Recently, Southern Prince Charming and I decided that we should spend less money dining out… and dining in, and buying food. Basically, we love food and this has only been encouraged by all of the wonderful kitchen gadgets we received as wedding gifts. Though we decided to cook at home more, I saw something that caught my eye and had no chance of turning down: a tasting menu inspired by Julia Child’s birthday.
The tasting menu was being hosted at a restaurant called The Glass Onion, one that I passed all the time but had never visited. With a menu that featured all things Julia, at only $35.00 per person, I didn’t feel guilty about calling and immediately booking a reservation, and informing SPC of our Saturday night plans sometime later. Fortunately, when it comes to food, SPC isn’t too picky, and loves tasting fare that he later encourages me to make at home, so he went along gladly.
On a rainy Saturday evening, we showed up on time (no small miracle for us) and were immediately greeted by a hostess dressed in the Glass Onion’s own homage to Julia, complete with aprons and pearls. Seeing what looked like an “order at the bar” lunch counter, we were immediately thrown, as the tasting menu was also written on the oversized chalk-board. The confusion left as one of the owners ushered to our seats and it was explained that during the week, they serve lunch from the counter, complete with home made desserts such as cobbler, homemade puddings, and homemade ice creams. As we sat at our table, the casual, comfortable atmosphere was offset by relaxing live jazz and the sound of popping champagne bottles. While the decor was relaxed, it was comfortable, hospitable, welcoming. Our waitress came by promptly and we dove right in. Admittedly, we were so excited about the experience, we had seen the tasting menu, and decided what we wanted ahead of time. SPC started with the mussels, and I with the salmon. However, before we had been sitting too long, we were given the house specialty, french fries with béarnaise sauce. Thick, delicious fries cooked to perfection in the way that I most prefer, in what I assume is peanut oil, they went well with the creamy, béarnaise. It was a surprising specialty for a South Carolina restaurant with their cobblers written on a chalk board, but SPC liked it so much, he offered to let me stay home, full time and try to master the sauce myself. It was a pleasantly unpretentious way to mix French food into an everyday menu, and to offer fans a little bit of Julia all the time.
Sooner rather than later, our appetizers arrived.(Not to worry, we kept the fries nearby). Our eyes were instantly drawn to the bright fresh greens and beautifully prepared salmon as well as mussels on perfectly picked endives. Having lived in England for graduate school, I’ve tasted my fair share of smoked salmon, most of it tucked into sandwiches or other places where they weren’t treated with much respect. The Glass Onion, however, seemed to think through each dish, treating the ingredients with love and respect, and the taste shone through. The salmon appetizer popped visually, but it was also a fantastic balancing act of delicate textures and flavors. SPC loved his mussels, another dish you see on many menus, but rarely find done right. The Glass Onion got this one right as well, and SPC was very pleased that the mussels didn’t overtly taste of seafood, and were firm, not mushy. By this point, we acquiesced and ordered a bottle of red wine, taking the waiter’s suggestion. All of their wines are either organic or biodynamic and sustainable, not to mention reasonably priced. We settled for the Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, their simple red table wine. The wine, boasting of cocoa and hints of black pepper, was the perfect choice for our meal and for our budget, at only $24.00. We ate, we drank, we listened to the jazz, and half way through, SPC remarked “This may be my new favorite restaurant”.
Then, our entrees arrived. Coq a vin for me, beef bourguinon for SPC. Both piled high on mashed potatoes with lima beans, they were both drizzled in their sauces and looked quite inviting. I dug right into the beans and sauce, and I’ve never had lima beans that tasted so good. I then went into my piece of chicken and was disappointed that it was a bit overcooked, and difficult to cut into. While the flavor was good, particularly the sweetness of the pearl onions, and the freshness of ingredients, I do wish the sauce had more of a wine flavor, but it was still quite delightful. The potatoes were delicious as well, and each item on the plate was enjoyable independently, and mashed together, much like I would eat a meal my grandmother has prepared. Fortunately for the chicken, the second piece was everything I had hoped the first to be: tender, juicy, it fell from the bone with merely a poke of my fork, and fell so completely that the bone was left bare. SPC of course sampled some of my meal and found it to be delicious as well, and he had already begun to plan a return trip. Although I felt that I preferred the coq a vin with more red wine taste, I assumed the chicken to be a fluke, and didn’t let it deter me from savoring my dish, eating nearly all of it.
SPC’s beef, however, left us with nothing but stellar impressions. Served with the same limas and potatoes and a red wine sauce if its own, it was heavenly from the first bite, all the way until we had nearly scraped the plate clean. I say we because we shared, and I continually asked him for more, especially the perfectly cooked, heartily portioned carrots that were in the mix, which only added to the appeal of the dish. The beef was tender, juicy, but not too dainty, as a culinary novice like SPC might assume of French dishes. It was cooked like a perfect French version of a pot roast, with beef that was smoky on the outside, delicate on the inside, and covered in a sauce that was so good, I wanted nothing more than to just let it rest on my tongue, absorbing each bit of flavor as long as possible. I was perplexed as well, at how the Glass Onion was able to pair the same vegetables, lima beans and mashed potatoes, so perfectly with two sauces that varied so much in flavor. The only negative about the beef was that surely, no matter how much I tried, I would never be able to replicate the harmony of flavors we tasted there.
Onto dessert, we ordered the creme brulee, and I was surprised to hear that it was SPC’s first-ever creme brulee, as he dove in with his spoon as opposed to tapping the perfectly browned sugar delicately, taking some with each bite of heavenly custard. It was blissful, and I was tempted to gobble it quickly, but I knew I would regret not savoring each bite. It was the perfect ending to a perfect dinner, as I sat with my three vices: coffee, red wine, and dessert, tasting, listening, enjoying the night. I think Julia Child would have been proud to see so many Americans who have seen French food become accessible thanks to her efforts. I think she would have also been pleased to see so many people out, on a rainy night, enjoying French food, good company, and hospitality like only the South can do it. I would definitely recommend The Glass Onion to friends and family, and am looking forward to a return visit myself. With a daily menu posted and emailed, I’m sure that no two meals there could ever be the same, unless you chose to taste the familiar, down-home favorites they make with a local flair. Come to think of it, I might have to go back and interview the owners, who have an interesting story of their own. Interview or not, I’m already looking for an excuse to return.