McCrady’s, Charleston SC

March 18, 2009

McCrady’s building dates back to 1788. (President Washington went to a dinner party there in 1791.) It was remodeled into the current restaurant in 1982. Chef Sean Brock joined it three years ago; he has built up quite a reputation among foodies. Its website declares:

McCrady’s Restaurant, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Landmarks, represents the best of the amalgam that is new southern fine dining concomitantly serving as a canvas for postmodern gastronomy”.

So it was with a lot of interest and anticipation that Karyn, Kaitlyn, Linda, Blair and I went for dinner on March 14, 2009.

We were seated at a round table in a back corner, which would have been pleasantly quiet without the unneeded music. We ordered a bottle of 2005 Turley White Rhone Blend for aperitif and to start with the menu. This was eventually followed by bottles of 2003 Domaine Serene,”Cote Sud Vineyard”, (Oregon) Chardonnay, Loring Wine Company “Gary’s Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and 2001 Alain Brumont Pacherenc du Vic Bilh. All of the wines were good and appropriate.  We ordered the seven course tasting menu at $75 each. (Wine pairings at $55 were available.) The website mentions the option of a ten-course tasting menu, but it wasn’t shown and we were not that ambitious anyway.

The first course was
Charleston Shrimp with Cucumber Dashi, Pineapple Ponzu, and Coconut
This was very good, a nice combination; The foam added a seaside touch. But it was pretty complicated for only one shrimp.

Roasted Scallop with Kumquat, Cauliflower and Saffron

Most of our table thought this was excellent, but Linda and I didn’t find the scallop to be top quality. The kumquat was a good match, but the saffron was wasted. This foam was more discreet in texture and seemed as flavorless as the last one, although they probably added something.

Tilefish with Clams, Sunchokes and Pork Jus

This was very good. Underneath the good, fresh well-cooked piece of fish are little bits of crisp smoked pork. One had to be careful only to include one with each bite of fish or they would overwhelm it. Pork and seafood is a classic combination that I have always enjoyed.

Quail with Farro, Chestnut and Gingerbread Puree

Cooking quail is tricky as it is very lean and can dry out easily. Mine was tasty with a nice crusty skin, but seemed a bit dry. Linda thought hers was not dry. The farro and chestnut puree were moist and appropriate, but nothing special even though the restaurant grows its own farro. This was our third dish with foam. I had hoped for other evidences of “a canvas for postmodern gastronomy” such as granules, gels, encapsulation etc.

Beef with Creamed Kimchee, Chanterelles and Smokey Hollandaise

The beef was top quality and was enhanced by small amounts of the very good kimchee. I liked the smoked hollandaise also and alternated it with the kimchee. The chanterelles were good, but didn’t have much point in the dish alongside the other two assertive garnishes.

 Kaitlyn and Karyn are trying the flavors of their beef course.

“Banana Puddin”
This was good, an updated down south version of Bananas Foster.

Soft Chocolate with Toffee Ice Cream and Hazelnuts

A good classic combination.

Two of the more widely-read restaurant bloggers had preceded me to McCrady’s. Steve wrote a year-and-a-half ago:

“If I told you that in the unsuspecting city of Charleston, you could find a chef with talent that is on par with the Grant Achatz’s and Wylie Dufresne’s of the world, you would probably tell me I am making that up. But I assure you that it’s true. Sean Brock, all of 29 years old, is not only one of America’s great chefs, but surely the least well known considering the size of his talent. Working out of a historic tavern that has been located on this site since 1788, Brock and a kitchen staff of 5 turn out 17 course extravaganzas involving every contemporary and cutting edge culinary technique known to mankind.”

The hard-to-please Chuck wrote last July about McCrady’s:

“McCrady’s blew my socks off…If I were making a top 10 US list, it would easily rank. If someone asked where they could go to experience something special and unique (in the US), it would make the top 5 list.”

Well, we had an enjoyable meal, but it was not even close to the experiences that Steve and Chuck had. Both had contacted the chef in advance and he had served them a special menu. (Click on their names in blue above to see the extravaganzas.) A special menu is a good indication of a chef’s cooking talent, but it has little to do with judging a restaurant. I can only relate my experiences and so Linda and I went back to McCrady’s the following evening and ordered à la carte. Stay tuned for my next blogpost for my opinion.

Chef Sean Brock has a blog; he had abandoned it for a while, but is posting again. It is mostly about his farm and his new culinary creations. To see it click here.

We stopped in the alley outside as we were leaving.

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