Last year, new ownership transformed the staid Vendue Inn into The Vendue, a boutique concept hotel that doubles as an art gallery of sorts. At The Drawing Room, the hotel’s new fine-dining spot, you eat amongst a rotating collection of paintings and installations provided by Robert Lange Studios. From the cable-stayed suspension of operable Viewmaster toys that peer into the eatery’s adjoining coffee shop to the giant blank-and-white oil painting of a tattooed face by realist Tony Chimento that gazes down upon the dining room, the art is attention-grabbing—but it’s The Drawing Room’s food that fully delivers on the hotel’s artful promise.
If you’re there for dinner, start with a drink at the expansive bar anchoring the back of a room formal enough for comparison with Charleston Grill, but small enough that you may want to call ahead for a reservation. Then take your seat. If you’re lucky, the server will be one of the more professional types who stands up straight, doesn’t balance dishes dangerously up the arm as in a Tex-Mex cantina, and avoids mouthfuls of verbose kitsch and slang. But such nonsense will surely be soon excluded from a dining room run by general manager Pietro Giardini, who should be counted amongst our city’s most promising young hospitality gurus. He brings years of experience within Kiawah properties to the job and understands the expertise that should come to bear in a marble-floored gallery where the food must compete with a painter crafting oils in the corner of the room.
Order the beet salad, and chef Jon Cropf presents his own edible painting. Slices of cured duck nestle among a multicolored fantasia of roasted orbs. There is smoked goat cheese dolloped amid a scattering of anise-tinged “soil,” small dustings of molecular revisionism that strike the ideal balance between heritage and innovation. Such creativity seems worthy of the McCrady’s kitchen, as does the venison, which is composed of large rounds of crimson tenderloin, left rare and anchored with a rich, custardy bread pudding. In the warmer months, the handsome dish is topped with an ethereal display of vibrant flower blossoms plucked from the sous chef’s garden.
My daughter requested the rabbit crepe, which she recognized as a “fried burrito.” She found the crepe overfilled, heavy, and overwhelmed, much like the rubbery stuffed squid that also inspired her to wrinkle her nose. But she and I both believed the heirloom tomato salad was resplendent, even in winter. Ripe hothouse fruits blend well into a canvas of freshly pulled mozzarella, mint pesto, and preserved lemons.
The daily fish offering brought tuna with wax beans, gently seared and simple, which also presented a common problem that diners encounter: how does one choose a single bottle of wine to suit venison, which begs for a meaty glass of red, and the more delicate pan-seared bluefin? You might peruse the most interesting wine list and reach for pinot noir, but Giardini, who also serves as the restaurant’s sommelier, expertly recommends the Rusticum 2009 “orange” wine, a suave take on white, which, like Giardini, hails from the Lazio region of Italy. It’s produced in a Cistercian monastery just outside of Rome using an old method of treating white grapes, mostly trebbiano, by aging them extensively in their own skins. The wine is also complementary to the lusciously smooth shrimp bisque, as well as the billowy sweet-potato gnocchi dressed with bordelaise. One only wishes for some bread with which to mop the bowls.
You could finish such a fine meal with the “chocolate three ways,” which is so rich as to seem overindulgent, or perhaps succumb to the raspberry sorbet, a generous globe of vibrant red ice garnished with mint. Or you might steal away upstairs for a drink at the rooftop bar, which packs as much fun into the top floor of the venerable old hotel as it ever did. If you party hard, you can always stay overnight in one of the inn’s art-bedecked rooms. In the morning, head back downstairs for more. The beignets at The Drawing Room are to die for, and the bartender serves a spicy Bloody Mary.
The draw: The newest hot spot for fine dining south of Calhoun Street
The drawback: A top-notch bread program would add an excellent layer of flavor.
Don’t miss: Heirloom beet salad
19 Vendue Range