1001 Landfall Way, Johns Island
Serving dinner and Sunday brunch
Prices: Expensive ($19-$27)
I tend to be skeptical of resort food. Not just the stuff they sell at tiki huts and poolside grills spewing greasy smoke across a white sand beach, but anything served remotely close to 18 holes of golf. Out on the islands of Kiawah and Seabrook, where Lexus and Mercedes appear to be doing a brisk business while everyone else gets laid off, food can often be less than satisfying, leaving you with a stiff bill, an ambivalent opinion of the place, and a general feeling that you could have eaten the same meal for a lot less just down the road.
I imagine it's the beautiful view that lulls some people into settling for such fare. Fortunately at Red Sky, which invokes such a luxurious landscape, you won't find your typical resort food. There's a working gas pump outside and a snack shop next door. The interior has been refurbished into a comfortable space, with a smattering of tables and booths across a dark-toned room. Paintings of crimson sunsets grace the walls, and the service is equally welcoming. Courteous servers and skilled wine staff provide a capable front of the house, and the chef shows glimpses of great talent.
Perhaps one should eat backwards at Red Sky. The appetizers are by far the most exciting part of the menu. That's not to say the other courses fall completely short. They cook a decent steak out there, and the molten chocolate cake ($7) — rich, gooey, and topped with a refreshing scoop of house-made peppermint ice cream — deserves some kind of award; most comforting dessert sounds nice.
A rather thin ribeye, a bit too thin to cook rare and still get a proper char, will set you back 27 bucks. Even with the side, a delightfully snarky, tongue-in-cheek "shrimp, grits" — basically a pile of really good creamy grits with a couple of sautéed shrimp on top — one still feels a bit let down by the flimsy cut of meat.
The oyster salad ($8) offers a gargantuan pile of dressed spinach leaves and four perfectly crisp fried oysters, but the addition of some nuts in the bowl doesn't distract from the clumsiness of the presentation. The standard, mundane Caesar ($8) seems OK, but when you advertise bocarones in the plural form, you'd better serve more than one measly fish to a table of anchovy-lovers sharing bites. Fights could break out. Of course, the average golfing baby boomer probably doesn't fancy a plate of salted fish all that much.
The appetizer selection shows the full creativity and potential of Chef Matt Bolus. His flavor combinations sing across the plate and his unusual pairings show his creative powers. The "Diver Scallop" ($12), a seared scallop served with vanilla-spiked sweet potato puree, lobster jus, and truffles, topped with a spoonful of caviar to boot, will have me returning to simply taste its springtime incarnation — for the appetizers fully embrace the seasonal theme that Bolus struggles to insert into the rest of the menu.
Winter brings a pork belly ($11) writhing among the flavors of bourbon, maple, and cranberry; the vegetable ravioli ($11) also sports bourbon and maple, with a brown butter sauce; short ribs ($9) promise brussels sprouts and tangerine jus. These are rich dishes that are perfectly executed, evidence of a good chef with a passionate vision.
While the rest of the menu is not bad stuff, no one is going to drive all the way to Seabrook for a decent steak and a pile of cheese-laden mashed potatoes. One has to wonder what holds this kitchen back in some respects. I, for one, hope Mr. Bolus' creativity soon extends across the entire menu, because then I'd have to take up golf for something to do between meals.