Langdon's Restaurant & Wine Bar
778 South Shelmore Blvd.
Entrée Prices: Expensive ($19-$35)
Serving: Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) & Dinner (Mon.-Sat.)
In August, Langdon's Restaurant & Wine Bar will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Over the years it has quietly built a loyal following and established itself as one of the best fine dining restaurants on the Mt. Pleasant side of the river. And the reason for that is simple: execution. The menu's not particularly experimental or risky, there's no dramatic or gimmicky architecture to the building, and there's not even a single defining theme or culinary niche for the food. But, from the cooking to the service to the atmosphere, Langdon's does what it does very well.
Langdon's original menu blended Lowcountry cuisine with a lot of Asian influences, but that mix has broadened somewhat in recent years. Some of the old Asian-fusion standbys are still there, like the lobster and avocado spring rolls ($9), but new flavors have crept in, too, like the Greek potatoes that accompany the oven-roasted lemon and oregano chicken breast ($19) and the Mexican peppers that spice up the chipotle seared ahi tuna with a charred serrano vinaigrette over baby greens ($12). Even with the international influences, the menu toes the line of familiar fine dining fare. But Chef Patrick Owens takes good dishes and makes them great by adding that little something extra.
Take the seared diver scallops with a sweet corn cream and basil oil appetizer ($9), for instance. Two thick Maine scallops are pan-seared with an extra-brown crust, yet the interior retains the right chewy, delightfully buttery texture. The scallops are placed unadorned on the far right of the small rectangular plate, while a pale yellow swirl of sweet corn cream loops its way from right to left, forming tiny "8"s filled with bright green basil oil. It's a beautiful presentation, but it's also a pleasure to eat. You cut a slice of scallop, drag it to the left through the corn purée and basil oil, and take a bite. The scallops are so flavorful that they don't need a lot of spice or heavy sauce, and the corn cream and basil oil add just a subtle accent instead of overwhelming the main flavor. It's hard to imagine a better appetizer, but the sautéed shrimp over a crispy polenta cake with spicy brown seafood sauce ($9) comes close. The shrimp are infused with a deep, smoky bacon taste and served alongside two crispy triangles of fried polenta that offer a striking balance of crispness and tenderness.
The soups provide a luxurious second course. The creamy wild mushroom and jumbo lump crab soup ($7), a menu regular, is so silky and sweet you might be tempted to save it for dessert. The soup of the day ($9) offers a rotating selection, such as cilantro, tomato, and jalapeño with sautéed shrimp, which balances jalapeño heat with the cool bite of cilantro and makes a fine spicy opener.
The entrée selection is a familiar one: fish (grilled salmon, ahi, and pan-seared grouper), fowl (chicken and duck breast), and beef (rib eye and tenderloin). The lineup may be a bit predictable, but the entrées still surprise you, not just because of the quality of the meat but also because the side items are really well done.
The rack of lamb with roasted fingerling potatoes, apple, jalapeño, and mint gastrique ($29) has lamb that's everything it's supposed to be — rich, tender, moist. What takes it up to another level are the fingerling potatoes, with their soft interior and perfectly crisp exteriors, that meld perfectly with the sweet and spicy mint sauce.
Langdon's earlier East-meets-South-style can be found in the thick cut Kurobuto pork rib chop brined and candied with a hoisin honey glaze with citrus seared sweet potatoes and collard greens ($28). The pork itself is Asian by way of England — a Japanese variety derived from the British Black Berkshire heirloom breed but now raised here in the U.S. It's a remarkable pork chop: sweet and tender, with a great brown searing. The sweet potatoes and collards give it a down-home twang and round out a delightful plate. Add in one of the best wine lists in Mt. Pleasant (including some two dozen selections available by either a 5- or 8-ounce glass), and you have all the makings of a memorable meal.
The thoroughness of the execution extends beyond the food. Langdon's interior is stylishly done, with dark red walls and white tablecloths and big black-and-red diamond tiling on the floor. The service is friendly, professional, and attentive. They don't cut any corners, and that makes for an ideal experience whether you're looking for an elegant evening out with a date or an upscale celebration with friends.
Unlike most Charleston restaurateurs, chef/owner Patrick Owens is not from somewhere far off, and he didn't end up in town because of Johnson & Wales. He's a Mt. Pleasant native and Clemson alum, and he learned the ropes at downtown stalwarts Magnolias and Circa 1886 before striking out on his own in 2003. (Langdon is his middle name, by the way.) There may be a few changes to the menu in upcoming months to keep the rotation fresh, but don't expect anything too radical — just the same focus on fresh, top-quality ingredients and getting all the details right.
If you're looking for a big night on the town with reliably top-notch food and wine, Langdon's is still the best bet east of the Cooper.