The City Magazine Since 1975


March 2010

With a clever style all his own, head chef Nate Whiting brings both humor and depth to the new menu at romantic Tristan. A relative newcomer to this establishment, Whiting hailed most recently from The Dining Room at Woodlands Inn, where he took the reins in 2008 after four years as sous chef. Quickly earning the respect of diners there, he now garners similar praise for his somewhat lighter yet still intricate preparations that feature regional ingredients, often in tastefully inventive takes on traditional dishes. We recently enjoyed sampling the cuisine in the airy dining room, which boasts light and dark contrasts in the furnishings and bright splashes of color that soften the space’s clean, spare lines. Sheer curtains envelope the room yet still allow a veiled glimpse of the bar beyond. The open kitchen is clearly the primary stage, glowing with crimson heat lamps and the cobalt-lit recessed ceiling that forms a circular arc from which all good things emanate. Oenophiles will admire the extensive wine list, while neophytes appreciate the number of wines that can be ordered by the glass or flight. We enjoyed a lovely Oregon pinot noir from the Olsen Family Vineyards, “Viridian” 2006, and a 2006 Jocelyn Lonen Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. To encourage a broader dining experience and enhance value, Tristan offers several tasting tiers that allow guests to enjoy three or four courses for a fixed price. All the menu items were so appealing that we quickly settled on the four-course option, hoping we’d be up to the challenge. The first dish, shrimp “cocktail,” included cold poached local shrimp cloaked in spicy Kanzuri pepper paste served upon a layer of delicious house-made hummus and Meyer lemon aioli. The garnishes, slivers of baby capers and pickled garlic, completed the cocktail in fine fashion. Chilled roasted and raw beets in a rainbow display were heavenly with Split Creek chèvre, bits of orange, rich pistachio pistou, and vin cotto. The excellent Lowcountry carbonara included plump, golden Palmetto Farms quail with sweet onion “impasta” and a delicate poached quail egg in smoky bacon crème fraîche, a much lighter and less filling—yet just as comforting—alternative to the traditional dish. Blue crab cake in light potato crust was creamy and elegant with green herb coulis and savoy cabbage slaw reminiscent of remoulade. A perfectly timed intermezzo of exquisite house-made orange ginger sorbet was a big hit, prompting the observation that a big bowl on a hot August night could be the perfect dinner. Amazingly, we still had zeal for our entrées, including sliced breast of misoyaki duck prepared with a white miso glaze seasoned with saki, soy, and mirin. Served with peanuts, apple compote, and celeriac purée, this blend of textures and flavors was a lighthearted contrast for our other selection of rich beef tenderloin topped with oyster mushrooms in chianti steak sauce. Slender parmesan potato gratin and slightly bitter broccolini were ideal companions for the sumptuous meat. Thanks to pastry chef Amanee Neirouz, omitting dessert was out of the question. Thrilled with the ethereal creaminess of fresh ricotta paired with crisp cocoa fritters in vanilla glaze and mocha syrup, my friend aptly proclaimed, “If the gods ran a doughnut shop, this is what the chocolate ones would taste like.” Rich tiramisu with quince and black tea and dark rum glaze, equally glorious, was served with a tiny spiced molasses cookie. While there was an excellent selection of after-dinner drink options, we finished our meal with handsomely served French press coffee. In addition to the remarkable food and reasonable prices, service at Tristan is cause to choose the restaurant for casual dining and special occasions alike. General manager Steven Harris and the dining room staff are knowledgeable, fun, and attentive without being fussy, and the room a great place to people-watch and admire the culinary stage. We hope to return soon for the Sunday brunch, featuring Market Street Trio with Heather Emrich as lead vocalist. Tristan 55 South Market St., (843) 534-2155, Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5:30-11 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Average entrée: $24.50 Three-course tasting: $40; four-course tasting: $50; chef’s six course: $75