Monday, March 12, 2012

Off the Map: We're Just Here for the Snails

Burgundy Snails -- Charleston, Baltimore, MD

The number of times Vodka has said some variation of "We just want the snails" in regards to Charleston restaurant's menu is more than anyone should say in a lifetime.
The Charleston, according to Bloody Mary, is the fanciest restaurant in Baltimore, and the one that, she is convinced, we will be unable to infiltrate, at least if our sole goal is to eat only mollusks.  But Vodka does not give up on such things easily, so she has had no less than three phone calls over the past month with the (highly congenial) Charleston employees, and thus uttered the phrase, "We really only want to eat the snails" innumerable times.
Ways to Get Yourself Pegged As a Weirdo: Only Talk About Snails
Not to be outdone, when we arrive at Charleston after our oh-so-heartening crab cake "dinner" at Pierpoint Restaurant, Vodka informs the hostess almost immediately, "We're just here for the snails."  By this point, we are fairly certain that they have a page's worth of notes spelling out "These people are lunatics" next to our reservation, so Vodka figures that no further explanation will be necessary.
In the Meantime, If You'll Excuse Us, We Need to Start Photographing Bread Sticks
As we had wished, we meander into the lounge area and take seats at the bar, preparing ourselves for snail and cocktail consumption.  Unfortunately, it seems that no one has informed the bartender that he is dealing with the two most notorious whack-jobs in attendance tonight, as he is slow on the draw about just about everything: menus, drinks, and most importantly, snails.
It Is Hard to Out-Rank 'Cocktails' on Our List of Importance, But the Snails Have Done It
Eventually, we receive our martinis (which are good if unmemorable, being that Vodka doesn't have a clue as to what we actually ordered), and Bloody Mary makes a big show of pouring half of hers onto her dress.  It appears that our 12-hours of non-stop food consumption are starting to catch up to her, as she murmurs, "I just spilled my drink all over me.  It's as if I just poured it directly onto my lap" while dabbing herself with a napkin.
This Happenstance, Needless to Say, Makes Vodka Guffaw with Laughter
By this point, Vodka has asked the bartender for the snails not once but twice, and we have yet to even ascertain whether he has placed the order in the computer.  When she manages to flag him down yet again, Vodka inquires about our missing shelled creatures.

"Do you want them here or at your table?" the bartender asks, clearly not understanding that "We would like to order the snails" is not just our way of making conversation.
Listen, Buddy, I Don't Know What You Talk About in Baltimore, but 'Snails' Is Not a Topic of Small Talk in NYC
In response, Vodka merely taps the top of the bar, which causes Bloody Mary to pause in her martini-mop up to laugh uncontrollably.  "You just tapped the bar instead of answering him, Pretentious."  Vodka is unphased, as the bartender has convinced her that he is only capable of understanding visual cues. 

"And I think you're supposed to say, 'I'd like to order the escargot,'" Bloody Mary, suddenly the expert on etiquette, continues.

"The menu blatantly says 'snails,'" Vodka defends her vocabulary.  Indeed, Charleston describes Duff Goldman's Best Thing I Ever Ate APPETIZER as "Burgundy Snails with butter-poached garlic and bacon puff pastry tart."

Eventually, after our frenemy, the bartender, takes away Bloody Mary's cocktail EVEN BEFORE SHE FINISHES IT (unacceptable, mister), the snails arrive.  The first thing we notice is that the dish used to hold the snail-filled puff pastry is extremely inconvenient for eating.  Square-shaped with raised corners, we have to hold our forks at excessively bizarre angles in order to cut and then spoon the concoction into our mouths.

(In Nerd Alert news, Bloody Mary actually describes this problem as "Ergonomically, it's a poor dish choice").
Though This Is the Same Girl Who Would Use the Word 'Fat' to Describe This Pastry
When we manage to scoop in the first bites, we find a soft and buttery brioche cradling a small pile of snails.  The puff pastry resides in a pool of sauce, while a heaping amount of gravy is laden over the snails themselves.  As Vodka's first "escargot" (speaking of pretentious) experience, she finds the snails enjoyable enough.  They are thankfully not slimy, and their texture is almost the same as any well-cooked shrimp or lobster.

By this point, we are finally starting to feel full, so the snails are feeling less appealing than they might have otherwise (though considering they're still snails, we're not convinced of this fact).  In any case, we are certain that we have successfully branded ourselves as the Great Snail-Obsessed Weirdos of Baltimore in the city's most esteemed restaurant, and for that, we can't help but feel a bit of proud pretension.

Charleston's Burgundy Snails: 4 stars

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