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September 2008

The Review:
Circa 1886
Written By: 
Patricia Agnew
Photographs By: 
Christopher Brown

This Mobil Four-Star, AAA Four-Diamond restaurant is located in the original ­carriage house that once served the Wentworth Mansion in Harleston Village. Befitting its historic digs, the opulent establishment showcases the handiwork of executive chef Marc Collins, who renders an eclectic amalgamation of Caribbean and ­traditional Southern cuisine that has graced our region’s dinner tables with a unique ­gastronomic elegance since the days when Barbadians settled here.

The two contiguous dining rooms, both handsome and intimate, are set in burnished tones amidst palms and gardens reflecting the charming mansion surroundings. In the first, cozy draped booths are highly sought after, and in the latter, the extensive wine list, boasting nearly 280 bottles, is ­represented by the impressive ­display featuring celebrated vintages arrayed on shelves. The former carriage house glows with a warm patina, and candlelit tables are arranged among intimate banquettes. Attentive service is delivered throughout in subdued elegance.

The seasonal menu makes ample use of fresh local produce. A recent evening’s amuse-bouche wrapped the sublime essences of leek and morel around earthy, ­garlic-rich escargot, with a perfect balance struck by slightly sweet, freshly baked bread and butter. A Carolina crab cake soufflé was feather-light, accompanied by fresh mango purée, pineapple relish, and crispy sweet potatoes, underscoring the natural alliance between West Indian and Lowcountry cuisine.

Luxurious foie gras was immaculate—seared to perfection and paired with maca­damia nut crisp, pineapple gastrique, and a hot-pepper foam, an unusual departure from the traditional. A chilled glass of late-harvest chardonnay suggested by our server was a refreshing accompaniment.

Cheese courses at Circa offer an alternative intermezzo, highlighted by Bellwether Farms Carmody Reserve. This lovely aged raw sheep’s milk cheese, simultaneously smooth and textured with a pleasant crunch, shined when paired with raspberry preserves, toasted almond butter, and a sprinkling of tellicherry pepper dust.

Entrées offer a festival of seafood, antelope, pork, and beef, sometimes including playful combinations such as key lime scallops with basil corn flapjacks or antelope loin with merlot peach jus lié and white cheddar waffle. We chose the grouper and found it pristine, in a winning combination featuring lobster butter sous-vide, fennel pollen grits, grilled okra, toasted coriander salad, and, ­surprisingly, red grapefruit. The exquisite pecan wood-smoked Berkshire pork chop bore a regal cloak of velvety goat cheese mousse and two crispy figs, served with baby squash and a tupelo honey glaze that melded nicely with the jus.

Pastry chef Scott Lovorn produces a full cadre of tempting desserts. Forced to choose, we loved the chocolate pairings, a grand finale including warm flourless chocolate espresso cake, “hot” chocolate semifreddo, double chocolate cookie, ganache, and espresso anglaise. The plantation rice crème brûlée, a classic celebration of outrageously smooth crème, dense lemon financier, and a crown of fresh blackberries, is also an elegant finish when available.

Take advantage of convenient guest parking and approach this splendid restaurant through the arbor path. Before or after your dinner, linger awhile in the welcoming courtyard on cool fall evenings.

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