Review of The Owl in Greenville SC
- JB BANNISTER Jun 30, 2012 07:53 AM
Molecular gastronomy in Greenville SC. Yep you heard me correct. I have been here several times and found it to be an awesome time.
I have eaten at Alenia (#1 restaurant in the US) in Chicago on 2 occasions at around $300 person. The Owl is doing this type of food for as little as $7 a dish.
Last night some friends and I had the 6 course tasting at $45 a person and we left full and happy. While there you can relax and chat openly. I think a "high five" or two was passed across the table a few times. (At Alenia you are pretty much required to be very very quiet)
Will you love each dish they bring you? I doubt it, but the point is you are trying something new and it will be prepared well. You will see how taste and appearance come together for a new experience.
THE CHEF PLATES EVERY DISH. Because of this service can back up some so don't come in there if you are in a rush.
They have lots of beer on the menu along with some wine but the bar has some really unusual and complex cocktails that are worth a try. FYI the Mixoligist (Bartender) can get backed up so be prepared if they are busy.
The crowd will have everyone from 20 year olds with strange colored hair to 60+ year old people looking for something different to. (One of the owners has blue streaks in her hair and is cute as a button.) The dress code is also as eclectic. People will be wearing shots, jeans and really nice suits. Everyone is welcome just come in with a open mind and some time to relax.
This is my longest review ever on chowhound but I am really passionate about letting people know about places and experiences that they have never had. When you leave this place I think you will have had "bucket list" experience.
Leave the attitude and stress for another place come to The Owl for something different and unusual.
Thanks JB...I wound up heading over to the Owl right after posted. I hope you don't mind my tagging my probably-too-long review right under your review. We agree on some things, but my experience was the opposite of yours on several things.
We had an overall good experience at dinner. I like the laid-back vibe and the service was friendly. I ordered a starter right away and it was by far the highlight of the meal. OUr server said the chef wanted to make the cheese plate lighter because of the high heat outside. The plate had 3 scoops of ricotta that was drizzled with what I took to be pesto made with honey instead of olive oil. There were a few beans and some tomato pieces. It was served w/ what was basically cinnamon toast. It was a GREAT combination.
Then came my drink, ordered off the specials board. It was a cucumber caipirinha and a bit of a disappointment. Apparently The Owl is very serious about and proud of it's cocktail program. I hope this thing was an anomoly because there was no complexity at all...I couldn't even taste any lime. All I could taste was a very subtle infusion of cuke, sugar and rum. zero garnish...i thought that was odd.
My husband ordered a salad and the watermelon dish, I got trout and pork. It was an understandable mistake that the kitchen sent out both of his first and asked who got what. We were planning to share anyway, so it was no problem, but I thought it was interesting the server never noticed. What was less understandable was that the next 2 courses came while we were still eating the first. I hate poor timing, even if it is a casual place.
In any event, the salad was very nice. Each of the vegetable components had been treated a bit differently. The squash nicely browned to bring out its sugars, the beets ...hell I wish I knew what he did to make those beets so good. It was a very successful dish. The melon dish was simply watermell and canteloupe cut into perfect cubes, wrapped in speck and topped w/ good salt (Maldon maybe). You can't beat a classic.
The trout was a nice dish and beautifully plated. Trout on a square of polenta with barely cooked curly kale around it. it was topped with "horseradish foam" which had zero discernable horseradish (or any) flavor. Still , i enjoyed the dish. The pork, which seemed the most enticing on the menu was my least favorite. It was not-very-good pork bbq, like when my mom tries to make bbq on the stovetop w/ no browning and no smoke. it was wrapped in pasta like canneloni. (kudos to house made pasta but there wasn't really enough to taste). There was pineapple on the side and a small puddle of what I take to be the "curry" component shown on the menu. It tasted like liquid coconut cake. The "basil gel" was dark green pesto-ish drizzle, I could discern no gel effect at all. 5 courses and 1 cocktail, $49 before tip.
So... my overall assessment is that there are flashes of brilliance...and disappointments as well. I was surprised that everything I read about the Owl tosses out the phrase "molecular gastronomy", but there was none in evidence , unless you count the unsuccesful foam which has been done to death in restaurants for more than 5 years now. My take is that these are youngsters playing restaurant. And that's not a bad thing...it brings creativity and low prices...but also "misses" and somewhat less sophisticated level of taste. I'm sure wiht this much ambition the folks behind the Owl will continue to grow and learn and I'll be back eventually.
