If I told you that in the unsuspecting city of Charleston, South Carolina, 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 tavern that houses McCrady's is the most unlikely setting for contemporary cuisine Mrs. P and I have come across yet. Based on the look and feel of the place, it would be more in keeping for the kitchen to send out dishes like turtle soup and roasted racks of lamb with stuffed potatoes rather than a soup of local corn that is laced with vaudovan and lamb served with sous vide broccoli stems. But much to our astonishment, Chef Brock kept pounding our table with one unique creation after another until we were ready to bust.
We started with the cores of some absolutely superb heirloom tomatoes, served with Per Me olive oil. The quality was superb and the acidity and sweetness burst exploded in our mouths. Later that evening, Sean told us that given the long Indian summer we were having on the East Coast, he was still able to source top notch heirloom tomatoes in mid-October. Then crispy beets. I assume they were dehydrated and fried somehow, which were filled with a spiced fromage blanc. Again, delicious, though they were a bit small and I could have used a few more of them. Then a superb soup of corn, local shrimp, yogurt and vaudovan. Really delicious with intense flavors - I could have eaten an entire bowl. But I could have easily skipped the next dish, a Winter Point Oyster with absinthe, Cubeb pepper and ocean pearls as I am not a fan of of the flavor of anise.
Raw tuna with kasu, mitsuba and rice crispies was good but the cut of tuna was so small it made the dish a bit difficult to eat. Then one of my favorite dishes of the night. Scallops were served raw and thinly sliced, and a salt block was heated in the oven. You cooked the scallops on the hot salt plate and then dipped them in smoked butter. The finished product were beautifully cooked scallops, caramelized around the edges, coated with a slightly salty liquid, which was cut by the viscosity of the smoked butter. Simple yet delicious, and I would like to try other top ingredients - like kobe beef, pork belly, slices of marinated fish etc., cooked this way. I found that the flavors in a dish of lobster with passion fruit, sea urchin, leeks and parsnips weren't completely reconciled. It sort of reminded me of Grant Achutz's food, as well as reminding me of what it is about Grant's food that I don't like. It wasn't a bad dish but there was something about the sea urchin/passion fruit combo that clashed for me. Then Daurade Royale with steelhead roe, fennel, radish and citrus was a hair overcooked but the combinations were good and there was a benefit to getting all of the ingredients onto your fork at the same time.
Halibut, eggplant, maiitake and black truffle was very good if a bit straight forward. But the next dish was among the best of the evening, foie gras which was cured like bacon, sauteed, and then served with Blis maple and pain perdue. Astonishingly good and again, I could have done with a much larger portion. Then sweetbreads, pine nuts, matsutake and mastic. Very good but the broth was a bit salty for me. Then lamb with a cauliflower stem and Brussels spouts in a clear mustard broth. Like the sweetbread dish, I found the clear mustard broth a bit intense for my palate. Great concept though if they tone the mustard down a bit.
Beef with allium, carrots and potato confit was one of the best beef dishes I've had in a long time. I admit to being a committed beef eater. But that usually is limited to prime beef in top steakhouses. Rarely do I find a prepared beef dish that I find interesting but both Mrs. P and I commented on how good this was. Desserts were delicious and began with foie gras in the style of S'Mores with smoked marshmallow and milk sorbet, an apple with brown butter ice cream and whiskey soil, and chewy chocolate served with coconuts and pecans. There was also some olive oil candy (no photo) that Sean should package and sell in candy shops.
The restaurant also sports a terrific wine list that is fairly priced, and Clint Sloan, who acts as Sommelier and runs the front of the house, does a great job on both ends. We drank a delicious half bottle of Leroy-Duval NV Champagne and a superb bottle of 2000 Hubert de Montille Pommard Rugiens, and a 1998 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape which is as good as I remember it being back when it was released.
A great experience and worth making the trip to Charleston (a beautiful and interesting city on its own) just to go to the restaurant. For my money, this is easily one of the top restaurants in the country and it will only get better. Mrs. P and I will be back soon and we certainly wouldn't mind if Sean decided to move to New York City and open a restaurant. A-