Posted 15 May 2008 - 01:25 AM
My visit to Charleston, South Carolina was a very quick one – barely two days. But there were two very specific things I wanted to experience whilst in Charleston; true southern barbecue, and McCrady’s. I’m not sure where I first heard about McCrady’s, but when I suggested to my friend that this is where we were going on my last night in town, she quickly assented and confirmed it was well-regarded in town.
We arrived early and admired the elegant dark wood interior as well as the numerous paintings on the wall. Being a tad parched, we started at the bar with a few house specialties. All I remember now is that one was made with house-made limoncello and was a bit too strong for both of us while the other, gin-based drink was nice but we were too anxious to move onto wine so neither drinks were finished.
The first course came out with a bang; Country Pâté, Frozen Mustard Pearls, Cornichon served with Pinot Gris Rose, Domaine de Reuilly, Louire, 2006. The very tasty house-made pâté was centered with a small round of truffle-wrapped foie gras but the brilliance lied not only in the delectable terrine, but the Dippity-Dot creation of mustard – tiny little frozen pearls of mustard essence which melts delicately on the tongue and entices against the richness of the terrine. We were truly marveled and giddy at the experience.
Next was Marinated Scallops with Mango Vinegar, Avocado, Crispy Rice, and Chamomile served with Txakoli, Gurrutxaga, Bizaiko, Spain, 2006. Served ceviche-style, the three slices of scallop were topped with a lovely mélange that accentuated the freshness of the fish which was complemented well with minerality of the wine.
Being overly enthusiastic about the pâté, our waiter surprised us with an extra course from the chef, a selection of his house-made charcuterie. As I had been telling my friend about my own endeavors in sausage making, our waiter informed me that the chef was enthusiastic about someone who appreciated good charcuterie with the platter which included braesola, lenzino, duck prosciutto, finocino, pepperoni, noisette du Beaujolais, rosette du lyon, and sopresetta, The accompaniments included pickled quail egg, ramps, turnip, cauliflower, and mustardo. Our giddiness continued at the surprise gift which was heartily enjoyed.
We were then presented with our first and only “interactive” course, a Himalayan salt rock that had been heated to 500° and given the course of Hawaiian Tuna, Pineapple, and Miso Butter. We knew it was going to be fun when a delicate set of tweezers were placed and we were instructed to sear our tuna on the salt griddle to our liking. The miso butter was unctuous and rich and paired with La Paradou Viognier from Provenece, 2006, could have easily been overwrought with unnecessary ingredients. The brightness of the pineapple was tamed with the butter. Stunning.
Getting more complicated, next came Colombia River Sturgeon with English Peas, Morels, and a Truffle-Emulsion served with a 2006 Costa de Oro Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Having gone down the Molecular Gastonomy path with the frozen mustard pearls, I was not surprised to see the first introduction of foam. My non-mushroom-loving friend was entranced with the morels (as was I) but I was more in love with the sturgeon which is a fish I feel does not see enough menu time.
Our foie gras course came next; what the chef jokingly calls “Liver and Onions,” the roasted foie was served with three accompaniments, thick slices of roasted sweet white onion, a slaw of pickled onion, and a crouton studded with onion essence. The fabulous wine pairing came in the form of a Leon Beyer Gewurtztraminer from Alcase, 2005 which proved not too sweet or cloying as so often foie is served as an intermediary with a sauterne, thereby offering an unnecessarily jarring sweetness in the middle of a dinner. This way was superb.
The next course was another additional one that I had requested from the menu, Forest Mushroom and Pine Nut Stew topped with Celeste Alber’s Poached Egg and Parmesan Crisp. This was paired with an Azura Estate Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, 2006. Shame on me for asking for something outside the prescribed tasting menu as this was the only misstep of the evening. The broth was a tad too salty and the existence of the egg, which when broken would have made the sauce creamy, was poached a bit too hard to give the requisite runny yolk. There just was not an overwhelming cohesiveness. Also, the wine was a bit too bold and redolent of cranberry to give the classic earthy pinot quality which usually complements mushrooms so well.
Getting back on track, our meat course was next, Beef Shortribs with Carrot Confit, Celeste Alber’s Potatoes, and Truffle Jus paired with Ey, “Vigne Las Collas” Côtes Catalanes Grenache from 2004. Cooked sous vide, the shortribs were perfect but it was the carrots that wowed me.
A cheese course came in the form of a single bite, ColoRouge with light garnish of Smoked Grape, Saba, and Herb Salad. Served with a 20-Year Tawny Warre’s Port. Creamy and rich, the light garnish worked well with the port and the cheese. It was just enough and a great presentation.
Another surprise came which differed from the printed menu that evening, two desserts, both served with Elio Perrone’s Italian Moscato d’Asti. The first was a Meyer Lemon Curd served with Vanilla Frozen Yogurt, a Compressed Strawberry, and a Triangle of White Chocolate. The curd was perfectly creamy and the combination of flavors were bright and clean. The second dessert was the show-stopper as we were presented with a platter that contained a rectangle of Soft Dark Chocolate, Mascarpone Cheese Yogurt, Chocolate Rice Krispies, and then the piece de resistance, nitrogen-frozen, dehydrated Strawberries served tableside. We were giggling again as what we were eating was akin to an adult’s version of cereal with the crispy strawberries similar to what we ate as Frankenberries as a child and an adult-version of cocoa crispies.
Overall we were presented with an exciting evening full of inventiveness and imagination. The missteps were few and far between and the highlights were so superior and memorable as to easily make the meal memorable for a long, long time.
Pictures on the blog.