While the old guard of favorites remain in rotation for Charleston food enthusiasts, the recent additions of ethnic restaurants, like CO, are welcome divertissements reminding us there exist flavors outside those found in Southern cuisine.
Only a few weeks old, CO has yet to grow into its 340 King Street location. As of now, the restaurant feels a bit sterile and without the kind of character that comes from frequent patronage. This, however, is not a bad thing. It’s something that will come with time and use, two things CO is certain to obtain thanks to both its newness and its very reasonable prices.
Despite its newness, the service at CO is unexpectedly good. Usually there are a few hiccups in the initial weeks as servers and kitchen staff find their rhythm as a group and also with the menu. Our waitress was attentive but not overbearing, offering suggestions when asked about the menu. Our food arrived in rapid fashion, piping hot and beautifully presented.
Considering the hallmark hot and humid climate that is part of Charleston, I’m surprised it has taken so long for a Vietnamese restaurant to appear. This is perfect hot weather food. Aromatic and slightly spicy-sweet broths with leagues of noodles fill but don’t weigh down; small dishes of curried shrimp provide quick flashes of subtle heat but ultimately cool; and voluminous salads of chopped fresh vegetables are the perfect antidote to a suffocating heat.
The biggest disappointment of the meal was the Chopped Vegetable salad ($9). Though the presentation was beautiful– a sunburst of broccoli, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, carrots, garlic baguette slices and mixed greens– this was not a salad worth almost $10. The miso dressing was more sweet than miso, but a really lovely foil to the uber cruciferous broccoli.
The Curried Shrimp ($6) small plate was a plate of yellow curry shrimp with notes of Thai basil and Thai chili. The heat was completely tolerable for even the most heat averse palates. The only complaint? Not enough slices of garlicky baguette to sop up the yellow curry goodness.
I’m a sucker for Asian noodle soups and couldn’t pass up the XO Ramen ($11): shredded poached chicken, miles of ramen noodles, crispy shallots, a slightly sweet and spicy pork broth and a lovely soft poached egg. You’ll have enough for leftovers, trust me, and they’re even better the next day. While this is a lot of food, you’ll walk away feeling full but not weighted down. The broth’s sweetness will have you ending on a high note.
If you’re someone who loves spicy foods, request to taste the house chili sauce– it’s really amazing.
The Vietnamese Ramen ($11) is very similar in taste to the XO Ramen, though the latter features shredded pork and pork belly in the place of the poached shredded chicken.
CO serves up good plates (and bowls) of food; I anticipate the restaurant only getting better with time. The flavors and menu are already filled with items that are accessible for a variety of palates. Dare I say, it might even open the eyes of those less enthusiastic about ethnic food.