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Charleston’s Ordinary worth extra effort

By Helen Schwab
Restaurant Writer

Named one of the best new restaurants in the world by Conde Nast’s Traveler magazine and a nominee for the 2013 best new U.S. restaurant by the James Beard Awards, The Ordinary in Charleston has made quite the splash this year.

And I’m going to spare you all the ordinary puns: Truth is, the fare is pretty simple stuff, smartly sourced, executed beautifully and served by a staff that was exceptional on my visit.

The restaurant’s in a 1927 Bank of America building of limestone and brick, with a double-height ceiling and a vault door over which a mermaid reclines. The setting lets materials lead, with a steel bar made from the vault’s discarded insides, a railed mezzanine, arched windows, gorgeous matte hardwood floors and marble tabletops.

The kitchen does the same: Materials lead. Shellfish dominates the lineup, from a handful of varieties of oysters each day (in the $2 to $3 apiece neighborhood) to shellfish towers running $65 to $125. There’s peekytoe crab Louie and oysters Moscow (think cream, and caviar) and a classic lobster roll and clam fritters. There’s peel-and-eat shrimp and barbecued white shrimp with charred bread and pickled white shrimp with cumin and coriander.

This last is one of the best things I’ve eaten in awhile – simple, clean, provocative, with fennel and onion and a celery leaf or two – while the oysters were beautiful. You can mix and match and I highly recommend that, to better appreciate the differences in salinity, smell and texture. (The heralded Caper’s Blades, from the heralded Clammer Dave in McClellanville, weren’t on hand, but the Riptides, Sheepscott Bays and Cape Spear Salts were marvelous, served with plain mignonette and a rhubarb version, plus horseradish.)

Black sea bass Provencal proved lovely and delicate, and the Carolina Gold rice pudding with sliced peaches perfect.

It’s not cheap. It’s not quick. It’s not quiet.

Chef Mike Lata (who has the well-known FIG in Charleston, too) and partner Adam Nemirow have put together a lineup of food and drink (a well-edited list) that’s reasonably spare and relies completely on the quality of its materials, and are sourcing those materials fairly close to home.

Lata likes to discuss “merroir” – like terroir, but marine, get it? And though I think defining terroir as the idea that “place influences taste” covers both land and sea, I appreciate his determination to make an issue of it. Carolinas oysters aren’t as well known as others, and he has said that can change.

Developing such an appreciation: just an ordinary work day.

The Ordinary, small plates about $10 to $17, large $24 to $26; open 3 until, Tuesday-Sunday; 544 King St., Charleston; 843-414-7060; eattheordinary.com.

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