On any given night of the year, you can dine at one of Charleston's fine restaurants and have a memorable experience. Our hospitality industry is at the top of its game. But there's only one event that boasts being the best of the year and that's the Ultimate Critics Dinner.
Conceived by City Paper contributor Jeff Allen as part of the BB&T Charleston Wine +Food Festival, the inaugural critics dinner last year had a handful of local food writers picking six chefs and one maitre d' to serve a memorable multi-course meal. It was held waterside at the Cottages at Charleston Harbor on Patriots Point and featured food from Mike Lata of FIG, Craig Deihl of Cypress, Sean Brock of McCrady's, Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill, Jeremiah Bacon of Oak Steakhouse, and Frank Lee of Slightly North of Broad, with the hosting duties being handled by Charleston Grill's Mickey Bakst. By all accounts the dinner was successful. Not only did it induce envy in those of us who didn't splurge on the $200 tickets, but it also raised $20,000 for the festival's charity of choice, Lowcountry Local First.
This year, they're upping the ante. First, the pool of voters has been expanded to include more local critics (including yours truly) along with national writers from publications that cover Charleston, like Southern Living and Esquire. Participants have submitted their nominations, which could include any of last year's chefs, and a final list is being voted on. The list expanded to include a sommelier too.
As for a setting, they've found possibly one of the most interesting places to have a dinner in all of Charleston: historic Fort Sumter in the middle of Charleston Harbor. Organizers promise the event will be minimalist, highlighting the fort and providing diners a unique experience.
The price has been upped to $300 per person, and despite the high cost, you can still expect it to sell out and raise a bunch of money. People will no doubt be attracted by the novelty of the evening, which will include canapés and drinks on the Spiritline Cruise, entertainment and hors d'oeuvres on the fort, and a full, multi-course, wine-paired dinner on the parade grounds.
Tickets can be purchased at charlestonwineandfood.com. Proceeds will benefit the festival's as-yet-unannounced signature charity as well as the Ft. Sumter-Ft. Moultrie Historical Trust.