Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Exceptionally North Of Excellent-S.N.O.B.

It is often said, "Nothing is perfect." We say this in keeping ourselves well grounded and in maintaining a reasonable balance concerning our expectations of things and rightly so, because speaking from a human standpoint, perfection is an unattainable standard. But despite our misgiving to label anything perfect, we do use the word to describe exceptional experiences, from a human standpoint. Therefore, I have no trepidation in using perfection to describe my experience earlier this week in Charleston, which I will now explain in detail.

With confirmation and camera in hand, we made the short trek from the Vendue Range parking garage to East Bay Street. It was relatively quiet. I have seen it busier. Not a surprise, it was a Monday night. By now the Old Market crowd had dispersed and all the galleries and small shops were closed. Like us, fellow patrons were making their way to the various restaurants located in this part of the French Quarter, which all appeared busy, seeing Charleston's Restaurant Week was already underway. After having spent some browsing time shopping on Charleston's popular King Street earlier, we were cutting it close - reservation was set for 6:15.

Our destination was the eclectic restaurant Slightly North of Broad or better known by the acronym S.N.O.B., which was proudly displayed on various objects outside its double-door entrance. Once inside, we checked in at the hostess's desk, confirmed our reservations, and were shown to our seating arrangements - a small, intimate table for two by a window and a view of the kitchen. A significant component of this restaurant is a large, brick archway with a viewable kitchen just beyond. Even though I could see the kitchen staff busy at work from where I was seated, it was not distracting.

The restaurant's elegant, bright-red menu was placed before us. Our server introduced herself. Upon noticing my partner was wearing black, Natalie offered to exchange the white napkin on the table for a black napkin, so my partner wouldn't get any lint on her clothes. The thoughtful gesture did not go unnoticed by me. She allowed us a few moments to peruse the extensive wine list and cocktail offerings. When I saw Charleston Cocktail on the list, a drink containing Sweet Tea Vodka from Firefly Distillery, my mind was made up. Menu selections were next.

Since it was Restaurant Week, we had a choice of an appetizer, entree, and desert for $30. As I looked the selections over, a few terms were unfamiliar to me and required some explanation. I asked numerous questions of Natalie. Most of my queries centered around the appetizers, which featured Italian dishes - such as Beef Carpaccio and Heirloom Tomato Crostini, to name two. She patiently and knowledgeably fielded each question with a smile. As a result of her assistance, I comfortably chose the Crostini - house made focaccia, butter bean puree, and grana padano. My partner selected Charleston Crab Soup - blue crab meat, sherry, and chives.

Next, focus was on the entrees, particularly the Pan Seared Tilefish. "What is a tilefish?" I asked. She explained, "It is similar to grouper in taste except a bit sweeter." I accepted the explanation. The Pan Seared Tilefish would be served with Anson Mills polenta, braised artichokes, tomato broth, and olive tapenade. My partner chose the Grilled Sirloin with Joseph Fields Farm red potatoes, broccoli, port wine reduction, and herb compound butter. Anson Mills and Joseph Fields Farm are Lowcountry growers. As for the desserts, they contained no Italian terms, needing no further explanation. Wholly Cow Mud Pie Ice Cream is simple, straightforward English.

We sipped our drinks, munched on the delicious complimentary bread offerings, and engaged in idle small talk while we waited for our food. Our server thoughtfully delivered two slices of crostini for me to sample as a preview. Shortly thereafter, the appetizers arrived. My favorite part of the Heirloom Tomato Crostini was the butter bean puree. Its texture reminded me somewhat of guacamole. Once we finished off the appetizers, the main entrees arrived in a stacked arrangement. Covered with the braised artichokes and olive tapenade, the Pan Seared Tilefish was laid on top of the polenta and floated in the tomato broth. It was a pleasant partnership of flavors. The tomato broth sweetened the tilefish and supporting polenta. It was heavenly.

As I now sit before my laptop preparing this review, reflecting back on my visit, I sincerely can not think of a single glitch in the pitch. My S.N.O.B. experience was a flawless marriage of food and service. The presentation of the various dishes from appetizer to dessert was both visually appealing and timely.

Natalie, our server, was very personable and attentive, checking in often through the meals progression. She was helpful in assisting us with making informed decisions pertaining to our selections. As the meal transitioned from appetizer to entree to dessert, she was  conscientious concerning the smallest of details, from proper positioning of silverware to keeping the table cleared of emptied plates and spent utensils.

I give Natalie and S.N.O.B. the highest marks. They will be a tough act to follow and a standard I will be using in judging other Charleston restaurants on food and service. Slightly North of Broad is located at 192 E Bay Street.

After further research, I discovered tilefish is sometimes known as "the clown of the sea."

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