The closing of Huck’s Lowcountry Table on the Isle of Palms provided chef Ken Vedrinski with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
He has named his new restaurant Coda Del Pesce, tail of the fish, and along with his chef de cuisine, Rhett Elliott, they are giving the “fish whisperer” Dave Pasternack of Esca in New York a run for culinary bragging rights when it comes to crudo, pasta and fresh fish.
The footprint of the restaurant remains the same on the second floor of 1130 Ocean Blvd. The staircase has been freshly painted and a faux window, complete with flower box, brings a bit of Positano to the entry.
The remodel has been conducted with arresting simplicity; with the Atlantic Ocean at your doorstep, not much is required. Floor to ceiling windows, a color palette of cool ocean grays and dreamy blues, reclaimed wood floors and rough-hewn exposed beams meld the rustic with the urbane.
Pillows printed in the style of gyotaku, the art of Japanese “fish rubbing,” cushion your back along a banquette, but form and function would be better served if they were the shape of lumbar pillows.
The deck has been expanded and now has tables and two community seating high tops, though it cries out for a planting of an Amalfi lemon grove. What a fragrant addition that would be.
With 70 seats, Coda Del Pesce is right-sized for Vedrinski’s vision. He calls his cooking here “Italian seafood inspired cuisine.”
Marine life parades through the menu, from the yellow fin tuna arancini ($13) to spaghetti with octopus Bolognese sugo ($23) to flounder saltimbocca ($26). His menu is an homage to the sea, but carnivores can enjoy chicken mattone, chicken cooked under a brick ($23), or a 10-ounce New York strip steak ($34).
Crudo fans will find a daily crudo di pesce ($12) on the menu, a catch so fresh it quivers. Anointed with oil and preserved lemon, and spiked with Calabrian chiles, Vedrinski nails the seductive authenticity of simplicity.
His cooking has followed a trajectory of crafting traditionally prepared dishes to ones of juxtaposition and reinvention.
Classic minestrone ($12) is served freddo, or chilled, and sprinkled with blue crab.
Classic suppli alla telephoni, or arancini, are filled not with risotto and mozzarella but yellow fin tuna ($13) and garnished with supremes of orange and small batons of radish.
Braciole, a Sicilian dish of involtini, or rolled and stuffed meats, takes a nautical twist on Vedrinski’s menu as local flounder ($13) is filled with seasoned breadcrumbs, pine nuts and raisins. It is baked, then served in a pale blue cocotte, and it is as whimsical as it is delicious.
Fritto misto ($14) in the Amalfi-style can easily be a meal.
Sheathed in a thin veil of batter, squid rings and tentacles, swordfish chunks and shrimp are flash-fried to a crisp and tender finish and served with an “agresto emulsion,” which is an Italian verjus seasoned with mustard and the sour tang of pressed grape juice. Translated as “mixed fry,” this generous portion is easily shared.
Vedrinski has always demonstrated his skills as a pastificio, first at the Woodlands Inn and Resort in Summerville, then at Sienna on Daniel Island, and now at Trattoria Lucca and Coda Del Pesce.
House-made pastas are tender culinary amalgams of flour and egg, and at Coda Del Pesce you will find fazzoletti ($23), chitarra nero ($24) and pappardelle ($24) changing shapes and texture as the catch of the day requires.
During our visit the wide cut pappardelle pasta ($24) were served with raw tuna slices, Calabrese peppers and a sauce of olives, nonpareil capers, tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, and paper-thin slices of freshly harvested garlic. Each ingredient flavor-goosed the other, the heat of the pasta gently cooking the succulent tuna; it was a nuanced dish of assertion and subtlety.
The same could be said for the swordfish ($28), served with acini de pepe (the peppercorn-shaped pasta) with an onion cream and Lambrusco sauce finished with local field peas.
Vedrinski always lets the quality of the ingredients do the heavy lifting, and at the sea, he knows less is more.
Inspired by his grandmother, Nonna Volpe, Vedrinski’s muse is decidedly Italian.
His menu is culled with seasonal precision, dedicated to local, artisanal and the handcrafted.
Colatura di alici, an anchovy sauce whose recipe dates to the time of Pliny, seasons his romaine salad; pesto is made with pistachios and partnered with Sicilian capers. What grows together, goes together proves true.
Dolce (sweets) feature a daily changing roster of gelato and sorbetto (5 for $12), a panna cotta of mascarpone and milk chocolate, and a cupcake-sized olive oil cake ($9), whose texture is crisped by the olive oil and served with a peach creme anglaise and garnished with blueberries and peaches.
Our server was schooled in the menu, its preparations and portion size.
As the evening wore on and the restaurant filled, the kitchen slowed in pace, so embrace la dolce vita (the sweet life) as the kitchen works its magic.
In this era of star chefs and empire building, kudos go to Vedrinski.
He is a dedicated chef who toils at his art and craft, elevated by his ingredients and exacting standards.
Be patient, his dishes are swimming in the direction of your hunger. And the marea (tide) will rise with your appreciation of culinary gifts from the sea.