A fair number of Charlestonians are in the habit of making regular trips to New York City. Roundtrip airfare priced at $200 or less helps make imaginable a jaunt up the coast for dim sum or a Broadway show.
But the Big Apple's most frequent South Carolina arrivals are the state's food products, which have emerged as staples of upscale New York City menus. At least two dozen restaurants serve Manchester Farms quail, Clammer Dave's clams, Anson Mills grains or Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. grenadine.
So how do those items play outside their native state? On a recent New York City visit, I had a chance to assess how New York City chefs and bartenders are integrating South Carolina flavors into their repertoires. Only the clams eluded me: The city's sole purveyor, Del Posto, had run through its supply earlier in the week, and was serving Dungeness crab with the spaghetti that usually backs up Dave Belanger's bivalves. Although, judging by how firmly a bartender discouraged another diner from ordering the "jarring" jalapeno-accented dish, I'm probably better off enjoying freshly shucked oysters from the same farm at Hank's Seafood Restaurant or The Ordinary.
Elsewhere along the South Carolina ingredient trail, though, it was clear that New York's taste spinners are looking southward for lively flavors and textures.
Grilled quail, $19
403 E. 12th St.
Producer: Manchester Farms, Columbia, manchesterfarms.com
As the nation's top-grossing quail producer, Manchester Farms is well-represented in New York City. Its birds are on the menus at restaurants including Craft, Il Bucco Alimentaria and Landmarc, where my resolve to sample the marinated quail with grilled pea shoots and pea puree was overwhelmed by my desire to find a relatively serene dining room after a New York City Ballet performance.
I found it at Hearth, a longstanding East Village restaurant known for its spatchcocked chicken and potato gnocchi. Under the direction of founding chef Marco Canora's kitchen, the Manchester Farms quail, which shares its role in the appetizer cast with a quail from New Jersey, has a similarly timeless, rustic charm. Grilled until its skin blackens in patches, the quail is smoky down to its teeny-tiny bones (and if you feel like picking them up with your hands to gnaw your way to confirmation, the bartender will probably just smile and refill your sherry glass.) The quail's served alongside a tomato-encircled egg, scattered with grassy herbs that complete the dish's campfire cast.
Recently, the quail vanished from the menu, leaving diners to make do with fava bean salad and the estimable ricotta sformato. Considering how adeptly the quail preparation sums up country-living for a big city crowd, though, I wouldn't be surprised to see it return.
Sandwich Old Fashioned, $13
24 Minetta Lane
Producer: Jack Rudy Cocktail Co., Charleston, jackrudycocktailco.com
When Brooks Reitz started dropping hints about the menu at his newly opened Leon's Oyster Shop, the former FIG manager didn't belabor the elaborate cocktails: He cited cheap beer and sparkling wine as the venue's defining drinks. But Perla, a 2-year-old restaurant specializing in unremittingly rich versions of Italian standards, has found a spot in one of its baroque drinks for Reitz' small batch grenadine.
Perla isn't much for moderation. When I asked for a snack to pair with a cocktail, the bartender responded with thickly sauced sweetbreads that didn't make my hike back uptown any swifter. Its cocktails are equally excessive: Perla's Tombstone Sunday Nights is made with chile soy maple syrup and pepperoni bitters.
Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.'s grenadine, the second product from the outfit founded to disseminate quality tonic, figures into the Sandwich Old Fashioned. The blend of peanut-infused tequila and strawberry bitters is supposed to taste like a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich.
The Old-Fashioned's flavors aren't fully knitted together: The drink has a notably layered quality. But it's definitely peanutty. And the pomegranate-based grenadine lends the cocktail a recognizably pink sweetness with a slightly sour edge that just might recall bread, especially if you encountered it late in the evening. "That's a very special grenadine," a manager said when he dropped off my drink.
Chocolate mousse, $10
47 E. Houston St.
Producer, Anson Mills, Columbia, ansonmills.com
Anson Mills' heirloom grits are everywhere in New York City, but chef Ignacio Mattos of Estela, which seemed to be the restaurant atop every visiting food writer's must-eat list during the weekend of the James Beard awards, has lately been tinkering with the company's buckwheat.
I'm not certain I would have ever reached the dessert course at Estela if I hadn't shown up on a grain mission. Based on how much I liked the eggs-and-beans brunch plate, electrified with harissa and salt-cured tuna, I'm pretty sure I could have filled up on savories. But the chocolate mousse I ended up sampling worked for the same reasons the egg dish did, a tribute to the consistency of Mattos' culinary philosophy.
To start, the flavors of the dessert were balanced, with bitter notes from a dark sesame chocolate sorbet and an earthy sunchoke cream curbing the underlying mousse's sweetness. But what sold me were the textures, contrasting most obviously where the soft cream met the buckwheat pastry's soulful crunch. Like the quail and grenadine before it, Anson Mills' buckwheat didn't come across as brash so much as distinctly self-assured.
"Buckwheat and chocolate is something we knew we wanted to do," sous chef Danny Newberg told me. "Mix it with pastry cream, and it's a beautiful thing."
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.
Anson Mills’ buckwheat flour joins the cast of an elegant chocolate mousse.×
Jack Rudy’s grenadine rises to the task in PB&J cocktail.×
Perla’s Sandwich Old Fashioned is supposed to mimic peanut butter and jelly. It uses Jack Rudy grenadine.×
Manchester Farms quail au naturel.×
The chocolate mousse at Estela uses Anson Mills' buckwheat flour.×