On its 77th day of operation, The Ordinary was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as a contender for “Best New Restaurant 2012.”
Cuisine: SeafoodCategory: Neighborhood FavoritePhone: 414-7060Bar: Full-service bar, specialty cocktails, ciders and craft beersHours: 3 p.m.-until close Tuesday-SundayFood: 5Service: 4 1/2Atmosphere: 5Price: $$$-$$$$$Costs: Appetizers $5-$25, soups $12, salads $10, raw bar $1.50-$45-MP, shellfish towers $65-$125, large plates $24-MP, vegetable sides $4-$7, desserts $8Vegetarian Options: Yes, if one eats seafoodWheelchair Accessible: YesParking: Lot, street parkingOther: eattheordinary.com, Facebook, Twitter, email@example.com, daily market specials, oyster bar service begins at 3 p.m., hot food service begins at 5:30 p.m. OpenTable, gift cards.
This accolade is one of many: Chef Mike Lata already received the prestigious Beard “Best Chef Southeast” award at his first Charleston restaurant, FIG. Brooks Reitz, “Bartender of the Year 2012,” mentions The Ordinary in Food and Wine magazine’s “place to go for seafood Americana.” There are shoutouts in Southern Living, GQ, Vogue, Bon Appetit’s Juice column and the venerable New York Times T Magazine.
Closer to home, The Post and Courier, City Paper, Eater Charleston, The Local Palate and Art Mag have followed the renovation of a former bank building and Lata and business partner Adam Nemirow as they waded into the waters of finfish and shellfish.
At their FIG restaurant, they made their mark on the farm-to-table process. Nailing turf, they have turned to surf at The Ordinary, which opened in December.
They assembled an “A-list” team to renovate the 1927 bank building. Architect David Thompson and contractor Mark Regalbuto along with the talents of Reclaimed Design Works, ReNew, Urban Electric and Fuzzco breathed new life into this limestone and brick building. And they did this in a seamless manner save for that little obstacle called a safe. No longer a repository for the bank’s assets, it frames the kitchen of The Ordinary — capital of another kind.
Order and symmetry define this space, with a cavernous ceiling engaged to float noise into the atmosphere and make conversation possible.
Repurposed antique black walnut wood lends richness to the interior.
Booths are raised so that the head height of guests in the booths does not contrast sharply with those gathered at the bar.
Marble-topped tables for two run parallel to the booths with ample privacy. Upstairs is a mezzanine that mirrors the seating pattern below: tables along the rail and banquettes along the wall. The feel is modern Belle Epoque.
You could be in Le Dome Cafe or La Coupole in Paris. But you are not. For Lata and Nemirow, The Ordinary began by taking its cues from the British establishment of a tavern where a complete meal could be had for a fixed price. The concept has shifted a bit with a menu that showcases locally sourced seafood and items that allow for a wide net for crafting your dining experience.
The Ordinary provides an opportunity for this chef with exacting standards to tilt in the direction of his New England roots and bring passion and precision to the harvests of the sea. He speaks of merroir, a marine version of terrior. This is a term that came into common usage with the watermen at Rappahannock River Oysters, where the nuanced differences in the flavors of their oysters changed based on where they were growing. Like grapes, oysters reveal their flavor profiles based on seawater, salinity, algal diet and more.
As oysters spatted and spawned, Lata and his team culled and coddled the aqua farmers who tilled in the waters of the Lowcountry: chiseling oysters, monitoring crab molts, measuring the salinity of the estuaries and bays, providing purging flats and in the case of the Capers Blades oysters, patiently waiting as supplier Dave Belanger excised singles from oyster clusters and groomed them for the raw bar at The Ordinary.
This is a kitchen that knows the provenance of its catch. A kitchen where sourcing and cooking skills are equals; where purveyors share common passions refined by mutual respect and trust.
The seafood is pristine. Otter Island oysters from the ACE Basin, Capers Blades from Capers Inlet, stone crabs from Kimberly Carroll, clams from Clammer Dave, Katama Bay and Beach Blonde oysters — all remarkable not only in flavor profiles but in the surgical precision with which they were released from the shells.
The house-made ketchup is too “muddy” tasting for me. These oysters deserve a squeeze of lemon at best, but you are served a classic mignonette, fresh horseradish and recently a tricked-up vinaigrette with blood orange and jalapenos.
Lata reels in his New England connections for Maine lobster, and the lobster roll ($25) suffers no fools. It’s pure meat and a few celery leaves for flavor, but no crunchy bits to disturb luscious tail, knuckle and claw morsels.
The roll is classic, split on top and made for the restaurant.
Portuguese influences play out in clams ($16) steamed in pork broth with chiles, and a New Orleans version of barbecue shrimp ($15) blankets shrimp in an emulsified butter sauce with not much in common with vinegar or mustard. Bring on the bread.
Do try the plateau de fruits de mer, aka shellfish towers. Raw and cooked seafood is presented on ice with a variety of dipping sauces. Prices will range from a single platter ($65) to a triple for $125. Expect to see shrimp, clams, oysters, lobster, crab and more based on the size selected.
The chowder at The Ordinary has its roots in New England; the fish was cod and the base, broth and milk. We ordered the black roux gumbo ($12) with fried shrimp and benne seed topping ($12). This is the Holy Grail of roux; the Cajun napalm of the kitchen — flour toasted in oil to the color of bittersweet chocolate and possessing a depth of flavor that speaks to its Afro-Caribbean roots. Onions, carrots, bell peppers and okra mellow its flavors with sweet shrimp and fragrant rice elevating this iconic soup/stew.
A steak frites, (MP) and $27 at the time of this visit, offers a choice of a culotte steak (top of the sirloin) or swordfish steak served with fries and a small salad.
Swordfish schnitzel ($24) was another wonderful dish. With Austrian roots, this simple saute of breadcrumb-crusted fish was finished with a brown butter vinaigrette, strewn with filaments of lemon peel as the tiniest of caper buds nipped the surface of the fish.
The Ordinary nails the details, from the host station fashioned from a former teller’s table to the “taxidermied” aquarium crafted by Becca Barnet, the Daumier print of the oyster eater, and the sea salt just the right crystal size to finish a dish.
It is a piscine pleasure dome.