[To read part 1 of my Charleston adventures, click here.]

On the second to last night of our workshop, Helene arranged a very special treat for us.  We were to have dinner at a fantastic Charleston restaurant, Lana, courtesy of chef and owner John Ondo.  Lana is well known and respected for their reputation of serving excellent seasonally inspired Mediterranean cuisine made with local ingredients in a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere.  I was really looking forward to experiencing Lana’s offerings so you can imagine my surprise when we arrived and I realized I had dined there before!  I had interviewed in Charleston a few years back and my hosts took me to Lana for lunch.  I recognized it immediately, and was even more excited because that lunch has always stood out to me as a memorable meal.

As if dinner at Lana wasn’t good enough, we also had permission to photograph our meal and some of the restaurant happenings as well.  Though I love dining out, I tend to agree with the general consensus that it isn’t really the most polite thing to whip out a big dSLR camera and start clicking away (or worse, restyling the chef’s hard work) so I refrain.  It was definitely a unique and rare experience to have the opportunity to photograph to our hearts’ content with the chef’s blessing.  (I must admit however, that even with permission, I was quite uncomfortable shooting in this setting and worked very hard to be unobtrusive.)

Though I was uncomfortable shooting in this setting, I was also glad to have the opportunity because it was very challenging to try to get decent shots while staying out of the way of diners, staff, etc. and also to take photos as the light was fading fast.  I tend to enjoy a challenge so though a bit stressful, it was a gratifying experience.  Working to tell a story through photos was an emphasis of this session, and I loved seeing the story told through all our different viewpoints.

But enough about that – let’s talk about the rest of the meal!  Most good meals start with bread, right?  Right.

This lovely lady is Pam from Portland, OR.  She is just delightful and I loved getting to know her over the course of the weekend.

Our group was offered a slightly abbreviated menu but even so, it was very difficult to decide what to order because everything sounded amazing.  Thankfully having dinner with a group of foodies means lots of sharing and tasting of everything, so we were still able to sample the items we didn’t order.  I started with this shrimp over eggplant caponata with basil pesto.  It was stellar.  (I might be drooling a little just thinking about it again.  Maybe.)

I also sat next to Helene who ordered the pear gorgonzola salad.  While this didn’t grab my attention initially, I was definitely a little envious when I saw it arrive.

While we enjoyed the first course, the chefs back in the kitchen were working hard to get the entrees out.

Soon our entrees arrived and we got down to the business of eating some truly fabulous food.  Though I generally make it a rule not to order chicken in a restaurant because I make it all the time at home, I changed my mind when I heard this pan-roasted chicken was their specialty.  I don’t regret my choice one bit.  Plus it came with a fanci-fied version of hush puppies.  Get out!  (The mushroom gnocchi that Josie ordered was also really amazing.  Oh, so good!)

Even when a meal is stellar, the thing that makes it truly great is the company you enjoy it with.  Our gaggle of women (plus Joe, Clare’s husband – such a good sport) was a fun group to dine with.  The conversation never stopped!   We chatted about all kinds of things, both serious and light-hearted.  It seemed to go on and on, just a comfortable dinner with friends.  The best kind.

Yep, it was pretty much a perfect evening for me.

To end the evening on a high note, we all enjoyed this gorgeous tiramisu.  Beautiful presentation!

Chef John came out to check on our group after the meal.  We quite embarrassed him with a round of applause, but he was a good sport.  He is one very humble, extremely talented dude.

Clare and Joe are truly genuine, down-to-earth, all around awesome people.  I am so glad to have met them.

Stay tuned next week for the final installment in my Charleston adventures!