I was attracted to the environs of Zero Restaurant and Bar before even knowing what it actually was. It has a certain mystery—a certain allure—that draws you in. I had been walking by during the day, and noticed an inconspicuous wooden sign with a “0” and a fork. It turned out to be a sign of good things to come.
On my first visit, while locating the entrance I passed along the sidewalk by a series of low-lit windows before entering a courtyard. As in many other places in Charleston, the action is in the interior as opposed to the street. Once you enter the grounds of the restaurant located inside the Zero George hotel complex, it feels like you are stepping back in time. The plantings are lush and lovely, with meandering paths with tables scattered about.
Inside, you can almost feel the spirits of past revelers joining you in the downstairs compact bar area, where we stopped for a glass of superb bubbly before the dinner. The restaurant has the feeling of a home, rather than a public space, with lots of small rooms, and very soft lighting. The staff goes the extra mile to make you feel welcome and pampered.
My friend and I were there for the 7 course tasting menu. Now, I have done many tasting menus in the past, but this one had a style all its own. I would describe the dishes as otherworldly, or even futuristic. Many of the ingredients were playfully disguised, or hidden, or just unrecognizable. Thankfully the menu remained on the table throughout the courses so we could keep track and appreciate (and ID) what we were eating.
The meal began with five “bites,” followed by four small dishes, and two desserts. Seems a lot more than seven courses, but this is the kind of math I like.
The first item on the agenda was an oyster amuse, these were topped with a slightly sweet meringue. This unexpected combo surely set the tone. Right, the Potted Plant: this was a fun and surprising plating idea. Two radishes sat in what looked like dirt, but was, in fact, toasted quinoa covering a layer of kelp butter. The idea was to scoop the radishes into the mix. We were encouraged to make a mess! (and did oblige)
The Buñuelo, a Mexican pastry traditionally served at Christmas, was re-invented as dark snowflakes topped with small dollops of gooseberry sauce, and underneath, a creamy foie gras filled the cavity. This was my favorite of the bites. The flavors worked so wonderfully together plus the texture of the dough was such a light treat. Right, a couple of boneless chicken wings adorned in gold. A one-bite delight.
These cigars were filled with a tuna tartare and sat in a powdery pile of brown butter ash. Right, also mysterious in its dark tones, the Gougère, a choux pastry filled with Gruyère cheese. I love the styling on this, another angle of which you can see at the top of this post.
Course 1: I didn’t know what to think when this landed on the table. To the rear sits a rice cracker, very crunchy and light to accompany the turf, a sumptuous steak tartare, which was located on the black plate beneath the gelee. I am guessing the theme that night was Black! Right, one of the dining rooms.
Course 2: Day Boat Scallop also rested beneath a cover of gelee surrounded by a light Thai curry flavor sauce. A crunchy slice of kohlrabi highlighted the mix. Right, the grounds of the hotel. Narrow paths beckon.
Course 3: Lightly Smoked Ora King Salmon was served with Ice Spinach, pine nuts, and artichoke. The texture of this was so rich and creamy. Right, the covered veranda also offers sweet places to dine.
Course 4: My favorite of the night was the Cervena Venison. I am guessing this was cooked sous vide, it was as soft as butter and absolutely divine, covered in pumpkin seeds surrounded by a rich taleggio sauce. The Murasaki sweet potato on the side was the perfect accompaniment, also very creamy.
Another view of the Zero George hotel grounds. Right, this Sheep’s Milk cube was presented as a palate cleanser to prepare us for dessert.
Dessert: Tres Leches was a welcome and light dessert filled with young coconut. But beware, the honeycombs that accompanied can really stick to your teeth!
It was delightful to be out and about and enjoying life during the holidays. Sending special thanks to Chef Vinson Petrillo, executive chef, Tyler Chavis, sous chef, and Carter also sous chef for an absolutely splendid night. I plan on signing up for a cooking class, which they host regularly, and see how it’s done. See more enchanting photos on their Insta to get the full picture. @zerogeorgest
Zero Restaurant and Bar, 0 George Street (corner of East Bay Street), Charleston, South Carolina