McCrady's - Charleston, SC

Dinner - Friday, December 27, 2013

Before Husk propelled Sean Brock into the stratosphere, there was McCrady's. When it first opened, the restaurant had a fairly strong molecular gastronomy bent, but this has been significantly dialed back over the years, as Brock's cuisine has evolved.

While not as tethered to the South as Husk, there is still a strong sense of place at McCrady's. This is first expressed in the 18th century building (older even than Husk's space) that the restaurant occupies - a beautiful wood-and-brick structure that is warm and inviting. The menu, too, emphasizes regional ingredients, although with an appropriately playful spin in many dishes.

Grouper brandade fritters, ramp tartar
We began the evening at the bar with some great cocktails (including a concoction from bartender Ryan Casey called the Antagonist - one of the best drinks I had in 2013). Due to some confusion, our bar snack never arrived while we were there, and showed up at the beginning of our tasting menu instead, as a gift. Nicely fried and very assertive - fortunately, the rest of the menu was not overwhelmed by these bites.

House-made coppa
Uni bottarga, Meyer lemon, dashi egg yolk, Carolina rice cracker
The rice cracker, coloured with squid ink, served as a striking canvas for the other ingredients. The syrupy dashi egg yolk was phenomenal in taste as well as texture, and provided the hydration to express the dried uni's flavour.

Chestnut, roselle
Fritters of chestnut meal, topped with roselle purée and shavings of raw chestnut. These were hot, reminding me of eating roasted chestnuts in Asia, followed by a soothing hibiscus tea - all in one bite.

Beet, lime, nasturtium
South Carolina clams
Fall vegetables, wild bay, wood sorrel
Local clams atop pumpkin and carrots in various forms (raw, poached and pickled). The very well-prepared vegetables (hitting all points on the taste/texture spectrum) outshone the rather forgettable protein here.

Lightly smoked trout
Brassicas, Meyer lemon, thyme
At this level, I don't expect anything less than perfectly-cooked fish, and the kitchen delivered. A nice touch was the fish skin being removed and cooked separately, rendering it ultra-crispy. Everything was brought together by a sauce of fermented cabbage mounted with brown butter - this was amazing.

"Charleston ice cream"
A signature dish of the restaurant, with good reason - this was our dish of the evening, edging out the pork course (see below). Carolina Gold rice was aged with wild bay leaves for 3 years in red oak barrels, then cooked to a fluffy, creamy consistency. The small, loose clump of rice was topped with benne (sesame) seeds and herbs from the rooftop garden. A Charleston equivalent of the best sushi - as always, it's all about the rice.

Berkshire pork
Heirloom pumpkin, burnt honey, black truffle
This is one of those magical dishes that needs to be tasted to be fully understood. The risotto of diced and puréed pumpkin was creamy but light, and the piece of pork with its intact fat cap was fantastic (am I entering a meat-craving phase this year?). Above all, the combination of burnt honey and truffle was just so enticing - I really wanted to keep eating this over and over.

Katahdin lamb
Celeriac, cameo apple, rye
Ember cocoa nib brioche, vanilla bourbon bavarois
We were instructed to dip the bread into the cocoa-dusted bavarois. The combination was remarkably good - there was just the right level of smokiness and woodsiness without overwhelming the subtler notes.

Carrot cremeux
Ginger meringue, coriander, shortbread crumble, yuzu
Chocolate gateau, satsuma sherbet, tarragon
Chocolate ganache, white chocolate and brown sugar macarons, benne madeleines
Oscillating between global and hyper-local, the tasting menu was a romp through the minds of Brock and new chef de cuisine Daniel Heinze. While I confess that our dinner at Husk the night before took the crown for eye-opening (and educational) meals this trip, this was not an experience we would have missed. Again, the food here highlights a gap in my knowledge of the South that waits to be filled.

2 Unity Alley
Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: (843) 577-0025