When it comes to building a reputation for fine dining, The Lot has had its work cut out for it since its inception. After all, even pâté, head cheese and a thick coat of pork fat can’t mask the sound of the rock band sound-checking next door (eventually, a layer of soundproofing foam did just that).
With the debut of their first ‘Dinner on the Deck’ event on Monday, The Lot proved again that relaxed and elegant can neatly coexist. This was no typical evening on the deck, although the vibe was still as laidback as any other. The 20 guests arrived to a menu of specialty cocktails, and a scene set by the Mike Quinn Trio’s jazz conversation on stage. It was downright chilly for an outdoor dinner, so we gravitated to the Shadowboxer, a crisp apple cider, rum, and cinnamon soul-warmer served in a tea glass.
Fortunately, propane heater trees around the elongated dinner table kept guests warm as the ‘amuse’ course arrived — a potent package of radishes and kimchi — beginning the evening with an intense mouthful of flavor, followed quickly by a spinach salad whose trio of stars included finely cut prosciutto, a pickled egg and spicy candied pecans.
Course two’s highlight, a filet of black grouper with potato gnocchi and pepper and squash accoutrements, was the rich herbed consummé that demanded to be eaten in its entirety.
With each course, The Lot’s servers explained the details and inspiration behind the dish. Considering the usual lengthy recitation of the restaurant’s daily menu, the idea of a recurring fixed price tasting menu seems like a worthy consideration. At least for the crowd on hand at the deck, a lack of decisions seemed welcome — everyone trusted the kitchen enough to buy tickets without a pre-determined menu, and the general consensus was overwhelming applause for Chef Alex Lira when he appeared after course three: a pork loin smoked all day long and left intact with a thick layer of perfectly decadent fat and bacon candy skin.
Lira explained that the menu was only decided days before, when he found out exactly what his farmer suppliers had available. That’s normal at The Lot, but a bit more complicated when it’s a large group attending solely based on confidence that the meal will be worth the ticket price.
Acknowledging the cold weather for an outdoor dinner, Lira relied on smoke and spice (plus wine pairings) to keep his patrons toasty. Dessert was no exception — a meringue set in a bowl of liquid cocoa that miraculously remained liquefied and hot until we could slurp it all down, along with a healthy pour of Sambuca adorned with coffee beans.
At the evening’s end, The Lot’s kitchen and wait staff gathered around the table and toasted a success, already planning a second event in the spring. The service was exemplary, and the food was well worth writing about. The Lot may still carry a reputation of ‘not what you’d expect at the Pour House,’ but it’s also changing perceptions of what diners on James Island should expect, in general. And when an experience is as all-around enjoyable as their first Dinner on the Deck, why would we ever want to expect anything less?