Raskin Around: Charleston Restaurant Week again offering lunch choices

Indaco, located at 526 King Street, is among 13 restaurants offering a lunch option for Charleston Restaurant Week.

Charleston Restaurant Week's Fall 2013 lunch initiative was so successful that sponsor Greater Charleston Restaurant Association is repeating the program, with 13 restaurants scheduled to serve midday meals during this month's edition of the popular dining event.

Butcher & Bee, making its Charleston Restaurant Week debut, is one of the restaurants offering lunch. Its sample three-course, meatless menu, priced at $30 for two people, includes matzoh ball soup, kale slaw and grilled cheese.

Other first-timers among the 142 restaurants serving up prix-fixe menus through Jan. 19 include The Lot, Indaco, Coda del Pesce and McCrady's, where diners will have their pick of dishes such as beef tartare, snapper with Carolina Gold rice polenta, aged duck and savarin oat cake for $40.

Reservations are highly recommended. For a complete list of restaurants and featured menus, go to GCRA's website, www.charlestonrestaurantassociation.com.

So-called "underground dinners" may no longer be novel or especially mysterious, but a highly regarded New Orleans chef heading here for a one-night residency remains a fan of the format.

"Different ways to convey food are part of the food culture of a city," says Sylvain's chef Alex Harrell, scheduled to star in Guerilla Cuisine's first supper of 2014. "A lot of people are a little bit put off by these things, but I welcome them. It gives chefs an opportunity to experiment with food they might not be able to experiment with in a restaurant kitchen."

Guerilla Cuisine, a roving supper club, has hosted sporadic local events since its launch seven years ago. The concept took a brief hiatus this year while founder jimihatt served as interim chef at Camden's Duck Bottom Plantation, but spokeswoman Angel Powell says "2014 will bring a limited season of Guerrilla Cuisine dinners, a few featuring local chefs, but mainly talent from out of town."

For his Jan. 19 dinner, Harrell is planning a salute to oysters, which he calls one of the culinary commonalities between Charleston and New Orleans, cities that share a debt to West African and Caribbean cooking.

"I wanted to connect two cities through a common ingredient," says Harrell, who cooked for a year at High Cotton and two years at Mustard Seed before moving south, where his cooking has won praise from local and national dining critics. Harrell's sister, who lives in Mount Pleasant, helped arrange the Guerilla Cuisine event.

Harrell's oyster menu includes an oyster and greens gumbo with house-smoked tasso; an oyster-based riff on linguine with clam sauce, featuring oysters poached with Herbsaint, leeks, fennel and durum pasta; and an oyster boudin. He's still grappling with the dessert course.

Although Harrell has "gone back and forth," he's now trying to decide between a seasonal tart with an oyster cracker dough crust and an oyster cracker bread pudding.

In keeping with Guerilla Cuisine tradition, the location of the $65 dinner hasn't yet been announced.

"It's true that it isn't entirely underground at this point, but jimihatt feels that people still enjoy that little bit of mystery surrounding the dinners," Powell says. "That's just part of what Guerrilla Cuisine has always been."

Tickets are available through eventbrite.com.

Charleston Beer Works is resolving to keep its kitchen open later in the new year.

The bar at 468 King St. earlier this month adopted an extended food service schedule. Its late-night menu is now available through 1 a.m.

General manager Matt Hensley describes the menu as an extension of the "fresh bar food" concept introduced with a menu rebranding two years ago.

"The only frozen item on our menu are the tots and quite frankly, you just can't mess with a good manufactured tot!" he writes.

In addition to tater tots, items on the late-night menu include mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, a burger and cheesesteak sandwich. According to Hensley, the burger's made with Palmetto Beef and seated on a locally baked bun.

"We do as much local/regional sourcing as possible," he writes.

I'm not much for year-end round-ups and awards, but The Charleston Museum's locally themed snack machine is, without a doubt, the best vending machine of 2013.

Three months ago, the museum installed the machine, which was the brainchild of a business student who's since moved away. After 126 years, you might think the thrill of putting money in a slot and getting food in exchange would have faded, but you'd think wrong, and the concept is especially irresistible when the foods include peanuts, bagged rice and benne wafers.

"People love it," administrative manager Susan McKellar says. "I always hear people outside my office saying how cool it is."

McKellar thought the machine would help solve the problem of not having a cafe to serve hungry visitors, but it's ended up enhancing their learning experiences.

"Visitors sometimes come downstairs and ask where can they get the rice they read about in the exhibit," she says. "We can point to the vending machine instead of trying to give directions to Harris Teeter."

According to McKellar, sales have been slow. "I expect they'll pick up," she adds.

How could they not?

By Tasting Table's estimation, Charleston is one of the nation's 10 most interesting eating cities, or at least it's one of the first 10 U.S. cities to score its own Tasting Table city guide.

The daily e-mail publication, which emphasizes epicurean recommendations, recently released its round-up of local culinary must-dos (Full disclosure: I helped compile it, a process that included multiple camera-toting visits to Dave's Carry-Out. I'm not complaining.) While you're unlikely to find any surprises on the greatest hits list, it's a handy link to share with visiting friends. You'll find the guide at tastingtable.com/city_guide/national/159.

The post-holiday restaurant lull usually produces a raft of good eating deals, but a new stay-and-dine promotion from Indigo Road and Charlestowne Hotels is pretty good even by January standards.

During January, the restaurant group and hotel management company are offering discounted downtown rooms that come with a $100 Indigo Road gift card, good at Oak Steakhouse, O-Ku, The Cocktail Club, The Macintosh or Indaco. The rates are slightly higher on weekends, and six nights are excluded from the promotion, but there are plenty of attractive arrangements available. For instance, $179 buys dinner and a weeknight room at the Andrew Pinckney Inn, The Elliott House Inn or King Charles Inn.

The French Quarter Inn and King Charles Inn also are participating.

For more information, call your chosen hotel directly.

Cru Cafe is upholding its annual tradition of taking a holiday break in January, closing on Jan. 5 for a "freshening up."

The downtown restaurant will reopen Jan. 14.

During the hiatus, Cru Cafe will undergo "aesthetic improvements to help maintain the cozy, intimate atmosphere," spokeswoman Ryan Nelson says. The improvements include painting and minor repairs.

Have you made a New Year's resolution to try something new this year? If that something involves food and drink, we'd like to see it.

Since Charleston and its eaters are always at the forefront of dining trends, we've set up an Instagram hashtag to help the city's eaters document new culinary experiences.

Whether you're eating a lobster roll at The Ordinary for the first time or making a chocolate babka you've never before baked, snap a photo and label it #FirstBiteCHS. Starting later this month, we'll share the images on our website and begin printing a few of our favorites in Wednesday's food section.

But it's never too early to form a good habit. Next time you eat or drink something new, tag it #FirstBiteCHS. We can't wait to discover what's on your plate in 2014.