It’s sort of sad – to me, at least – that for every independent restaurant in Draper, Utah, there are probably 25 more chains and franchise eateries. In fact that might be lowballing the actual numbers. And, if you’re looking for fine dining in Draper … well, best of luck.
There is however, at least one such option: The Charleston. To my knowledge, The Charleston in Draper is the only Utah restaurant that has a dress code for indoor dining: “Nice/Business casual (no shorts, torn jeans, hats/baseball caps, tee shirts, flip flops/sandals).” I wonder if that includes the pricey designer jeans with huge slashes in them that I see everywhere these days? In addition, no children under 11 are allowed for indoor fine dining in the evenings. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m OK with these policies.
On a recent warm weekday evening, my wife and I were the only people seated indoors for dinner at The Charleston, but there were lots of folks taking advantage of dining on the beautiful patio in front of the restaurant. The Charleston is situated in a gorgeous old brick house and the ambiance and decor of the indoor dining rooms are classy, to say the least. White tablecloths and gleaming stemware set the tone and there’s even a grand piano in one of the rooms.
As a customer, I appreciate attention to small details such as offering freshly cracked black pepper and Himalayan sea salt in an attractive serving vessel. And even the charger plates that adorn each table setting are uniquely appealing.
There is an extensive beverage list at The Charleston featuring cocktails, beer, liquors, whiskeys & bourbons, coffees, teas, sodas and a nice, if high-priced, wine selection.
I was struck by how extensive and wide-ranging Chef Marco Silva’s menu is. The dinner menu, for example, features a whopping 19 entrees, 9 appetizers, plus soups, salads and desserts. I can’t help but wonder how the kitchen manages to successfully execute nearly 20 different entrees.
The dinner menu at The Charleston combines some French classics like Escargot ($22), Baked Brie ($18), French Onion Soup ($18), Beef Bourguignon ($33) and Ratatouille ($24) with more contemporary dishes such as Sweet Corn Scallops Risotto ($40), Thai Coconut Halibut ($49), Lobster Mac & Cheese ($29), and pan-seared Sea Bass ($58). And then there’s a smattering of selections from Chef Silva’s home country of Brazil, like Moqueca de Camarão com Pirão ($38) and Brazilian Fish Stew ($31).
Currently, The Charleston is open for dinner daily and for brunch, but the folks at the restaurant say that lunch service will be returning in May. Lunch mainstays include a rash of salads and sandwiches, including a Muffuletta, Roasted Turkey, Ultimate Grilled Cheese, Smoked Salmon BLT, and others.
My wife and I had a hard time deciding on an appetizer to share, since so many of them held great appeal. For example, there is Chef Marco Silva’s Artichoke Souffle ($12), which sounded excellent, as well as Escargot alla Pesto ($22), Ceviche ($14), and a Puerto Vallarta Shrimp Cocktail ($18). Ultimately, we chose to go with the Baked Crab Shell ($12), which was a melange of sauteed crab meat, parsley, red bell peppers, coriander and cream, finished with panko-parmesan-parsley and lime wedges, served with toasted baguette slices. It’s a very tasty starter.
Salad options include a Warm Duck ($24) salad of duck breast on a bed of endive, fennel and Romaine hearts with blackberry vinaigrette; a Herbed Cobb salad ($14), and Lemon-Pecorino Romaine ($12). I learned to love hearts of palm in Brazil and so I was keen to try a salad called The Charleston ($11), which was a plate of delicious mixed greens, char-grilled pineapple, cherry tomatoes, and heart of palm morsels, served with a scrumptious pear vinaigrette on the side.
As I mentioned, selecting entrees is a challenge with so many of them on the menu. Gaucho Steak ($58)? Chicken Paillard ($28)? American Wagyu Tomahawk Steak ($65/lb.)? Maybe Spaghetti alla Chef ($32)? When all was said and done, I opted for one of my favorite comfort foods: Coq au Vin Blanc ($32). In winter, Chef Silva serves Coq au Vin Rouge – made with red wine – but in warmer weather he offers a lighter, white wine Coq au Vin which is chicken braised in white wine (vin blanc) and heavy cream with chunks of carrot, celery, mushrooms, leeks, onions and lardons, all served in a tureen over the restaurant’s creamy celery root puree. By the way, that creamy celery root and potato puree is a component of seven different dishes, by my count. Maybe that’s one way they can offer so many entrees – since the kitchen doesn’t have to prepare special sides for every one of them.
My adventurous wife selected a Brazilian-inspired dish – Moqueca de Camarão com Pirão ($38) – as her entree. I’ve eaten moqueca – which is a Brazilian fish/seafood stew – many times, especially in Bahia in Northeastern Brazil, and Chef’s Silva’s version seemed pretty authentic. Pirão is a creamy manioc preparation – almost porridge-like – that can serve to thicken stews. So this was a seafood stew featuring shrimp (camarão) stewed with onions, red bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, coconut milk, Brazilian dende oil, red pepper flakes and a large “dumpling” of sorts, made from tapioca flour. To be honest, Faith – who isn’t a stew aficionado – didn’t love this dish, but it took me back to warm nights in Rio and Salvador eating moqueca at the beach.
I keep hearing that “fine dining is dead.” Well, I’m not so sure. Some of my favorite fine dining spots are very alive and well, including Yuta, The Glitretind, Grappa, Log Haven, Goldener Hirsch, Valter’s Osteria, La Caille and Caffe Molise, just to name a few. And now, add The Charleston in Draper to the list of restaurants to enjoy if you like to get gussied up now and then for a good meal and plenty of lovely ambiance.
Culinary quote of the week: “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.