The space at 102 North Market St. sure looks different these days. Once a three-story jazz, salsa dancing, and cocktail destination called Mitchell's and later reincarnated into Italian restaurant Mercato, the same walls are now home to the chic Brasserie Gigi. With its rounded brown leather booths, antiqued mirrors, and European-style tiled floors, Gigi brings its own personality as downtown's new French eatery.
The brasserie was opened in April by restaurateur Hank Holliday and chef Frank McMahon (both of Hank's Seafood). Named after McMahon's wife, the new venture is a chance for the Ireland-born Culinary Institute of America graduate to showcase some of the foods he loved as the son of a European-trained chef. His menu reflects that nostalgia with traditional dishes found in Parisian brasseries, like moules frites (mussels and fries, $14), steak tartare ($14), and soupe d'onion gratinee (a.k.a. French onion soup, $9) — all available during both lunch and dinner.
The menus are prettily written on chalkboards in the entryway, and the sweet, white half-curtains in the front windows add more charm. Inside, the seating is ample, and a long bar with fitted stools dominates the main room. Its decorative line of Veuve Cliquot bottles behind the bar coupled with Gigi's late weekend hours (till 11:30 p.m.) certainly inspire champagne sessions with upscale snacks or sweets. The wine list travels to places like Sancerre and Bordeaux, but there are other domestic locales represented, such as the Oregon Witness Tree "Chainsaw" pinot noir ($45) that we had, which had the earthiness we were looking for without the Bourgogne price tag.
The drink menu boasts fancy French cocktails like an Apple Side Car with Calvados apple brandy from Normandy, Cointreau, and a lemon squeeze and twist ($9). There's also a surprisingly diverse beer menu, with everything from large format Belgian beers to Bud Light bottles, proving Gigi wants to stay away from stuffiness and cater to all kinds, which I like.
Gigi began brunch service at the beginning of this month, and though we haven't made it in yet ourselves, we hear the small menu of beignets, crabcake Benedict, brioche French toast, seafood crepe, and mushroom, gruyere omelet is worth checking out. Lunch items are offered at brunch, too.
Tiled floors and cozy tables recreate French cafe culture at Gigi
As for lunch versus dinner, the former differs in its lack of appetizers (some dinner apps are lunch entrees). A good list of salads are on both menus, plus an attractive variety of sandwiches like the croque monsieur ($13), chicken paillard ($12), and the Gigi burger (also on the dinner menu, $13).
Monk fish is served tender with a nice simple crust
Also on both menus is the duck confit ($16) along with salads like a beets, beef, and blue ($16) and lobster option ($18). I found the confit a hard one to rival, with its perfect crust and complements of sauteed mushrooms, goat cheese, leeks, shallots, and mustard seed. The apple cider vinegar sauce finish gave the dish a subtle, sweet kick and paired extraordinarily with the duck. The beets, beef, and blue salad was a beautifully presented bowl of butter lettuce with rare beef just barely seared and served with Roquefort and roasted beets, a combination that was relatively simple but remarkable nonetheless. The steak seemed to be seasoned only with salt, which is all it needed. Together with the blue cheese, the fullness of flavor coats the palate and lingers for a while.
The lobster salad seemed an appropriate dish for our hot and muggy Charleston climate. Chilled chunks of lobster were mixed with chives, shallots, finely sliced fingerling potatoes, red peppers, and a roasted tomato tarragon aioli. Served with toasted garlic bread bites and crisp, cool lettuce, the salad was full of incredibly light and harmonious flavors.
Shellfish offerings like the shrimp cocktail; oysters, clams, mussels, and shrimp sampler for one; and a shellfish tower (all at market price) are available day and night, prepared for all to see behind the raw bar upstairs.
If you want cooked seafood, look to the dinner entrees for options like shrimp Provençal ($20); swordfish with citrus vinaigrette, shallots, crushed cilantro, and truffle oil ($28); and scallops with creamy chive mashed potatoes, and black truffle vinaigrette ($29). I tried the roasted monkfish bourride ($28) and found the outside of the fish had the same incredible, slight crust as the confit. Its texture was tender but dense while the flavor was sweet, and its mildness made the fish a good pairing with the roasted potatoes, leeks, parsley, thyme, lemon, white wine, and aioli.
Carnivores can rejoice in options like the pork schnitzel ($22) and New York strip ($29), but remember there's also the burger, plus more beef options in the starter menu.
Desserts stay simple with fresh sorbets ($8) and pot de crème ($8), the latter of which was a light chocolate custard that was quickly devoured. We also loved the refreshing trio of mango, lemon, and raspberry sorbets, drizzled with a vanilla bean champagne syrup. There's also crème brûlée, lemon tart, and a daily special, which was a blackberry tart on our visit.
The service was attentive, helpful, and kind, and if anyone cared that our table was the last one to leave, we were completely unaware of it. And while the dining room experience is one wonderful way to enjoy food and friends, don't forget there's also a beautiful bar with a fun vibe and plenty of Veuve.