Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Graduation Celebration at Charleston!

by Erin

Last week -- I can't believe I can say this -- I graduated from law school! Long-time readers will recall that when Xani and I started BCD, I had just finished my first year of school and I was in the middle of petitioning for journal. Ah, those were the days!

A while ago, Mom and Dad asked me where I wanted to go for my graduation dinner and I chose the Charleston Restaurant, arguably the best/most upscale restaurant in Baltimore. We had been to Charleston twice before, but not since 2007. We had always gone for Xani's and Mom's birthdays, and had therefore only been in the winter, so we were excited to go in the spring and see how Chef Wolf incorporated the delicious seasonal veggies.

After a hectic day of graduation festivities, we met up at Charleston, located in the swanky Harbor East area of the city. We had cocktails in the small but comfortable bar: Mom got a bellini, Dad got a scotch (JWB on the rocks with a twist), Xani got a mojito, and I got a champagne cocktail. After we finished our drinks, we made our way to our table, located in a small room with windows overlooking a quiet street. The decor at Charleston is cozy and luxurious, but not stuffy.

We sat down and the waitress brought us an assortment of breads: a dinner roll, a delicious corn-shaped piece of cornbread, and some other type of bread. Meanwhile we perused the menu, which was divided into "hot," "cool," "fish," "birds and game," "meats," and "cheese."

As many of you know, we LOVE to share and you'll often find us rotating plates even at the fanciest of places. This meal was no different, but we have wised up a bit in terms of our "sharing technique." While normally we would each get a different 4- or 5-course meal, and then eat a quarter of the dish, and pass to the next person, this resulted in a person getting approximately one spoonful of soup or one molecule of foie gras or duck, and it was a bit frustrating, especially if the dish was really good! So, we modified our technique where we basically have two 4- or 5-course menus, and two of us get one of the menus, and the other two get the other, so you only have to switch once per course. Granted, you only get to try 8-10 dishes instead of 16-20, but we are okay with this.

We challenged our wonderful waiter, Len, by telling him which 10 dishes we wanted, and let him arrange them into two 5-course meals. We also asked him to pair wines with everything. It is a testament to his and the staff's skills that he took on the challenge with only a slight wince and performed beautifully.

First we enjoyed an amuse bouche of...some delicious soup that I can't remember. Asparagus maybe? It was awesome - that's all I know. Then came the many courses! (Note that many of these dishes are still on the menu but a few are not, so I have tried to describe them from memory as best I can!)

First course (hot):

  • Charleston Shellfish Bisque, Lobster, Shrimp, Tarragon Oil
  • Shrimp, Andouille Sausage, and Real Grits
Shrimp and Grits

Shellfish Bisque

Second course (cold):
  • Salad of Fresh Artichoke, Celery, Chives, and Lemon
  • Asparagus with Goat Cheese

Asparagus with goat cheese

Artichoke and celery salad

Third course (fish):
  • Pan Roasted Alaskan Halibut, Creole Sauce, Tabasco Scented Rice, Crispy Shrimp
  • Seared Scallop with Citrus Supremes and Roasted Beets
Seared scallop

Halibut and shrimp

Fourth course (delicious offal - at this point they were mixing "birds and game" and "meats" so I have given this course my own title!):

  • Pan-Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Yukon Gold Potato & Bacon Hash, Madiera Pan Sauce

  • Sweetbreads with Roasted Cauliflower

Foie gras!


Fifth course (meats and birdies):
  • Pan-Roasted Magret Duck Breast, Rhubarb Compote, Port Wine and Bing Cherry Reduction

  • Grilled Colorado Lamb Chop

Lamb chop

Ze duck with cherries

What a meal!! So many of these dishes were outstanding, which we have come to expect of Chef Wolf - she is amazing! To avoid a lot of repetitive gushing, I will discuss a few of the tip top stand-out dishes.

The both of the first hot courses were amazing and we've had them both in the past - obviously they are classics and are so loved that they haven't left the menu in over 2 years! The shellfish bisque is super-rich with lots of great seafood flavor in the soup, plus a generous portion of shrimp and lobster atop the soup itself. There is, as to be expected, a hearty helping of cream and some liquor (probably sherry?) in the soup as well, which make it even more exquisite.

The shrimp and grits were also wonderful and so flavorful from the spicy andouille sausage, the creamy grits, and the perfectly cooked shrimp. My mouth is watering as I type this!

Another standout was the foie gras, but how could it not be good? Foie gras + potatoes + bacon?! I have yet to meet a foie gras dish I didn't love and this one was no exception. We also loved the duck, which was perfectly cooked and was served with that awesome bing cherry sauce. I also recall the lamb being superb and again, perfectly cooked. I see a theme here!

One surprise of the evening (for at least Xani and Mom) was that the scallop was so wonderful. Normally they are not big scallop eaters but in this dish, the scallop was seared but still creamy on the inside, and had a subtle scallop flavor that played beautifully off the pine nuts, citrus, and yummy roasted beets.

After our meal, while discussing our favorites, Len brought up the subject of dessert. (Dessert, by the way, is included in any 3- to 6-course meal you select. Very classy, Charleston.) I was especially excited for dessert not only because of my sweet tooth, but also because our friend Joy is the pastry chef at Charleston! She is so accomplished and we are really proud of her.

I had told her we were coming for my graduation, but I really didn't know what to expect in terms of special (dessert) treatment, or if I should expect anything to begin with. But before we could even begin discussing dessert, Len brought out a beautiful cake made by Joy just for me! AND, it turned out that she and Xani had been in cahoots and had discussed what flavors it should be, and decided on a dark chocolate cake and a coffee filling - kinda like Black Coffee and a Donut flavored!! Amazing. How did I get so lucky??

The cake was chocolatey and coffee-y (love that flavor combo) and served with fresh raspberries on the side. Add a round of coffees and espressos and a glass of armagnac for the table, and it was a delicious end to the meal. Oh wait - there were little chocolates, a mini lemon square, and a macaron too! THANKS JOY for everything! You really made my night even more special!

And thanks to my wonderful parents and Xani, and to all my friends who supported and encouraged me (and talked me down) over these past three years. Only two more months of bitching while I study for the bar, and you'll be home free ;)

Congrats to my fellow graduates!

Happy celebrating,


ps. Here are a few pictures from graduation:

Me and Xani at the Recognition Ceremony the night before graduation, where I received an award for my clinical work

Getting hooded by my favorite professor, Prof. Van Alstine!

All four of us had Prof. Keller for Income Tax, so we had to get a picture with him!

A shot of my awesome hood!

Family! Lots of lawyers

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