Friday, April 24, 2015

McCrady's: Creative Southern Lowcountry Cuisine

Charleston, South Carolina is the home of classic southern Lowcountry cuisine, with its abundance of seafood and stews, and has also become the base of operations for some of the country’s leading chefs, like Sean Brock, who are elevating Southern cuisine to new heights. There aren't many accolades that McCrady's and its chef Sean Brock haven't won: Brock was the recipient of the 2010 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast, among other awards, and sommelier Clint Sloan's wine list is nationally renowned. Make no mistake, McCrady's is still the big-night-out restaurant in Charleston, and it helps that the space itself is flat-out gorgeous, with a bootlegger-worthy entrance, tucked away in a romantic brick alley, that gives virtually no hint of the expansive rustic-chic interior within, all brick arches, exposed beams, and candlelight. Founded in 1778 as a watering hole for locals during the American Revolution, none other than George Washington hung up his hat for a dinner at McCrady’s tavern in 1791. 

The food is perfectly seasonal and stringently local, and every farmer, harvester, fisherman, and local food-crafter who contributed to it is duly thanked in the menu. You might be tempted to write a few thank-you notes yourself after tasting what's on offer: Familiar ingredients are prepared in ways designed to surprise and inspire, as with the Beef Tartare with crispy onion rings, white anchovy and tarragon; Pan Fried Sweetbreads with sunchokes, sunflower seeds, olives and nettles; or the juicy, perfectly Whole Roasted Quail nestled over a bed of vibrant english peas, wild onion and parsley. The chef's tasting menu changes nightly but is always a great bet, jam-packed with local seafood and produce. Exploring the recommended wine pairings with each course is a special treat.

The vaulted two-story interior of McCrady's

The spectacular interior with exposed brick walls

The view from above

The dining room features exposed brick walls, heart pine floors, beamed ceilings, two fireplaces and chandeliers, all complemented by oil paintings from local galleries

McCrady's sensational menu

Hendricks Martini with a twist of lemon

House-baked bread

Butter and olive oil

Salad of Blue Crab, Cucumber, Celery, Green Almond, Coriander and Vadouvan

A Leitz Spatburgunder (Pinot-Noir) Brut "Weissherbst" from Rhinegau Germany 2013 was the wine pairing with Beef Tartare

Beef Tartare with Crispy Onion Rings, White Anchovy and Tarragon

The trio of wine pairings that matched our dishes: On the right, a Banyan Gewurtztraminer from Monterey County California 2014 was paired with the sweetbreads 

Pan Fried Sweetbreads with Sunchokes, Sunflower Seed, Olives and Nettles

A 2012 Peay Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, California was the recommended pairing with the Quail and the Grilled Flat Iron Steak

Whole Roasted Quail, English Peas, Wild Onion and Parsley

Grilled Beef Flat Iron with Carrots, Smoked Mushrooms, Puffed and Burnt Sorghum

McCrady's short and delectably sweet dessert menu

Charred Strawberry Bread Pudding with Rhubarb and Rose

Chef's Selection of Cheeses: Toma Cow's Milk from California; Hook's Cow Milk from Wisconsin; and Green Hill Cow's Milk from Georgia, with seasonal accompaniments

Warm olive oil slathered bread with Maldon salt to be enjoyed with the cheese

A selection of complimentary Madeleines and Macarons to finish the extraordinary meal

Heirloom Tomato & Plum Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette, Goat Cheese and Arugula Pesto
Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of Sean Brock

For the arugula pesto:
5 oz arugula
1 large garlic clove
3/4 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup olive oil
4 oz pecorino cheese, grated
4 oz pine nuts, lightly toasted
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 medium heirloom tomatoes, about 2 lb total, cored
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling, plus 1/2 cup
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup raspberry vinegar
2 ripe plums, pitted and thinly sliced
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
1 1/2 oz arugula

To make the arugula pesto, in a blender, combine the arugula, garlic, grapeseed oil, olive oil, cheese, pine nuts, salt and pepper and puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups pesto; you may not need all of it for the salad. Refrigerate any leftover pesto for another use.

Cut one of the tomatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cut another tomato into 12 wedges. Cut the remaining tomato into 1/2-inch dice. Spread them out on a platter or a clean cutting board. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Put the vinegar in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the 1/2 cup olive oil, whisking until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Divide the tomato slices among 8 salad plates, layering the slices. Arrange the tomato wedges and diced tomatoes on top and around the slices. Drizzle with the vinaigrette. Arrange the plum slices on the tomatoes. Sprinkle the cheese over the tomatoes and plums. Garnish with the arugula and drizzle with the pesto. Serve immediately.