664-G Long Point Road
Belle Hall Shopping Center
Prices: Very Expensive ($75, $110 with wine pairings)
Serving: Dinner (Tues.-Sat.)
Six Tables is a small restaurant that fills a unique niche in Charleston's restaurant scene. Its stated goal is to recreate the lost art of fine dining. If you take that to mean an elegant, relaxing setting for a meal to remember, it succeeds remarkably.
On weekends there's a single 7:30 p.m. seating for the restaurant's six tables, and it's reservations only. Seating times are staggered between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., Tues. through Thurs. The six-course prix fixe dinner ($75 for dinner alone or $110 with six half-glass wine pairings) showcases a rotating selection of finely-executed dishes.
AAA, for one, has taken notice. It announced last month that Six Tables has become the 12th Charleston restaurant to receive a four diamond rating, which puts it in some pretty impressive culinary company.
Six Tables opened in August 2006 in Mt. Pleasant's Belle Hall shopping center. It is part of a small chain, with four other restaurants in Florida and one in Las Vegas. Each shares the same basic concept — a small, elaborate dining room and the six-course prix fixe structure — but each chef has freedom to explore and create new dishes and make the menu his own.
The evening begins with a glass of champagne poured into different styles of crystal saucers and flutes. The eclectic assortment of antique china and crystal continues throughout the meal, giving the effect of a dinner party at someone's finely-appointed home. A china cabinet is right there in the dining room, and the staff takes pieces out and returns them periodically.
At first, I was a little put off by the elaborate décor, which seemed contrived and over-the-top. But, once the champagne started working and the meal got underway, I discovered the setting has a magical, cocooning effect, pulling you out of today's world, away from the traffic on Long Point Road and the fluorescent lights of the PetSmart across the way. For three hours, it's just you and your dining companions and the meal.
Up first is a seared quail breast topped by a sweet reduction and served in a small, delicate bowl alongside a candied fig and a blackberry. It's a perfect little opener — the exterior of the quail crispy and light, the reduction and fruit giving everything a sweet richness.
For the soup, a potato-leek puree is served over lump crab and drizzled with truffle oil, with a crisp slice of seared prosciutto placed over the top. The puree's thick texture and mild flavor is punctuated by big chewy crab bursts. The only weakness of the dish — and, in fact, the only real weakness of any of the dishes that evening — is that the prosciutto is too firm to cut with a soup spoon. You can either discard it as garnish — not recommended, since the puree is a bit underseasoned and needs the salty boost from the ham — or do what I did and sneakily use your fingers to tear it into bits while no one is looking.
The salad course brings a single massive scallop topped with mesclun and drizzled with a citrusy tomato vinaigrette. Seared a light brown, the scallop is velvety inside, its buttery richness playing off nicely against the sweet and acidic notes of the vinaigrette. The intermezzo, a tiny scoop of mango sorbet drizzled with 25-year-old balsamic vinegar, is worth pausing over. The vinegar's dark, musky tang contrasts pleasingly against the mellow sweetness of the sorbet.
For the main course, the chef comes to your table to describe the four choices. These typically include a beef dish or two, a seafood entrée, and a duck confit that's a regular on the menu.
The "twice cooked" filet is also a regular, and for good reason. The filet is first cooked sous vide — vacuum sealed in plastic and cooked at low temperature in water — then pan-seared. This second cooking step solves the usual failing of sous vide beef: you normally get remarkable tenderness and an intense, concentrated flavor, but you lose the great crispy exterior of a grilled or pan-seared steak. Six Table's "twice cooked" version gives the best of both worlds — salty and browned on the outside but tender and delicious inside. Its presentation is unusual, too: the filet is sliced horizontally and folded over itself so the seared outside ends up in the middle and the reddish-pink interior meat shows up on top. The meat is served over a sweet, buttery creamed corn that is absolutely delicious.
The other entrée we selected that night also paired beef with corn: a short rib over polenta. The short rib is boneless and braised a dark brown on the outside, and it has that distinctive tallowy richness that short ribs get from long, slow cooking.
A cheese course follows the entrée, bringing a Danish blue and a Stilton served with figs, dried cranberries, apricots, and pecans. The Stilton is particularly good, its sizzly kick counterbalancing the sweet fruits, and the paired 20-year-old tawny port brings things to a mellow landing. For dessert, a white chocolate and apple bread pudding is pillowy and luxuriously sweet, an apt finish to a meal that both surprises and satisfies.
The food is only one part of dining at Six Tables. The tone is set long before the evening itself, with ultra-accommodating phone service for reservations. With at least three servers for the six tables, you never lack for anything. The pace is just right for good conversation, and with only a single seating on weekends there are no intrusions from other customers coming in and out the front door or tables being seated or cleared around you. The meal runs almost three hours from champagne to coffee, but you hardly notice the time.
Since its opening, Six Tables has become something of a launching pad for young Charleston chefs. Colin Flynn, the first executive chef, established the restaurant's reputation for top-quality, inventive cuisine. After Flynn departed for Fat Hen on Johns Island, Jeremy Holst moved into the role and earned notice as a talented up-and-comer, too. Holst recently snagged a post as a big player down on the peninsula, and now former sous chef Nathan Davenport has stepped up to take the reins. Davenport actually grew up next door to Holst in Mt. Pleasant, attended the Culinary Institute of Charleston, and has been working in the Six Tables kitchen for a year and half. If the dishes he created for our last visit are any indication, Davenport's future on the local scene is bright.
At the end of the evening, when you step outside with two homemade shortbread cookies wrapped in white paper as a parting treat, the spell of the food and the atmosphere is broken and you find yourself back in the ordinary world. But, it's that brief escape into a lost era of elegance that makes Six Tables a great place for a special occasion and a meal to be remembered.