Tapioca fans may be impatiently awaiting the opening of Terry Hung’s downtown bubble tea shop, but Hung’s relatives are even more anxious for Tapio to start serving soon.
“Our whole family, they’re pretty superstitious, and they’d like to make sure we open before the New Year,” Hung says.
Hung wouldn’t reveal the exact date that his relatives have selected as the most auspicious day for Tapio to open its doors, but says “we’re pushing as fast as we can.”
Although Hung and his brother were raised in Atlantic City, N.J., Hung’s extended family is still in Taiwan, where his aunt runs a bubble, or boba, tea shop. Bubble tea, a late-1980s Taiwanese invention that may have evolved from a teahouse staffer spontaneously pouring rice pudding into her iced tea, is a highly competitive business in Taiwan, but Hung says his aunt’s edge is correctly cooked tapioca balls.
“If it’s cooked too much, it’s too chewy, and if it’s not cooked enough, it’s hard in the middle,” says Hung, who a few years ago worked in his aunt’s shop and plans to make drinks according to her recipes. “The most important thing is how you cook the tapioca and how you brew the tea.”
Boba is notoriously hard to find in Charleston, and the few restaurants serving the beverage botch its preparation by starting with water instead of tea.
“Listen, it wasn’t the same,” Hung says of the local bubble teas he tried before deciding to open Tapio.
Bubble tea’s also best when it’s fresh, but Hung says it’s hard for purveyors to work through their stock when so few Charlestonians order it.
“I’m from Jersey, and everyone knows (bubble tea),” says Hung, who’s lately discovered most Charleston residents aren’t familiar with the concept.
In order to introduce local eaters to bubble tea without overwhelming them, Hung and his wife, AJ, plan to limit their opening milk tea menu to five flavors.
On the West Coast, where an entire subculture has sprung up around boba shops, it’s not unusual for the milk tea menu to feature 10 times as many flavors.
“We don’t want to bombard everyone with flavors,” Hung says, adding he plans to offer seasonal ones.
Tapio, at 159 Church St., also will serve fruit teas, made from real fruit, and frozen teas.
The food menu includes sandwiches, pastries and a pair of rice bowls.
“We’re really trying to aim for December,” Hung says of the opening.
Sweet CeCe’s dips into research
Sweet CeCe’s, which got its start as a frozen yogurt shop, is swerving into science with its latest menu addition.
At the store’s planned juicing station, which a press release describes as “a cross between a traditional juice bar and a clinical cleanse,” customers will have the option of completing a survey developed by a natural health specialist who’s partnered with “a select group of researchers” to determine the health effects of drinking cold-pressed juice.
Neda Smith of Natural Neda says “participation is 100 percent voluntary and confidential,” so customers who don’t want to share whether their spinach, cucumber and celery beverage made them feel tired, hungry or mentally sharp are off the hook.
“The human body does not lie,” Smith says. “By studying the impact of juicing we can better understand individual reactions to specific recipes.”
In addition to fresh juices, Sweet CeCe’s retail-lab also will sell individual juice bottle kits.
The juice bar at 99 S. Market opens on Dec. 1.
Korean dishes on the menu at Katsu
Katsu is still a Japanese steakhouse, but the North Charleston restaurant is rounding out its menu with a few Korean dishes in response to customer demand.
According to general manager Charles Rutherford, patrons of the 13-year-old restaurant kept asking owner Ho Dong Lee to serve dishes from his homeland.
“I’d tell them about Mama Kim’s, but they said ‘there’s nothing up here,’ ” Rutherford says.
So starting Saturday, the menu will include bibimbop, bulgogi and Korean barbecue, prepared on the standard hibachi grilling table. “They get to see the show,” promises Rutherford.
The restaurant also is expanding its sushi offerings, with sushi chef Josh Boring concocting a few new rolls. Although he hasn’t yet decided what to call it, Boring is planning to serve a flash-fried roll stuffed with cucumber and Kewpie mayonnaise and topped with shiso, avocado, ikura and wasabi mayonnaise.
“It’s hard to find an original name,” he says.
Katsu is at 8601 S. Antler Drive.
82 Queen previews James Beard menu
To experience the whole of Steven Lusby’s James Beard House menu, Charlestonians will have to buy a $170 ticket and travel to New York on Dec. 4.
But this month, 82 Queen is offering eaters a cheaper chance to at least sample a few of the dishes its executive chef plans to serve.
Throughout November, 82 Queen is offering select items from Lusby’s “Charleston Charm” menu as nightly specials. Among the items to be featured are she-crab soup, boiled peanut hummus, pickled shrimp and sorghum-glazed pork osso bucco. (Check airfares if you’re set on trying the crispy head cheese with black-eyed peas.)
The arrangement will no doubt give Lusby a final opportunity to perfect his dishes before serving them in the dining room that’s hosted many of the nation’s finest chefs, including 51 from the Charleston area.
“To be included in a category with the greatest chefs in the world is humbling and exciting,” Lusby is quoted as saying in a release.
