Tomorrow is Repeal Day, one of the few instances in which a legislative act has morphed into an opportunity for liquor distributors to plug their products. The ratification of the 21st amendment in 1933 marked the end of an era that’s romantically remembered as a time when hot jazz guitarists, fast-talking con men and women with short hair crowded into slapdash saloons secreted behind false walls.
That’s the interpretation of Prohibition guiding the upper King Street venue of the same name, which sometimes cleaves a little too close to its inspiration: Even though the coppers aren’t coming, and there’s plenty of room for diners and dancers to pursue their own thing, Prohibition keeps the music turned up so loud that the whole room feels like an illicit nook. At least that was the case on Wednesday night, when I dropped by the restaurant to sample its unadvertised tasting menu (a friend of a friend tipped me off. Kind of like knowing the right bootlegger.)
Chef Greg Garrison has come up with a number of very impressive dishes; the tasting menu includes nine of them for $65. But I didn’t realize how much I eat with my ears until I sat at Prohibition’s bar, where the noise clocked at 100 decibels, which is louder than a hand drill, and about 100 times louder than most Charleston restaurants. Because of the racket, I missed the little auditory cues to texture and temperature that arise from a plate, and a good bit of what the various staffers presenting dishes told us about them.
So I hope Garrison will forgive me if I get a few ingredient details wrong. And I really hope Prohibition, which hosts live music every night, will consider better accommodating the artistry emerging from its kitchen -- and the people who come to enjoy it.
Garrison was hired in June, after opening chef Stephen Thompson left the restaurant to focus on his food truck, Dashi. Garrison, formerly a sous chef at L’Espalier at Boston, immediately set about making the menu more sophisticated: The standard menu includes a coffee-poached beet salad and bacon fat beignets.
Still, he doesn’t let the swing bands have all the fun. Our tasting menu opened with a deviled egg featuring a yolk mashed up with crabmeat: Just the sort of thing you’d pack for a picnic on West Egg. It was followed by perfect pork rinds, served on a plate coated with beet green ash and blobbed with blue cheese.
Powders and ash are favorites of Garrison, who sprinkled popcorn powder on the pork belly that functioned as the final course. The dish was sweet at every turn. The apple brandy and hay-smoked apples and apple-smoked shishitos were maybe a little too reminiscent of bobbing for apples at a sugar-cast Halloween party.
Otherwise, though, the dishes mainly hit the mark, from a romaine salad made with herbs from Garrison’s garden to a charcuterie plate featuring something marvelous with pig’s head (I didn’t hear that part) and duck in two guises. The acid-fat balance on the hogfish crudo was eclipsed only by the ethereal corn blini served with it: I could have eaten about 12 of those.
I’m generally skeptical of tasting menus. I’m not persuaded they really belong in the South, where the inherited format is the family meal, with everything served in great quantities all at once. Yet what’s happening at Prohibition is well worth a look, so long as your eardrums can take it.