I didn’t expect my favorite restaurant in Charleston to be a Thai place.
G. and I went seeking Low Country cuisine, and when we arrived in town, we had a great lunch at Virginia’s On King. We started with crab-stuffed mushrooms with real chunks of crab like we used to get when I was little and living in Delaware. The appetizer reminded me of my grandmother. Her family was so poor during the Depression that her parents would send all the children out to catch crabs during the day, and that’s what they ate at night. Now, pollution and over-fishing have decimated the crab population in the Chesapeake Bay, and most “crab” cakes you get these days are breading with a little bit of crab tucked in. Same goes with stuffed mushrooms. But at Virginia’s, I could see the lumps of crab meat and detected no breading. Did I mention my grandmother was named Virginia?
For our main meals, I had the fried chicken with sweet potato fries and mac and cheese, and G. had the special, a blackened grouper sandwich with corn salsa and sweet potato fries. We must have been hungry because we inhaled our meals in near-record time.
But then the weight of it set in. Even after a tour of Fort Sumter and a nap, I wasn’t ready for another big dose of Southern cooking. It was a dilemma because G. was taking me out for a belated birthday dinner. I had a dress, he had dress shoes. Where to go? The woman at the front desk of our hotel recommended Basil, where she went for her birthday dinner.
I had read about Basil online but was skeptical. Could there really be good Thai food in the land of grits and greens? The answer is yes, absolutely. In fact, it’s fabulous.
Since it was a special night, G. and I started with cocktails. Mine featured coconut milk (love it!) and basil (love it too!). G.’s had pineapple juice. He loves pineapple, but more on that in a minute.
We had the fresh Basil rolls as an appetizer, and then I ordered the ginger entrée with beef. The beef was thin, tender and infused with the flavor of the sliced ginger. I really do believe it was the best Thai dish I’ve ever had. The only reason that I didn’t use a picture of it as the main one for this post was that the picture was too dark. Basil’s dim lighting was great for a romantic atmosphere, but bad for photography. And using a flash always makes the food look terrible.
G. ordered the Pad See-Eu, which was flat rice noodles with eggs, broccoli, garlic and soy sauce. One thing I appreciated was that except for the curries, it was possible to adjust the heat in the dishes. G. likes some heat but is sensitive to it. Our waitress had the dish made mild and then brought three little jars of ground peppers that G. could use to add heat to his taste. She also coached him on what effect each pepper would have.
When our waitress found out we were from out of town, she also recommended a number of places to go after dinner for drinks or music. We ended up choosing the Belmont, which serves classic cocktails in a swanky setting. I had a lovely Pimm’s Cup, created in London in the 1830s. G. had an Old Fashioned that kicked his ass. The Belmont doesn’t add seltzer or even ice. It’s just straight up and tough to swallow.
Interestingly, our least favorite places was Jestine’s Kitchen, which has become something of a hot spot thanks to attention from Rachel Ray and Anthony Bourdain. It was the only place we had to wait in line. But, my fried whiting and G.’s meatloaf, while good, weren’t spectacular. I was most impressed by the homemade pickles since I don’t usually like pickles and I ate almost the whole bowl. G. graciously pretended he didn’t mind.
He wasn’t impressed until dessert. I ordered a special, bread pudding with pineapple and vanilla sauce. I love bread pudding, and as I mentioned, G. loves pineapple, so it was a happy match. The dessert was basically just bread pudding with small chunks of canned pineapple baked in _ easy to make at home if you like pineapple too.