There’s a lot going on at 492 King St. A building that once looked like it was going to collapse has been transformed into a historic fairy tale with glimpses of modern innovation. It’s stunning. The main dining room consists of large, oval-shaped velvet booths and a prominent wooden community table with red leather chairs. Hanging above are stained glass pendants encasing Edison light bulbs that illuminate the room.
For a space built in late 1800s, the number of historical elements that have been preserved or reused is astonishing. Most of the original structure is intact, showcasing some beautiful brick and stucco. The base of the bar is lined with the building’s original paneled tin ceiling and the abstract design on the current ceiling is a replica of a 1902 city map.
In the back, one could picture the Mad Hatter and Alice sitting at one of the two-tops with whimsical tall-backed chairs and there’s an entire wall of art comprised of over 250,000 buttons, paying homage to the clothier who once owned the building.
Outside, the courtyard, enclosed by abstract gates inspired by old street maps, is the perfect place to sip on my new cocktail favorite: the Disco Sour, a mix of Pisco Porton, Velvet Falernum, and lemon with blue Butterfly Pea Flower ice cubes. The subtly sweet, refreshing cocktail transforms into a violet sensation as the ice melts. The elegance is elevated with a gold dusted blackberry garnish ($12).
And then there’s the kitchen — the epicenter in itself. It’s large, wide-open, and pristine, and there’s seating with a direct view of Executive Chef Nate Whiting. There one can watch him and the kitchen staff use seasonal ingredients (some from the rooftop garden) and plating techniques. The menu is split into four main sections — Field & Gardens, Pasta & Grains, From the Sea, and From the Land — with dishes ranging from $4-$17, and they’re meant for sharing.
There’s braised kale with piquillo peppers and pickled shallots ($8), Carolina Gold red rice “cracklins” ($4), and big bowl of chilled pea soup with arugula, cumin, and lemon ($9). The crisp Geechie Boy grit loaf with soft cultured butter and local sea salt ($4) is a solid starter and artisan cuisine at its best.
At 492, each and every dish is carefully plated and reviewed by multiple staff members before reaching its final destination. In fact, there’s practically one kitchen job dedicated to spreading a medley of finely chopped beets and sauerkraut laced with pastrami spice on perfectly cut rectangles of rye toast ($6). Each piece is strategically placed on a small, clean cutting board, creating a deep red spread with a whole lot of flavor — a clear crowd favorite.
Meanwhile, the plating of the beet tartar ($9) is simple, but appealing enough to catch eyes around the dining room, starting a whirlwind thought process of, “I want that.”
Most of the dishes have that curb appeal — from both the menu to the plating itself — but appeal is not everything.
A spool of burnt rye tonnarelli topped with shaved egg yolk and bread crumbs suffers from a hailstorm of salt ($12) while a bowl of Geechie Boy grits, Mepkin Abbey shiitake mushrooms, and butterbeans ($6/$12) would’ve benefited from pinch or two.
Poached cobia is presented in a small bowl of broth with small cubes of kohlrabi and a few miniscule orange segments. The broth was aromatic as advertised, but lacked flavor and acidity ($15).
The tomato braised farro with blood orange, chervil, and basil sounded great, but the flavor profile mimicked that of SpaghettiOs ($6/$12). The Charleston Salt oysters with mangos and pine ($2 each) would’ve been great without black olives, as they overpowered the subtle balance of flavor.
By far, the best dish consisted of duck breast and terrine, with pistachio pesto, pistachio mousse, and fig glaze. Easily as good as any of the best dishes around town, it was a shame there were only four bites ($17).
The petite portions continues: two perfectly seared diver scallops with a couple bites of cauliflower and coriander ($15) and an underwhelming four bites of lamb with asparagus, hazelnuts, and romesco ($16) leave one wanting. The braised beef was a poorly executed, bland goulash, though it did look pretty ($16), and the broccoli salad suffered from being too sweet and overpriced ($9).
One of the smallest, but most enjoyable dishes was a bowl of sweet and sourdough sweetbreads topped with sesame seeds ($7).
I was truly excited to hear that 492 has no dish over $17, but after sharing eight or more plates with one other person and leaving the restaurant hungry after each and every visit, I realized price is not everything. In theory, small plates allow diners the opportunity to share and explore a variety of dishes, but one stellar full-sized entrée will always trump a table full of bank breaking mediocrity in my book. Perhaps my order should’ve been beet tartar, three of the duck, and a Disco Sour — all to myself.