2007 DISH Spring Dining Guide » Dining Guide

Young Guns

The newest batch of eateries push Charleston's food scene into another realm

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Cordavi
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 14 N. Market St. 577-0090
Dinner (closed Sun.)

Who would think that an unassuming little bistro at the end of the Market would house some of the most innovative and delicious food in the entire city? Chefs David Szlam and Cory Elliot push the culinary envelope, earning rave reviews (Esquire named them one of the best new places in the country) and local applause. Their extreme skill in the kitchen, coupled with a mission to innovate and astound the audience through unexpected juxtapositions of taste, temperature, and texture, create what many consider one of the most cutting-edge dining experiences Charleston has ever seen. The chefs are close confidants of Chef Sean Brock over at McCrady's and the relationship proves very fruitful, with Cordavi employing some of the same innovative techniques, if in a slightly less revolutionary manner. The diverse menu offers the best tasting options in town, with diners able to select from multiple course pairings — the greater the number of courses selected, the smaller the plates — resulting in a neverending rotation of amuse-bouches and quirky offerings from the kitchen. Complimentary valet parking and one of the coolest bar scenes in town (featuring an outstanding weekly jazz group) make Cordavi a must-stop for locals and tourists alike.

A Culinary Art Company
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 1035 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. 375-5988
Dinner (closed Sun. and Mon.)

If you thought the circus came to town only once a year, then you've never watched Tim McCusker knock the top off of a bottle of champagne with a meat cleaver, arcing it — cork and all — over the entire dining room, then pour a glass of bubbles for your table, which happens to be a glass cube containing a fully functional, dazzlingly colorful aquarium. The two-person operation, consisting of McCusker and his lovely wife, pumps out some of the most innovative and outlandishly creative tapas-style food in the city, a total confluence of trend-setting scene and futuro-grub that will leave you happy and full for a very reasonable price.

Cypress
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 167 East Bay St. 727-0111
Dinner

This downtown destination has changed over the years, but the architecture alone draws a crowd. What originally premiered as a classic 1960s throwback complete with tableside Caesar salad preparation, lobster Thermidor, and jacket requirements downstairs now infuses a more casual and decidedly Asian flavor. Drop in to see the spectacular two-story glass wine "cellar" or sample the splendid selection of single malt scotches at the upstairs bar, but stay for the food. Where else are you going to get seared foie gras with cornbread, peaches, and Tahitian vanilla?

FIG
American/Eclectic — Casual
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 232 Meeting St. 805-5900
Dinner (closed Sun.)

If you have to take an unfamiliar visitor to one place and want to be sure that they leave duly impressed, FIG (which stands for Food Is Good) is your best bet. Chef/owner Mike Lata's dogged determination to exact flavor from the best local ingredients results in an inspiring seasonal array of delicious, well-executed cuisine. Flavors as fertile and pure as the local soil from which they spring are treated with the deftest touch in Lata's hands. He's the kind of guy who serves five baby beets with a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil or runs from the kitchen with a plate of heirloom kale, just limp and dressed in a bit of garlic and oil, declares it the best crop of kale he's ever tasted, and leaves you to wonder how he packed in all that flavor. Ask him, and he will laud the farmer who grew the produce, he will tell you all about the land from which the food came, how it was grown, and about the family who grew it. It is clear that a lifetime of respect for the food itself also taught Chef Lata a few things about how to handle it over the flame. He is famously dogged and determined, with a clarity of vision that consistently translates deliciously onto the plate. His passion for seasonality and freshness and his support for local sustainable farm production make each meal at FIG a foray into the streams, fields, and forests of the Lowcountry. It also makes the food served there some of the most authentically sincere fare in the city. We may not all be able to get our food from the surrounding countryside, but his delectably honest meals make a compelling case for trying.

La Fourchette
French
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 432 King St. 722-6261
Dinner (closed Sun.)

Serving the most authentic French fare in town, this tiny upper King Street dining room commands a loyal clientele who return time and again for the lobster bisque, the signature cassoulet, and a great wine list featuring distinctive French regional selections. Always packed and lively, the tight seating and loud conversation exemplify the Parisian ideal. You might just think you've arrived on the left bank of the Seine when you venture inside.

Lana
Greek/Mediterranean
Entrées $10-$15
Downtown. 210 Rutledge Ave. 720-8899
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner (closed Sun.)

Local wine guru Debbie Marlow always jokingly urges me not to write this place up — because she wants to keep the secret to herself. Lana may just be the hidden jewel in Charleston's culinary crown. With great food, good wine values, and an out-of-the-way location, they certainly fit the bill. It's a little French, a tad Mediterranean, with a bunch of fresh local ingredients, and it's worth every penny for a great weeknight dinner or a lavish Saturday night feast. Lunch here has become a regular stop for powerbrokers, doctors, neighborhood residents, and politicans like Fritz Hollings. They come for the upscale food, the easy parking, and the comfortable setting.

Langdon's Restaurant
and Wine Bar
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 778 South Shelmore Blvd. 388-9200
Lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and Dinner (closed Sun.)

