The Establishment’s dishes are so divine, you might just wax poetic (Charleston City Paper) Jul18


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The Establishment’s dishes are so divine, you might just wax poetic (Charleston City Paper)

If I should think of love 
I’d think of you, The Establishment, 
Your arms outstretched, 
Offering me a bowl of razor clams ($13).
Adorned with delicate, yet pungent garlic blossoms, 
I blush as my breath grows bad.

In contrast, the sweet, light shellfish meat luxuriates in a fresh gazpacho made with tomato water and tiny bits of cucumber. Topped with three gossamer slices of jalapeño, it’s all but guaranteed to be like nothing you’ve ever put in your mouth. Soon you may find yourself wondering about the nature of obsession: Is it dictated or chosen?

Realistically, I should have seen this coming. For days, nay, weeks, leading up to that first encounter with The Establishment, everyone tried to warn me. “Have you been?” friends asked, voices lowered. “Promise me you’ll go to The Establishment,” texts read. As I passed by strangers on the street, the message their eyes seemed to implore was all too clear.

With something of a Midas touch, everything about the restaurant works: Buzzy, popular, and teeming with energy around the bar, service remains personal and intimate. The space itself feels historic, with high ceilings and portions of artfully exposed brick, yet the large, digital aquarium and chef’s table dining area are fresh and contemporary. Fun meets foundation: There’s undeniable chemistry from the start.

And the food?

I carry the beet-cured mackerel ($10) with me
(I carry it in my heart).

Pretty as a picture, the lightly pink, translucent fish mingles with vibrant blood orange slices, toothy fresh potato crisps, and sprigs of feathery dill. The clean, bright citrus notes balance the inherent fishiness of the rich, perfectly cured mackerel. Combined with dill crema, it’s an impeccably balanced bite.

The crispy confit duck ($11) pairs rich, firm pieces of bacon-like poultry with paper thin zucchini and floral fennel slices. Perfectly seasoned and surrounded by an artistic flourish of jam-like blackberries, it appears there is nothing executive chef Matt Canter and his team can’t finesse.

Shall I compare thee to the heirloom tomato ($13)?
Thou art more summery than the weather itself.

The dish — a Southern riff on a traditional Italian caprese salad — is simple, but sublime. Here, perfectly ripe heirloom tomato slices are paired with the sweet, grilled slivers of a succulent peach. Topped with parsley, olive oil, and rich, creamy cheese, these five ingredients combine in an elegant and lovely celebration of the season.

As you listen to the restaurant’s pianist skillfully handle everything from Frank Sinatra to Guns N’ Roses, take in the wine list. By the glass, there are nearly 25 offerings, ranging from French Picpoul de Pinet to Chilean Carmenère. Along with dozens of bottles, there’s an inventive list of cocktails. In your sudden romantic reverie, you may want to consider The Poet ($14), made with Basil Hayden’s bourbon, balsamic vinegar, and Thai basil, or perhaps better to wax iambic with something from the restaurant’s extensive Scotch whisky selections.

Entree options favor seafood, and I relied on the suggestions of our well-informed waiter. Admittedly, at $34 for what’s at most a six ounce portion of rib eye, dining at The Establishment is not cheap. Still, if you’re fortunate enough to partake in such luxuries, the meat is perfectly cooked to order, the cut as lean as any I’ve ever encountered. Paired with al dente, confit fingerling potatoes and hen-of-the woods mushrooms, the most notable element of the already-memorable composition is the black garlic butter sauce. “I’d rather have a plate of that and some bread, more than any of the meat,” enthused my rib eye-loving dining companion, gleefully hogging it all.

I do not love you as if you were Alaskan halibut, or yellowfin tuna
or the arrow of smokiness from a smoked salmon
I love you, grouper ($28) as certain watery things are to be loved
in (not so) secret, between the shadow and the soul.

As such, everything about Chef Canter’s grouper evokes simplicity made elegant. The light, perfectly cooked fish is heavenly. Where others aim to impress with exuberance, the beauty of restraint is on full display here. Resting atop an unbelievably buttery and entirely craveable dish of white acre peas and topped with a salsa verde of parsley, lemon zest, and olive oil, the local fish is elevated to love sonnet status.

Not a red rose nor a satin heart.
I give you an onion, a lemon, and some peekytoe crab…

And no doubt The Establishment turns that into a cherished memory, also known as the house-made pasta ($25). Reserve your table and prepare to be swept off your feet.