Whoever first said ‘location, location, location’ probably didn’t have Wood & Grain in mind.
Formerly the site of a nail spa in a strip mall off Shelmore, the restaurant has been strikingly transformed into a chic, sophisticated space. Set two doors down from sister restaurant Langdon’s, the airy restaurant features an open kitchen and communal tables, as well as sweeping views of the Bi-Lo parking lot.
Having already tackled California-Mediterranean and Lowcountry cuisine, Chef Patrick Owens’ latest menu is focused on a sundry mix of raw seafood, salads, and wood-fired pizzas. With high top tables, TVs tuned to sportsball and Michael Jackson and Prince hits blaring overhead, there’s a pronounced bar vibe despite the upscale decor. It’s unclear where or why the rock concert-level music volume trend started, but here’s hoping it stops.
On the food front, I got the ball rolling — and some blood pumping — with the market ceviche ($16). And wow, nothing like a habanero-induced coughing fit to kick off a meal. Unabashedly traditional, it’s made with light citrus, pungent red onion, and the day’s fresh catch of raw flounder. Served with four narrow slices of fried corn tortilla, double-dipping is unavoidable. The price to portion ratio seems a bit off, but the greater issue for most might be the heat level. “I wish they’d warned us we were going to have our faces roasted off,” muttered my habanero-scarred dining companion after a few fiery bites.
In contrast, the roasted octopus ($16) is an exercise in sublimity. Beautifully charred, yet still tender, the two tentacles are plated on a bed of soft, lustrous butter beans. Rich yet still delicate, baby lima beans — not to mention your mouth — never had it so good. Accompanied by dollops of tart romesco, the Italian-infused perfection is marred only by the reality that the portion is so very diminutive. I cried a little.
The local wood-roasted mushrooms and kale salad ($12), however, finds a generous allowance of greens tossed with thyme and a copious amount of an in-yo-face, bracingly sour lemon dressing. Topped with a lavish dusting of Reggiano, the flavors are fresh yet substantial and one of the better kale salads I’ve had in some time. If a ‘choose your own level of dressing adventure’ option could be introduced (light/medium/deluge), this dish would be on par with the sensational octopus.
Meanwhile, it appears pizza is on the verge of becoming an ubiquitous offering. Pizza and Italian food? Of course. Pizza and bar food? Sure, why not? Pizza and Indian or Halal cuisine? California sees no problems there. Thus, I suppose one can’t be too blutterbunged by the coexistence of a pizza and raw bar.
Notably, the two offerings don’t really have much to do with one another: It might be interesting to see a crisp wood-fired crust topped with some grilled octopus or a smattering of lemony kale and mushrooms? Nevertheless, the presence of pie ups the odds that someone in your dining party will find something on the menu they enjoy.
The Margherita ($14) is the obvious and inclusive crowd pleaser. Essentially a cheese pizza and in no way erroneous in its preparation, it shakes out a little Plain Jane. Featuring a slightly charred crust and a sweet tomato sauce, plus shredded basil and dollops of fresh mozzarella, there’s nothing much to complain about, yet nothing much to see.
In contrast, as “I Just Called To Say I Love You” blared loudly overhead, the friendly, efficient waitress strongly endorsed the Opal pizza ($15). The thin crust features mozzarella, goat cheese, and duck ham, as well as slices of pimento, which is then topped with an arugula salad tossed in a garlic oil-based dressing. There’s a lot going on here, and I don’t like it much, but that’s arguably a matter of personal taste more than execution.
Still, pizza is pizza and there’s a whole lot of it in this part of the world as of late. For my dinero, find me sidling up to the raw bar or grabbing a couple orders of the roasted octopus while ogling the views of the parking lot outside.