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Southern Evolution


Charleston’s Tristan serves up modern takes on classic Carolina dishes.
By Maura Kutner
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Tristan Entrance

tristan, charleston restaurants, aaron deal entrance to tristan The vine-covered entrance to Tristan, located in Charleston's French Quarter.

Tristan

tristan, charleston restaurants, aaron deal interior of tristan The interior of Tristan, one of Charleston, South Carolina's, most celebrated restaurants.

Duck Breast

tristan, charleston restaurants, aaron deal duck breast One of Tristan's signature entrees is served with an orange chili marmalade.

Beet Salad

tristan, charleston restaurants, aaron deal beet salad Tristan's appetizer of heirloom baby beets is accented by Split Creek chevre mousseline, sunflower seed pistou and petite arugula.

Aaron Deal

tristan, charleston restaurants, aaron deal aaron deal Tristan Chef Aaron Deal arrived at the restaurant in 2007; his menu emphasizes modern twists on Southern classics.

Tristan's Rack of Lamb

tristan, charleston restaurants, aaron deal rack of lamb The rack of lamb is served with garlic lemon curd, quinoa risotto and Swiss chard.
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In Charleston's French Quarter, the long-acclaimed restaurant Tristan sits in between two very different streets. On one side is South Market Street, packed with hotels, cafés, boutiques and traffic — a testament to the rapid growth of Charleston's business community and increasing cultural options. On the other side is Linguard Street, a historic-district destination for carriage rides and ghost tours, where the city's time-honored Southern heritage is palpable.

At Tristan, 26-year-old chef Aaron Deal (who came to the restaurant in December 2007) reflects that juxtaposition, creating adventurous twists on traditional Southern dishes. "I think of Charleston as having strong cultural and historical roots with a progressive attitude and edge," says Deal.

That mindset certainly resonates in the food. The South has its short ribs and catfish; Tristan's interpretation shows up as lamb ribs with chocolate barbecue sauce and white tuna with pancetta and truffles. Of course, conventional Carolina favorites are not absent from the menu: Deal infuses his popular She-Crab soup — a cross between chowder and bisque made with Charleston's famous blue-crab meat — with parsnip cream and white miso sauce. The Saint Simon's Bay oyster appetizer, available with a foie gras vinaigrette or apple basil granita, also makes for a lovely sampling of seafood.

Tristan is one restaurant where dessert cannot be missed. Warm dumplings filled with ginger apple cider and fennel cream, as well as the caramelized pear and maple bread pudding are both favorites on the menu, but the Chocolate Tasting is an irresistible treat. A molten chocolate doughnut, malted white chocolate semi freddo (a small ice cream cake), and a milk-chocolate soda are presented with malt powder and a Cocoa Nib Touille. Deal would make a fortune if he patented the soda and made it available at grocery stores.

Like the food, the décor is decidedly modern: Long gossamer curtains and plush royal blue upholstery create a regal interior, while a live jazz band makes for a relaxed atmosphere. The staff is exceptionally knowledgeable about the restaurant's selection of wine, beef, caviar and locally grown fish and vegetables. Their enthusiasm and precise presentation — all meals are brought to the table by a set of waiters and laid before diners at the same moment — exude distinct attention to detail. Deal himself is likely to drop by your table to see how you're enjoying your food — because one tradition that can't be improved upon is that of Southern hospitality.

Tristan, 55 Market Street, Charleston, SC. 843-534-2155. tristandining.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner; brunch served Sundays.

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