Creative high end cuisine wins me over every time

19 Mar

I have a lot to catch you up on. Like a lot.

First off, I got probably one of the most amazing tips I have ever received as a concierge: two guests had to leave for home early due to a family emergency and gave me their tickets to the Brewmaster’s Beer Dinner at Cypress. The tickets were $100 a piece and had been sold out for over 2 months. I took the Russian. It was one of the best dinners I have had in a long time.

And then I went to Tristan with the Anchorman the other night.

I had not been to Tristan since their new Executive Chef Nate Whiting had started several months ago but I had sent some guests there (which is normally not my MO unless I have eaten at said restaurant) and they came back absolutely raving. I had to investigate.

Tristan does something that only a few other places in town dare attempt: course menus. For some reason, this is still considered rather ballsy in Charleston because most people don’t want to go for a 2 hour dinner and eat their way through 3, 4 or 6 courses. However, from time to time there is simply no way I can resist a 3 course meal for $40, especially when they offer bottles of wine on Mondays and Tuesdays for half price. Without further adieu, the amuse bouche.

Some form of powder with a grape and Gew├╝rztraminer gelee. I totally get where they were going with this one and I think it’s so cool that there are places in Charleston that try to stay on the curve in terms of food technology. I just wasn’t completely loving the flavor combination. It was sweet, then salty, then sticky and it didn’t really go with our wine which I suppose was more my fault than theirs. By the way, the wine we got was a fantastic bottle of Willakenzie Estate Cuvee pinot noir from 2007, normally priced around $65 on Tristan’s menu but we got it for half that so it was a fantastic value. What’s so lovely about Oregon pinot noir as opposed to California is that they don’t have quite as much muscle but they’re more refined and intricate. Another plus is that they’re much closer to the true burgundy style found in France so it’s not immediately obvious that it’s an American wine. Although more people have been hopping on the Oregon pinot bandwagon for quite some time and their prices have skyrocketed, I still think they’re a good value for the quality of wine. Not quite as expensive as French but more sophisticated than American. And by the way, Tristan has one of the most extensive and reasonably priced wine lists that I have seen in Charleston, especially among the high end restaurants. I definitely recommend taking a look at their list even if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s a crash-course in value and selection in addition to having some super top-notch wines. If you’re lucky, you may even get GM Steve Harris to give you a personal tour of their wine cellar.

By the way, we opted for the 3 for $40 menu. First course.

I figured why not order one of Tristan’s signature dishes for my appetizer. Barbecued lamb ribs with chocolate barbecue sauce. Fall-off-the-bone wonderful and fantastic plating. Really some of the best I’ve seen in recent months. My only complaint is that there were 7 ribs, about 3 too many. I love that they’re going for value and substance over petite portions but I think they were slightly overzealous with that much meat for an appetizer portion. The Anchorman loved it; he begged me for about 3 bites. He got the she crab soup which was awesome but let’s face it, why bother to take a picture of she crab soup unless it’s got spectacular plating? It seemed trite.

Main Courses:

My grilled Atlantic cod. Oh my sweet gherkins. The cod filet was everything I would expect from a perfectly prepared white fish: flaky, medium to dry texture, just enough flavor and a good portion size. The croquette underneath was 48 hour blanched cod with leeks and was a perfect yin and yang texture with the fish. The green tomato vin blanc encircling the tower of cod was a pretty color and broke up the flavor of the dish just enough. If I hadn’t been so full from the lamb ribs I would have run my finger across the plate like the polite young lady I am.

And the Anchorman’s dish.

Personally, I love his aerial view of the steak. Beef tenderloin with Parmesan potato gratin. Perfectly cooked to medium rare, tender and delicious throughout. It was a little too rich for me to have eaten more than 2 bites of his plus my meal but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fantastic. I was having a great time at a fantastic place and I forgot one of my cardinal rules: don’t let your guard down when someone else is holding your camera.

Thanks, Mr. Anchorman.

At this point we were getting super full and almost forgot that we had dessert coming to us.

Goat cheese panna cotta with raspberry jam, almond foam and candied orange rind. It looks like there is a lot going on here but honestly, it was weird and awesome at the same time. Not at all what I expected from panna cotta, normally one of my favorite desserts. Though I’m not usually into foam, especially on my desserts, this one was delightful and whimsical. I thought the orange rinds were a little tough and should have melted a little more quickly and I could have done without them on the dish. Overall, I would consider it a successful dessert and I LOVED the texture of the panna cotta.

The Anchorman got a chocolate concoction with cherries. I was not a fan on the plating and kind of thought it looked weird with the dots and the red streak mark across the plate. Maybe I just don’t get it. The texture and flavor of the dark chocolate on the torte was superb despite my ramblings on the plating. There were some cherries inside the chocolate that I really didn’t care for and I thought they kind of killed the dish a little for me. I wouldn’t have sent it back if I had ordered it myself but I would probably not have enjoyed it nearly as much as my panna cotta.

Let me just say that I am sure Chef Whiting is settling into his surroundings and after a few minor tweaks I’m sure everything will be 100%. I would give the meal we had there a B+. Very very good (and honestly it was way better than most of the so-called “high end” restaurants in town) and with a heaping spoonful of potential. I have always been a huge fan of Tristan because they are not the obvious choice for so many people that live and visit here. Though they’re on the market and have been awarded 4 diamonds from AAA for several years in a row, I feel that occasionally they get overlooked for more notorious places. They are so good people. Everything on their menu is unique and can’t be found anywhere else (except the obligatory she crab soup). I really can’t even put to words how excellent our service was either. Just completely en pointe throughout the entire meal. Our server, the sommelier, the server’s assistant. Really everyone was at our beck and call the whole time without feeling like they were hovering over us.

Bottom line: Would I go back? The real question is “why wouldn’t I”. I am dying to try that pastrami salmon.

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