intolerable, by any means, but if I had been in a rush, I would have been stressing. As the time between courses lengthened, our server even said something like, “I’m going to have to go back there and knock some heads together.” She did say she was feisty! When the entrées finally did come, they were worth the wait. The scallops were cooked to perfection and tasted great, although the spinach risotto they were served on was a tad underdone. I had to pick a few pieces of crunchy rice from my teeth. The pork belly entrée was good, as well, even if the pork belly itself was not as crispy as I like it. Still, it paired well with the beans. Once again, though, some of the beans were undercooked. Was this a running theme, perhaps?

Overall, I enjoyed my dinner at Mesh. Most of the food was good, and the atmosphere and excellent service made up for the few missteps and the wait. I’ll definitely give this place another try a few months down the road when they’ve had time to work out the kinks.

Just for fun, here are two more images of people wearing mesh shirts.

What were people in the 80s thinking?

Mesh on Mass Avenue on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'll have a sweet tea and a Fat Hen, please.

I just got back from a week-long family trip to South Carolina's Kiawah Island, which is just 15 miles southeast of Charleston. I've often heard that Charleston is home to some of the best restaurants in the country, although I've never been able to verify that claim for myself during previous visits to the city because my family does not contain the most adventurous eaters. In the past, I've always been restricted to eating at the tourist-y seafood spots such as Charleston Crab House and A.W. Shucks. Not bad places to eat, necessarily, but not too adventurous, either.

This year, though, my family and I were planning to celebrate a milestone birthday for my mom (21, if anyone wants to know), so I insisted that we not go to the Charleston equivalent of Red Lobster for the occassion. My sister, who stresses out easily, requested that I not book us a reservation in the downtown area, which restricted me a bit. Nevertheless, I did manage to find a highly rated little eatery right on Johns Island called The Fat Hen. It seemed like just the kind of place I was looking for. Not too laid back, but not at all formal. The menu on their website showed off a variety of fairly traditional dishes that wouldn't scare the pickier eaters, but with a certain, as the French (and Dr. Evil) say, I-don't-know-what.

We were not disappointed! From the moment we showed up (a few minutes early, I might add) for our reservation, we felt at home. The restaurant is cozy with the look of a house - complete with a screened-in front porch. We were immediately greeted by the friendly staff and shown to our table where we were served sweet tea in Ball jars. Because it was my mom's special day, the chef came out to wish her a happy birthday and to tell her to save room for dessert, which was quite a nice touch. Our waiter was fantastic, explaining each item on the menu and even telling us where the locally grown produce had originated. He was personable and knowledgable about the cuisine, and really seemed to be enjoying his job. He even brought out a plate of various citrus fruits for my 11-month-old niece so we could all laugh at her as she had her first taste of a fresh lemon.

As for the food, everything I tried was delicious, although some dishes were better than others (obviously). Luckily, I made nothing but good choices. I started with the fried green tomatoes with goat cheese, pepper relish, and tomato jam. I've had fried green tomatoes before and never been crazy about them, but, being in the South, I thought I'd give them another try. And, boy, am I glad I did! I could have eaten a huge plate of these as my meal! The tomatoes were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside with a great falvor, and the goat cheese added a nice richness to the dish. They were even a little spicy (thanks to the peppers), which I loved. Delicious. My father raved about his sautéed oysters as well, even sopping up all of the sauce with a piece of bread. And my mom, quite the French onion soup connoisseur, gave the soup a big thumb's up.

For my main, I chose the flounder nicoise, which was quite good as well. It was served with fresh herbs, capers, olives, and tomatoes all over a bed of bacon cheese grits. How can you go wrong with those ingredients! The salty capers paired with the well-cooked flounder really made my night. Because I was so into my own dish, I didn't really try many of the other mains, but everyone at the table gave their dishes high marks. Probably the least satisfied was my sister, who ordered the scallop gratineee. She was really wanting to taste the scallops, I think, instead of the heavy mushroom cream sauce that coated the dish. To be fair, the waiter has warned her that the dish was one of his least favorites and that it was not really a scallop-lover's dish. She said it was good, but she would have preferred a lighter meal. She was warned!

For dessert, the family opted to order three dishes and pass them around. The chef sent my mom a slice of humingbird cake with a lit candle in it, so that was one. We chose profiteroles and a warm berry crumble as our other two. I had never had hummingbird cake (which is basically a layer cake full of chopped pecans, crushed pineapple, and mashed bananas) before, so I was interested to try that. It was not my favorite, to be honest. It seemed like something my grandma would bake, which certainly isn't bad, but not blow-your-mind exciting. My dad loved the profiteroles (his choice for dessert), extolling the virtues of their chocolate cream filling, but I am just not a big fan of the little pastries. My favorite desert, by far, was the berry crumble. It was chock full of fresh, locally harvested berries and was served with a scoop of house-made ice cream. Yum. I considered ordering another crumble just for myself, but thought better of it.

All in all, we had a wonderful evening. In fact, my mom said it was one of her best birthdays in years. Best of all, the bill was not as high as I was expecting. I'd say I got off pretty easily, actually! Next time I'm in Charleston or visiting Kiawah Island, I will definitely return to the Fat Hen. I need some more of those fried green tomatoes....

Fat Hen on Urbanspoon