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Almost There [Charleston,SC]

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Almost There [Charleston,SC]

filleparfaite1 | Dec 28, 2009 11:10 AM

Thanks for all the dedicated reviewers who recommended McCrady's. It was so promising, but ultimately a near miss.

I hate to tell the natives, but I will never return to Charleston. It is overpriced, my accommodations at the French Quarter Inn were lackluster at best, and the hotel cheated me out of $400.

But on to the restaurant . . .

NIGHT ONE: THE TASTING MENU WITH WINE PAIRINGS

The first night, I went on a romantic date with my husband.

The space itself is breathtaking. It feels revolutionary . . . brick everywhere, a fireplace, a large painting of the city in straightforward primary colors.

I won't regurgitate the entire tasting menu (4 savory courses/2 sweet), but will only cover the hits and misses.

An overall complaint is that the servers often had to be prodded to describe the dish. I should not have to ask you (repeatedly): What is this? What am I eating here?

Also, I don't like foams, which were plentiful. I have only ever eaten what I esteem to be a "successful foam" (one which added some flavor to the dish--this was an espresso-sized cup of foam with abalone at Corton). I understand molecular gastronomy (I love Richard Blais and Wiley Dufresne) but please just do like Eric Ripert and make me an honest sauce.

On to the meal:

* I was shocked that we did not receive an amuse bouche. That would be unacceptable in any high-value New York or Atlanta restaurant, and the prices at McCrady's are just as high.

* The first course had some sort of frozen white twill which was supposed to compliment caviar in a celeriac apple broth. It did not compliment the dish and was a shocking example of Tom Collichio's theory of "one ingredient too many." It was a pretty poor start.

* The pork was melt-in-your-mouth luscious. I've never had better, and I regularly eat the work of Kevin Gillespie. It was a truly transcendent and memorable taste.

* A sous vide egg in a sort of Mason jar with elderberry smoke which rolled out once the top was removed. It was a pleasant effect.

* The beef was so tender that I wanted to cry. They did not ask us how we wanted it cooked, but it was served exquisitely rare. I like that confidence level.

* Fresh diver scallops with a disc of black truffle jelly. Again, transcendent. I licked my finger.

* The desserts were forgettable. Some banana/chocolate combo (yawn) and a sort of deconstructed Milky Way bar--chocolate mousse and three different flavors of chocolate powder. It wasn't anything special.

* The wine pairings were spot on and they actually paired a beer with our beef. Again, ballsy--I like it!

* The cappuccino was very well made and a nice end to the meal.

NIGHT TWO: A LA CARTE

The second night, I went to McCrady's with my mother.

We both started with a glass of the Aubry champagne . . . my new favorite. It is lush, salmony pink and has a lovely body without blowing the bank.

I forgot to mention that the bread is lovely--made by a local bakery. You can get sourdough or multigrain and choose to dip it in an exquisite EVOO or spread on a fresh pat of butter sprinkled liberally with fleur de sel.

For a starter, my Mom had handmade whole wheat spaghetti with baby tomatoes. I didn't taste it, as I was again ensconced in my diver scallops with caramelized squash and that black truffle jelly disc. Mom gave the thumbs-up, and you know how I feel about those scallops with truffle. The scallop dish would be a 10 in any restaurant.

For the second course, we shared celeriac soup with trumpet mushrooms. The soup was good, but was missing acid. I had a nice white Cote du Rhone that rounded it out.

For the final course, my Mom had melted escarole, parsnip puree and that luscious beef from the night before. I had a bite and it was dreamy.

I had the "vegetarian" option because I was craving veggies. Big mistake. It was an assembly of beautiful baby veggies, but was completely unseasoned. The bottom of the dish contained a half-hearted pesto of walnuts and pine nuts which had absolutely no flavor. I had to ask for salt, which was brought to the table with a shrug. Again, in New York or Atlanta, the server would have asked me what was wrong with the dish. A fine dining restaurant should, at a minimum, properly season its food. Even the salt could not save this sad dish.

What is so hard about making a solid vegetarian dish??? I just wanted some well-cooked, well-seasoned veggie. Apparently that is asking too much unless the chef is some sort of vegan!

For dessert, we ordered the sorbet tasting, creme brulee (my Mom) and a chocolate mousse with mint ice cream and chocolate-flavored Nerds.

The sorbet tasting comes in a long line of miniature ice cream cones and is easily the most fun dessert presentation I have seen in a long time. Flavors like lemon thyme were inventive without being obnoxious.

I didn't try the creme brulee, which long ago started to bore me, but it looked perfectly executed. My Mom didn't want the miniature orange chocolate biscotti which came with it and I gladly enjoyed it with my espresso.

Again, the chocolate mousse was a little boring. The Nerds were a fun accent and the mint chip ice cream was very good.

If I went again, I would just do the sorbet tasting and cappuccino with that heavenly biscotti.

In New York, every fine-dining establishment offers a truffle and petit four or other small confectionary nibble after the tasting menu. Here, we got one of those tiny tasting spoons of a sort of cherry chocolate cake with vanilla creme and crispy rice "caviar." Okay, but not anything I wanted to eat again after having it the night before.

McCrady's does offer truffles after dessert, but you have to PAY for them. Okay, I thought--and I ordered a dozen to go. There were only four different items: banana cream pie truffle, peanut brittle, candied macadamia nuts and chocolate truffle. They were boring in every way possible and poorly made. I don't know where they get their couvuture, but they would do well to change it up and to get some truffle-making lessons from Robert Truitt or Marc Aumont.

This is a good restaurant. But there were some unforgiveable lapses that would not be allowed in a restaurant of its caliber in NYC or Atlanta. Unless you are overly fond of the overpriced, take a trip to NYC instead.

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McCrady's Restaurant
2 Unity Alley, Charleston, SC 29401

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