Over the years, we’ve been fortunate enough to head down to Bluffton’s Palmetto Bluff several times for various assignments. The gigs often revolved around the outdoors (Palmetto Bluff features 20,000-plus luscious Lowcountry acres) or food . . . and sometimes both. Whether it was an oyster roast, another helping of their once-famed “Music to Your Mouth” food and wine festival, or a meal at one of their many tasty restaurants (we originally met FARM’s beloved Brandon Carter there), Palmetto Bluff, which includes Montage Palmetto Bluff Resort, has always held a very special place in our hearts . . . and stomachs.
We recently returned to “the Bluff” to check out their ‘new’ River House restaurant. Like Quarterdeck in Sea Pines (which also recently reopened after a total makeover), River House at Montage Palmetto Bluff is essentially a new restaurant. That’s thanks to a complete remodel featuring floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the May River, an expansion of the restaurant into what was once a large, screened porch, and a new and lively bar. Oh, and did we mention their brand-new speakeasy, Hush? Loyal DISH readers are among the first to know.
We have to say the new restaurant space blew us away from the minute we walked into River House. It was early evening, so the light was bright and airy, and it was almost as if we were still outside and staring out at the May River.
After ordering cocktails from the long new bar (which replaced what we always felt was an afterthought add-on bar in a separate little room), we opened our menus and started our typical debate on what to order (we never order the same thing and we always share). And, this menu led to much debate, with virtually everything on the menu singing to us.
Chef de Cuisine Daniel Vesey’s new menu shines as brightly as the new space, with a focus on fine seafood and game. The ever-changing possibilities mean that veteran visitors and residents will always find something to love on the menu.
“For the Table” starts the menu and a meal with some pretty special options, including caviar service (from American Paddlefish to Royal Osetra and Imperial Osetra the night we were there) and a truly dazzling Seafarer’s Tower for two or four, which that night featured oysters, local shrimp, tuna tartare, and uni mousse. We always thought “uni” were sea urchin eggs, or roe, but it turns out uni is actually sea urchin, um, gonads.
Next on the menu, “A la cart Appetizers” means modern interpretations of classic dishes, like Crab “Louie” (with a quail egg and a thousand island dressing we can promise you our mothers never made), Yellowfin Tuna Tataki, Vesey’s pretty and fresh Shrimp Cocktail, Rohan Duck Leg with Tupelo honey lacquer, and Prime Beef Tartare with beef tallow toast, pickled mustard, quail yolk, and boquerones butter that just may be our favorite single “meat” dish in the Lowcountry this year.
We were pacing, so we skipped ordering from “Salads” (and will save room next time). As we’re wont to do we watched servers take plates to nearby tables, and both The Wedge and The Caesar were picture-perfect and, lettuce assume, tasty.
Our server (the knowledgeable service was impeccable, by the way) said the next section on the menu, “River House Seasonal Features,” was where Chef Vesey and the kitchen took particular pride. Depending on what’s available and in-season, the possibilities can include: North Carolina rainbow trout, Joyce Farms chicken, Niman Ranch pork, various treatments of venison and other game, and more. Our Venison Tenderloin with huckleberry reduction, smoked maple sweet potato, and rainbow Swiss chard was outstanding, and we can’t wait to return to try the Wapitiki Elk Chop when it returns to the menu.
As if that weren’t enough meat, “Prime Cuts is next on the menu. There’s typically a Prime Filet and various dry-aged cuts (including a Tomahawk for two), plus their popular Wagyu Coulette. Oh, and their pretty-in-pink (and white marbling) Japanese Wagyu is also offered in two-ounce portions.
Next, “From the Ocean” ranges from local seafood across the world’s seas and oceans. The night we were there, Alaskan halibut, Maine lobster, Carolina shrimp, tuna and scallops were all being prepared perfectly (and simply).
“Accompaniments” get their own listing for good reason. Whether we tasted it or simply saw it go by our table, we can quite comfortably recommend the Pan Roasted Mushroom “Mix Up” for sharing, the Black Truffle Cream Corn and the Whipped Potatoes or Pommes Frites with truffle aioli, as well as whatever Chef’s Garden Mixed Vegetables are on offer. The menu reference to Chef’s Garden got our attention, in that we’ve known famed Farmer Lee Jones from Chef’s Garden up in Ohio for more than 20 years, and we can report that the kitchen at River House is definitely treating anything Chef’s Garden sends them with the respect it deserves.
Speaking of gardens, our server recommended that we visit Palmetto Bluff’s sprawling
15-acre farm, and we did just that the next day. Friendly Farm Manager Shane Rahn just happened to be there and we enjoyed talking all things produce with him.
Back at River House, we saved a bit of room for dessert. There’s Cheese & Honey, with three local cheeses and three varieties of honey, seasonally-inspired ice cream and S’mores Baked Alaska, among many options. The s’mores on steroids feature smoked marshmallow ice cream, bourbon marshmallow, manjari chocolate and 151 rum. Most nights, they also offer a fun s’mores cart out at the fire pit overlooking the May River.
River House’s wine list features more than 2,500 labels in a variety of formats from all of the world’s major wine regions, ranging from benchmark wines to emerging wineries, leading to wine pairings by top sommeliers like PJ Myers that are perfect for the seasonal selections coming out of the kitchen. We knew PJ from Michael Anthony’s Cucina Italiana, which we love and plan to feature in a future DISH.
Director of Beverage and certified sommelier Robert “Bob” Smith oversees beverage operations at the Forbes Five-Star resort’s varied dining destinations, including River House, Octagon, Fore & Aft and the newly-opened coffee shop (try their fresh-pressed orange juice too), plus the aforementioned
brand-new speakeasy, Hush. Bob gave us a top-secret tour of lush Hush and tastes of some amazing cocktails, and we’d love to tell you more, but that would spoil it. We can report that Bob says a martini should generally be stirred, no shaken (sorry Bond, James Bond).
Many non-residents opt to pair a River House reservation with a night (or two) at luxurious Montage Palmetto Bluff, as well as another tasty meal (or two). From experience, we can highly recommend this splurge (and specifically, the cottages…trust us).
1 Village Park Square
Bluffton, SC 29910
Tuesday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.