Élevé is a study in quirky interior decorating. Inside the Grand Bohemian's rooftop restaurant, it's wall-to-wall glammed-up shabby chic, with mismatched chandeliers and old armoires filled with liquor. Flanked by two vibrant yellow bars on either end of the seriously loud room — even when nearly empty — each table offers a hodgepodge of seating options. Though Élevé takes reservations, it's a veritable game of musical chairs: Every table has two very comfortable club chairs and two straight back, all wood (no cushion whatsoever) chairs. Approaching a table as a party of four, it's a scramble to get one of the good ones. Will you enjoy one of the cushy velvet seats or suffer through a booty beat-down on a wooden number? Fight for the former. Elbows may be necessary.
Outside, it's a little like Hugh Hefner's leftover 1960s patio furniture crossed with the Korova Milk Bar. Take a load off in what looks like a hollowed-out egg sack from Alien while your drink rests on a large white mannequin head. Ever dream of hanging out with your friends amongst large glowing pink planters and vibrant green astroturf? Wish granted.
For better or worse, the bizzaro design factor does not extend to Élevé's menu. Rather, farm-to-table American cuisine is paired with items from Charleston Receipts cookbook, the 65-year-old Junior League culinary time capsule.
The lump crab cake ($14) comes on a generous deluge of Mrs. F. Mitchell Johnson's tartar sauce. But the sauce is not what you may think. Light, with minute bits of caper, onion, pickle, and dill, it performs admirable double-duty as a creamy dressing for the bed of fresh arugula. The crab cake itself? Comprised almost entirely of meat and crisply fried in butter, it's dense, rich, and divine. Every element of this classic, spot-on appetizer shines.
The Atlantic salmon carpaccio ($14) offers another fresh option. Arriving in a huge portion, the eight large slices of fish are topped with dill crème fraîche and far too many capers. Served with two pieces of crostini, it's reminiscent of Scandinavian gravlax more than Italian carpaccio. It works, but wasn't what I was expecting. If you're a stickler for carpaccio tradition, snag some of the arugula from the crab cake and smuggle in your own shaved parmesan.
Élevé's service was aloof yet harried. Several frantic waitresses took their turn handling our order. One appeared wholly unfamiliar with the offerings, unable to answer questions and peering over our shoulder at the menu as we ordered. This is probably why it wasn't until 10 minutes later that I learned they were out of the bison.
Scrambling, I asked for advice and was directed to the three steak options on the menu, opting for the 1855 Black Angus Ribeye ($39). I hadn't realized it was an a la carte item, and the meat arrived large and looming on a giant wooden cutting board. Possessed of a light char flavor, the net experience was lackluster and flabby: a well-intentioned yet undeniable weak link.
Enter the rainbow trout meunière ($23), the hero of the hour. Who knew trout could be this seductive? With crisp crust and flaky interior, this is where it's at. However, if you're not into mint, see if they'll substitute the sweet pea and mint mashed potatoes. Seemingly a riff on pea risotto (it would be amazing with lamb), this is a great concept but it produces a Colgate effect — minty, fresh breath for hours.
But enough about that. You didn't come here for the sides, you came for the impossibly fresh, moist trout encased inside perfectly crisp, flavorful skin. Topped with a flawless foil of pecan brown butter, it's simple and elegant.
My next visit was to the restaurant's Sunday Buffet ($48 with unlimited mimosas/$38 for teetotalers. But teetotalers please note, coffee is $4.) Less a buffet and more a wedding banquet, the spread veers toward finger foods in polite portions. Anyone hoping to go hard at a make-your-own-omelet-type situation should prepare for disappointment.
The spread is puzzling, aiming to impress more than satisfy. The singular egg dish — a Southern take on a traditional Benedict with biscuits, gravy, and a chunk of fried chicken — was a bone-dry flop. Although the biscuit was lovely, the hard eggs and desiccated chicken served as a harsh reminder of the tyranny of chafing dishes.
Same goes for the salty spiced pork loin and penne pasta tossed with shrimp and fish. Everything in a chafing dish was overcooked and/or dry. The roasted leg of lamb didn't do much to save things, and overall the main course offerings fell short of promise.
Brunch service, however, was excellent. Friendly, informative, and engaging, my waitress's ability to appear with just the merest thought still has me questioning as to whether Élevé is employing advanced-tech, pre-cogs.
Back at the buffet, it wasn't all bad news. The chilled seafood bar offered a number of excellent options. Who doesn't love peel-and-eat shrimp, not to mention ceviche? I would happily dine on Élevé's scallop ceviche every day.
Things got confusing at the new age bagel bar. The hickory smoked salmon was around the corner from its intended accoutrements. And instead of bagels there were bagel chips served with black pepper crema and green onion toppings. I get that I was to piece together the flavors of a deconstructed bagel with lox, but would it be so bad to offer the real thing instead?
Speaking of which, there was someone manning a Belgian waffle maker, with bacon and sausage links in the tray before him. He was the same person who hustled me a bowl of the pecan soup (made with cinnamon and candied lemon). When it proved too sweet for my tastes and the pineapple and cucumber salad too sesame oily, the cheese plate stepped up. Thoughtfully curated, there was Roquefort, Thomasville tomme, chevre, and tomme de Savoie, accompanied by jars of fig jam and honey. Along for the ride was a charcuterie of spec, hot coppa, salami, and pâté and some gigantic crackers.
As to whether that sounds like a divine way to spend $50 and a lazy morning or not, well, now you know.
Otherwise, go for the Clockwork Orange stage set, stay for the rainbow trout meuniere and lump crab cake, and no doubt Élevé will teach you a thing or two.