Wine + Food Festival moving forward
If the newly hired executive director of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival brings with her just one thing from her previous festival, Cypress’ Craig Deihl is hoping it’s the transportation set-up.
As director of Euphoria Greenville, Gillian Trimboli-Zettler secured the sponsorship of car manufacturers with factories in the Upstate, so participating chefs and VIP guests are ferried around by on-call BMWs.
“I love being able to pick up the phone and say, ‘Can you get me from point A to point B?,’ ” Deihl says of his experience at Euphoria, where he’s cooked the past two years.
While Deihl acknowledges the Lowcountry can’t claim a thriving auto industry, he believes Southern hospitality requires providing comfortable transportation for chefs with events in different locales. During Charleston Wine + Food, he always rents a low-speed vehicle to shuttle staffers and chefs working in his kitchen to the demo venue and main event tent.
“We cater to them as much as possible,” Deihl says of the chefs he hosts.
He’s pushing to rent a cart again next year, unless Charleston Wine + Food comes up with an alternative way of efficiently moving chefs and their equipment through crowded downtown streets.
StarChefs.com names Carolina winners
StarChefs.com, an online magazine that stages regional parties to recognize “up-and-coming chefs and culinary professionals,” found nearly all of the talent for its Carolina Rising Stars gala in Asheville and Charleston. The cities are home to eight of the 11 chefs participating in a Dec. 11 tasting at Memminger Auditorium.
“In Charleston, we found a tight-knit community of chefs that sees itself as the keeper of what is one of the richest food traditions in America,” editor in chief Antoinette Bruno is quoted as saying in a release from the organization, which considered 100 chefs in 18 cities and towns for the honor.
Bruno added that Asheville chefs have distinguished themselves by being “weird,” in keeping with the town’s unofficial slogan.
Charleston’s chef honorees are Husk’s Travis Grimes, Two Boroughs Larder’s Josh Keeler, FIG’s Jason Stanhope and Butcher & Bee’s Stuart Tracy.
Charlestonians also made the cut in a number of additional categories: David Schnell of Brown’s Court Bakery was an “artisan” winner; Aaron Siegel of Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ took the “concept” prize; Social Restaurant + Wine Bar’s Brad Ball shared the “sommelier” title with Maximilian Kast of Fearrington House; and The Gin Joint’s Joe Raya claimed one of two “mixologist” awards.
Attendees who buy $85 tickets (or $115 tickets, if they want VIP status and the caviar reception) will undoubtedly eat well. But it’s the few chefs who hail from beyond the Carolina powerhouses who may well emerge as the evening’s breakout stars.
Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, N.C., has received increased media attention since starring in a PBS series and serving Saturday lunch at the fall symposium of Southern Foodways Alliance, which has energetically championed her work. Howard also is the lone female on the list of winning chefs. She’s planning to serve pencil cobb grits with sweet potato mostarda and dried mullet roe.
But the guy to watch is Nate Allen of Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine, N.C. Allen and his wife, Wendy, in 2009 relocated to the tiny mountain town from Los Angeles, trading their private chef roster of celebrity clients for a 35-seat dining room. Locals initially weren’t sure what to make of the Allens’ referring to “streaky meat” as pork belly and pairing it with quinoa waffles and bok choy, but the restaurant has become a vortex of pride for an economically depressed county. Yet widespread recognition has largely eluded Allen, although he did pick up a “Small Town Chef” award from Cooking Light in 2011.
I’m completely biased on this score. Knife & Fork was where I celebrated my birthday when I lived in Asheville: Allen’s cooking persuaded me to forgo my annual tradition of driving to McCrady’s for dinner. The nasturtium panna cotta with sumac water, pesto, flowers and salted seed pods that Allen’s making for the party could dissolve on my plate, and I’d probably like it. Still, my prediction is he’ll nail the panna cotta, and possibly leave a few South Carolinians thinking about heading up to his restaurant in January and February, when he’s shelving the usual menu in favor of weekly themed dinners: The Valentine’s Day theme is Chicago 1931 (I’ll save you a trip to Wikipedia: That’s not the year of the Valentine’s Day Massacre.)
There are a number of other savvy picks on the list. In addition to the Charleston choices, StarChefs.com wisely recognized Brian Canipelli of Cucina 24 in Asheville, who makes a mean cacio e pepe, but is preparing beef carpaccio for the Charleston crowd; William Dissen, who’s successfully freshened up Asheville’s The Market Place without straying from its founding mission of supporting local farmers; and the brewers from Asheville’s Wicked Weed, who plan to pour a Coconut Curry Wit.
To purchase tickets to the gala, which begins at 6:30 p.m., visit www.starchefs.com/risingstars.
This yearís official Charleston Wine + Food Festival poster was designed by Lisa Shimko who wanted to apply her style of magical realism to the lowcountryís marshes. (provided)×
Chocolates from Hallot and Danielle Centeno Parson of Escazu Artisan Chocolates in Raleigh.×
Country terrine, chicken liver pate, pickles and pistachio pesto from chef Mike Moore of Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder Chicken in Asheville.×
Coconut Curry Wit from Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, N.C.×