Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Normally, we never run into these issues where we get denied boarding because the airline oversold the flight. We thought it was due to my father and mother having United Gold and Silver status, respectively, but it turns out that stuff can go out the window.

Flight Cancelled
We were originally scheduled to fly out of Charleston on 7:29PM Monday evening (connecting through Washington DC) back to Newark. About 7 hours before our first flight, we received a notification that it was cancelled due to Air Traffic Control Issues.

Undaunted, my father went online to see what his options were to get us all home. As it turns out, the best alternative was to fly direct CHS-EWR the following morning at 6AM getting us into Newark at 8AM. This posed a few frustrating issues:

1. We'd have to overnight in Charleston at our own expense. The airline will only pay for your hotel if it's their fault (i.e., overbooking, mechanical, flight crew, etc.). It will not compensate you for weather or air traffic control related delays/cancellations.

2. 6AM departures are painful!

3. We couldn't get confirmed seat assignments.

Our Plan of Action
We bit our lip and just booked another night at the Aloft Charleston Airport hotel (about an 8 minute free shuttle ride away from the hotel) where my father had Starwood Platinum status. For $109/night + $14 in taxes, it wasn't that painful.

Now, I realize I'm a 3 year old toddler, but I don't wake up early like you other kids do. I'd snooze til 9AM if my parents would let me.

In order to safely make a 6AM departure time (at an airport that doesn't have TSA Pre-Check or priority security lines for elites), we were required to wake up at 3:30AM to get on the 4:30AM shuttle from the Aloft Hotel to make it to the Charleston Airport by 5AM.

However, the last item was the one most troubling to my father. Because of the situation, all the confirmed seat assignments were taken, so we'd have to get them at the airport when we physically checked in.

As the airlines will tell you, "Oh don't worry, they always leave a few seats available for just this situation," or "You've got United Gold status, they won't bump you," or the classic, "Seat assignments are just request, not actual confirmation."

My father was savvy enough to know all those statements were just plain mis-information. Having a seat assignment is HUGE. In fact, we always make sure to get confirmed seat assignments as soon as we book tickets. If you have an actual seat assignment, you're pretty safe from getting bumped off the flight. If you don't have one, then you're the first target.

The Morning At the Airport
So after checking out of our hotel (4:30AM) and arriving at the airport (4:50AM), we were told at the front check-in desk that we couldn't be assigned seats until we were at the gate. That's when we knew we were in trouble.

As it turned out, the flight was oversold by 7 seats. Chances were that a few people wouldn't make the early morning flight, so we were still hopeful. However, the fact that we were flying as a group of 3 really hindered us (versus being a single traveler).

Of course, at 5:15AM, the gate agent started making requests for volunteers. First, she offered $400 vouchers per passenger. Then she went up to $500. Realizing that we were likely to be bumped anyway, my father went up and inquired about what the alternative flight options were for us. We figured we had a better chance of getting the re-routing of our choice if we could be useful before they too were sold out.

A. There was a 4PM direct on Delta that would get us into LaGuardia around 6PM. 

B. My father found there was a 7:30AM Delta routing through Atlanta that would get us into Newark by 12:30PM. 

Option B was a lot more flying (backtracking a bit), but it would get us into New York a lot earlier. Plus the CHS-ATL and ATL-EWR flights were on real Boeing planes (737s) with headrest TVs and wifi (versus the regional jets without any amenities). So we asked her to reserve us on the connecting flight through ATL and said we'd potentially volunteer if we needed to.

"Now Boarding..."
As it turned out, we didn't have a choice to volunteer or not (since we didn't have assigned seats and it was easier for United to re-route a family of 3 rather than 3 independent solo travelers). But by then, the vouchers being offered were at $600/person! Pretty great since United vouchers are as good as cash in my family.

As the 6AM flight to Newark started to board, we were taken to another gate to process our new tickets. Then we were told that Delta didn't accept us being moved to the 7:30AM Atlanta flight. So we were now going to be on the later 4PM flight which meant my father would lose a full day of work he needed to get done.

