The Historic District Holiday Inn opened this past winter at 425 Meeting St.
Some may quibble with the historic district nomenclature, depending on how you map historic Charleston and define your neighborhood boundaries; the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is a just a few blocks away, but The Battery and the City Market are not so close and are a healthy walk from the hotel.
The Meeting Room is the hotel’s restaurant and tapas bar, where breakfast is served 7-10 a.m. There is currently no lunch service. The Meeting Room then resumes dinner service at 5 p.m. daily.
The restaurant opened in midwinter with Ramon Taimanglo as the executive chef and Jonathan Kaldas as sous chef. Kaldas has since been promoted.
The menu stays the course and incorporates a commitment to seasonal and local.
The dining room flaunts modern design conceits: slender pendant lighting, dimensional textured fabric on the linear dining chairs and ikat fabric covering the banquettes. A sophisticated mauve and gray color palette is brightened by a series of contemporary art prints in tones of yellow and flax.
A wall of windows looks out over the construction site of the Elan Midtown residences and the line of cars that snake along Woolfe Street, making their way to the valet and the hotel’s entrance.
The room is compact, and at the time of our visit the bar was seeing more traffic than the dining room. One server was responsible for the dining room, and she reported it has been a bit of feast and famine as The Meeting Room gets traction with its dinner trade.
They have wisely adopted a menu strategy that works well for the modern traveler.
With minimal “food” being served on airplanes, the public deplanes with an appetite. They are frequently between time zones and between meals, and tapas is the perfect antidote to transition hunger.
Small plates work equally well for those whose trip to the peninsula is made by car or bike.
Tapeo is the “art of eating tapas,” and the word “tapa” has its origins in Spanish for “lid.” It was believed that (take your pick): slices of meat or pieces of bread were used as lids over wine glasses to keep out pests.
The menu plays off the conceit of “meeting,” so you can order from “First Impressions” of soup or salads; “Acquaintances” of small plates both hot and cold; or “The Meeting” offering complete entrees.
This style of ordering for your appetite where you can portion “up” or portion “down” is a common hotel restaurant trend.
When the Elan property is completed, The Meeting Room will have the opportunity to embrace another trend in the urban hotel world, and that is becoming a part of the community in which they are located: serving their guests but also their neighbors.
The Meeting Room kitchen is committed to serving local, seasonal and regional foods. Though I do think they are missing the boat on not having a simple burger or roasted chicken breast on the menu.
That being said, they have stayed true to their opening menu with some items such as a Gem lettuce salad ($6) with blue cheese croutons and buttermilk dressing; grilled flatbread topped with vegetables ($6) or enhanced with egg, pork belly or grilled shrimp (upcharges); and chicken liver mousse ($5) with apple mostarda and toast points remaining constant.
The seafood has shifted a bit with the seasons. The curried mussels of late winter ($8) now are prepared with roasted tomatoes, fennel, Pecorino and aioli; the sea scallops are partnered with Swiss chard and red grapefruit vinaigrette ($10).
The chef is comfortable in the pantry of France with aioli, gastrique, banyuls vinegar and frisee — dabbling in the canons of India with black mustard, Italy with faro, Eastern Europe with spaetzle and the ubiquitous pork belly, bacon, eggs and bourbon as an ingredient.
Entrees have included chicken ($17) with waffles, Cornish game hen ($17) with beets and apples, shellfish and finfish ($18, $20), and a constant coulotte steak with French fries and a bacon bourbon sauce ($19).
Warm baskets of bread and pats of cold butter are presented with speed. But if tapas means olives, croquettes, cured meats, potato tortilla and shrimp in garlic sauce, you are out of luck. You will find octopus ($8), clams and chorizo ($9), and roasted mushrooms on toast ($7).
Cocktails are priced $8-$13 and wines in the $9-$11 range, so it is easy to fuel your bill with a few rounds of drinks. Craft and imported beers at $5, $6 and $7 are easier on your wallet.
When ordering from the tapas menu, be sure to ask about the temperature of each dish. I expected a grilled squid ($7) and fingerling potato salad to be warm. It was not. Partnered with a weak aioli (garlic mayonnaise) whose pimenton (smoked paprika) seasoning was as frail as its garlic was meek, the kick of another dish’s peppery chorizo sausage was a welcome flavor jolt.
Clams and chorizo ($9) in a bell pepper jus ramped up the seasonings in this classic Spanish combination, and the evenly grilled pieces of country bread made this dish a hit.
Equally delicious was a square of pork belly ($9) over velvety corn cream surrounded by a succotash of butterbeans and black-eyed peas with roasted tomato wedges. Not exactly textbook succotash, but tasty.
A fettuccine ($7) with English peas, house bacon, black pepper cream sauce, parsley and a farmer’s egg was a good dish where bacon gave a saline lift but asparagus stood in for the peas and the black pepper took the night off. Yet the pasta brought its A-game of texture and the dish was enjoyable, just not what the menu stated.
Desserts are a nice balance of seasonal strawberries and biscuits with whipped cream, Key lime pie, cola cake and “exotic” popsicles made from cucumbers.
We had a young and well-intentioned server. She was attentive and eager to answer our questions. Because she had so few tables, it is difficult to measure how The Meeting Room would fare with a house filled with guests.
Tapas bar may not be an accurate moniker for The Meeting Room, but presenting the guests with small-plate options harvested from the fields and waters of the Lowcountry speaks with a culinary accent easy to understand and a welcome introduction to Charleston.