RESTAURANT REVIEW: Six Tables 

A beautiful meal

Six Tables
American/Eclectic – Upscale
Prix fixe menu
$85, $125 with wine pairings
664-G Long Point Road
Mt. Pleasant
971-8850

Charleston is no stranger to expensive "prix fixe" tasting menus. To establish yourself as a culinary star these days, you seem to need an "ultimate tasting" or "chef's table" experience that costs well over a hundred bucks a head and serves the finest of luxury ingredients, which makes it pretty easy to impress the average diner. A cursory glance at Six Tables suggests that it might be an example of such gastronomic pretension. The restaurant offers just one seating per night for a pre-set six-course meal in an intimate dining room. But then again, Six Tables might just be the best find of the year. At the least, it's surprising to stumble into an incredible meal at a place that appears so haughty and overwrought. A web search, a drive-by, even a glance through the cracked door, one eyeball of the proprietor staring out at you in a questioning glare, will not let you in on the delicious secret that lies inside. In the end, the place defies categorization.

Hidden among the neon schlock of the Belle Hall mega-strip mall, the place is hard to find. The shuttered façade is so tightly sequestered that I left my wife in the car to check that they were really open. The inconspicuous doorway reveals a single room, appointed in lavishly baroque fashion. A dark, curvaceous sideboard holds an oversized spray of fresh flowers. Crystal and antique china perch in an ornate hutch. Huge metal sconces illuminate the whole, clinging to the walls like giant torches in some ancient stone chateau, bouncing their glow across six tables, draped in the finest linen. A single host proffers champagne in flutes of varying dimension and we recline, feeling oddly as if we're just beginning a life-sized game of Clue at a Disney resort.

The elaborate environment grows out of a rather strange concept. Diners are meant to feel transported into the dining room of a wealthy Northern business magnate too ill to wine and dine clients outside of his home. Even if it is the true inspiration for the joint, it's an odd tale. Almost too much to bear from a chain restaurant. Yep, they have eight locations across the country. That half of them reside in South Florida is not some fluke. The place is horrible, laughably ridiculous in its rococo pageantry — until Chef Colin Flynn arrives, because once again, the chameleon transforms itself.

Flynn introduces the menu for the night, without pomp or pretense (they have one seating at 7 p.m.). He's a folksy fellow, relating his entire resume — local roots, how he started out on the line, time spent at The Boathouse, staging at The French Laundry, and far-flung training in France — in a slow Southern drawl and with a slight fidget that betrays his youth. His approachable, almost amateurish demeanor contrasts with the stuffiness of the décor, but as he describes the menu and the meal unfolds, it is clear that this local boy made good on the other side of the pond.

The "Six Course Menu" ($125 with wine, $85 without) headlines and delivers a rich experience. The ever-changing menu features fresh local ingredients interpreted through a classic French lens and positions Chef Flynn as one of the most promising young chefs in the city. Each course comes perfectly prepared with the intricately twined and concentrated flavors that truly great French cuisine displays.

A few bites of the starting dishes instantly convince us of the skill in the kitchen. Roasted quail breasts, painstakingly boned, pair a crisp, seared surface against the buttery swoon of a classic garniture, tiny carrots turned by hand, and pearl onions, buttered and poached until just tender. The pale orange butternut squash soup looks ordinary, until you taste it and the dollop of cinnamon crème fraîche cuts through the rich broth. The dish coats the tongue with the warm flavors of fall and as they mingle with the lingering taste of fowl, I realize that my first impression was wrong, the atmosphere feels strangely hip and appropriate, a throwback with fresh appeal. Chef Flynn is for real and the bad classical music switches to a cool jazz.

Sorbet follows — tarragon sorbet. It's a genius move. The cold smack of black licorice wells up from a crystal bowl and wipes away the preceding flavors with a sweetened Campari-like twist. We are ready to move on, to braised short ribs (with no rib bones remaining), a wonderful duck confit, crisped and rich, surrounded by another shot of anise, and my wife's portion of the "Chef's Choice of Local Seafood," undoubtedly the best shrimp dish tasted in the last year. It features big, plump, local shrimp that Chef Flynn hand-selects daily. Perfectly cooked (and I really mean perfect), they stand atop a fresh corn and country ham risotto napped with a parsley crème sauce, the whole mélange so sprightly and delicious that it could be served without accompaniment.

Salad and dessert finish the meal. The salad brings a wonderful mixture of poached pears, blue cheese, micro greens, and reduced dessert wine, shared among the table — the dessert, the only disappointment of the night. It's delicious, of course, but the spiced apple has kept its crunch. Diners laugh out loud at the clink, clink, clunk of spoons on china that rings out as we eagerly dive into the sweet piles of apple, caramel semifredo, brioche cooked as French toast, and caramel sauce. The laughter eases the stiffness of the room. The food speaks for itself.

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