Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Woodfired quail & pimento cheese crostini, Husk, Charleston, SC

Woodfired quail with grits, braised greens, poached farm egg, and hollandaise

Woodfired quail with grits, braised greens, poached farm egg, and hollandaise

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: As soon as I knew I’d be stopping in Charleston on my way between North Carolina and Georgia, I knew exactly where I wanted to make a reservation. I’d been reading about Chef Sean Brock for years – Sam Sifton of The New York Times called him “a son of Dixie sounding a locavore’s horn” – and knew Husk was the exemplar of contemporary Southern cuisine, even named by Bon Appetit as the best new restaurant in America when it opened two years ago.

When I walked up to the door, I was taken aback by the elegance and grandeur of the restored 1893 mansion, with picture-perfect shutters and columns. I was thrilled to be seated out on the second-story porch, where I could be swept up in the historic beauty of Charleston everywhere I looked. However, the real magic began as soon as glasses and plates started hitting the table.

Grilled crostini with cheddar pimento, pickled ramps, and crispy country ham

Grilled crostini with TN cheddar pimento, pickled ramps, and crispy country ham

My impossibly friendly server promised that the pimento cheese would be the best I’d ever had, and it was certainly a knock-out rendition. With salty crunch from the ham on top, the spread was sharp and tangy, especially from the addition of pickled ramps, and its creaminess melted into the grilled bread in a decadent way. Meanwhile, the large cube of cinnamon ice added more kick to my lemony house-made soda with each passing minute, solidifying my belief that boldly flavored ice is the best, most practical drink trend. And finally, there was the quail, a tender, smoke-kissed bird that happily harmonized with the cheesy grits, vinegar-spiked collard greens, and the rich egg and hollandaise sauce. Together, it was the enchanting taste of the South that I’d eagerly awaited.

Himalayde, with lemongrass simple syrup, cinnamon ice, sage, lemon juice, and soda

Himalayde, with lemongrass simple syrup, cinnamon ice, sage, lemon juice, and soda

A very Charleston view from my table on the second-story porch

A very Charleston view from my table on the second-story porch

The details: Husk, 76 Queen St., Charleston, SC.

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Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Everything wings, stuffed cabbage, and ice cold noodles, Mott St.

Everything wings glazed with soy, jaggery and dried chilis, tossed with sesame, poppy seed, fried shallots, and served with tzatziki

Everything wings glazed with soy, jaggery and dried chilis, tossed with sesame, poppy seed, fried shallots, and served with tzatziki

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Mott St. is the second venture from Chef Edward Kim and his team, whose first restaurant, Ruxbin, earned a nod from Bon Appétit as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country (I had a killer clambake there two years ago). When I heard that Mott St. would have more of a night market vibe, I was definitely in – and our meal delivered, one dish after another in a parade of intriguing, unexpected flavors. The everything wings had drawn comparison to the huge, sticky ones at Pok Pok, which I tasted in February, but I found them to be entirely different. These chicken wings seriously tasted like an everything bagel (hence the name), with a slightly sweet glaze and generous dusting of sesame and poppy seeds, plus subtle heat from the chilis. The bagel comparison drew even stronger when you added the creamy, dill-heavy tzatziki dipping sauce. As with most good wings: messy to eat, but worth it.

The theme continued with the stuffed cabbage, which surprisingly recalled comforting lasagna from the very first bite – just lasagna that was layered with zingy kimchi, crispy rice, and pork instead of ricotta and red sauce. The flavors married especially well in this dish, everything extra-seasoned by the kimchi broth at the bottom. And as our server enthusiastically promised, the ice cold noodles made a lovely palate cleanser after the rest of the savory dishes. Between the chilly temperature and mellow flavors, it was an incredibly clean dish, with the tender beef and quail egg adding just enough richness.

Napa kimchi cabbage rolls stuffed with pork butt and sticky rice, pan-seared and boiled in kimchi broth

Napa kimchi cabbage rolls stuffed with pork butt and sticky rice, pan-seared and boiled in kimchi broth

Ice cold noodles, with buckwheat noodles, beef brisket, and turnip top kimchi broth

Ice cold noodles, with buckwheat noodles, beef brisket, and turnip top kimchi broth

The details: Mott St., 1401 N Ashland Ave., Chicago.

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