The entree, as servers at hip restaurants never tire of telling their guests, is dead and gone. And judging from the elated tone those servers use when explaining that you can instead have a slice of garnished toast or miniscule octopus salad to share with your tablemates (when the kitchen is ready to part with it), the main dish must have done some despicable things before chefs whacked it.
If an entree wronged your family, then maybe all of this grave-dancing makes sense. But I could never muster much animosity toward a complete and composed plate, which is why it’s so exciting to witness its resurrection at Cannon Green, the 2-month-old Spring Street restaurant from the outfit responsible for Zero George Hotel.
To be sure, the menu isn’t exactly trumpeting chef Amalia Scatena’s traditional instincts. It’s a dainty document that could be tucked into a 2015 time capsule as an example of how adept American culinary culture has become at alluding to farming without ever mentioning monotony, disease or taxes. Here, the “provisions” are neatly divided into three sections: Garden, Water and Pasture. Don’t get too bogged down in the goofy classification scheme. What you want are the dishes with entree-sized price tags, such as the $30 beef medallions.
Cannon Green sources its steak from Brasstown Beef, which is a strong start. From there, though, the preparation belongs fully to the kitchen. Whether by indifference or design, my server didn’t ask for a cooking temperature. Still, the meat was served at a blushing medium-rare, its tenderness eclipsed only by its flavor of sweet earth with flashes of metal. Set into an exclamation point of butter barely thickened with potatoes, the beef’s savory qualities were endorsed by flaps of grilled trumpet mushrooms and sparked by chimichurri.
The steak is cooked with confidence, which turns out to be a short-supply commodity at Cannon Green. Marrying couples who rent out the restaurant, which doubles as an event venue, would probably recognize the jitters associated with committing to a big, untested endeavor, with seemingly a few strikes already against it. (In the case of Cannon Green, its residential location means, by law, it has to hustle out every guest by 11 p.m.)
But Cannon Green has been slow to shake off its nervous energy: My dinners, while enjoyable, were disappointingly undercut by a few erratic kitchen errors, a front-of-house staff comprising servers with dramatically different degrees of competence, and a drinks program that feels like it was smuggled in from a cruise ship. The restaurant is brimming with potential, but it will likely take some tweaks for every guest to leave satisfied.
A first-time visitor to Cannon Green wouldn’t guess the venue is one tenant removed from an auto repair shop. The space is frilly by Charleston standards, with leafy shrubs set about the spacious, sophisticated room. The foliage theme is picked up by the patio-style wooden tables and chairs, upholstered in asparagus green. The furniture was obviously selected for quick set changes, although the facade of an unpainted Charleston single house dominating one wall implies permanence.
To reach the bathroom, guests climb a few steps and walk through the fake house door. Like the swooping staircase to the second floor, the architectural detail is plucked from an event photographer’s fantasy. That dream overlaps nicely with a vision of where cultured adults come for a drink: The room is attractive in a highly polished way.
About those drinks, though. My dining companions and I blundered through the ambitious cocktail menu, hitting on two undrinkable concoctions over the course of three visits. Wine seems like a wiser choice, except that the flickering candles that create a pretty scene behind the bar also drive up the temperature of stored bottles. One glass of Cabernet was hot to the touch. I’m very much hoping the bar gets its issues sorted out before Cannon Green opens its courtyard seating area, which looks lovely.
Yet before the weather warms up, there are Spring Street Oysters, a witty spin on Oysters Rockefeller liberally smothered with chopped-up kale and tangy tomme cheese. The fizzy finish comes courtesy of Prosecco. It’s unclear if the kale is an homage to the neighborhood’s longstanding African-American community or the white professionals who’ve lately moved in, but Spring Street should be proud to claim the appetizer.
A bowlful of tiny oiled Brussels sprouts, scattered with tart pomegranate seeds and flourished with garlic aioli, is immensely snackable. More traditional opening greens include a beet salad, a toss of little gem lettuce, almonds and apples, and a kale salad. On one occasion, the kale seemed to be suffering from the salad equivalent of a bad hair day, with goat cheese clumped in one spot and lemon vinaigrette sprayed on another. On another occasion, the dish was just radically oversalted.
Wintry vegetable bisque exhibited a range of moods, too. On its first outing, it was a decent rendition of a cream-based soup, albeit one that seemed too rudimentary for the setting. The second time around, the soup was overloaded with parsnip sugar, making it unbearably sweet. Natural sugars also were the enemy of pear tortellini, little handcrafted space invaders of dough, packed with dry ricotta and trapped in a fruit-and-nutmeg haze.
So on to the entrees, then? There’s a rotating selection of two fish on the menu. Tilefish was taking its turn when I visited. Wedged between a foundation of black garlic-dyed root vegetables — a little too sturdy, a little too sweet — and appealingly bitter stalks of broccoli rabe, the fish was gorgeously cooked, with an outer crust achieving something close to liftoff. And it was seasoned exactly right, so that the filet’s moist mildness tasted affirmative, rather than like a deficiency to hide.
For vegetarians who don’t fill up on appetizers, the only available main dish is a heap of curried quinoa (and since the dessert course is as troubled as the bar program, there’s no sense delaying for pastry.) But if your dietary codes permit poultry, the stuffed quail is fantastic. And with a little editing, it could be even better.
The quail’s unadvertised lobe of foie gras is intrusively rich, like a distant relative who shows up at your birthday party with pictures of his beach house, and the underlying pool of cream-rich potato puree doesn’t add anything essential. Yet the heart of the dish is flawless: A perfectly cooked bird, disgorging onions and parsnips like a broken Christmas cracker, with muted notes of sour cherries lending delicious gravity. Cannon Green is getting very close to nailing it.