At one of Charleston’s well-known restaurants prior to the Civil War, a popular saying was “big columns outside, tough steaks inside”. Much has changed in the look and quality of city dining since then, and at many of the fine restaurants around Charleston today, the exterior façade is as unpretentious as the food inside is exquisite.
There’s a distinct European flavor in a growing number of small, comfortable restaurants that have flourished in areas not traditionally known for dining. On Bogard Street in quiet Elliottborough, Trattoria Lucca offers a taste of Tuscany with sumptuous pastas, meat and fish dishes enlivened with “old country” olive oil, goat butter, and mushrooms. Chef Ken Vendrinski has masterfully prepares such entrees as Italian duck sausage, Trigger fish and Hangar steak, complemented with Italy’s most renowned vintages. The corner restaurant is compact and cozy, and adorned with banquettes and small tables, it blends in to a very residential street scene.
On Warren Street, Pane e Vino brings another hearty slice of northern Italy with a variety of meat and seafood dishes flavored with traditional Bolognese sauce and hand-made pasta. Almost hidden on a small street off of busy King Street, the little restaurant features a pleasant handful of linen-draped tables and wine shelves reminiscent of romantic eateries in Europe.
At La Fourchette restaurant on King Street, chef Perig Goulet has rekindled classic sparks of the Parisian Marais with a charming little dining room sensuously decorated. Such specialties as beef tartare and hangar steak are delightfully prepared in classic French fashion with garnishing of cauliflower and pommes de terre that melt in the mouth. Patrons rave about the wonderful atmosphere of romantic French music, excellent service and moderate prices. The small façade is almost hidden along busy King Street, but inside, the aromas of fine foods and wine certainly catches the attention.
At FIG on the corner of Meeting and Hasell streets, the simple building exterior looks much the same as it did when a Western Union office called it home, but the dining experience inside has been widely-hailed as one of Charleston’s most noteworthy. Chef Mike Lata is dedicated to incorporating the bounty of coastal Carolina produce into his complex menu, with the finest in local fish, vegetables and meats highlighting such entrees as sautéed white shrimp and radicchio, farm lamb carne cruda, sweet potato soup and coddled sea island farm egg. A separate small bar area is ideal for building an appetite with a fine selection of international wines complementing the scent of fresh garnishings.