One could drive right past Langdon's Restaurant and never even know it was there. Tucked away in a nondescript BI-LO shopping center, even the sign is hard to see — but don't let that dissuade you from trying this exceptional menu. They produce truly memorable food and wine — particularly the lamb chops napped with a jalapeño-mint gastric and a seared tuna that is the best we've ever had. Combine this with a very well-designed wine selection available in multiple pour sizes, featured food pairings, and expert bar service (Riedel glasses are the bomb) and you have yourself some top-notch stuff that's worth fighting the traffic for.

McCrady's
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 2 Unity Alley. 577-0025
Dinner

If Mike Lata at FIG is the slow food maverick of Charleston, then Sean Brock is the rebellious rock star of its cuisine. At McCrady's, a location so ancient and venerable that it once served dinner to George Washington, Brock juxtaposes its legacy with cutting-edge "molecular gastronomy," a combination that proves to be one hell of a concept. Charleston's mad scientist stocks his kitchen with exotic implements and futuristic food. Laboratory-grade heated water circulators cook vacuum-sealed meats for days, powders and potions turn liquids to gel at high temperatures rather than low ones, vats of liquid nitrogen cool plates of metal that become ultra-cold "anti-griddles," foams and froths abound. A newly renovated space will bring an even more disciplined focus on high-end food with the successful "wine bar" being radically transformed into an experimental dining room with a menu all its own. Whatever the outcome, one can be assured that the food will be deliciously fried on the edge of space.

Muse
Greek/Mediterranean
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 82 Society St. 577-1102
Dinner (closed Sun.)

I asked one chef in town what he thought of the newly opened Muse down on Society Street and he quickly told me all I needed to hear: "It's my new favorite restaurant in town." With over 100 wines by the glass and some of the best Mediterranean fare this side of Morocco, owner Beth Ann Crane has put together a space that will certainly become a cult classic. We especially like the emphasis on wine, with a wide selection and a rather knowledgeable staff on hand. It's a place where wine professionals go to hang out and a regular Joe could learn an awful lot just by sitting at the bar.

Raval
Tapas
Entrées $5-$10
Downtown. 453 King St. 853-8466
Dinner

Raval's quixotic nature makes it immensely compelling, but the Spanish-style tapas and great wine list are what keep this place on the top of our list. Two rooms, aligned in shotgun style, play host to some of the most unique offerings on upper King Street. The front window frames the kitchen and a splendid bar while the rear space transports visitors into a couch-laden fantasy, complete with a thumping DJ on the weekends.

Red Drum Gastropub
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $15-$20
Mt. Pleasant. 803 Coleman Blvd. 849-0313
Dinner (closed Sun.)

Need a great meal after work in Mt. P., a place to take the office out for crowd-pleasing drinks and dinner? This is your place. The Gastropub serves up a delicious blend of Southwestern-inspired cuisine, microbrews, and classic French bistro fare in a gorgeous, laid-back atmosphere. It is a synergy that has wowed a plethora of regulars who now inhabit the bar, swilling killer margaritas and munching on Chef/Owner Ben Berryhill's awesome chicken enchiladas with red mole and some of the best ceviche that we have ever tasted; if you are lucky, you will get to eat it all in the cozy little wine cave. It dresses down like a pub, but serves fine cuisine like a grande dame of the restaurant scene — hence the moniker Gastropub. We don't really care what they call it — it's just plain good.

Sienna
Italian
Entrées $15-$20
Daniel Island. 901 Island Park Dr. 881-8820
Lunch (Mon.-Thurs.) and Dinner (closed Sun.)

You can't consider yourself a Charleston foodie and not have eaten a meal at Sienna. Who would've thought the culinary mastermind behind the original diamonds and stars at The Woodlands' Dining Room could go out and open an even better establishment — by returning to his grandma's Italian roots — in suburban Daniel Island, of all places? Well, it happened folks, and Sienna continues to dazzle diners with wonderful food and hand-picked Italian wine (server/wine enthusiast Robert O'Neil has forgotten more than we knew existed on the subject). Ken Vedrinski's robust talent can best be sampled with the chef's "Ultimate Tasting," a $100-plus extravaganza pairing seven courses with expert wine selections in a gut-busting adventure through a culinary wonderland that features rare ingredients from around the world.

Tristan
American/Eclectic — Upscale
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 55 S. Market St. 534-2155
Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch

Ciarán Duffy has been a busy man, jet-setting across the pond for a gig learning the new "progressive cuisine" at the legendary Fat Duck. If you're a big fan of Tristan already, don't let that worry you. All of the requisite classics remain — getting rid of the lamb ribs, smothered in the now retailed chocolate barbecue sauce, or the "Tomahawk Ribeye" would be sacrilege. If you don't believe us, you can watch them all lovingly prepared on Ciarán's "chef cam," which he attaches to his noggin and streams live on the internet every night. For all the fanfare that other places in town seem to enjoy, Tristan quietly steams ahead, serving some of the city's most inventive food. It might be the best open secret in town.

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