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RESTAURANT REVIEW: Arlaana

Making it all taste good

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Splurge on a plate of seared scallops with butternut squash risotto with vanilla and saffron
  • Splurge on a plate of seared scallops with butternut squash risotto with vanilla and saffron

Arlaana Restaurant
American/Eclectic – Upscale
Serving dinner, Mon.-Sat.
Entrees: $15-$20
259 Seven Farms Drive
Daniel Island
(843) 471-2400

Arlaana, that's her name, this gentle woman who floats across the floor. You knew it when you parked the car, when you saw the trees glowing purple and yellow and green, lit like some ethereal wonderland. This place was different, evocative, smooth. She greets you at your table, but it's not just Arlaana that seems unusual. There are the stony, hard walls marked with squares of color, effusive and glimmering, a stream of water trickling down through the rough crags of a stone tablet. Long sounds of canned Muzak spill out as if the lost ghosts of jazz had returned for a gig at a resplendent spa. And the champagne flows, Bellinis and splits of prosecco drip dancing bubbles onto the scene, the wall sconces vacillating between green, yellow, purple, and blue, Arlaana softly whispering among the diners, "you look absolutely fabulous, dear ... and a handsome date, also." This could be extraordinarily cheesy, if it wasn't dealt with such a deft hand.

They are restaurateurs, Arlaana and her husband, true practitioners of the art. They swarm and swoon with an interminable grace, more than making up for the gerrymandered feel of Daniel Island, with its laser-straight lines of store-bought palms and desolate street life. They are there to serve, without pretense, as brightly as the colored lights which bathe them in frosted hues.

Then there's the food — upscale blends of pan-European influences presented among a sprinkle of Asian flavors, showcasing the talents of Chef Jeff Gibbs — and for the most part, you can't go wrong.

Cheeses and meats headline the show, whole "tours" are available for under $15. They come with thoughtful accoutrements like a creamy blue German cambozola cheese paired with honeycomb, preserved lemon and balsamic swirls or steak tartare ($8.95), served in compelling portions, spiked with truffle oil and good mustard. Well aged "Prosciutto di Parma Reserve" ($9.50), rolled in thick bundles, tops a pile of oil-cured olives, a pool of mostarda (they call it "Syrah Mustard") beneath. One could make a meal of these things, perhaps a crispy flat pizza as well, topped with shrimp, mushrooms, or maybe some of that aged prosciutto for fewer than 10 bucks.

For those wanting to splurge, Chef Gibbs will oblige. Small plates can be mixed to create a splendid tasting menu. "Crispy Duck Confit" ($8.95) comes paired with a creative Grand Marnier demi-glace and orange marmalade; the "Quail Sous Vide" ($9.25) will blow you away. A single, plump quail breast sits atop luscious foie gras-filled ravioli, layered with toothsome shiitakes, their assertiveness braised away into a mellow back note of substantial meatiness, all suspended above a sour cherry glaze. "Tempura Shrimp" ($10.95) come light and crunchy, big, fat, and juicy shrimp arrayed among a classic seaweed salad with a small bowl of ginger- and lime-spiked aioli on the side.

Large plates are equally good, if a bit steeply priced. "Seared Tuna" ($22.95) slices, perfectly rare and napped with smoked anchovy butter, are laid around a steaming porcini ravioli duo and accompanied by a deconstructed tomato-olive oil coulis. It is a good dish, if a bit bland and underseasoned for my taste (higher quality tuna would do wonders). The "Duck Breast" ($20.95) is a bit less successful. The skin is flabby, not crisp (although that is hardly a rare sight these days), and the accompanying "beet gnocchi" are disgusting. Undercooked and almost raw in the middle, they aren't gnocchi, and barely edible, but the duck tastes good and the small arugula salad that stands sprightly alongside is delicious and fresh. With a few changes in the kitchen, I think the thing could actually be a great dish.

It is almost guaranteed that those changes will take place; the people who run Arlaana seem to take even the slightest details to heart. They are concerned about each diner, how they are doing, what they like, their preferences and satisfaction. These are the kind of people that produce good restaurants and although Arlaana certainly presents flaws, most are not worth mentioning — they will probably be fixed by the time you sit down to dinner.

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