It’s inevitable, of course. Change. And perhaps nowhere more so than in the restaurant biz. Places open, places close, and chefs move from shop to shop. This year, three big names moved on, leaving three classic Charleston restaurants with new challenges. As if there weren’t enough challenges in the business to start with.
As of this writing, we know that one of these three restaurants has transitioned quite well. At Carolina’s, after getting bought by the Crew Carolina and Boathouse clan a couple of years back, things had pretty much settled down until Mama Rose Durden decided to hang up her hat this fall. Seventeen years is a long time in the kitchen, and it seemed time for her to slow down. Call it a semi-retirement — she’s catering a bit, doing a little of this, a little of that. Within weeks of her announcement, new chef Tin Dizdarevic was installed in the kitchen, and he’s been making Mama proud ever since. The grouper and the famous burger are still on the menu, and the flounder is as crispy as it ever was. It will be nice to see what else Dizdarevic can do as he gets to show more of his own stuff over time, and likewise nice to see the high standards at Carolina’s upheld (see the feature on Dizdarevic and some other new chefs on p. 14).
Back in October, Chef Michael Kramer announced he was leaving McCrady’s. It must have been a bombshell for his bosses, as his refined, indulgent cooking had received lots of attention and acclaim over the years, establishing McCrady’s as one of the top restaurants in the city. While Kramer will not immediately be taking up residence in another kitchen (he’s following his fiancée to Chicago), which means he won’t be poaching his old kitchen staff, he will no doubt cook again. Back here in Charleston, McCrady’s is doing just fine while the hunt for a new executive chef goes on, according to General Manager Karen Johnston. Chef de Cuisine Steven Musolf worked with Kramer for six years, and most of the rest of the staff has more than two years experience working with him as well. I would expect it to be impossible to detect the chef’s absence from the customer’s perspective, and the restaurant should have a new exec on the line “within 30 days.” He’ll have big shoes to fill, but then McCrady’s has management that finds the best, and I’m betting they’ll do so again.
Two years ago, the big news on the restaurant scene was the departure of chef extraordinaire Ken Vedrinski from the fabled Woodlands Dining Room in Summerville. Vedrinski opened the excellent Sienna on Daniel Island, but left everyone wondering what might happen to the finest dining spot in the state. They needn’t have worried. Scott Crawford immediately impressed with his exquisite and inventive cooking. If anything, the truly sublime experience got a tiny bit better. Now that Crawford has departed for The Cloister on Sea Island (Ga.), that same question has popped back up. Who can they find to maintain the impossibly high standards set by these two masters? The good news is that they’ve done it before, drawing from their network of other Relais & Chateaux properties, and they are sure to do it again. Like McCrady’s, Woodlands has a full staff still in the kitchen with years of experience and piles of talent — fully capable of providing a stellar dining experience until the next executive chef is found.
Aside from those three “big news” events, the six months since the last issue of Dish have seen a variety of other events, not necessarily less important but perhaps lower-profile: Vintage Restaurant and Wine Bar was sold (we’re rarin’ to check out the new occupants, Cordavi); John Marshall opened the deservedly-packed bacaro next to his still-smashing Al di La; Massimiliano Sarocchi (part-owner of Il Cortile del Re on King) and wife Natasha opened Pane e Vino at 17 Warren St.; Raval on King Street showed us just how much — and how well — one can cook in ten square feet; KingFish became La Fourchette; Lana knocked one out of the park with their fabulous new spot up on Cannon Street, and Chef Jacques Larson left his toque at Cintra for a place on the line at Lupa, part of Mario Batali’s restaurant empire in New York.
Yeah, it’s true. The only thing that stayed the same was change. For the last half of 2005, at least, good changes outnumbered the bad, a trend we hope continues in Chucktown forever. With the earned and deserved reputation the Holy City has, we’re betting it will, and we’ll be here to tell you all about it.