How many carrots does it take to make up for the fact that you are not eating capicola? Well, none if you’re vegan, but if you’re a person who would travel a long way for a cannelle of chicken-liver mousse, then the answer is definitely a few…which is how I ended up not sharing a Forage Board at Harold’s Cabin in Charleston, South Carolina.
“In a restaurant that is vegetable-forward, that immediately excludes things like a charcuterie board,” says executive chef Justin Pfau, whose neighborhood restaurant includes a rooftop garden and a garden biscuit featuring beets, peppers, mushrooms and scrambled eggs. “It was a pretty organic process, although that’s really a joke that kind of writes itself.”
The Forage Board is an ever-evolving piece of edible artwork that doubles as an appetizer, and it’s probably been the most Instragammed (yes, that is now a verb, even when used in the past tense) thing from this new restaurant — that is, besides snapshots of people with Bill Murray, one of the owners. Pfau intentionally employs varying techniques, textures and temperatures to create layers and contrast. The board is typically plated by the chef or the sous chef, but the entire kitchen assists with the preparation, and since relatively few items are prepped ahead of time, all systems are go when this ticket lands in the window.
“It follows the same function as any good appetizer or amuse-bouche, something highly flavorful in a very small package, designed to counterintuitively make you hungry for the meal to follow.”
We’re talking tempura spring onions, miniature carrots, smears of sunchoke puree, roasted black garlic puree, jewel-like radishes wearing jaunty edible flower hats, and the list goes on and on. There’s a black-pepper-and-strawberry salad, a standout cannelle of romesco sauce, and flash-fried shishito peppers, which all sounds very beautiful and more than a little trendy.
However, Pfau disagrees. “There’s a lot of talk from some chefs about what’s trendy, what’s not trendy, hot, all that stuff, and some chefs really go in for that. But who gives a shit? If it’s good, it’s good. I like shishito peppers, and that’s why they are on the menu. It is kind of like when I used to wear jeans and someone said they were too tight, and then skinny jeans were in and I was trendy. It’s the same jeans,” he explains. “All this discussion about trendiness is a ridiculous and tired process. I don’t want to pay attention to it.”
Heard, jefe. And it’s true. A chef should be able to serve shishito peppers without having to comment on their cultural relevance. Shishito peppers are delicious, especially when Pfau gilds them with a vanilla vinaigrette, using vanilla for its highly aromatic qualities in a savory preparation. The Forage Board has a definite nontraditional approach (notice, not trendy), but the execution really allows the vegetables to shine. The carrots are perfectly seared, everything is ultra-fresh and that romesco sauce is really something — not gloppy or too oily — and especially good on a hush puppy if you are lucky and a couple make it to your board. It’s a showcase presentation in the style of a French seafood tower or a charcuterie board, although Pfau asserts that it was never intended to be the antithesis of the meat-centric mainstay found at so many modern restaurants.
“It borrows ideas or techniques from other preparations but goes beyond. Nothing is actually cured on this board. A charcuterie is just the closest reference point that people have right away,” he says. “It follows the same function as any good appetizer or amuse-bouche, something highly flavorful in a very small package, designed to counterintuitively make you hungry for the meal to follow.”
Then the Forage Board is doing its job. I don’t want to share my shishitos or anything else. And I’m starving, so may I please have another order of hush puppies?
247 Congress St., Charleston, SC 29403