492 It’s Really Something Extraordinary

The beautiful thing about living in Charleston SC, at the present time is that there is more and more food diversification than ever before and we are getting “the variety” that we were all eagerly awaiting! When I moved to Charleston there were probably, 2 dozen GREAT places to eat, but there wasn’t a lot of diversity.  It all seemed very similar, the dishes were similar in style, similar price points….all great food, nice settings, good service….but there was a lot of similarity.  That is changing, every day now and thankfully it has been for the last few years.  FINALLY! YAY!

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Sometimes we get, “the change” right away and embrace it, but sometimes it takes longer for people to figure it out or like it.  However one thing is critical in this town, when the front doors of a new place open for first time, those first few remarks and opinions can really set the tone.  For better or worse those opening opinions can largely assist in the restaurants positive following or make it harder for them to overcome and grow.  And to be fair-the only true way to know, is to go and check it out for yourself.  I will admit that some of the first comments I heard about 492 delayed my first visit.  Some of the comments were: “the portions were too small” or “it’s too expensive” however, “they have great cocktails” or “I love the patio.”  Well I sadly allowed that to form an opinion I hadn’t made on my own yet and it detoured me from checking it out sooner than I did.  Then I met someone, who I really respected his opinions and philosophies about food and he told me, “you have to go, the food is amazing and I think it’s the kind of thing you would really like.”  So, that’s exactly what I did (thank you-Chef Ari Warsaw, you were right)!!!

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My first visit was brief, I was getting ready to go out of town the following morning and just wanted to grab a quick seat at the bar and eat a small bite. I ordered (the most amazing cocktail of my life: The Maximilian Affair) and the Gigli pasta dish-first things first, not a small portion, completely appropriate size dish of what I would normally eat for dinner (AND THE FLAVORS WERE INCREDIBLE).  Several times while on my trip I kept thinking about 492, so as soon as I got back in town I revisited. And again I really liked it.  Follow that with 3 more full dinners there and I can honestly say that 492 is now one of favorite places in Charleston to eat and drink.  Delicious food, beautiful setting (not intimidating, and really every kind of seating option you could want for whatever mood you have: bar/booths/intimate seating/patio/private dining room upstairs/community table-they have it all) and really talented chefs and staff.  I love the menu! I think understanding how to order is key to appreciating how the menu has been designed and helps to figure out how to order.  It’s not complicated, I promise.  As Chef Nate Whiting described to me in our interview, “the menu is very modular, its divided into categories and it focuses around what is here right now.”  The menu is devided into these categories:

  1. Fields and Gardens
  2. Pasta and Grains
  3. From the Sea
  4. From the Land

Each category has about 4 or 5 items.  All plates are smaller in size (and price).  The menu is not designed with full entrée sized plates and the price reflects it.  It is designed that you pick a few plates of what sounds good and eat some of this and some of that and mix, possibly share (but not really tapas style) more order a few plates for yourself and try a mix of everything that sounds good to you right now.  I LOVE THIS KIND OF EATING! (Example, I went in with a friend and she ordered 2 plates, I ordered 2 plates, we shared a plate (this makes 5 plates total), we both had 2 glasses of wine and our bill was $118).  We couldn’t even eat everything and I took home a to-go box for the following day.  Food was awesome and the bill was similar to anywhere else in town we would’ve gone that night.  I like this kind of ordering because instead of being torn between 2 or 3 different plates to order, you simply order them all.  Now if you are the kind of person that you want a larger portion of chicken, then my suggestion is plain: order a double plate-trust me the price will be equivalent to just about any other chicken entrée in town.

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So what makes it so special?  EVERYTHING.  I was fortunate enough to get to chat with Chef Whiting for a few minutes and get to ask him about his vision for the restaurant and his views on food….I walked away feeling enlightened and I think I love food even more and am a even bigger fan of 492 (which is hard to believe, because I already loved it).  Here are a few of Chef Whiting’s comments:

  • Me: “What are your goals for the restaurant?”
  • Chef NW: “1st of all, its about the guests.  Its all about the guests.  I want them to be pleased and if they aren’t I want them to tell me, I want to know what their thinking.  I want the guests to enjoy coming here and be pleased and excited to try something new or different.  2nd I want the cooks and everyone in the kitchen to be happy, to feel they can be creative and enjoy being here.”
  • Me: “What inspired the way you designed menu?”
  • Chef NW: “I designed the menu based on how I like to order when I eat out.  I like to order a bunch of different appetizers and then make a meal out of trying a bunch of different things.  Thats how I wanted it to be here, that people could come in and see a few different things they like and do the same, but without entrée sized portions or prices.  At the end of your meal, the price reflects something similar to most places in the area, but you actually ordered everything you wanted, instead of settling on vegetables that come along with the dish.  Instead, you are picking everything you want.  The menu allows for the ingredients that are current and here now.  I never want people to feel intimidated about coming in or ordering, hopefully people can get out of the box a little bit and not be scared of it.”
  • Me: “What do you think, really makes 492 special?”
  • Chef NW: “We begin with the vegetables.  The menu is very vegetable driven…whats fresh and excellent right now.  We then build the menu out from there…we think about what protein would be good with it and compliment it.  A lot of places start with the protein and then add some vegetables to it…on the side, as an after thought, we do the opposite.”

I really appreciate what they are doing over there.  Beautiful space, thought provoking and delicious food, relaxed and lovely patio and a really talented and nice staff of knowledgeable people that love food and what they are doing!  Check them out if you haven’t gone, or try them out again if you’ve already gone!

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