On the (small) bright side, we were each given three meal vouchers each to use at the airport for up to $7 per voucher. Fortunately, we could combine them to get a larger breakfast and/or lunch, but we didn't really want to eat $63 worth of airport food. So we just picked up some coffee and juice and some breakfast sandwiches, saving six vouchers ($42) for later. That's on top of the $1,800 in United flight vouchers that we received.

Since my father had booked us into the nearby Aloft hotel room the night before, we called again to see if we could "check back into" our same room, since it was paid for through the afternoon anyway. Thankfully, Aloft agreed and let us back in (and granted us a late 4PM checkout). Thank you, Starwood! I needed those few extra hours of beauty sleep.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Charleson Chew-ing Part 2

On Valentine's Day, we went to Magnolia's, a veritable institution in the Charleston culinary circles. However, we had heard so much about this newer restaurant called Husk, a modern locavore restaurant from James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock, located at 76 Queen Street, Charleston, SC.

Located in historic downtown Charleston, Husk was just a 5 minute walk from our hotel, we made a 5:30PM reservation. This time, however, the restaurant was completely empty when we walked into the converted Victorian mansion.

If you don't know much about Husk, the basic premise is that everything is regionally sourced. “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door,” says Brock, who has even stricken olive oil from the kitchen. In fact, they post a big blackboard up by the front entrance with every single ingredient and where it was procured from.

We were seated in the downstairs dining room, which was very convenient since I had passed out in my stroller when we entered. The decor was modern (very Crate & Barrel) with dark green and brown accents sprinkled throughout.

Having scouted out the menu online (from February 15, since the menu changes daily) prior to our arrival, we had a good sense of what we wanted to eat. In typical fashion, we wanted just about every single appetizer listed. My mother forced my father to limit himself to just two items, so we picked the "to die for" pimento cheese and the pigs ears lettuce wraps.

TN Cheddar Pimento Cheese on House Made Benne Crackers
with Crispy Country Ham and Pickled WV Ramps
Buffalo Style Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps,
BBQ Cabbage “Slaw,” Roasted Red Peppers, Spiced Peanuts
The first round of food was just amazing. It was so unlike anything we've had before, we fell for the novelty of the crispy pigs ears and flavorful pimento cheese. In fact, we preferred these dishes to the ones we had the prior night at Magnolia's. Plus given the younger clientele that eventually filled up the dining room, we knew Husk was a better fit for our family.

My mother was just happy that I was sleeping behaving so that we could enjoy a proper dinner without having to pick up crayons and clean up the spilled salt shakers.

Soon thereafter, the server came by to ask if we were finished with our starters. While my father wanted to eat everything on the unique wooden serving plate, he knew better than to fill up before the main course arrived. After all, he had a delicious pork chop cooked medium rare coming.

As we found out, the pigs come from a very well regarded farm that allowed the chef to intentionally undercook the pork to optimize the flavor without letting the meat dry out. It was simply amazing to be able to taste a well prepared pork chop. The sides of sweet potato weren't my father's favorite, but they say it's always good to pair pork with something sweet.

VA Heritage Pork Chop, Charred Sweet Potato and Mustard Greens
with VA Apple Cider Jus, Toasted Pecans
My mother learned her lesson from the previous night where she over-ordered. So this time, she ordered another starter as her entree. Unfortunately, her plan didn't work out so well, because the sheer volume of food in the Wood Fired Clams and Chicken Skins was fit for a good ol' southern country boy. But it was so unique, we loved how the clams paired with the yellow sauce.

Wood Fired Clams, Roasted Pepper and Potato “Chowder,”
Hot Sauce with Chicken Fat, Mustard Greens, Crispy Chicken Skins
For a side, we went with the roasted cauliflower (instead of the grits - which we had enough of that weekend). They were pretty tasty though, not that memorable compared to the other items we sampled.

Roasted Cauliflower, Sweet Onion, Tangerine, Ricotta
And while my mother was over-stuffed, my father simply couldn't leave Husk without sampling at least one dessert. We went with the Meyer Lemon Chess Pie, having heard about chess pie once before. It intrigued us. It was pretty tasty, but definitely not what we expected. It was much more sweet than tart (i.e. key lime pie).

