Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Arlaana's Not Yet Nirvana

Daniel Island is just crying for something Arlaana, a year old tapas-style bistro offering "world cuisine," is clearly trying to deliver but hasn't quite gotten there. At least not yet.

The stand-alone island community, once spearheaded by Bishop England, the Family Circle Cup stadium, and a few widely scattered homes, has morphed into a bustling Mayberry-esque town, filled with working professionals and young families. It now has all the trademarks of a real town, complete with its own grocery store, ice cream shop and nail salon, but what it doesn't have is a mid-range priced restaurant that beckons with I've-got-a-must-have-craving-to-go-eat-at-XYZ-restaurant-tonight-honey allure.

Arlaana's probably the closest, but with prices approaching some of downtown's best (and closest DI competitor, Sienna), it needs to come up with more compelling food preparations, more even service, and perhaps tone down its deep purple and orange Alice-on-Acid color scheme and flickering Christmas tree-hued, fiber optically programmed wall sconces. Once accomplished, Arlaana's would be transformed into it a restaurant tour de force that beckons the DI masses, and those from elsewhere, with irresistible charm.

Still, despite its occasional flawed moment, Arlaana offers a most pleasant dining experience, peppered with a surprise pop of excellence in some dishes, a grown-up wine list, and sincere, friendly service. Somehow it all comes together with the exuberant warmth and maternal energy of owner (along with her husband Chuck) Aarlana Black, who floated about the mid-size dining room and through its gossamer curtain panels the evening we visited like an inviting, polished hostess at a private dinner party.

The exhaustive menu, comprised for the most part of "large" and "small plates" ($4.95-$24.95) and house made flat bread pizzas, soups and salads ($5.50-$9.50), literally traverses the cuisines of the globe, with an emphasis on France, Italy, Asia, American and Southern classics. The cheese tour ($17), a plate of Saint Nectaire, Gorgonzola, and Cambozola cheeses with assorted garnishes, was representative of the best and worst of Arlaana.

While the plate was attractive, there was too much going on visually (like the space itself), and while the creamy, tangy Cambozola paired with luscious honey and an edible bowl of preserved lemon was ultimate perfection, the cloying blackberry-balsamic "jelly" (really more of a sauce) paired with the mild, musty Saint Nectaire was a miss. The Gorgonzola paired with toasted pine nuts and basil and a pile of bland, pickled garlic fell somewhere in between. Kudos to the server, however, for selecting a snappy, well-chilled Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc ($36, bottle - wine is half-price on all bottles on Tuesday evenings) that was served with professional aplomb.

He was accompanied all evening by a friendly factotum in-training. Though she bumbled her one solo service gig (she delivered the wrong entree orders to the wrong guests), it was the gaping time gap (approximately 40 minutes) between the appetizer course and entrees that was the most problematic and the most curious, since there were only 8 diners in the entire restaurant. When they finally did arrive, the Pan Seared Filet Mignon ($16) and Duck Confit ($10) were both lovely. They shone brightest in the sauce department, with spot-on reduction sauce renditions of a an earthy, shallot confit demi-glace and a Grand Marnier demi-glace, respectively. Too bad the "pommes frittes" (oops - that should have read "frites" on the menu) were limp, half-cooked, and thus, not worthy of consumption.

Inconsistencies and an underlying sense of rushed sloppiness that likely led to the multiple typos on the menu and the occasional flaws in the overall dining experience at Arlaana, bring it down from a potentially huge DI restaurant high. Because of the palpable love and passion emitted by the owner and her staff for their work and their customers and because of the locals' desire for all that Arlaana could be, I have a feeling it will get there and I, for one, hope it does.


259 Seven Farms Drive, Daniel Island

(843) 471-2400

Tues.-Fri., 11:30 am.-2 p.m.

Tues. - Sat., 5 p.m.-until

Sun. Brunch, 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

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Culinary Cost-Cutting 101

Coupon Crazy

When I was a little girl, I marveled while watching my Great Aunt Frances sitting at her linoleum-topped kitchen table, cutting coupons from the daily newspaper in the tiny Kansas town she lived in until she was nearly 100 years old.

It seemed like such a waste of energy in order to save a few pennies on, what I thought, were probably things she wouldn't normally buy anyway. But, I was naive. She, a thrifty survivor of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, had her coupon system down pat and it's probably one of the reasons she made it through a long life of hard times, many of them spent alone.

The latest bout of monetary unpleasantness, however, has created a market for New Age couponing systems. The internet now has a number of hot coupon sites (I like which provide free, brand-name coupons and more if you select to register as a member. They're just a click, a printer, and five minutes away. In addition, many grocery stores' websites offer lists of daily specials. And, here's the kicker. Many provide selections from the kind of items you usually purchase, anyway. That was it for me. The last straw supporting my long-standing anti-coupon mindset finally broke its resistant back.

Harris Teeter's online specials shopping list became this list-hater's new best friend. I dipped into it with reckless abandon. With a little practice and increasing knowledge, I'm slowly forming my own semi-profitable coupon system. By combining the free manufacturer's coupons from sites like with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site ( , my handy VIC card, and an extra dose of concentration at the grocery store, I have scored some serious savings.

