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Pink Cactus in downtown Charleston moves toward Mexican tasting menu format with trial run

Pink Cactus fish and tortillas

Pink Cactus fish and tortillas (Provided)

Pink Cactus owner Brooke Warden knows what she wants to achieve in 2020, but she needs her customers’ help.

When Warden this year opened her Mexican restaurant on Spring Street, she had in mind the fine-dining restaurants she patronized in Oaxaca, where dishes were served with ceremony and designed to stir all five senses. “It was so interactive, not intrusive,” she recalls.

But her efforts to meld her own high-end restaurant background, which includes stints at Chez Nous and Charleston Grill, have thus far been frustrated by potential patrons’ stereotypical notions of Mexican food and local restaurant economics. Over the summer, she says, “it was so slow we had to scale our menu back and do tacos.”

Now she says she has the staff in place to pull off her original vision of a Mexican tasting menu restaurant. She’s rolling out the format on New Year’s Eve with a $75 meal she hopes will include stone crabs and lobsters, depending on what’s available that week.

“It’s what I’ve been dreaming to do,” she says. “I know the diners in this city, and they want it. There are tasting menus in Charleston, sure, but nobody is doing one with this kind of cuisine. I want people to come in and think, ‘Wow.’”

Warden says she’s encountered mild pushback from eaters who associate Mexican cooking exclusively with cheap and filling items sold on the street, such as tacos.

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“There are tacos,” she says. “But look at American cuisine. There’s McDonald’s. There are many representations of Mexican cuisine.”

The Mexican cuisine that Warden would like to bring to Charleston entails handmade masa, heirloom chiles and an array of mezcals. But her capacity to source unique ingredients rides on customer support, she says.

“There’s this importer that I work with where I can go to the airport and get fresh queso fresco,” she says. “But we need to have people coming in to get that. That process allows us to continue being creative.”

If Warden in the coming year is able to institute tasting menus on a regular basis, she envisions applying her creativity to each group of guests, rather than offering a standard set of dishes. “It’s not forcing anyone to eat anything,” she says. “It’s a conversation that changes with each table.”

The New Year’s Eve tasting experience is priced at $75, with an optional additional agave pairing. For reservations, call 843-764-9343.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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