Meyer Lemon Chess Pie with Bruléed Kumquats, Preserved Lemon
Here were our dessert choices:
  • Meyer Lemon Chess Pie (with Bruléed Kumquats, Preserved Lemon)
  • Gingerbread Cake (with Toffee Sauce, Egg Nog Ice Cream, Spiced Shortbread)
  • Sweet Vanilla Doughnut Holes (with Roasted Orange Marmalade, Citrus Anglaise)
  • Bourbon Glazed Apple Cake (with Charred Apple, Brown Butter Ice Cream)
  • Pecan Tart (with Whiskey Caramel and Bourbon-Vanilla Ice Cream)
  • Olive & Sinclair Spiced Chocolate Panna Cotta (with Toasted Marshmallow, Graham Cracker, Salted Peanuts)
What would you have chosen for dessert?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Charleston Chew-ing

They say that Charleston is famous for some pretty amazing restaurants, and we couldn't agree more. Months ago, my father booked us dinner reservations at some of the city's best places, including the classic Magnolia's (185 East Bay Street) and the modern locavore newcomer Husk (76 Queen Street).

We chose Magnolia's for Valentine's dinner on Saturday night. A local fan favorite for low country fine dining, we were excited to get some south in our mouth.

When we booked, we thought a 5PM reservation would have allowed us to dine without it being crowded, but apparently Charlestonians dine very early (well, compared to Manhattanites who favor 8PM). By the time we arrived, the entire restaurant was full as if they were seated at 3PM.

We were seated right away and they gave us a banquette table with a great view of the entire restaurant. The best part was that the restaurant had booster seats and crayons to keep me occupied while my parents had a cocktail and reviewed the menu.

The menu looked great, full of delicious southern classics, but we had to limit ourselves to just two appetizers and two entrees. So we went with the Fried Green Tomatoes white cheddar & caramelized onion grits, country ham, tomato chutney and the Pan Seared Sea Scallops sweet corn hoe cakes, sautéed spinach, brandied apple-bacon cream sauce. They were both delicious, but our favorite were the scallops. We love scallops. Only wish there were more!

For our main course, my mother went with their signature Shellfish over Grits sautéed shrimp, sea scallops, & lobster, creamy white grits, lobster butter sauce, fried spinach. She loved the savory flavor of the grits after they soaked up the flavor from the shellfish.

My father was torn, but he asked our server for his recommendation and went with Parmesan Crusted Flounder jasmine rice & creek shrimp pirloo, sweet corn, tomato, & asparagus salad, lump crab, citrus beurre blanc. Despite what my father read on TripAdvisor, his flounder came out super juicy and fell apart like it was just caught that morning. It was perfectly paired with the zesty sauce, though my father would have preferred other vegetables on the side.

I was looking for something simpler, so my father ordered me the Chicken & Dumplings with peas and carrots. Truth be told, I was too busy playing with the pepper shaker to really eat, but we took this home and I ate all of it later on that night.

We had eaten so much that we were almost too full for dessert. But given I love sweets, my father ordered us their Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée white chocolate mocha biscotti. However, this item was pretty standard and didn't really warrant a photograph.

If we could go back again, we'd definitely try some of the great items we didn't get to order, including the Down South Egg Roll collard greens, chicken, tasso ham, red pepper purée, spicy mustard sauce, peach chutney or the Pan Fried Chicken Livers caramelized onions, country ham, Madeira sauce.

Overall, we had a wonderful dinner and no one seemed to mind dining with an adorable three year old toddler - even on Valentine's Day. In fact, when we were leaving around 6:30PM, we saw a few other tables with some kids. I love fine dining outside NYC for this exact reason. Well done, Magnolia's!

Happy Valentine's Day!

My parents and I decided to take a break from the wonderful NYC weather and came down to Charleston, SC last night. They say it's one of the most romantic cities in the US, so we'll see how it works out for the 3 of us.

Happy Valentine's Day!