Entrées: $20 and up
10 Exchange St.
Mama Rose has left the building. Carolina’s building, that is. After year upon year cooking at Carolina’s, among other Charleston restaurants, Rose Durden has stepped down. New to the local scene in general, and Carolina’s in particular, is Tin Dizdarevic, formerly of New York City notable Craftbar, and he seems to be filling Rose’s shoes nicely.
It’s the second major change for Carolina’s in nearly as many years — the first being its new ownership, Crew Carolina of Boathouse fame, some two years ago. There were skeptics when that change took place, but major changes in quality, atmosphere, or overall vibe never materialized. It was good before, it was good after, and the good news is that it’s still good after this change. There are rough edges, particularly in the front of the house, but overall, it still satisfies.
Our server had to be prodded to offer us specials. He mumbled about how the special was “some sort of meat thing, with, like, three meats, and it’s grilled or whatever, and it’s really not very good.” I wondered if he knew what his chef would do to him for making such a presentation. A drink order was delivered to our foursome two drinks at a time. He asked us for our order four times in a shade under 10 minutes.
After ordering appetizers but before ordering entrees, I made a trip to the men’s room. It was, strangely, there that I discovered a “table tent” advertising wine specials on Sunday nights — half-price on all bottles under $75. When I returned to the table, I asked our hovering server if it were true — “Oh, of course it is.” How thoughtful of him to never mention it. I selected a bottle of Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay, pleasing the white fans but offering enough heft to be interesting to the red fan, for a very nice $32 (at half-price).
Two appetizers hit the table. Two full minutes elapsed. A third appetizer arrived. A full minute elapsed. The fourth arrived. Results were mixed. The “Lowcountry Prosciutto” and brioche (a hefty $12) was fair at best, resembling nothing so much as country ham chips while blowing us away with salt. “Winter Squash and Chestnut Puree with Duck Leg Confit” ($9) was thick and satisfying except for being tepid, and perhaps best of the four were the seared scallops on sunchoke-cucumber salad ($12). My dish spawned controversy — “Lump Crab Meat with Micro Greens, Meyer Lemons and Pomegranate Seeds tossed with Olive Oil” ($12) — in that I loved it, and the others all disagreed. Maybe micro greens aren’t for everybody.
Entrées brought a similar service pattern — two plates, a two-minute wait, and then two more plates. Our light eater of the group went for the field pea cakes from the appetizer menu ($7), tasty and hearty with a nice corn relish and sour cream. Almond- and sesame-crusted local grouper ($24) was fresh and cooked to a pleasant medium, perched atop some proper grits, while the lamb shank ($24) was braised to a tender finish and worked well with the white bean stew beneath. The whole crispy flounder ($24), a traditional dish served all over Charleston, was an excellent rendition of the dish — scored, fried flawlessly, and served atop lentils with a delicious version of the classic sweet and spicy glaze judiciously drizzled over the fish. We added several sides ($6 each), and found the collards beyond reproach and the grits just the right consistency, but scuffles occurred at the table over the fingerling potatoes — roasted just crisp in duck fat, with hints of rosemary. Advice: order your own, and be prepared to defend them.
At dessert, we ordered up a round of decaf coffees and three desserts ($8 each). The French toast was a hit with me — nicely soft French toast layered with the ice cream, topped with the velvety custard, crunchy banana chips throughout. Nice. A chocolate tart was a bit of a mess to eat, though worth the price of admission, but the clear winner was the steamed toffee pudding with candied kumquats and eggnog ice cream. While eggnog is something I never desire to actually drink, it makes an excellent ice cream here, and the pudding and kumquats were fabulous.
Our server returned to the table twice over the course of dessert, and never once mentioned the three empty coffee cups at which we stared longingly. A second cup of coffee was never offered, even as he pulled dishes which should have been removed prior to dessert being served.
Giving up on getting more java, the ladies headed for the ladies’ room while the men searched in vain for anyone at the front door. The smiling hostess who checked our coats at six o’clock was gone, and we stood dumbly, waiting for any employee to pass by. I finally went to the service area of the restaurant (finding five servers doing sidework) to ask one of them to get our coats. The complimentary valet parking was, I must point out, not only greatly appreciated, but excellent and professional.
Carolina’s enters another new era with Dizdarevic in the back, and I am happy to report that he is, thus far and for the most part, maintaining the high standards that have made the restaurant a local favorite for years. If the front-of-house-staff could take it up a level or two, the new chef might have a dining room that is a match for his skill on the line.