"Look at this place," says chef Sean Brock, sitting at a counter seat in McCrady's, his newest restaurant reinvention in Charleston, South Carolina. "Isn't it great?" He runs his hand lovingly over the burnished walnut tabletop and admires a pair of salt-marsh landscapes by local painter Betty Anglin Smith hanging on the exposed-brick walls. This is a guy who tattooed Day-Glo vegetables on his arm and turned collecting rare bourbon into a mission statement. If Brock's other restaurant, Husk, is his homage to heritage ingredients, this dining room is a temple to his travels, both imagined and actual.
Interior at McCrady's
The multi-course tasting menu is best described as "Southern kaiseki". He's obsessed with Japan at present - not only the cuisine, but also the gracious hospitality - something about which Southerners know a thing or two. When dinner is finally served, the first amuse is dainty eggplant jerky, clinging among the branches of a potted bonsai. Additional pairings of regional ingredients, however, keep the experience grounded in the South: Ossabaw pork with juniper, briny uni with tart pawpaw, sorghum cane syrup and delicate muscadine grapes. The black truffle and aged beef slices like butter with a knife forged by noted American bladesmith Quintin Middleton.
A deceptively humble rice dish is the most impressive offering. The original recipe dates back to the antebellum era, when the golden grain growing in the marshes depicted on the walls made planters absurdly wealthy. Brock elevates a classic seafood pilau still served in this coastal city's soul food joints; his version is a quenelle of creamy Charleston Gold rice with shredded stone crab. It's just two bites. But each one has serious soul.
McCrady's, 155 East Bay Street, Charleston, mccradysrestaurant.com