Written by: Jeff Dennis of www.LowCountryOutdoors.com
Photo by: Jeff Dennis
The monthly Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SSI) dinner conducted by the S.C. Aquarium was held on July 23 at Circa 1886. Located in historic downtown Charleston, Circa 1886 is part of the Wentworth Mansion hotel, and the restaurant earned AAA’s Four-Diamond award for 2012. Chef Marc Collins prepared a five-course meal with wine pairings for SSI patrons to enjoy.
The focus of the SSI meals is to promote the use of local and sustainable seafood, and to stress which fishing methods are acceptable. Speaking before the first course of Yellowtail Snapper Sashimi, S.C. Aquarium’s Megan Westmeyer informed the diners that these fish are harvested using size limits and hook and line practices.
The sashimi patty was thin and delicate, covered with cilantro salad and bean sprouts, and topped with pickled ginger espuma. Served at room temperature, the first course had a strong taste of ginger and included toasted peanut crumbles. The presentation of the first course appeared somewhat Tex Mex in coloration but the delicious sashimi assured discerning palates that this was the freshest of fish.
Speaking before the second course of pickle-fried Carolina white shrimp, Chef Collins told diners that fresh local shrimp is the hallmark of the Holy City. His shrimp offering is prepared with dill from pickles and is fried in a bit of hot sauce. Chef Collins informed diners that the shrimp would not be hot, and he was right as the shrimp brought a warmth to the taste buds, but not a heat. Still, the Paco & Lola Albarino white wine helped to lessen any heat factor.
The third course included seared tuna steak served over a green tomato gazpacho. Westmeyer warned diners that while this fish was sustainable, sometimes the methods of gathering them are harmful. Specifically, long line vessels that leave their hooks set out for long periods can create unintended bycatch mortality. The tuna was consumed with an olive tapenade and a crispy foccacia bread, and washed down with Glattzer Gruner Veltliner, which proved to be an extra-dry white wine.
The main course consisted of Wreckfish Coq Au Vin, that was served over Carolina grits with Head of the Woods mushrooms. In full concert with the Chalone Pinot Noir, the highly-migratory wreckfish was delicious and the mushrooms were an excellent addition to the mix. Westmeyer revealed that wreckfish come into port at Cherry Point Seafood on Wadmalaw Island, allowing local chefs easy access.
The dessert course was daring in that it also incorporated seafood. Have you ever had vanilla and lobster panna cotta? Chef Collins’ final creation came shaped by cup-molds, and held the consistency of pudding, and brought a wow-factor to the final course. A final salute from Circa 1886 to patrons came in the form of Warre’s Otima tawny port wine.