Posts Tagged ‘shrimp & grits’

recently we secured a babysitter and made our way out for an evening of holiday merry-making. our plan? grab a dinner out and head to a holiday party. once we recovered from the vertigo of not having children in our arms (or on our hips or heads or knees), we headed on a lark and several word-of-mouth recommendations over to tinks in clifton.tinks-interior

we walked in without reservations, and were welcomed to sit at the bar…tinks-wine

…and suddenly we didn’t care if we ever even made it to the holiday party.

maybe my impression was affected by the pleasure of dressing up just a little, or the holiday season, or an awareness of the rarity of such evenings out recently, or a combination of all of these, but all those together don’t dim the fact that tinks has a great atmosphere, with great food, and (in our case at least) great service.

the menu is inflected with  southern flavors, but by no means limited to them. we had the shrimp & grits and focaccia & olives to start. i think the focaccia & olives were good (i know they were), but i was busy gushing over the best shrimp & grits in town. hands down. how good? we almost ordered the entree portion after slurping down the appetizer, but then we would’ve wanted shrimp & grits for dessert, and breakfast, and — it wouldn’t have been pretty, so we had to break the chain early and diversify.tinks-sg

over our delicious entrees (kobe burger and gumbo) we chatted with our server and he introduced us to the chef and we praised his shrimp & grits and the rest of the food on the menu and the atmosphere and promised to come back and we meant it.

after dinner we wandered next door to paolo, a small jewelry and design shop. we were pleased to find another locally-owned shop producing beautiful, unique goods, and we’re intrigued by the growing trend for adjacent businesses to open their shared doors to each other (walk back and forth between lavomatic and metronation next time you’re in the gateway quarter). fun, too, to eyeball the servers’ jewelry (they often model paolo’s newer designs) and then dash through the door to see if you can find something that looks that good on you. (odds are you can.) priced somewhere between tiffany’s and your local art fair, paolo’s jewelry is now our go-to jewelry shop when we need a little extra special something. especially since we can get our shrimp & grits fix at the same time.

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it is hard to pass up shrimp and grits, and so it was hard for me to continue passing by hugo without stopping in. we tried to drop in one evening but it was during the summer, we felt a little sweatily under-dressed, and we had a fussy toddler in tow. so we made a date, dolled up, and went back for some quality grown-up time.

and we had it, and i’m grateful. hugo has a warm space, decorated in the earthtones of the moment (pumpkins, mustards, greens…all colors with good foodie feelings). the tables are close enough to help you feel like you’re in a busy, desirable restaurant — and who doesn’t want to be? — but far enough away that privacy is possible. the waitstaff is helpful but not obtrusive. our server was sweet, if unseasoned — when describing the “new mushroom he’d never heard of” he referred to his notes, only to slowly sound out “chan-ter-elle.” the sommelier wears a nice suit. it’s a lovely and charming place, and i enjoyed my dinner there.

i really liked the corn fritters and the carolina peach salad, two of our early choices in this share-everything-on-the-table dinner date.  and the pork belly was prepared to near perfection: as an appetizer, its richness was manageable and its flavor delightful. it would have been overwhelming as an entree, which the chef seemed to know and appreciate. in preparation it vied with the fabulous pork belly at slim’s, no mean feat.

still, i would hazard a guess that there is a fair bit of cleverness but not a lot of refined tasting going on in the kitchen. i hate being one to criticize (okay, okay, who am i kidding?) especially about things i understand less-than-well (like professional cooking), but i know what i like and what tastes good and i can generally identify what makes a dish work or not. and while there is plenty that *does* work about hugo’s dishes — including individual ingredients — tasting is one place where someone in their chef whites has missed the mark. it’s not even that the flavors don’t work together, since they often do. it’s just that the balance seems off. whether there isn’t enough sauce in one dish to make a discernible difference or not enough differing textures in another dish, some of hugo’s dishes give off the defeated promise of the almost-ran.

sadly, this is most evident in the shrimp and grits.  they were perfectly fine, but this was not not the to-die-for dish i fantasized about. my friend from the south would not dream of serving grits without cheese. my friend from the east coast would not dream of serving cheese with seafood. so where does that leave this dish? in hugo’s hands, it leaves the cheese — very good white cheddar, i should add — cooling and congealing on the side of the grits, near the shrimp, but not really improving the taste or texture of either one. i think a less fancy cheese, more smartly placed, would have given the dish the home-cookin’ pizazz it so richly deserves.

so i’m not all that keen to go back, at least not to the dining room. although the DR serves a a tasting menu (paired or not, your choice, with wine), i have determined instead to return only to the lounge, where the prices and the plate size seem to be a better gamble. and where, not having dropped two c-notes on a dinner, i won’t need to worry that my server in this upscale restaurant does not even know what a chanterelle is.

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