Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reviewing Husk: the method behind this week’s food review

Critic Robert Moss offers insight

Posted by Stephanie Barna on Thu, Jan 13, 2011 at 3:25 PM

We knew the review for Husk would be a little different from our normal ones. As I note in the opening of the review, I don’t know that any Charleston restaurant has ever gotten the amount of pre-opening press that Husk has.

Here at the City Paper, Stephanie Barna ran several blurbs on the website, including a video interview with Brock and a feature story in the paper. The Post and Courier ran a multi-part series showing the “behind the scenes” of the opening, including detailing the renovations of the old 1893 mansion and the development of the menu. Brock appeared on the cover of the October Charleston magazine, and got pre-opening notices from national publications like Time, USA Today, and Garden & Gun, too.

This clearly isn’t the same as a new bistro opening up in a neighborhood strip mall, and we not only wanted to make the review a little longer and more detailed but also to take a little different approach to it. As part of that, I intentionally visited Husk the week it first opened — the second day of operations, in fact. Normally, this would be a big no-no for reviewing, since it’s not fair to evaluate a place until it has five or six weeks under its belt to shake out the kinks.

But the idea was to get a view of how Husk evolved from its opening day until it had enough time to get its sea legs under it.

As it turned out, that first week’s visit showed precisely why that grace period exists, for there were some grievous technical difficulties, that aren't worth mentioning but were interesting to observe. We still had an absolutely delightful evening because, I think, the food was so good and also because in my mind I knew it was just day two of operations and everyone had a pass for anything short of outright rudeness (and there was absolutely none of that — the waitstaff couldn’t have been more friendly and accommodating.)

I will mention only one incident: our waiter arriving with a cast iron skillet of wood oven-baked cornbread, wrestling unsuccessfully table-side to turn it out from the skillet onto a plate, then disappearing from the room and returning a few moments later with a plate of steaming cornbread with the top crust totally ripped away. I could sympathize, thinking back to my first few weeks on the job as a waiter back in my college days and my fumbling efforts to open wine bottles tableside while I was still getting comfortable with a screwpull. I imagine that no matter how much prior restaurant experience a server has, tableside cornbread service is one skill he or she is going to have to learn on the job.

By the time I returned for dinner in mid-December and for lunch the week of Christmas, all those issues had been resolved, including cornbread that slipped from the skillet with its golden brown top pristinely intact. What hasn’t really seemed to change too much is the food: it was spot-on delicious right out of the gate, and since the menu changes daily anyway it’s really impossible to tell whether “menu adjustments” were due to something not working out the way Brock would have liked or if it is just part of the natural producer-driven changes.

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