But JB...with all due respect (and I have a lot of respect for anyone whose food adventures made the WSJ) any comparison to Alinea is completely insane. It's like comparing me to George Hincapie...we both have bikes and a competive spirit...Alinea and the Owl both have kitchens/ambition...but the actual quality of execution is worlds and WORLDS apart.
What I like about The Owl is that I can walk over and ask the Chef anything I want to know. You can't do that at Alenia.
The "pesto made with honey instead of olive oil" was actually basil gel done with something called ultratex-8 to make what's referred to as a "fluid gel". Not often used in Greenville nor is the "powered" olive oil that was sprinkled (I have been told how it is done but I forgot.)
The pork inside the lasagna was not BBQ it is a rarely done "Muslim Technique" called Massaman. I asked as I am on a BBQ team and am always interested in anything pork. "Muslim Pork" kind of a oxymoron to me.
Personally I loved the Cucumber Caipirinha but that is my taste. I was not a fan of the long gone sea foam margirita but cocktails are a personal thing.
The watermelon and cannalope wrapped in spec ham was very very different. I have tried this at home with little luck as I don't have a $5k vacuum press. The melons are placed in a bag with olive oil and anise and vacuumed to compress the texture and make it firm. Did you notice that there was no "gritty feeling" when you ate it? That is how they changed the texture. I am only aware of this being done in Greenville at Dev's and the Owl.
I have been to Alenia twice at $300 a person. I would go back if it were like The Owl. I get tired of super expense food and pretentious wine programs. I want to go somewhere to relax and enjoy the company of friends. I also like to watch a eager and hard working kitchen staff.
Might be the reason that I am welcome in almost every kitchen in the upstate and quit a few in Asheville as the chefs and line cooks know I appreciate what they do and who they are.
There is a lot molecular gastronomy happening at that place you just don't see it or care to look for.
"My take is that these are youngsters playing restaurant" personally offends me as these young people are busting their butts to be successful and provide a great experience at a reasonable price. What do you expect for $45?
You have expressed your discontent with the Greenville food scene for years. Why? Every place you say bad or mediocre things about I seem to get an exceptional experience.
I know you feel that I am being hard on you but I have had other hounds ask me what your deal is? That is one of the reason I use my real name and profile pic.
Greenville is a great place to live and eat. I hope you learn to enjoy it at some point.
re: JB BANNISTER
Please don't worry, I don't feel like you're being hard on me. I expected you not be thrilled with my comments, but c'est la vie. I *do* want to make it clear to you and anyone reading along, that my reivew was not a "bad" one. Lots of things were good. I would go back. You'll see i used phrases like "very successful dish" and "great combination". I'm not Rachel Ray, I don't slaver over everything...those comments are high praise.
Along with high praise, i have high hopes...that The Owl folks will not only continue to develop, but they will encourage other upstarts to try to give us what Greenville needs so badly...restaurants that provide high quality food without that stuff white tablecloth experience.
As for your specific food comments...the item described on the menu as "gel" was not the "pesto made w/ honey" I described. The gel came with the pork, and it may have been made with a fancy chemical, but it didn't have the look or texture of gel, so that's a fail in my book. As for the watermelon...correct, it had lost some of it's freshness of texture, I assumed due to havign some olive oil soaked in, now I understand that it was sous vide. An interesting experiment...unfortunately not worth the trouble, again IMO.
And as for Massaman, I think you should ask them about that again. I don't think Massaman is a cooking technique for pork. It's a type of Thai curry. (with Muslim roots according to google) It was a little bland, which shouldn't be the case for anything called curry, even if it is "deconstructed".
As for Alinea (note the "i" for those who might want to put it in a search box), I could not agree with you more that it was pretentious as hell. CRAZY pretentious, bordering on a Saturday Night Live skit. But also, every single bite was a revelation, a flavor explosion, a mystery of "how in the hell did they do that?" You wouldn't want to bop down there on a Saturday evening on a whim after mowing the lawn. You could at the Owl.
I agree that it would be more pleasant to lower my standards and pick some G'ville restaurants to fall in love with, but alas, I call 'em like I see 'em. I do want to stress one more time....everyone should try the Owl! Although I don't think it's as good as you do, it was overall a good experience, totally worth the money and better than most stuff in G'ville.
A very mature post, danna. I have seen others get offended when they are criticized and refuse to post again. Frankly, I think your posts and JB's, in combination, give those of us who haven't been to the Owl and much better sense of what to expect than the solitary posts of either of you.