11 October 2007
Posted in Reviews
By Deidre Schipani
The Post and Courier
Thursday, October 11, 2007
It's a family affair. Owner/chef Fred Neuville and his wife Joan collaborate with Heather Barrie-Ahern to create the taste, look and feel of Fat Hen. The Neuvilles' four children lend the appropriate hands to feather the nest of the establishment.
With the opening of Fat Hen on Johns Island, I was asking myself: Is this a play on Mother Goose, "one, two buckle my shoe, â€¦ nine, ten, big fat hen"? Or is chef "digging" in the garden of the goosefoot family and does Fat Hen refer to lambs quarters, or is its name the drinking game â€” A big fat hen, a couple of ducks, three running hares, four brown bears â€¦?"
Having been to Fat Hen, I now think it is a poularde, the fat roaster of French cuisine that is really a goose laying eggs of gold for Neuville and his staff.
Fat Hen has mined the appetites of Johns Island, Kiawah, Seabrook, Charleston and Mount Pleasant residents, and has managed to satisfy them all.
Neither a bistro nor a brasserie, Fat Hen has the casual vibe of a mas (a French farmhouse) whose decor marries whimsy with humor.
A chalk board lists the changing plats du jour along with a specialty drink menu and wines by the glass.
Reservations are taken for large groups and how we wished we could be adopted by a party of 11 that had dibs on the community table in the bar area. The bar serves the full menu along with its own dedicated menu that offers sliders of braised short ribs.
The backbones of French classics are on the menu: French onion soup ($3.95, $5.95), Mesclun Salad ($6.95), Charcuterie Platter ($10.95), Braised Chicken (think coq au vin $15.95), Butcher's Steak and Frites ($17.95), a Cheese Plate for dessert ($9.95-$11.95) along with sorbet, creme brulee, chocolate pate and tarte au citron.
And along with those same French sensibilities is terroir, the sense of place, and Fat Hen honors its Lowcountry location with Shrimp and Grits ($18.95), sides of Collards and Butter Bean ($3.95), Hickory Smoked Brisket ($13.95), Oysters with Country Ham ($8.25), and Fried Green Tomatoes ($4.95).
If mussels defined your experience at 39 Rue de Jean, where Neuville previously was chef and partner, Fat Hen provides â€” with the regional notes of Provence, Brittany, the Cote d'Azur and the creamy sauce Poulette.
For your primal enjoyment, the braised dishes are remarkable. Whether chicken, short ribs or lamb, these sturdy pieces of meat are rendered into fall-off-the-bone succulence.
Double cut pork chops ($18.95) marry Southern collard greens with a splash of Calvados from Normandy.
Tuna wears a beurre rouge mantle (a red wine butter sauce) and cozies up to a side of hoppin' john.
Neuville supports the local, the seasonal and sustainable and this is seen on his menu. He has also hired a talented stable of cooks who bring their own unique talents to the dishes.
We ordered the Onion Tart ($5.95), which reminded us of a tarte flambe of Alsace. It is open face, strewn with smoky lardons of bacon, seasoned with thyme and silky caramelized onions and drizzled with rivulets of creme fraiche.
The BBQ Roasted Duck ($8.50) is glazed with pomegranate juice reduced to the thickness of molasses and served over black pepper grits. The grits could have had more pepper to our taste.
The Hen takes the familiar and with its cleverly conceived menu provides a little twist.
The Seared Grouper ($18.95) feels like a play on a French classic salmon dish served over lentils with a red wine sauce but in this case Southern butter beans replace the lentils and a melange of wild mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs and butter create its own savory nage.
We also ordered the Shrimp and Pasta ($17.25). The "pates" (pasta) are made in-house and are as good as any outstanding Italian restaurant. It is curious to note that sometimes the best fish dishes are found in nonseafood restaurants and pastas of this quality are found at a French-inspired restaurant.
France, however, is no stranger to pasta and Les Pates are always found on bistro and brasserie menus.
A slight licorice tang of tarragon, flat leaf parsley, high quality butter along with wine and tomatoes made this dish a winner.
There is a collegiality among the staff and when our waitress got hung up with a large table, an explanation was quickly given, our water glasses filled and appetizer order was taken. It is clear the principles of hospitality and taking care of the guests are valued here.
You will surely find a sweet to end your meal â€” grilled fruit cobblers, pluff mud pie, a lemon tart or creme brulee ($6.95); but you may want to try a cheese course and a glass of port.
The Fat Hen is a wonderful example of the farmer-chef relationship; the integration of the back of the house to the front of the house and a value system that allows all to achieve success.
In a very short time, The Fat Hen is a red hen that could. Or in French, Miam! Miam!