When you eat at a restaurant often enough to know the staff, it gives you a little swagger every time you walk in the door and everyone waves (Cue, ‘Norm!’ for you Cheers fans). That’s how I feel every time I walk into Xiao Bao Biscuit (or simply XBB for those of us who can never figure out how to properly pronounce ‘Xiao’) in Charleston, my weekly go to for the most delicious Bo Bo Ji, Chao Shou, and of course their famous Okonomiyaki. Everything is farm fresh (it’s Charleston!) and the menu changes often enough that it’s never routine.
Then there are the cocktails. Bar boy wonder and part owner of XBB, Joey Ryan makes many of his own ingredients such as the chili honey in the Petra, so while you can always order a Martini, why bother when you can try one of his perfectly poured concoctions? When Ryan told us they had plans to open a second restaurant we were eager to know more, but they kept pretty hush on the topic for some time. That original conversation happened about a year ago and in November, they finally opened Tu in the same Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood but much closer to the touristy side of town.
Don’t think the Tu crew are slackers, though. Opening a restaurant in Charleston is a gargantuan project of patience. Finding a location, building out the location, dealing with the Board of Architectural Review (is that circular window historically relevant?), finding a quality team. Ryan and his business partner Josh Walker succeeded and the new restaurant is all the buzz. Located in a historic Charleston single house, they added on a small glass filled addition that is inspired by a greenhouse (albeit without a glass roof since we are in a hurricane-prone town). This little cube has only eight tables and is the heart of the restaurant, while the historic house has two dining rooms of its own, one for private parties, complete with a disco ball, and the other, a dark, cozy room filled with banquettes for those who don’t want to be in the middle of it all.
Happy Tu Meet You
Now for the name, Tu, is Chinese for ‘earth’ or ‘all’ and that is exactly what patrons should expect–a menu far from the Asian only theme of XBB. Think Middle Eastern lamb with harissa and labneh, Spanish eggplant with salsa verde, and Italian white bean soup with pepperoni in a parm broth. “Like a pizza soup,” is how our waiter described it.
While the menu changes with the seasons and what is fresh from the local farms, here is what we dug into and loved on our first trip to Tu. Similar to XBB there are small and large plates and sharing is encouraged.
First, we had a moment of ecstatic silence over the ribs. Marinated with a mix of Dr. Pepper and mustard, they are lightly covered in a crunchy snack mix that adds for an exciting texture as you chomp down on these moist and tender slices of heaven. Kudos to chef Alex Yellan on this decadent dish.
Since this is Charleston, the seafood is beyond fresh, so we enjoyed the crudo with guava, cheese ice (more on that later), and habanero (aka bonnet peppers).
We almost doubled down on the order of Pierogi’s made with beef and kimchi and finished with horseradish and goat cheese sauce. If you are lucky, you’ll be there when they garnish this dish with black truffles.
Since Tu is where the cool kids hang, they have a separate menu from 11pm-1am late night menu. It is always changing, but expect things like French fries with lobster mayonnaise, falafel with mortadella parm bread (made in-house), and hazelnut milkshakes.
Dessert is an equally eccentric carnival ride of tastes. Our favorite was the shaved ice, which, trust us, is worth a visit all on its own.
The Shaved Ice Situation
Months ago, while eating at XBB, Ryan regaled me with the news of his most recent purchase – a vintage shaved ice machine. He was envisioning this monster machine sitting next to the bar with a giant block of ice inserted into it. Every evening guests could watch in wonder as the bartender’s hand-cranked this beast to produce perfect piles of ice in their drinks. Well, the machine didn’t really fit into the bar décor in the end, so they set her up in the kitchen and the chef got a little creative. Highlights include:
- Cheese ice for the crudo – a chilly and perfect addition.
- Concord grape shaved ice with peanut butter marshmallow – a stoner’s delight.
- Shaved ice with Strawberry Quik. Yes, the one with the rabbit named Quicky. This. This will make you tear up and go fetal it is so good. Order two. This is not something you want to share.
As for the drinks, Ryan has gone deep on his love of red wines from Spain, as well as Sherry (which is a red Spanish wine in itself!). This is because over at XBB he really focused on white wines because they pair better with Asian cuisine. Fret not, white wine lovers, there are nine on the menu to choose from.
Since I was in the mood for something similar to a Manhattan, I tried the ‘Best Seat’ (Bulleit Bourbon, Jelinek, Carpano Antica, Oloroso aka Spanish Sherry) and was not disappointed. The Harlem Rose (Mezcal, rose liqueur, lemon and a dash of pineapple rum) went down well, too.
They. Have. Orange. Wine.
On your trip to Charleston be sure to book in (way in advance) for a festive night at Tu. You may not be Norm, but we guarantee they will welcome you with a smile. It’s Charleston after all.