Editing: One (or three) fewer ingredients, please!
Our recent visit to Charleston was interesting foodwise. I had dish after dish after dish that would have benefitted from editing. The chef included too many ingredients. This was particularly true in dishes where one ingredient dominated everything else. Is overabundance of elements in a dish a modern-Southern thing? If I learned any history during my visit it was the role of Charleston as a place for the plantation owners to display their wealth on annual visits to town. Is this idea of excess on modern menus part of a tradition that refers back to the Golden Age of Charleston?
Two examples: (I've already posted my thoughts about fried green tomatoes at Magnolia's. If you've read that, just skip down.) For lunch at Magnolia's I ordered their fried green tomatoes on a mound of cheddar grits with caramelized onions. But wait, there's more. The menu also mentioned tomato chutney. I was expecting a dollop of reasonably solid chutney on the side. Instead, the whole mound was drowned in a liquid that tasted more of Chinese duck sauce than chutney. I sent the dish back to the kitchen and asked them to re-plate it without the sauce. What came back was delicious. The fried green tomatoes were a wonderfully crunchy counter point to the creamy, cheesiness of the grits. The dish needed no embellishment, and I can't imagine why the chef thought his liquid version of chutney was an improvement.
Dinner at S.N.O.B produced another example of food in need of an editor. I ordered the triggerfish special since I wanted to taste a local fish, and the server had said that two previous diners said it was the best dish they had eaten in five days of Charleston dining. The description stated that the fish would be served over a mound of julienned carrots and mixed wild mushrooms surrounded by a mushroom-soy broth. But wait, there's more. Although there was no mention of it on the menu, the chef had drizzled strong mustard barbecue sauce over the filet of triggerfish. The end result was overpowering to the delicate fish and the amazing variety of mushrooms. I'm simply baffled. Why pair such delicate flavors with such an overpowering sauce. The chef used top-quality ingredients, but he didn't demonstrate confidence in his ingredients.
Did I simply run into a string of over-embellished dishes? Is this a modern-Southern style?
I'm finding this to be a general trend many places lately, especially at upscale, trendy restaurants. I've decided not to visit several restaurants recently because I looked at their menus online and seen too many ingredients. I think it's the pressure to come up with something original, since at least around here there has been a huge proliferation of restaurants lately.
When my husband and I were in Charleston several months ago, we ate at Magnolia's. I had a delicious dish of pan-fried flounder or something - and I too thought that there were WAY too many components! The fish was on top of corn risotto-type something with shrimp and there was crab meat garnishing the plate and there was a sauce . . . etc etc. Absolutely delicious, but too much going on.
Maybe we just had bad experiences at Magnolia's, but perhaps it IS the design as the chef intended.