Zero Restaurant & Bar
By Barry Waldman
One of the benefits that every Charleston restaurant can offer its visitors is…Charleston. The beauty and history of America’s number one tourist city sits outside the door of every eatery from The Battery to NoMo.
Praise of the Holy City even accrues to the benefit of restaurants in West Ashley, technically part of the city; North Charleston, which is contiguous and shares a name; and far flung locales as distant as Summerville.
In the words of the great philosopher and Red Sock, Luis Tiant, it’s great to be with a winner.
It’s What’s Inside That Counts
It is a special few that offer the Charleston experience inside the restaurant, from the cuisine to the ambience. Zero Restaurant + Bar, the swanky, contemporary American Style restaurant connected to the posh boutique hotel Zero George at the corner of George and East Bay Street, is just such a place.
Dining on chef Vinson Petrillo’s award-winning creations in a restored 1804 Charleston double house is like having dinner in an old Southern home, except the artist producing the food has competed against Bobby Flay on his Food Network show, defeated the competition on the Food Network’s Chopped and Chopped Champions, and been named the best young chef in America by San Pellegrino.
“He’s a culinary wizard,” says Adrian Goffinet, whose family co-owns the the property and who serves as finance and operations manager. “He’s constantly changing the menu and thinking about food.”
The menu updates weekly at Zero – what they call hyper-seasonal – so it’s never the same restaurant twice. One day you’ll enjoy innovative fare like Beef Wellington with foie gras and caramelized onions wrapped in a pastry and the next a mozzarella balloon over tomatoes that’s popped right at the table.
The wine list is similarly celebrated: it’s won a Wine Spectator award. There is something on it to complement every meal Zero serves.
Eating at Zero is like immersing yourself in a local family’s life. With seven courses, you and your server become fast friends as he or she regales you with the history of the meal, the journey it took to your table and the wine pairing suggested. Even your brain gets fed as you learn about a new ingredient like celery root or the latest innovation in cooking with liquid nitrogen.
For those dishes with a Charleston provenance, like local oysters or farm-raised vegetables, the history of the Holy City gets baked in and your taste buds go on a carriage ride through the Lowcountry. If it’s the number one city for the rest of you, why not for your palate as well?
Charleston All Around You
Charleston is redolent in the ambiance and décor that surrounds you as you dine. Stroll out onto the piazza and savor a cocktail under the quintessential Old Charleston gas lamps while you wait to be seated. Hang over the balusters of the railing and look over the lush greenery around the courtyard or repose in the plush daybed at piazza’s end.
When it’s time for your meal, it’s into the cozy dining room, the dim lighting from a 10-candle candelabra adding to the mystery surrounding Petrillo’s latest production. The period wallpaper and fireplace add to the coziness and the six feet between tables maintains peace of mind.
Or dine al fresco on the blue stone courtyard beside the waving palmettos that tower over it. Feasting outside as the water features gurgle and the languid Charleston air glides by, coaxed by the ubiquitous evening breeze, only enhances the world-class meal before you. Look up at the classic Charleston house or around at the verdant oasis encompassing you – or close your eyes and let Petrillo’s artistry carry you off to anywhere you dream. Of course, it’s Charleston, so you’ll be dreaming of your very location.
“Guests tell us they’re not sure what they love more: our food or our setting,” the restaurant’s website says.
Hard to Find … and Forget
Zero Restaurant & Bar and Zero George Hotel are tucked away in a little nook at the corner of George and Alexander, a block from East Bay and across the way from the Gaillard Auditorium. Easily missed but hard to forget, Conde Nast rated the combo one of the Top 5 Foodie Hotels in the World.
It has to be mentioned during this crazy moment in history that Zero is open for business. Staff will provide the usual outstanding service bedecked in masks and gloves, furiously sanitizing per CDC guidelines. Patrons are showing respect for their fellow diners when they don masks as they arrive, though obviously masks are a faux pas when eating and drinking. The Royale Lunch is available for lunch takeout Wednesday to Friday. Check the restaurant website for hours because they were in limbo as of this writing. Then head over to ground Zero for a spectacular culinary experience.