Daniel Island lost a major player in its dining scene when Ken Vedrinski left Sienna for his new downtown ventures (Trattoria Lucca, Enoteca). Not too long after his departure, Sienna closed its doors. The space wasn't empty very long, though. Hammett's Landing opened for business earlier this year with a little more casual style and a fairly unusual seafood and game format.
The appetizers (dubbed "Lures" on the menu) reflect this theme, and they include fried gator tail ($9) and bison nachos ($8) on the game front and fried calamari ($9) and crab fondue ($10) from the sea. Unlike some "gator bites" I've had in the past, which could best be described as deep-fried strips of pneumatic tire, Hammett's Landing's version has a light, crispy batter and is pleasantly but not overly chewy. The best part is the little bowl of creamy horseradish served alongside it with a sprinkle of Old Bay spice over the top — a simple and delicious dip.
The tuna poke ($10) is delicious, too. It's a sashimi-like Hawaiian salad made from cubes of tuna mixed with avocados and scallions and dressed in soy sauce and sesame oil. The mixture is spread across three crisply fried wonton squares, stacked into a tall, pagoda-like tower, and drizzled with a pale green wasabi cucumber sauce and a fiery red Sriracha sauce, too. It's a big, dramatic presentation, but the cool tuna and spicy sauces blend well and make for an appetizer that will disappear in a flash.
Seafood and game also anchor the soup selection. The three-bean bison chili ($4 cup, $6 bowl) is a reasonably spicy, tomatoey concoction with a drizzle of sour cream across the top and a hidden burst of melted cheese inside. It's a pleasing soup and, as far as its flavor goes, the bison isn't particularly distinguishable from ground beef, but it does crumble into nice, small bits that work well in the chili. The clam chowda (also $4 cup, $6 bowl, and yes, per the menu, that is spelled correctly) is warm and filling, too. It's studded with flavorful bits of bacon, and it strikes just the right balance between being thick enough to be satisfying but not so thick that it's gloppy.
My first impression upon scanning the entrée menu was that it had a somewhat unremarkable but pricey selection of items — crab cakes ($20), chicken alfredo ($17), blackened mahi ($19), baby-back ribs ($19), a New York strip ($20) — made interesting only by a couple of game dishes, like venison medallions ($17), blackened quail ($17), and wild boar bolognese sauce served over pasta ($18). A warning flag shot up when I noticed that with many of the plates you simply choose from a slate of ordinary-seeming sides, like french fries, smashed potatoes, steamed rice, and green beans. I've been burned too many times in the past by restaurants promising high-falutin' fare that turns out to be just mediocre line-and-steam table cooking.
That is emphatically not the case at Hammett's Landing, though. The execution on all the entrées I tried was surprisingly good, making dishes that look pedestrian on paper turn out to be quite delicious on the plate.
The lobster ravioli ($20), for example, offers up succulent lobster not only inside the fresh-made raviolis but also strewn in big chunks over the top. The orange-tinged pasta is firm and perfect, and the sweet cream sauce that adorns the raviolis is excellent, too.
The venison medallions are crisply seared on the outside and very tender and rich, and they're served over a sweet raspberry coulis with dramatically tasty spikes of rosemary. For a side, the smashed potatoes, which have a creamy texture and a tangy edge to them, are just right.
Like the venison, the blackened quail ($17) is served with a sweet sauce — a light brown bourbon cream sauce, in this case. The blackening gives a nice crispy char and just a small amount of heat to the exterior of the bird, and the meat inside is chewy and rich. In a restaurant setting, though, it's a little hard to eat quail on the bone without picking it up and using your fingers, and the bourbon cream sauce is just a little too sweet for my palate — more dessert-like and overpowering than one would want with a bird like quail, which by itself is very rich and flavorful.
Co-owner and executive chef Bo Hammett hails most recently from Boston, where he was general manager of the highly respected Atlantic Fish Company, and he brings an interesting Yankee twist to our Charleston restaurant staple, shrimp and grits ($19). The shrimp are plump and flavorful, and they're served over creamy white stone-ground grits. Hammett's twist is that he serves it not with a thick, savory gravy on top but rather in the middle of a pool of tomato-shellfish jus that's studded with mild andouille sausage. It's definitely a fresh, lighter approach, and the sweet tomato and onions in the broth make it bright and pleasing. I'm not sure I'm sold on the innovation, since the thick mound of grits gradually dissolves into the liquid and leaves sort of a gritsy soup, but it's certainly a variation worth trying.
Bo Hammett came South to open Hammett's Landing with his wife, Tamara, and her brother, Patrick, and it's clearly a family affair. While the food and atmosphere trend toward the more sophisticated end of the spectrum — including the curtained booths and big open kitchen inherited from Sienna — the restaurant goes out of its way to be accommodating to children, too. The kids menu adds a shrimp basket and fish and chips to the standard chicken fingers, grilled cheese, and mac-n-cheese, and on Wednesday nights they're just $2 instead of the regular $6. Hammett's Landing also offers a novel "Junior Chefs" program on Thursday afternoon that allows youngsters ages 3 to 12 to get into the kitchen and cook some real dishes while also learning the basics of kitchen safety, food presentation, and table setting.
Hammett's Landing occupies a curious and somewhat uncertain niche, balancing somewhere between family dining and fine dining. With entrées clocking in between $17 to $20, you're definitely paying Daniel Island prices, and that may make things a bit too high-end for a lot of families. But with high-quality and interesting food, friendly and accommodating service, and a classy but comfortable décor, it's definitely a cut above the ordinary.