Raskin Around: Lokal more than raw bar, Peninsula Grill takes the cake

Current Peninsula Grill pastry chef Claire Chapman and cake creator Esthe Steffinelli with the 12-layer coconut cake.

"Don't call it a raw bar," executive chef and owner Michael Petrillo says of Lokal, opening on Johns Island this month.

Lokal will indeed house a raw bar, as well as a full bar with a craft cocktail program. But the 110-seat venue, which had a previous life as Rosebank Farms Cafe before it was taken over by the Crave Catering team, isn't merely a half-shell destination; Petrillo says the restaurant will offer complete lunch and dinner menus.

"It's a big place," Petrillo says. "It's going to be nice."

Reflecting its location at Bohicket Marina, Lokal will emphasize seafood. According to Petrillo, planned menu items include seafood towers and ceviches, as well as cooked entrees (remember, it's not a raw bar.)

Al Simmons, who served as a regional manager for the Tbonz Restaurant Group, is Lokal's general manager.

While Petrillo had initially aimed to have the restaurant open by May, he says the scope of renovations slowed down the process.

"We've been trying for several months now to get it open," he said last week, on the cusp of final inspections.

"We're excited," Petrillo adds. "It's absolutely beautiful."

The website for Lokal is thus far just a landing page, but lokalseabar.com will presumably feature more information once the restaurant is up and running. Lokal is located at 1886 Andell Bluff Blvd.

Representatives of travel companies including Crystal Cruises, Virgin America and National Car Rental last month had the chance to celebrate their top rankings in Travel + Leisure's annual reader poll with Peninsula Grill's Ultimate Coconut Cake.

The magazine hosted an awards ceremony in New York, and selected the downtown restaurant to handle dessert duties.

"We will be serving slices of the 12-layer cake to several hundred gala attendees, giving them a taste of Charleston!," Hank Holliday, owner of Peninsula Grill and Planters Inn, which was named Top Small City Hotel in the Continental U.S., wrote in advance of the event.

Other Charleston items on the banquet dessert menu included pecan pie from Magnolias and cookies from Grey Ghost Bakery.

Two decades ago Holliday purchased the Planters Inn building, which houses Peninsula Grill.

"Needless to say, I am very proud of the kind, talented, and dedicated people that make the Planters Inn such a special place, and this honor is really for them and the hospitality they provide every day," he said.

The coconut cake, which has been the subject of intense media ardor, was created by Peninsula Grill's founding pastry chef, Esthe Steffinelli. According to Holliday, the cake has been further "refined" by current pastry chef Claire Chapman. It was trademarked in 2012.

Travel + Leisure conducted its reader survey between December and March, inviting reader participation through the print magazine, online edition and e-newsletters.

Voters also selected Charleston as the best city in the continental U.S.; it finished second in the worldwide category, placing below Kyoto, Japan and above Florence, Italy.

For a complete list of winners, go to travelandleisure.com.

While a Charleston campus of the Culinary Institute of America isn't in the cards, a new partnership may result in more of the culinary school's students finding their way here.

In an attempt to mitigate restaurant staffing shortages, Charleston Grill's Mickey Bakst approached the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) about setting up a local branch. But because the idea didn't come with millions of dollars in guaranteed funding, "it was totally shot down," Bakst told The Post and Courier earlier this month.

Yet even if CIA students can't study here, they can still perform their externships, a 15-week work placement, in Charleston kitchens.

The Grocery this month became the seventh local restaurant to earn a spot on the school's list of approved externship sites, joining Husk, McCrady's, Magnolias, Peninsula Grill, SNOB and High Cotton.

"Could this bring more chefs to your area? Absolutely," says institute spokesman Stephan Hengst. "What tends to happen is that many externs fall in love with the areas in which they work, and that might bring more seasoned chefs back to Charleston in the future."

In order for a restaurant to win the CIA's endorsement as an externship location, Hengst says its chef must "develop a plan that offers a students a good overview of the various roles in the kitchen, and affords them the opportunity to learn along the way."

There are currently 1,500 CIA externship sites around the world.

According to The Grocery's publicist, Becky Tanenbaum, "Apparently a student had listed the restaurant as a choice, and when they realized that were not an official option, (chef) Kevin (Johnson) completed the paperwork."

Hengst adds, "We're always glad to have new restaurants added to the list."