Think the grand era of fine dining is over? Pay a visit to the Charleston Grill, and discover that luxurious indulgence has simplybeen adapted and reconfigured for the new millennium.
Located in the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel, an enclave of civility operated by the Orient Express Group, the square dining room is decorated in warm earth tones framed by wood paneling and oil paintings; a wine-themed private room juts off to one side. One corner is dedicated to the musicians who serenade diners with strains of live jazz.
The innovative menu is divided into four sections (Cosmopolitan, Southern, Pure and Lush) and offers a parade of delights ranging from seared foie gras and octopus to sweetbreads, squab, and venison tenderloin. Diners may mix and match dishes from the four different culinary themes, as they would do at Café Boulud. One of the signature starters is a remarkable, densely packed crab cake, garnished with creek shrimp and offset by a lime-dill vinaigrette. If you’re feeling adventurous, the entrée to try is the Thai Fish—two fillets of red snapper resting in a bowl filled with a sweet and spicy shrimp broth, studded with pineapple, cherry tomatoes and chopped scallions. It’s a dish best eaten with a spoon. The heat is noticeable enough to make you sit up straight, but not strong enough to elicit a whistle.
Hotel restaurants of this type are traditionally loss leaders: they’re not expected to make money, and no one cares if they do. Even so, The Charleston Grill is not exactly cheap. The beauty of the experience, though, is that halfway through the meal you realize the food is so good that you really don’t care what it costs. This ability to make you forget about reality is probably the measure of all great restaurants.
To top things off, you may indulge in Charleston’s best wine list: easily the best one in the city, a seemingly endless tome of carefully chosen wines that you’ll rarely see anywhere else. And after several bottles of a perfectly aged, ten year-old Meursault, you’re likely to conclude that the world isn’t such a bad place after all.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.