There are people and places in life that feel like home to me. Listening to Ryan Adams, for instance, is reminiscent of metaphorically crawling back into the womb. The warm, electric touch of certain human hands can put each of us in a state of false security. Even smoking clove cigarettes in dark cemeteries on Halloween has the same effect. So does, evidently, going to dinner at Muse Restaurant and Wine Bar in Charleston, South Carolina.
Muse is off the beaten path in my fair city, located at 82 Society, off King Street, below Calhoun. It’s hidden on this side street, and I never would have found it, if not for a curly-haired rickshaw driver named Josh. Inspired by the ancient Pompeian Villa of Mysteries practically destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, Muse looks like it should be haunted. It probably is haunted. It’s in an old house, replete with a wide, crooked front porch, high decorative ceilings, creaky floors, and light fixtures that blink if the crowd becomes too animated. (With our group of ten girls, it was like we were annoying some Civil War hero with our gossip, because between courses, the flickering lamp behind our table would turn on and off, on and off, until we took a moment to toast and shrug our shoulders.) You can feel that someone lived there once. Muse was not always a restaurant, and footfalls of dead families are as loud as the sound of glasses clinking and plates being cleared.
The food is Mediterranean, and Chef Jason Houser prides himself on using local vegetables and seafood. And why shouldn’t he? We live at the beach for a reason. At first menu glance, I could make no decisions. I knew the wine, because well, wine is not a lingering decision. With wine, you can always order another glass. With piles of seafood, you usually only get one shot, and the stakes were high, because everything sounded good. So step one: wine. “Evolution”, Sokol Blosser, Oregon. A light, soft, citrus white that flowed like lemonade after a long day of yard work. Then, I decided on a salad. (See, I can make decisions.) On the coaxing of my female compatriots, I went for the Bibb Lettuce Salad: Gorgonzola, Almonds, Rosemary, and a Sherry Vinaigrette. It came out on a beautiful, multi-colored plate, reminiscent of ancient Pompeii, destroyed by a raging volcano. Ingredients were fresh, rich, and dang, I was happy with my wine choice/food combo. Points for Dobie.
The main course was tough. I mean, how do you pick ONE thing when EVERYTHING looks good? I knew I wanted seafood, so I opted for the Fennel Tagliatelle—a heavy, rich pasta, tossed with Local Clams and Pancetta. I did a change up on the wine, too, going with a Super Tuscan to match the ferocity of the crisp pancetta. And we’re talking ferocity, people. The serving size of my main dish was small; the taste was not. I could barely finish my meal, it was so rich. Well, and it didn’t hurt that my friends kept feeding me from their plates, too.
Beyond my clams/pancetta masterpiece, I had the chance to taste the Seared Scallops, topped with Gremolata and served with Fazzoletti, Braised Tomatoes, and Arugula (the most tender, sweet scallops I’ve had in Charleston so far) AND the Grilled Duck Breast, rubbed with Sumac & Served with Medjool Dates, Madeira Onions & Pomegranate Jus (who knew duck and pomegranate would equate to a kick ass taste bud party?). I guess the only thing as good as the food was the environment.
Like I said, Muse Restaurant and Wine Bar felt like home. I saw it—an old, yellow house, twinkling Christmas lights in the windows—and felt like I’d been there before. Maybe I have been there before. Maybe the echoing of ghostly footfalls belong to a man I once knew, back when I was wearing hoop skirts, petticoats, and wondering when my Civil War soldier would come home.
You need to be there. Don’t do it for me; do it for a sensation extravaganza: http://charlestonmuse.com/.