When I reviewed Oak Steakhouse earlier this year, I noted that the restaurant's format, with its big-ticket prime steaks and luxurious cream-laden sides, had one big drawback: that most patrons, wooed by the lure of huge hunks of sizzling beef, would likely skip right over many of Chef Jeremiah Bacon's more subtle farm-to-table offerings, like deftly sautéed local flounder or simple roasted beets.
The Macintosh, the newest venture from Steve Palmer's Indigo Road Restaurant Group (which operates Oak, O-Ku, and the Cocktail Club), solves that dilemma, giving Bacon a new venue in which to more fully explore his distinctive culinary style.
If you had to pick just one dish to characterize the Macintosh, it might be the rib-eye deckle ($28). This is no flashy steakhouse show-off; at just seven ounces, it's one-third the size of the bone-in monster rib-eye you'll find over at Oak. It comes to the table on a simple white plate, already sliced into long strips, laid atop a small pile of fingerling potatoes, mushrooms, and sliced pole beans in a pool of thin red sauce. It might not have the same visual oomph as a big hunk of meat, but the very first bite is simply stunning. The deckle — the heavily marbled cap of a rib-eye-steak — is as tender as a filet but perhaps the most intensely beef-flavored steak you'll ever taste.
And that's the essence of the Macintosh: elegant, stylish, and strongly focused on flavor.
The menu — freshly printed on two pieces of thick paper clamped onto a light wooden clipboard — is compact: eight starters, eight entrées, and five sides. Each is intriguing.
There's smoked bacon and cabbage ravioli with an onion soubine and red wine gastrique ($12) and a hot-and-sour pork belly soup with kimchee and rice grits ($9). The housemade bratwurst is served pattied, not in links, and comes paired with a small pile of "melted cabbage" and a mustard emulsion. The presentation is as simple as it gets: a round patty sliced into two pieces, one angled atop the other, with a little spoonful of cabbage and another of mustard sauce alongside. The bratwurst has a pleasantly mild but savory flavor that blends smoothly with the soft cabbage and tangy mustard.
Take note of the rabbit and the gnudi appetizers. Both are served in broad, round plates with a small indentation in the middle, and in each case that indentation holds deeply succulent morsels.
Layers of tender braised rabbit ($12) rest in a rich brown broth, and hidden beneath it all is a potato cake that crumbles into the liquid as you tuck into it. This is truly a great dish, with sweetness and acid from slow-roasted cherry tomatoes merging with the luxurious rabbit, while flat shards of shaved ricotta salata add a fine creamy accent.
Then there's the pillowy ricotta gnudi ($14) tossed with chunks of stone crab claw meat and "sweet 100" tomatoes in a tangy, buttery sauce. Here again is a deft balance of sweetness and acid, and the gnudi have a creamy texture that blends just right with the firm but flavorful chunks of stone crab.
The entrées at the Macintosh typically include two or three choices of fresh-caught local fish, with seasonal vegetables — particularly greens — playing a prominent supporting role. Recent entries included grouper served with swiss chard and parsnips ($26) and vermillion snapper with pole beans and braised radishes ($25). Two pieces of golden-seared triggerfish ($25) lie atop fingerling potato confit tossed with braised arugula and flanked by three local clams. The potatoes — salty and silky with a crisp edge — totally make the dish.
During his four-year stint as the executive chef at Carolina's, Bacon earned a well-deserved reputation for his preparations of fresh local seafood, but at the Macintosh the land-oriented dishes, like the rib-eye deckle, are perhaps the best. The duck entrée ($26) pairs a confit leg with slices of pan-roasted breast. Big pearls of herb-infused farro are perfectly cooked, and their flavors intermingle nicely with braised kale and a wonderfully sharp fennel marmalade. Instead of a heavy cherry or orange sauce, it's all tied together with a drizzle of sherry gastrique, which is so light you almost don't notice it. It's an elegant touch to a fine plate.
The paper menu is printed with the day's date beneath the stylized Macintosh logo, suggesting an offering that changes daily. But, on two visits a month apart, the menu showed just a few small adjustments, so odds are you'll still be able to sample the deckle and the gnudi before autumn flavors give way to winter.
And don't skip dessert. The small card has just four items, but they are splendid. A big burst of sinfully sweet caramel oozes out as soon as your spoon cracks the shell of the chocolate caramel torte ($6), and the flakes of sea salt sprinkled over the top are the perfect capper. More seasonal but equally delightful is the fall apple cake ($6). Dense and chewy, it's filled with sweet chunks of apple and topped with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream.
The decor at the Macintosh — an intriguing blend of classic old styles with industrial modernism — is well matched to the food. Big rusted gears hang on a wall of old exposed brick. A chandelier with mad-scientist filament bulbs hangs amid exposed silver duct work over tables that are topped with reclaimed tongue-and-groove flooring. The kitchen is open in the back, where you can see Jeremiah Bacon and his team at work.
Bacon is a Johns Island native whose resume includes cooking under Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin and Thomas Keller at Per Se. He returned home four years ago to become the executive chef at Carolina's, where he took the technique and philosophy learned from Ripert and Keller and applied it to the distinctive ingredients of the Lowcountry. Bacon's move to Oak last fall offered a chance to play upon a bigger stage, and now the Macintosh seems like a great next step for a chef whose star is still very much on the rise.