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This spring, the opening of The Obstinate Daughter was met with plenty of fanfare. A couple weeks in, the place was already drawing a regular migration of folks out to Sullivan’s to sample Jacques Larson’s take on a beachside trattoria. The chef’s success with the older and more refined Wild Olive on John’s Island certainly boded well for this sister restaurant. She came with high expectations, and if you arrive with the right mind-set, she delivers a quality beachside experience.
Those looking for a relaxed ocean shanty will deem The OD a lovely addition to Sullivan’s culinary strip. The casual-but-chic dining space feels almost like a boat, thanks to nautical touches such as rough-hewn wood paneling and great strands of rope strung from the rafters. And it’s versatile: one look around the room reveals this to be a spot where kids can scarf pizza or couples can enjoy a candlelit dinner.
The wood oven roaring in the back of the open kitchen puts out enough ’za to term the place a pizzeria, if it weren’t for the rest of the menu. Each pie has its own kitschy name and Lowcountry twist. For his pizza Margherita, dubbed the “Miss Carolina,” Larson adds green tomatoes to the traditional combination of red sauce, basil, and house-made mozzarella. The Moultrie delivers Mepkin Abbey mushrooms and house-made pepperoni. The crust, while serviceable, is a bit chewy and tough, but the best selections overcome that with creative toppings. For example, the Five Fathom Hole—piled with Clammer Dave’s bivalves, roasted fennel, hot chilies, parsley, and lemon—is like an Italian clambake on a pie and shouldn’t be missed.
A night that begins with the notion of pizza and beer can easily morph into an extravagant affair stretching through a succession of small and large plates, complemented by pours from the extensive and well-constructed menu of Italian wine. Those looking for the latter experience would do well to begin with a mouth-watering salted flatbread smeared with oil and pureed butter beans or an iconic combination of Carolina Gold rice and Sea Island red peas spiked with chorizo and stuffed within a crackling fried empanada.
The menu trends towards the local, and many ingredients hail from area waters. Seafood dishes are headlined by the griddled octopus, a single fat tentacle marvelously prepared, perfectly tender, floating across a sea of braised white beans (served whole and pureed), all with a single collard-green flower wilted atop. It’s in plates like these that Larson’s deft touch makes itself known, especially when more concentrated within his familiar Italian territory. Similarly, the favas and peas—tossed with ricotta, lemon, and mint and dressed in a bit of oil and salt—reveals the Italian genius for deriving complexity from a simple mixture of what’s fresh and available now.
Contrast that with the over-salted and heavily breaded clams casino, and Larson’s niche becomes clear: better a beautiful local lettuce salad with green garlic buttermilk dressing than an overwrought presentation of pan-seared red snapper atop boiled peanut and kale “pesto.” The latter may be good, but the former shows the culinary aptitude expected by Wild Olive fans.
Don’t-miss pastas include pillowy gnocchi cloaked with short-rib ragu and plump ravioli filled with mushrooms, chard, and cheese. Both outshine the woefully under-seasoned cavatappi, a watery grave for the local catch of the day. Throughout the menu, one detects a smattering of dishes, like this one, that lack proper seasoning. A place with this much potential should improve with time in that respect. The watered-down pasta and salty clams could certainly be brought into focus with a few tweaks.
That’s really all that’s needed at The Obstinate Daughter. The rustic beach vibe is charming, and here, it runs deep, from the Old Bay-spiked Frogmore chowder to the scoops at BeardCat’s, the little gelato shop downstairs. Pending a few minor kinks that should work themselves out, no trip to the island will henceforth be complete without a visit.
THE DRAW: Jacques Larson’s creative take on local seafood
THE DRAWBACK: Overall, consistency is off, but should improve with age and “seasoning”
DON'T MISS: Five Fathom Hole pizza