The standard Restaurant Week meal format, exceedingly popular in most corners, can aggravate diners in the habit of skipping dessert, since the three-course, prix-fixe dinners invariably end with sweets.
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Economically, it makes sense for restaurants to pad their menus with chocolate mousse and creme brulee, since eggs and sugar are cheaper than centerpiece proteins. But that’s little consolation to the Charleston Restaurant Week-goer who’d rather double up on boiled peanut hummus (Magnolias) or pickled shrimp salad (Stars).
This year, though, the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association has tweaked its biannual program in a way that should please fans: Participating restaurants are being encouraged to devise toned-down lunch menus, offered at a slightly lower price. The three restaurants that have thus far posted their event lunch menus online — 82 Queen, Rutledge Cab Co. and Ms. Rose’s Fine Food and Cocktails — met the $15 challenge by doing away with dessert.
According to GCRA Executive Director Kathy Britzius, the lunch option was added in response to customer feedback.
“Often the standard Restaurant Week menus are a bit too much food at that time of day,” she’s quoted as saying in a release explaining the schedule addition.
GCRA spokesperson Kaili Howard says she anticipates more restaurants will roll out lunch menus before the start of the Sept. 4-15 program.
For menus and reservations, go to charlestonrestaurantassociation.com.
Cypress meat box
Although Cypress likens its four-year old Artisan Meat Share program to Community Supported Agriculture, the amenity could more appropriately be described as a C.O.D: Charcuterie on Demand.
The restaurant seasonally offers $50 meat packages, which come with none of the surprise or obligation associated with most CSA boxes. This fall, the box includes braunschweiger, picante, knockwurst, Tuscan beef and pork pate.
Boxes will be available for pick-up at the restaurant beginning Sept. 18. To pre-order a package, call 937-4012, ext. 229. Spokeswoman Becky Tanenbaum warns the packages are sold on a “first-come, first-serve basis.”
The Charleston palate
“Lowcountry food isn’t really spicy,” says Josh Walker, owner and chef of Xiao Bao Biscuit. Although peppers thrive in lowcountry soil, and hot sauce has long been a standard condiment in local kitchens, area residents have traditionally preferred to wring flavor from salt, onions, butter and cream.
Walker and his crew didn’t set out to spice up the Charleston diet. But an unintended consequence of the young restaurant’s extraordinary popularity may be an increased collective tolerance for heat.
“When we say spicy, we mean spicy,” Walker says of dishes accentuated with chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns. Walker rues the promiscuous use of the word “spicy,” which is now blithely affixed to fast food tacos and mass-produced potato chips.
But the palate can be trained; Walker’s witnessed the phenomenon behind-the-scenes at Xiao Bao.
“My partner couldn’t really handle spicy food, and now he’s a glutton for it,” he says.
“All the servers slowly built up a tolerance,” he adds. At staff meals, they now slather most everything with a housemade sriracha.
Xiao Bao doesn’t aim to exactly replicate the flavors of Asian cooking: “You don’t want to be a museum,” Walker says. The restaurant’s dishes are tailored to staunch the nostalgia of immigrants from American urban areas, not newcomers from China.
The mapo dofou, for example, is intentionally short on ma, the numbing sensation that Sichuan natives seek. But it has plenty of la, the spicy heat that comes from peppers.
For that reason, it’s the one dish on the menu that servers are coached to preface with a disclaimer: “Have you had it before?” my server asked worriedly when I ordered it.
Xiao Bao may be leading the charge toward greater spice acceptance, but it’s not fighting the battle alone. Brown Court Bakery serves sriracha croissants, and The Green Door makes generous use of curry and Thai chiles.
According to Walker, science shows that eaters acclimate to spicy diets. Although it takes six days for the palate to reset after a burnout, each spicy food experience enhances an eater’s ability to handle heat. The taste buds are sometimes compared to muscles.
And in Charleston, Xiao Bao may provide the perfect workout venue.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.