My family and I made our eighth consecutive pilgrimage to Summerville to celebrate Christmas Eve at one of the crown jewels in the Lowcountry dining scene. This year we were joined by the Browns, family friends. Chef Tarver King was once again in the kitchen, pairing Southern ingredients with French technique and Asian accents. Since The Woodlands is one of the only properties in the nation to garner five Mobil stars and an equal number of AAA diamonds, the fine dining restaurant invites scrutiny. Each year we’ve noticed subtle differences in our experience, but our meal has never been any less than excellent. We had no reason to believe 2007 would be any different.
Our evening got off to a rocky start. When we arrived at the Woodlands, our reservation had mysteriously been cancelled. Apparently a Woodlands staffer called the wrong phone number to confirm. While the situation was remedied, we absconded to the bar, where I gorged on a dish of pecans, smoked in house with hickory and lined with granulated sugar.
Chef Tarver King offered a Three Course Dinner for $62 per person, a Four Course Dinner for $75, a five course Tasting Menu and a five course Vegetarian Tasting Menu, all available with wine pairings. All but all but one of us opted for the four-course option.
As a result of the reservation drama, we each received a complimentary glass of Duval-Leroy Champagne, delivered by our affable waiter, Fabien. The Champagne combined 60% Pinot Noir grapes and 40% Chardonnay, creating a smooth sip.
Amuse Bouche #1 was Chef King’s riff on “Apple Cider,” a spoon holding a single scoop of Gala apple, apple gelée and effervescent powder. The powder was designed to tickle the tongue, but it just tasted like granules of sugar, minus the sweetness.
Sommelier Stephane Peltier asked if we wanted to start with white and transition to red, or just stick with red. Happily, the table was ambitious. Our first bottle was 2006 Fairview, made from Viognier grapes in South Africa. The logo featured a barn with a tower, known as the “goat tower,” since the white wine is traditionally paired with goat cheese.
A waitress carried a basket holding warm cheddar biscuits and sourdough rolls, both baked in house. I began with two biscuits and a single roll, which she tonged onto my plate. The table received two dishes of yellow Echiré butter, imported from France. The biscuits have been a welcome tradition since Chef Ken Vedrinski’s reign as chef.
~ First Course ~
While all of the appetizers were interesting to downright compelling, none compared to The Grand Tasting of Homemade Charcuterie (For Two), which my father ordered and passed around the table for everybody to sample. It was a mouth-dropping display, with twelve varieties of charcuterie and an equal number of condiments, a dazzling display of color and texture, aligned in columns on two white plates. The dish was even presented with a basket of assorted crackers and flatbread. The Grand Tasting quickly led to sensory overload, but the overall effect was startlingly good. Here’s the tally, courtesy of Fabien.
– Duck Rillette
– Salumi Cacciatore
– Chicken Liver Parfait
– Monkfish Liver Torchon
– Foie Gras Terrine
– Mushroom-Goat Cheese Terrine
– Venison-Foie Gras Terrine
– Beef Bresaola
– Pate de Campagne
– Cured Egg Yolk
– Potted Shrimp
– Watermelon Rind
I peeled back the rice chips to offer better views of the seared monkfish liver and creamy sea urchin, which looks like an orange, oceanic tongue. Topping the dynamic duo were roasted green onions and green onion foam, plus microgreens, the de facto dressing on Woodlands plates.
Chef King’s playful take on “Tunafish on Rye” featured a central mound of Ahi Tuna Tartar, scattered dime-sized slivers of Baby Pickles, a trio of “Salt & Vinegar” Chips, and a drizzled of Rye Emulsion.
Wild Burgundy Escargot “Rockefeller,” was a wildly innovative take on Oysters Rockefeller, a spinach colored and flavored disc topped with shelled snails, white Pecorino cream and streaks of Smoked Bacon sauce.