167 Raw’s fresh seafood is worth the wait (Charleston City Paper)

The confusion set in immediately.
“So it’s 167 King?”
“No, 193.”
“I thought you said 167?”
“That’s the name of the restaurant, 167 Raw. But the address is 193.”
167, 193, 289. Potato, Potahto,
East Bay Street.

At 167 Raw, the menu lets you know it’s all “space potatoes” ($13) in the end. As for the eponymous 167, it’s in reference to the address of the original Nantucket location, but could also be an indicator of how many minutes you’ll wait for a table in Charleston. Recently expanded and relocated from East Bay to King Street, 167 Raw continues its first come, first served policy that strikes at the very heart of my controlling, Type-A ways. In other words, if you come, expect to stay awhile.

The waiting, however, is the hardest part.

Well, that and everything that’s unfolded since I first wrote those words a week and a half ago.

Greetings the fellow quarantined, health care worker (thank you), and/or first responder (thank you).

At the time of this writing, 167 Raw is offering curbside “brown bag on the corner with your name on it” service, and if you are in a position to avail yourself of such delights, you are in for a treat. If not, please consider this exuberant encouragement to shelter in place, work if you have any (I don’t), and live through these strange times so you can soon enjoy what I’m about to describe.

As much as possible, please keep your cool, teach your kids, and tell the people that you love how much you love them and why.

Regularly Scheduled Program

To start, 167 Raw’s new home is drop-dead gorgeous. It’s as if someone handed over a blank check with the memo “Make it really, really, really ridiculously good looking,” and then the interior designer did that and then some.

Inside, the space isn’t laid out much differently than Il Cortile Del Re, its preceding Italian tenant. There’s a bar on the right, tables to the left, and an additional section in the back. The most significant stylistic upgrade is to the former outdoor patio, now a glorious glass atrium. Both there and behind the bar, you’ll find a chalkboard displaying the day’s seafood offerings.

During my visits, the ceviche was prepared with halibut ($14). Surrounded by plenty of crisp, freshly fried tortilla chips, the ample bowl comes full of tender fish resembling mini marshmallows. Cured in a citrus-forward base, the texture is balanced with slices of pickled red onions and, in a nod to your likely tears of joy, a handful of bright, teardrop-shaped cherry tomatoes.

At first, I overlooked the French oysters ($5 each) thinking it meant they were oysters from France, but no. Ooh la la! These babies are served on the half shell, ice-cold, and garnished with a dollop of both creme fraiche and caviar. But it’s the garnish, a single stem of chive that elevates the combined flavors in this mouthful from raw to awe.

In contrast, the crudo ($14) missed the mark a little. While visually beautiful, the five slices of hamachi were served warm and tasted a little bit fishy. Served with brined cabbage as well as fried cabbage, tarragon mayo sauce, and a ponzu soy sauce, the Asian-forward flavors — albeit a little bit underwhelming that day — were otherwise on point.

Never fear, as the pork carnitas taco ($5) is fire. Served in a corn tortilla and topped with shredded carrots and spicy mayo sauce, the star is the decadent pulled pork, which all signs indicate has spent a little time crisping up into ultra-deliciousness in a deep fryer. Meaty, juicy, yes. This is reason enough to persevere through our epoch’s Great Plague.

The vibe at 167 Raw is pretty casual, so if you’re looking for perfectly staged, “present but invisible” service, they’re not quite there. However, in less social distancy times, expect friendly approaches from pretty much everyone that works there. “Who’s our waiter again?” Who cares, as plenty of people will pop over to see how you’re livin’.

Meanwhile, the soundtrack is dedicated to a moment and securely anchored in Indie Hits of 2010-2011 Land. “All the other kids with the pumped-up kicks,” etc. It may or may not be the Modest Mouse channel, but it’s definitely a quasi-time machine to whoever you were 10 years ago.

The oyster po boy ($14), while containing exactly zero bananas, is bananas. More of a “banh mi meets lobster roll, meets chicken and waffles” … well, that description speaks for itself. Expect a crisp, buttered split-top bun filled with six plump, crisp oysters. From there, it’s topped with arugula, beet vinaigrette, and a whole lot of honey. It’s a hot, sweet, crispy, greasy fusion fever. I’m not telling you what to do, but get a po boy.

My dining companion loves ahi tuna and pretty much lost his mind over the tuna burger ($20). OK, yes, he told the waiter — potentially three times — that grinding up sashimi-grade tuna was “sacrilegious,” but there’s good news, as he also loved it. Thick, bun-sized and super fresh, the patty is lightly seared and topped with butter lettuce, pickled red onions, and arugula. Add to that avocado sauce, a slice of the world’s juiciest yellow tomato and the char of a grill, and this is a very meaty-tasting pescatarian delight.

Taking Stock

As an eternal optimist, perhaps this virus and even no-reservations seating policies can serve as a reminder to go with the flow and be here now. Hang out. Hang out some more. When all this is over, go to 167 Raw with a plan to flex your house-bound muscles a bit more, enjoy being anywhere but your home and get ready for some deliciousness.

These are strange, scary times, and it feels a little bit ridiculous writing a food review in the midst of them. However, if you’re reading this, you’re still here amongst us, and that makes me happy. Stay cool, text a friend, and help a neighbor as you’re able. To quote Carl Sagan, “Even through your hardest days, remember we are all made of stardust.”