Monday, September 12, 2011

Hugo: A Very Good Restaurant That Deserves To Take A Bow

Main Dining Room

      Hugo opened four years ago in Oakley across the street from Boca.  The Chef/owner is Sean Daly and the restaurant reflects his training at Johnson and Wales in Charleston and is named after Hurricane Hugo that hit South Carolina in 1989 and was the economically costliest hurricane up to that time in U.S. history.  We’ve been to Hugo on a number of occasions and it is remarkably consistent.  I’d rather have a couple of appetizers and share an entrée on a spontaneous whim and about $50 there than anywhere else in the region.  Unlike some more highly rated or talked about restaurants in the region, we’ve never
had a dish that was ‘interesting’ for the wrong reasons or had to deal with mediocre service.  The interior is both charming and relaxed and it has one of the best bar areas in the city because it is friendly, convivial, and complements the elegance of the main dining room.

The Lively Bar Area
      Patrons are welcomed by a female hostess, while the servers, assistants, bartenders, and maitre d’ are male.  It is traditional, but doesn’t seem sexist.  Of course, I’m a male writing that observation so I possess an inherent gender bias.  We recently visited on the Friday of Labor Day weekend and I was a little taken aback at the paucity of diners.  The bar area, however, did fill up during the evening.  We remembered our server from a couple of years ago.  (Actually, almost all of the staff has been with Hugo since it started.)  He was friendly, informative, and worked without notes.

Sweetbreads with Sweet Corn and Bacon
      We’ve had or shared the Scallops, the Fried Green Tomatoes, and the Fritters as appetizers in the past and all of them are really good and reflect Daly’s Southern roots.  However, although they aren’t on the menu, the Sweetbreads are incredible.  It’s a large portion and the meat is delicately sautéed and yes, to use a hoary cliché, it melts in your mouth.  Sweetbreads have to be prepared long in advance and with great care so that the pungently dark flavor is mellowed without making it bland or just blank.  For any diner who’s flirted with trying Sweetbreads, this is where to have them.  I’ve eaten them in half a dozen restaurants in different countries and none of those dishes have been at this level of texture and taste.

Grilled Porkloin
Quail— A James Beard Dinner Entrée
      Neil and I both ordered this appetizer and then he chose the Grilled Pork with horseradish mashed potatoes and southern greens and rounded with a mustard seed demi-glace sauce.  Neil likes his pork actually cooked through – yes, we know this is old school and goes against the wishes of the current crop of chefs, but they followed through and the meat was beautifully succulent.  The greens were reedy, earthy, emerald and punched up by the sauce.  I ordered the Quail dish that was presented at the James Beard Dinner.  The red wine based sauce was almost sweet and complemented the white cheddar grits.  There were two quail and I did suck on some of the smaller bones because again the meat was delicate and cooked perfectly.

Hugenot Torte
Lemon Pound Cake
      Dessert choices are limited, but the Hugenot Torte – the house specialty – is unavailable anywhere else.  It’s a solid compote of apples and walnuts, topped with homemade ice cream and the notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple make it a perfect fall/winter selection.  The Lemon Pound Cake with Berries was beautifully presented and the contrast of the cake color with the deep maroon of the coulis sauce was startling.  Dessert portions are usually large and easy to share.

      Hugo deserves much greater attention than it receives.  Like Daveed’s at 934, with which it has a close professional association, it’s a calm, professional, and consistent restaurant that focuses on excellently prepared food.
Hugo on Urbanspoon

That quail looks like a tiny little bird.  Yum! 

No comments: