Because of my job title, I'm often asked where I like to eat. My answer? Wherever my wife, Deanna, wants to go. Grabbing a bite together is often a big to-do (balancing schedules, babysitter, etc.), so, other than making a reservation, we keep it simple. Laid-back spots. Great food. A well-crafted wine list. That's her definition of a special supper (and I agree). Here are a few of our splurge-worthy favorites that get it right every time.
Hot and Hot Fish Club
Despite the restaurant's name, we go for the fall-off-the-bone braised pork shank, served with creamy Parmesan polenta (grits' Italian cousin). We pair this with glasses of Mapema Malbec (a delightful red from Argentina) for our idea of a perfect evening. Deanna won't leave before ordering Hot and Hot Doughnuts, fried to order and topped with chocolate or filled with espresso cream or Bavarian cream. If you have to wait a few minutes for a table, order a glass of wine at the bar (I recommend Gloria Ferrer's sparkling Blanc de Noirs from California) and munch on salty boiled peanuts or crispy sweet potato chips. 2180 11th Court South; (205) 933-5474.
Charleston, South Carolina
This is the spot for fresh fish and locally grown vegetables. I'm partial to the pan-roasted red snapper with lemon-kissed braised artichokes. Deanna prefers the sautéed triggerfish, a mild, white-fleshed jewel from local waters. It cozies up to braised navy beans and guanciale (gwan-chee-alley)―think bacon, only richer and more delicate. The smart wine list is packed with loads of surprisingly affordable bottles. Try the Miner Simpson Vineyard Viognier or MacRostie Chardonnay―both pair well with the fish. We also enjoy the "Vegetables for the Table" selections, especially the mustard-butter-glazed pan-roasted cauliflower (a restaurant specialty) and roasted beets with a touch of sherry vinegar. All the things we refused to eat as kids taste amazing at FIG. 232 Meeting Street; (843) 805-5900.
We don't fry chicken at home, so that's what I order here. Super-crispy batter-fried chicken thighs lean up against country ham and roasted-corn spoon bread. The "gravy" is a Louisiana hot sauce beurre blanc (aka butter sauce). Deanna, a true red meat lover, indulges in the prime tenderloin fillet. The tender grilled steak couples with grilled onion smashed potatoes and a roasted-mushroom-wine sauce. Don't miss the Celler Marti Fabra Seleccio Vinyes Velles from Spain. This robust, off-the-beaten-path red may be a mouthful to say, but it definitely delivers on flavor and value. 152 Courthouse Square; (662) 232-8080.