East by Southeast : Land Meets Sea in Culinary Clash of Two Local Titans
By:Collin Clark, Photos Bailey Clark, Edits Robin Riebman
Amidst the confusion that inexorably arrives with the end of Daylight Saving Time, this past Sunday brought together two of Charleston's fine culinary stars at Kanpai in Mount Pleasant for a truly magnificent dinner designed to showcase each of their unique talents. Chef Brannon Florie brought to the table his love for pork fat and Southern-fusion, while Chef Sean Park leveraged his considerable talent for all things raw, rare, and briny.
Neither of these individuals should be unfamiliar to anyone in the Charleston area. Diners can find Florie's work at the Rarebit on King Street downtown, while Sean Park serves up omakase with a passion - and a sense of humor - from his new suburban digs. Park, formerly of O-Ku and Bambu, is a passionate and funny man. Taking the reigns at Kanpai, he offers Charleston some of the best sushi available, and while the unassuming location on Anna Knapp Boulevard might hide his craft from the downtown crowds, rest assured that it is well worth the trip to see him.
The Land and Sea dinner began with a Zingiber Pale Ale from North Charleston's Frothy Beard Brewing Company - a ginger pale named after the fragrant root’s taxonomic genus. With ginger added in place of a hop addition and contributing a subtle complexity and bite, Zingiber was a strong start to the evening. The beer was paired with a single welcome course consisting of a self-serve charcuterie sampling from Florie’s next venture, The Granary in Mount Pleasant. With a selection of lamb merguez, prosciutto, pickled okra, and everything in between, it was an exciting preview of what promises to be a very well-rounded charcuterie program. The duck prosciutto was pleasantly smoky and salty, while the rillettes satisfied the craving for pork fat. Smeared on a piece of grilled sourdough with a dollop of grainy mustard, the chicken liver pate stole the show. Creamy, smooth, and rich, this version was tasty enough to warrant seconds.
The first courses were paired with a beer that served as the inspiration for the dinner, New Belgium's Yuzu Berliner Weisse from their Lips of Faith series. Yuzu, a unique Asian citrus fruit, contributed a distinct citrus tartness to this cloudy and pale-yellow brew. Park's pairing was a Scorton Creek oyster with yuzu mignonette and wasabi caviar. The oyster itself was firm, hearty, and satisfyingly briny. The wasabi caviar was particularly enjoyable, with all the flavor of wasabi but only a minor heat on the finish. Florie presented popcorn veal sweetbreads with a curried pumpkin sauce and pickled okra. While delicious, the sweetbreads’ delicate flavor was lost in the batter, which actually allowed for the earthy and perfectly spiced curried pumpkin to shine.
Palmetto Brewing Company supplied the beverage pairing for the second courses. A Wasabi Mango Pale Ale, this beer turned out to be a happy accident. While the wasabi was barely - if at all - detectable, the mango was balanced against the bitter hops to create an enjoyable brew. Chef Park prepared a Kobe beef tataki with daikon, pearl onion, balsamic soy, and Harbison cheese. The sweet tanginess of the balsamic soy mingled with the earthy creaminess of the Harbison, complementing the grassiness of the Kobe. Tensions between the two chefs rose with the introduction of Florie’s second course, affectionately dubbed the “White Boy Dumpling” by Chef Park. The stone crab dumpling was served with sauteed bok choy and dressed with a light sweet chili beurre blanc.
The fourth and final beer of the evening was the Gozu from Mount Pleasant’s Westbrook Brewing Company. With the addition of tart Yuzu, this beer was a fruitier and more relaxed iteration of their salt-and-vinegar-reminiscent Gose. Chef Park returned to his roots with this course, presenting diners with a selection of sushi. The butter-poached Kuai sweet shrimp roll and tuna nigiri were each delicate, delicious, and on-point, while the slightly tart garnish atop the salmon nigiri provided sharp contrast to buttery fish. The ogonori salad that accompanied Park's sushi was the textural champion of the evening. Each sprig of seaweed was crunchy, nutty, and faintly salty. Florie, in a departure from his previous course’s decidedly Asian theme, returned to his more Southern style with this round, offering diners a chopstick-tender pork cheek. This decadent piece of pork was served with oyster mushrooms and a turnip puree, and it was topped with an uni emulsion. This dish was certainly the richest of the evening, with the buttery sea urchin emulsion adding a fatty creaminess to a cut of pork that was much leaner than expected. The turnip puree was the highlight of this dish. Simple and uncomplicated, it tasted pure, creamy, and earthy and paired nicely with the rich depth of the other components.
For the final course, the chefs chose a traditional Eastern beverage. Typically sweet and unfiltered, the cloudy Nigori sake was flavored with coconut and lemongrass and served cold alongside a ginger rice pudding. An unusual preparation for Chef Park, the ginger cut the sweetness of the dessert and ended the meal on a more floral note.
Chefs Park and Florie managed to both complement and contrast each other with their respective dishes. One particular dish - Florie’s “White Boy” stone crab dumpling - offered diners the clearest glimpse of the fun these two chefs must have had in preparing this meal. Charleston diners owe it to themselves to sample the latest offerings from both of these creative chefs.