RICHMOND

Callinectes Sapidus makes great soup, but she's not a chef. She's an Atlantic blue crab, better known in South Carolina as the she-crab. Getting that soup was a major goal recently in Charleston, but the search was brief.

The concierge at the Andrew Pinckney Inn pointed out the window and down the street. Three short blocks later, at a tall table by the window, I was served my first bowl of she-crab soup in a year.

The restaurant was Low Country Bistro where the appetizer of roasted sweet potato fingerlings, skins on, was swathed in apple smoked bacon and gorgonzola with rosemary honey drizzled on top. If any part of that sounds like overkill, it was not. I had asked the waiter if I could order as I went along, and he didn't mind.

That was fortunate because the fingerlings were filling, and I finished the evening with a green salad and coffee. Back to the she-crab soup. He-crabs don't work for soup in South Carolina because a bit of roe is key.

Other ingredients vary, but a native advised me to request a drizzle of sherry to enhance the flavor. The roe is all but invisible, just a few tiny flakes of orange in the bisque.

The bottom of the bowl is likely to yield a delicious lump of crab meat. You might think it silly to praise a restaurant that is ranked No. 57 in a small city like Charleston, but Low Country Bistro is high on the list when you consider it's measured against 526 Charleston restaurants - that's even more than Great Barrington has.


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I had the soup for lunch the next day at Henry's House, a tavern-style place that's been on North Market Street forever.

Then I ordered it at Hank' s, which is No. 32 in the Trip Advisor rankings. And before coming back to clam chowder country, I had two more servings on nearby Seabrook Island. All delicious, none quite like another.

There's been quite a fuss lately about whether the fish you eat in a restaurant or buy at a market is correctly labeled. The question of whether swordfish is really swordfish has been going on for a long time, but the queries have widened recently.

One can only hope the Carolinians don't grab so many she-crabs that they deplete the supply and have to find a cheap, less tasty substitute. Charleston is a perfect place for the food-oriented, which our family is. We like food, even if it likes us too much.

A nutritionist once told me we should all be eating carrot sticks and celery and such-like and certainly no 500-calorie desserts.

I answered that food was part of family for us, and we would probably go on loving rich macaroni and cheese, steak on the grill and creamy potato salads, that we treasured times around the dining room table for both conversation and food.

She's thinner than we are. And she'd be out of place in Charleston, where food is obviously one of the grand attractions. How can you not want to dine elegantly at a place called Poogan's Porch, a white clapboard house that boasts its own resident ghost?

The Andrew Pinckney Inn is right there in the food game. First of all, my three restaurants were within three blocks of the inn. Second, their continental breakfast comes with the room, but it's not a muffin and coffee. They serve eggs, grits with cheese, Danish, sausage gravy with biscuits, muffins and fresh pineapple with strawberries.

And, apparently optimists to the core, they have an open fourth floor deck so you take your coat to breakfast in February and eat outside. We understand that here.

For years, Richmond held its town picnic in October, the height of optimism. Even now, in an era of conservatism, we've only backed off to September.

Ruth Bass, former Sunday editor of The Eagle, makes soup in Richmond. Her web site is _www.ruthbass.com_ (http://www.ruthbass.com)