Foodie Friday: Out Of The Ordinary In Charleston

By Mike Lintal

I love oysters. Flat-out, unequivocally love those beautifully briny bivalves. Oysters fresh from nearby waters epitomize all that’s right about eating close to any local food source. They also hold a special place in my heart, as my now-wife and I first fell in love over several trays of what was her first oyster experience.

There’s just something magical about eating raw oysters, the simple salinity and the subtle differences in taste depending on the waters where they grew. No two oysters are alike, and to be honest, half the treat is constantly discovering taste variations as you explore new regions and types.

Some will judge you for your oyster fixin’s; I will not. I personally prefer mignonette or simple lemon juice with mine, but if you are down with C&C (that’s cocktail sauce and cracker, for the uninitiated) I’ve got nothing but love for you.

The truth is, growing up in Charleston, S.C., I was spoiled by some of the best local seafood available. Pair that with an incredible restaurant community that knows how to work with fresh catch from all over the world, and no place compares to my old hometown when it comes to all things edible from the sea.

Currently, my titleholder for “Greatest Chef Ever in a Seafood Meal Which Fed Me” is Mike Lata, for an amazing dining experience last year at his Charleston restaurant, The Ordinary. Working out of the vault in a historic bank on Upper King Street, Lata has created a cathedral to crustaceans that continually turns out dishes on par with some of the best seafood meals I’ve enjoyed from San Francisco to the Chesapeake Bay.

(Warning: The pictures you are about to see will potentially cause fits of hangriness.)

Oysters1
When possible, start with oysters and champagne.

 

We started with oysters, but oysters were literally just the beginning; what happened next seemed possible only in a dream.

Crispy oysters and beef tartare epitomized the balance of what makes The Ordinary so special, making a classic dish their own by putting a southern seafood spin on it.
Crispy oysters and beef tartare epitomize what makes The Ordinary special, making a classic dish their own by putting a southern-seafood spin on it.

 

The spacious marble dining area doused in soft natural light created a setting of immense possibilities. The kitchen pass is positioned perfectly so the chef can see the sunset come through his dining room, like a captain seeing his way clear to the harbor.

Fish-head terrine created the illusion of mozzarella when paired with tomato and basil in this wildly imaginative and playful interpretation of a classic caprese.
Fish-head terrine creates the illusion of mozzarella when paired with tomato and basil in this wildly imaginative and playful interpretation of a classic caprese.

 

The Ordinary may be a converted bank, but its atmosphere matches the sea. It’s an expansive, otherworldly canvas for the vivid pops of culinary charisma that dance across the buzzing haze, course following course in a surreal, delightful procession.

Pickled white shrimp with cumin, and coriander was an inventive take on a Charleston classic.
Pickled white shrimp with cumin and coriander is an inventive take on a Charleston classic.

 

These photos are all that remain from an experience that will forever live in my memory as perfection.

Lobster ceviche makes my  short list of potential “last meals.”
Lobster ceviche makes my short list of potential “last meals.”

 

This may be as close as you’ll ever get to some of these dishes, since the menu constantly features new creations from the brilliant minds at work in The Ordinary’s bomb-proof, iron-doored kitchen.

Mussels were put on this planet to swim in wine butter sauce with a crusty bread lifeguard.
Mussels were put on this planet to swim in wine-butter sauce with a crusty bread lifeguard.

 

For a deeper look at the food and feel at The Ordinary, check out the gallery on its website.

Charleston isn’t all oysters and The Ordinary; this food destination is long on #heaters (unquestionably delicious and above reproach due to extreme tastiness). Next week, we’ll take a food safari through Charleston, and hunt down some of the town’s most grub-worthy hot spots. I’ll even throw in a map so you don’t get lost while you’re out exploring.

Believe me: The Ordinary is just the start of what Charleston has to offer foodies, and this is just the start of our culinary explorations.  I trust you’ll want to stay around for the adventure.

 

Mike Lintal is an avid beer hunter, seeker of tasty treats and Event Coordinator at The Chopping Block in Chicago.