Joseph Palma serves up philosophy of hospitality at High Cotton
By | Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Category: Night Out; Neighborhood Favorite
Location: 199 East Bay St.
Hours: Dinner nightly at 5:30 p.m., lunch Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Bar open daily at 4 p.m.
Service: 3 1/2
Costs: Appetizers $12-$14, soups and salads $4-$10, sharing plates $15, entrees $23-$37, sides $4-$6, desserts $7.50, daily specials MP, happy hour menu $7-$15.
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Bar: Full-service bar menu, private-label spirits; specialty cocktail menu; reserve wine list
Decibel Level: Varies
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Parking: Street and parking garages
Other: Effective Sept. 30, happy hour in the bar 4-7 p.m. daily. Live music 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Sunday brunch, special events, Facebook, OpenTable, live music in the bar (see website). private dining rooms, www.HighCottonCharleston.com, www.MaverickSouthernKitchens.com. Partner: Sustainable Seafood initiative, South Carolina Fresh on The Menu, Green Hospitality.
A class act: That is what you will find in executive chef Joseph Palma at High Cotton. When he parted ways with Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert in Washington, he posted a letter to his staff, his customers and his mentor, Ripert, thanking them for their support, opportunity and patronage.
He came on board as executive chef at High Cotton, and it was a homecoming of sorts. During his college days at the College of Charleston, he worked for executive chef Frank Lee at Slightly North of Broad. There, the philosophy and economics major found his passion, and it was not the dialogues of Socrates.
Palma started this past spring in a restaurant that apprises the canon of Maverick Southern Kitchen properties: local, seasonal, inspired by the region — a sense of place.
Deft touches that separate a novice from a master are apparent in Palma’s sauces and plate compositions. Flavoring an oil with Madras curry speaks to this port city and its former spice routes; the “supremes” of citrus that not only garnish his dishes but elevate flavors in a simple crab amuse show the thoughtful process of Palma’s kitchen.
If the yellow tomato gazpacho remains through late summer, do try it ($4, $6). Fresh dill and marinated cucumbers percolate to new levels in this simple tomato soup. A classic Caesar ($8) is made with earthy escarole, and local peaches blossom in sweetness when dressed with Picholine-caper vinaigrette.
The charcuterie plate ($15) is textbook in its marriage of fat and flavor. The pepperoni is supple and picante, the rillettes are smooth pork “butter.” Only the sopressata seemed off in size and taste. Accompanied by grilled, buttered baguette slices, you can order a bowl of soup and easily satisfy your appetite.
The picnic plate ($15) celebrates all things Southern: fried green tomatoes, pickled okra and peaches, barbecue Lowcountry peanuts, pimiento cheese and that same baguette.
I ordered the local snapper ($28). This crisp, fresh fillet was seared and served in a bouillabaisse nage whose “eyes” of the stock spoke with such flavor that I would not be surprised if Palma based his recipe on the 13 steps and 25 ingredients used by Gilbert Le Coze, who mentored Ripert. It was good enough to drink. The thin scrapes of fresh fennel were perfect flavor boosters, and only the demi-lune of neutra-tasting spoonbread seemed pale in comparison to the robust flavors of this dish.
Italy, by way of the Lowcountry, shows up in a Keegan-Filion Farms chicken cooked “under the brick.” The chicken was nicely crusted and evenly seasoned, and was served with Hoppin’ John and okra pods crisped in a fine sleeve of batter.
The menu is balanced with pork, pasta, and shrimp and grits as well as steaks and veal chops that can be sauced to your preference. These are accompanied by creative side dishes ($4-$6): black-eyed pea salad with mustard oil, Brussels sprouts with smoked paprika and smoked twice-baked potatoes are but a few.
Beverage director Patrick Emerson has matched the menu with wines by the glass and the bottle with care.
Desserts ($7.50) mine a textural strata of cold ice creams and sorbets, Key lime pie, peanut butter cake and creme brulee. We were treated to a Grand Marnier creme brulee and peanut butter mousse cake on a salty chocolate crust with gently whipped banana cream and paper-thin banana slices torched to a tawny crackle.