The Meritage Restaurant Experience

The restaurant buzz around town has been of Meritage restaurant of late. No, they are not a new restaurant having been open for over nine years but they had seem to have fallen out of favor some as rumors of their closing had swirled. Since Meritage use to be one of my mainstay stops I decided to check out the buzz that they were alive, well and as good as ever.When I arrived at the restaurant I was surprised to find that their was a wait for a table. Meritage has never taken reservations except for larger parties, but I didn’t expect a wait as it is early in the season and a non-weekend night. None the less we decided to have a drink at the bar and socialize some.

The cocktail service was prompt which went a long way toward easing my aggravation of having to wait for a table. Ahhhh a perfect extra dry martini! Even though it looked like it would be a while before we were sat the flow of people from the bar to their tables seemed to be fairly quick and before I finished my martini the hostess was there to escort us to our table.

Meritage restaurant has been noted as starting the tapas restaurant craze that has been in the restaurant mainstream for years now, but when Meritage opened it’s doors nine years ago there were only a couple in the country. If you are not familiar with tapas restaurants they originated in Spain centuries ago where tapas means “small plates.” Meritage took the Spanish concept and turned it into an all appetizer restaurant concept. The tables are all set with small plates to encourage sharing which really sets the stage for a social experience with food and wine.

The Meritage dining experience is different than a traditional restaurant as here you kind of graze your way through the multitude of offerings. The plates come out as they are prepared giving you a constant flow of food. We decided to let the waitress shape our meal giving her just one restriction, no nuts, as one in our party was dreadfully allergic to peanuts!

Our waitress was happy to oblige and quickly suggested we start with some wine. With over 40 wines by the glass it was no problem for each of us to get our favorites. While we were deciding the waitress decided to start us off with their “Trio Dip” which was a nice sample of the restaurants Baked Brie Dip. Spinach Dip, and Hummus all served with fresh warm pita bread.

Just as we were finishing off the dips our first plate came, “Tuna Tartare” which was garnished with greens and served with toast points. We all promptly attacked! Another waitress came by and dropped off another plate, “Mozzarella and Oven Roasted Tomatoes”. The plate was beautiful with the Mozzarella and layered tomatoes drizzled with a pesto vinaigrette. Calamari and Spring Rolls followed. The Calamari was slightly over cooked but the Spring Rolls were excellent!

We ordered a second glass of wine as our next plate of food hit the table, “ Hanger Steak.” It was served with a goat cheese fondue and carmalized red onions.

Finally three more plates hit the table, “Lobster Mashed Potatoes,” which was served in a big martini glass and actually had nice chunks of lobster throughout. The “Horseradish Encrusted Tuna,” which was a perfect medium rare. Served over a cube of rice with an anise soy. Finally “Shrimp and Grits,” which I must admit is one of the most imaginative and tasty renditions I have had in Charleston.

After sitting back for a few minutes and contemplating our favorites we were surprised to see our waitress place a whole pineapple surrounded by cut fruit on the table. The pineapple had four skewers stuck in it. As the waitress removed the top revealing a bowl of chocolate fondue inside we realized what it was all about. What a creative and fun way to end a wonderful meal.

Meritage restaurant is certainly back and even better then I remember it. With the exception of the one setback of the over cooked calamari every dish was exceptional. The Meritage restaurant experience is one you will enjoy time and time again.

After dinner take your time leaving as the bar always heats up around nine or ten and offers a completely different up-scale experience.

Meritage Restaurant
235 E. Bay Street
Charleston, SC 29401