The best yet happened last week. Granted, it was a big sales day at the downtown Teeter. The store was offering buy one get one, two or even three, all over the place on big ticket items like beef, coffee and wine. Since I'm expecting company in a couple weeks, I decided to stock up on these and other staples. The net result was a whopping $67 total savings. In essence, I bought three weeks-worth of groceries for less than I usually spend in one week!

My heart raced with anticipation as I watched the basket cave with the weight of my cache and the numbers creeping slowly higher on the cash register. Then, as the cashier started calculating in the selected coupons, the numbers amazingly started going down. It was like getting on the scale after a week of gorging Haagen-Dazs only to find you'd lost five pounds. I was beaming. She was beaming and said, "You did good today!"

Admittedly, a follow-up trip to replenish the fresh vegetable drawer just one week later only yielded $10 in savings, but next time I'll do better. I'm on a coupon-crazed mission. Intelligent use of coupons and smart shopping add up to saving a lot more than pennies. And, I'm not in Kansas anymore.

One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals

With grocery costs rocketing to the stratosphere, it’s imperative to save wherever you can at the supermarket without eliminating taste. In addition to reaching for reduced daily specials, what you buy and how you put it to use in your kitchen can happily translate to huge savings with bodacious bite.

In this era of grocery gouging, chicken can become your new best friend for just pennies per four ounce serving when paired with practical pantry staples like pasta and veggies. Low in fat, high in protein and exceptionally versatile, chicken marries equally well with the exotic (think truffles or saffron) to the humble (think roasted potatoes and rosemary).

For these reasons, it’s a regular menu guest at my house, where I pride myself on transforming a single, four pound chicken (preferably organic and purchased at a reduced rate) into four fabulous feasts for a group of four. That’s sixteen meals, folks! A four pound chicken runs anywhere from $6-$10 (depending on where and how you shop), throw in a little change for ingredients to flesh it out into a meal (4X), and you’re looking at less than $20. A night out for a family of four at any fast food favorite will set you back the same amount or more faster than you can say “heart attack”.

Gotcha? Let me tell you how it’s done!

Meal #1: This is the launching pad for the meal plan event(s) – a whole roasted chicken. Since it’s going to be transformed several times, keep the seasoning simple – ground pepper, a nice crust of coarse salt and a rub down with olive oil. Roast at 425 until done (about 20 minutes per pound) and top it with a few love pats of butter to sink deeply into the bird. Allow the roasted chicken to rest and re-absorb its juices. Cut the both legs and thighs away from the chicken (reserving warm). Cut the breasts away from the rib cage, cool and store in your refrigerator for later use. Serve both legs and both thighs with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for a satisfying, nutritional meal. Go ahead and prepare a pan gravy with a little roux, white wine, chicken stock, Dijon mustard and fresh tarragon to dress things up, but hold on to the carcass!

Meal #2: Start this after the roast chicken dinner to prepare for tomorrow’s old-fashioned and DELICIOUS chicken noodle soup. With a sturdy chef’s knife, cut up the reserved carcass remnants – the rib cage and spine – into four or five coarse chunks and put them in a two quart soup pot with a quartered onion, carrot, celery stalk and a clove or two of garlic to make an impromptu stock. Add a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and fresh thyme for added flavor. Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer over low heat and forget about it for three to four hours. Allow to cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
About thirty minutes before you’re slotted to serve dinner, skim off any accumulated fat off the top of the stock, strain it, discarding all solids except any bits of chicken flesh. Finely chop an onion, carrot and celery stalk and sauté them in the same pot with a tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Season, return the strained stock to the pan and bring up to a boil. Add reserved chicken and about ¼ pound of dried pasta (flat noodles, spaghetti, linguini – your choice) and cook until tender. Serve with a drizzle of fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, or thyme will do) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A small, fresh salad and warm baguette make this a meal.

Meal #3: Chicken Salad Deluxe! This is where you can really have fun with chicken’s flavor/texture marriage versatility. Cut one of the reserved breasts into chunky, ½” cubes and toss in a bowl with coarsely chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like figs or currants), coarsely chopped roasted almonds, fresh herbs, a dollop of Dijon, a dash of mayo and vinegar, salt and pepper and you’ve got a meal in minutes over a bed of greens. Other flavors that work in tandem with chicken include curry, paprika, cinnamon and almost any fresh herb imaginable. Make this your own!

Meal #4: Chicken Sandwiches Supreme! Again, versatility and imagination set the stage for show-stopping chicken sandwiches prepared with freshly roasted chicken breast. Go for the best quality bread you can find, from baguette to whole grain, and fill it with thinly cut slices of the remaining breast and toppings. One sliced breast will handily complete four sandwiches. Zip up mayo with fresh basil and Dijon mustard for a fresh, personalized sauce, top with a slice of red onion and crisp romaine. Go whole hog and add a few pieces of browned bacon and a slice of avocado if the mood moves.

Chicken never tasted so good for so little.