Tickets to the Charleston Wine + Food Festival go on sale tomorrow, and they have a tendency to sell out quickly, which means planning your purchase is essential. While the schedule‘s crammed with lots of intriguing events, here are the five tickets I’d buy if I had the extra cash.
1. Two Boroughs Larder Perfectly Paired Dinner, Thursday, 7 p.m. $175
I fear this ticket could be a hard sell, since the supper conflicts with the extraordinarily popular Opening Night party. But you know what? Sample plates are for amateurs. The real culinary fireworks are bound to fly at the splendid Two Boroughs, where James Beard-nominee Josh Keeler is teaming up with Ryan Smith and Ryan Hidinger, the duo behind Atlanta’s long-planned (and eagerly-awaited) Staplehouse. Smith’s known for his willingness to smartly bend Southern cooking conventions, and the dining room’s likely to be crowded with Atlantans wondering what the Empire State South alum’s planning for his new restaurant.
I’m a journalist, which means I can’t even stretch my imaginary money to cover five fancy dinners. But among the demos on the other end of the price spectrum, Solomonov‘s appearance stands out as an especially good buy. Solomonov, who’s a noted hummus maestro, is likely to demonstrate easy-to-follow dishes seasoned from a spice palette that’s rarely used locally beyond Butcher & Bee.
3. The Grocery Perfectly Paired Dinner, Friday, 7 p.m., $175
Easy. I’ve been wowed twice by The Grocery in the few short weeks I’ve lived here, and am confident that the incredibly talented Kevin Johnson will bring his A-game on Perfectly Paired night. And while I’ve never eaten at Heath or Terroir, I can vouch for Marco Canora‘s festival-cooking chops: The flavors he brought to last year’s Feast Portland were extraordinary. If you only know Canora from his media appearances, trust me: He’s way more than a telegenic face.
4. Masters of Wine Blind Tasting, Saturday, 4 p.m. $65
OK, this one’s just for fun. I’m not sure much will happen at this session which will be unique to the festival – if blind tasting interests you, most good bartenders are happy to serve you three two-ounce pours and not tell you what you’re drinking – but I love games, and every attendee should do something to acknowledge that wine comes first in the festival’s title. Unraveling wine mysteries in the company of fellow drinkers and three master sommeliers sounds like a good time.
5. The Macintosh Perfectly Paired Dinner, Saturday, 7 p.m. $175
Another tough time slot. Jeremiah Bacon and Chris Shepherd are cross-programmed against guest chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo from Los Angeles’ Animal, Son of a Gun and the brand new Trois Mec, which is reportedly outstanding. But I’m a sucker for Shepherd’s cooking, which is the product of a Southern coastal city with very different global influences than those at play in Charleston. At Houston’s Underbelly, his signature dish (and what I ordered for my last birthday dinner) is Korean braised goat dumplings, a wonder of texture and spice. Then again, if you wanted to splurge on the New + Notables Dinner for a taste of Brett Cooper’s cooking, which is driving San Franciscans to jump into their cars, I wouldn’t fault you.
A final caveat: The most important element of food festivals is serendipity. It’s impossible to predict at a six-month distance just where the magic will occur. For all I know, the breakfast at Basico could be the weekend’s breakout hit. But as the lottery folks say, you can’t win if you don’t play. Go buy a few tickets and have a blast.