Elegant execution despite some shortcomings at Gabrielle (Charleston City Paper)

Once upon a time, three months ago, I purchased a single glass of orange juice and four slices of bacon for my hangry four-year-old. The price tag: $21 plus tax and tip. The explanation: fancy hotel restaurant.

Accordingly, let’s talk about Gabrielle, a lovely eatery tucked in the back right corner of the elegant new Hotel Bennett. Boasting a French patisserie, spa, and rooftop pool, the luxury hotel is undeniably posh. The Gabrielle menu is equally upscale, merging French and Southern sensibilities.

The escargot bruschetta ($19) is a beautiful mess. While the construction choice — arguably more “fancy toast” than anything — is inscrutable, the flavors are rich, yet balanced. Note the single slice of chewy bread — topped with chopped tomatoes, herb-infused cream sauce, and six round, rolling-all-over-everywhere-snails — is hard to pick up, let alone share. Applying a knife and fork, and treating it like an open-face sandwich seems to be the best approach. Regardless of manageability, each tarragon-scented, shaved fennel-enhanced bite is a celebration.

Meanwhile, the lamb tartare ($17) is delightfully fresh, and the chopped meat surprisingly delicate. However, it lacks flavor, the only real discernable notes being that of paprika oil. The dot of deviled egg yolk on top imparts a notable horseradish punch, and there’s ample salt in the accompanying eight hand-cut potato gaufrettes, but run out of those and you run out of seasoning.

The restaurant itself is formal and refined, with white tablecloths, upholstered chairs, and Swarovski-laden netting draped from the ceiling. There are also a small cluster of tables outside offering superlative views of Marion Square, but note that sitting out there is the equivalent of wearing a cloak of invisibility.

Service is where Gabrielle struggles, and the struggle is real. Despite offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner service, the hostess stand goes largely unmanned. Even once eventually seated, service itself grinds to a reluctant, confused start. Apparently staffing is based on confirmed reservations — suffice it to say, the waiter was very chatty — and more than one person mentioned their rookie status. Nonetheless, what the staff may be lacking in tenure and expertise, they make up for in sweet-natured, earnest effort. At the same time, when shelling out $9 for a side of mashed potatoes, good intentions may not be enough.

As for the food, and owing to the waiter’s unfamiliarity with the menu, the flounder ($33), ordered sauteed and accompanied by foie gras butter sauce, was a gamble. However, what arrived was impeccably prepared, with a crisply seared exterior, yet moist and flaky inside. While the portion — two small filets — is modest, it’s sufficient.

The fish comes a la carte, so if you want to be full, you’ll need to order some sides. The Brabant potatoes ($9), also known as Louisiana fries, are typically peeled, cubed, and blanched, then deep fried and tossed in a rich butter-garlic sauce, much like their easygoing second-cousin, ballpark garlic fries. However, perhaps because of the plating (a bouillon bowl, the bottom of which all the good stuff has navigated), the fries stand out as a preferable delivery system. Nonetheless, and regardless of nuances, you can’t go too wrong with fried potatoes tossed with freshly chopped garlic and parsley.

In contrast, the roasted turmeric cauliflower ($11) made me stroke my imaginary beard. At first glance, it’s gorgeously seared to a rich brown on one side and adorned with almonds, raisins and capers. Upon further investigation, it’s tragically overcooked to a state of mush and lacks seasoning. All sizzle and no steak, even the crisp-looking sear lacks fortitude, a feat of its own.

Three cheers for the duck a l’orange ($35), a testimony to the heights of which the kitchen is capable. Beautifully presented, the delectable, crisp skin on the bird is perfection. Same goes for the tender meat. Plated with orange sections and three tourneed, roasted turnips, this was the unexpected highlight of the meal. My dining companion may have summed it up best, “They must have beat that bird before they killed it, because that is some tender flesh.”

With French-influenced, New Orleans-honed sensibilities and locally sourced ingredients, Gabrielle’s elegant, polished cuisine will likely place her firmly in the “It Girl” running. Yes, prices are high, and service can feel like amateur hour, but if you (or they) can get past these things, there is plenty to love here.