Peninsula Grill is a modern Southern classic in Charleston.
Peninsula Grill is esconced in the refined Planters Inn, where chef Robert Carter’s Southern fine dining doesn’t have many peers in Charleston. The pre-holiday crowd was decked out in sharp suits and fancy dresses. I felt self-conscious about snapping photos in the candlelit dining room, but of course that didn’t stop me. Yes, I’m that shameless.
The amuse bouche was a pecan wood smoked trout tart with ethereal pastry and caper butter.
To start, I ordered the soup trio ($10): a cup each of Lowcountry okra and tomato soup with wild rice and blue crab; sweet potato and country ham bisque (inexplicably sans country ham), crowned with whole grain mustard crema; and lobster and corn chowder with basil butter. I wanted to go light, to save room for powerhouse entrees and desserts. Turns out three cups of soup aren’t so light. At least they were distinctly flavorful.
Jane ordered an appetizer special with hearts of palm, greens with bacon vinaigrette, and sweet corn and blue crab fritters. Any dish with “bacon” and “fritter” in the description is must-order, and this was no exception.
For my entrée, I ordered bourbon grilled jumbo shrimp with Lowcountry Hoppin’ John (nutty black eyed peas and rice), creamed corn and lobster-basil hushpuppies. I could have done without the asparagus spears; they mainly got in the way. The gargantuan shrimp were plump, but the dish wasn’t as exciting as I hoped, especially compared with other dishes on the table.
My father ordered the table’s best entrée: crispy “crackling” pork osso buco with inventive wild-mushroom sweet potato risotto and sautéed spinach. The pork shank was delicious, crispy outside and tender inside.
Jane ordered grilled yellowfin tuna ($26.50) with a mini-pitcher of ginger-lime butter and two tasty sides: wild mushroom grits and creamed Swiss chard with Asiago (not pictured). The dish relied on top-flight tuna, and the quality just wasn’t there, despite our waiter’s claim it was “sushi grade.” At least sides were winners. Heavy winners, but winners.
For dessert, we split three plates ($9 apiece). There was the “ultimate coconut cake,” Peninsula’s signature dessert, with more striations than the American flag, and a lot more moisture than Old Glory.
Milk chocolate ganache encased a banana panna cotta pudding dome and arrived with a protruding banana chip and a threaded sugar nest, with Tia Maria caramel sauce. Amazingly, this dessert wasn’t as heavy as it looks or sounds.
The third dessert starred milk chocolate “pudding” served with chocolate jellies and pecan brittle with honey ice cream. The pudding was silky, topped with a dark chocolate disk showcasing the PENINSULA GRILL logo.
I topped off my meal with a striated cappuccino, the glass cup holding distinct layers of foam, coffee and milk.
My final evaluation is that the restaurant is solid, but each time I’ve eaten there, the menu has been eerily similar. This time, the food was very good, but familiar, diminishing the impact. Next time, I’d like to see some new options on the menu. Robert Carter is clearly an inventive chef, but the best inventors keep inventing.