A lot has changed at The Lot since owners Alex and Vanessa Harris opened their James Island restaurant celebrating the synchronicity of the seasons and the simple abundance of the earth’s garden.
Locally sourced meats and seafood continue to tender the menu. Locally grown produce flourishes in side dishes and salads. The kitchen at The Lot has stayed the course of cooking simply, free of hyperactivity in its garnishes and pretense in its recipes.
What has changed is its chef. This summer Alex Lira left The Lot. He is now producing the Rest In Feast dinner series at the Elliotborough Mini Bar (18 Percy St.) and if you are curious about the last meals of famous and infamous, this is the reservation for you (restinfeast.brownpapertickets.com).
The kitchen was turned over to R.J. Dye and it has been a seamless transition for Dye, who came to The Lot from The Ordinary and FIG, Charleston icons for their commitment to local, seasonal and sustainable dining.
The restaurant itself has matured both in its look and feel and also in the dynamics between the front of the house and the back of the house.
Recent visits demonstrated the communications among the staff for handling a large party with “babies on board” and three reservations arriving within minutes of each other, while still maintaining the flow of water, menus and cocktails to the already seated guests.
The murals of Maria Carlucci, Jason Moore and Patch Whisky maintain the urban look of The Lot’s landscape where psychedelic meets urban edge and street-art graphics pose as the welcome mat to literal grassroots dining.
The wait staff no longer “draws” the menu on the paper-lined tabletops and the dining tables have been repositioned to maximize space and seating.
The color palette is fresh out of Crayola and plays well against the white chairs and tables. The dining room manages to whisper in Shaker simplicity while framed with a vintage bar. Oversized wall sculptures of a spoon and fork complement the primitive prints hanging in homage to musical instruments and the adjacent Pour House music venue.
The outdoor patio has come of age. Landscaped with dish gardens, oversized pottery, trailing greenery, white lights and hanging baskets, its rustic patina sets a sure-handed table for your experience.
The maturation of The Lot aligns itself perfectly with the organic growth of its menu and execution.
The embrace of the seasonal, sustainable and local resources of the Lowcountry shaped their offerings and inspired respect for ingredients.
Lira’s influence on the menu — charcuterie, salads, headcheese, the contrast of temperatures and the textural interplay of the raw and the cooked — are tasted in Dye’s plates.
Lira bequeathed Dye the culinary notes and scale and The Lot’s newest executive chef has made mouth music. Tender ringlets of squid garnish moss-green shrimp toast and the companion additions of ginger and basil raise this Chinese-inspired appetizer to new levels. Warm roasted beets, chiseled into rubies of earth’s sweetness, and cooled with mint and feta, return almost weekly but with change-ups — Champagne gastrique, house-made vinaigrette, basil, Bibb or balsamic vinaigrette — bits of the same but different.
Fish species reflect the catch of the day and the staff is well-schooled in describing their flesh, flavor, texture and finish. A recent wahoo with tomatillo salsa, summer squash and blue potatoes did not disappoint. Fanned over the vegetables, the white flesh was in contrast to the mosaic of vegetables and salsa. The dish delighted every table that ordered it.
Gnudi (think gnocchi birthed from ricotta, not potatoes) are dressed not in sauce but local vegetables such as Mepkin Abbey shiitakes, oyster mushrooms and chanterelles; or English peas, zucchini, oven-roasted tomatoes; or a simple shower of lemon and herbs. Each rendition a simple, seasonal song.
The coulotte steak, cut from the top sirloin cap, got a Southwest education with corn, roasted red peppers, Cojita cheese (produced only July-October, thus keeping with the seasonal theme) and a garnish of “inspiralized” potato strings taking steak frites to another zip code with their light and snappy crunch.
Chicken Country Captain is pretty close to a menu staple and remains consistent in its preparation: a portioned chicken cooked under a brick, where rendered fat moistens the flesh and crisps the skin, served on a bed of Carolina Gold rice (itself a sustainable, heirloom grain) finished with the tomato-based Country Captain sauce. The curry blend is exceptional and the balance of sweet currants, toasted almonds, celery, tomatoes and faint heat arm this dish with memory.
Desserts are seasonal as well with this summer seeing peach cobbler, peach sorbet, roasted blueberry sauce over pound cake or vanilla ice cream and muscadine grape syrup trickling over the top of a cheesecake.
The menu travels the world: seviche, Shanghai dumplings, tempura, fritto misto, panzanella, tomato pie and more. But the passport held by the ingredients is local.
The Lot is invested in the plot, and that bit of land can be toured with confidence.