A duel review – dinner and theater. In conjunction with the Furman Theater Department’s production of Michael Hollinger’s play, "An Empty Plate at the Cafe du Grand Boeuf", 33 Liberty was offering a special dinner opportunity. The premise of the play is as follows: a cafe owner decides to commit suicide by starving himself. His wait staff brings out empty plates while describing a multi-course meal. Chef John Malik worked closely with the Furman students to teach them about fine dining and cuisine.
First the meal…
33 Liberty has been one of those places I’ve wanted to visit every since John Malik commented on one of my posts here. I’ve been following his menus weekly and receive his regular e-mail newsletter. It’s been a matter of matching an appropriate menu that Laura might be able to eat (food allergies) with our busy schedule. This dinner and theater offering looked like the perfect time to give it a try.
For this dinner special, we were seated at a table for four with two other theater patrons. By pure chance, our pairing happened to be with Tony Arrington’s sisters, Ruth and Lucille – two of my cousins. Laura contends that this could only happen in South Carolina.
The location is unusal. The cafe is located on the back side of the old Pleasantburg Shopping Center. Despite the proximity of an excellent book store (Open Book) and the best Indian restaurant in town (India Palace), the area is in decline. It is a testament to the quality of 33 Liberty that it thrives in such a place. The place is tiny, with only a few tables. Muted elegance with soft pastels with a definite French motif is the order of the day. This is a place for an extended meal over several courses, so there is no frenetic music to rush the diners out the door.
The menu is limited and changes weekly. As stated earlier, the emphasis is on a dining experience, so meals are priced according to the number courses ordered. Two courses begin at $33 each, up to five courses for $50. For this special, our choices were restricted even further to a choice between two appetizers, two main courses, and one dessert.
The service was impeccable, as one would expect at such a fine restaurant.
The meal began with a sample of 33’s potato chips – wonderfully salty with a touch of herbs (which I’ve unfortunately forgotten.) These made an excellent start to the meal. All of the women ordered the onion soup, and ordered the veal and pork pate. The soup drew rave reviews, but the pate was not what I had expected. Instead of something spreadable, the pate had the consistency of luncheon meat. It was still tasty, accompanied by their homemade mustard and pickles.
Again, the women ordered one thing and I ordered the other option. The ladies had the seared Canadian salmon with lemon chive butter & jasmine rice cake, and I had the beef hangar steak with mashed potatoes and green beans. All got excellent comments. The steak was tender and tasty. The meal was finished with a tiny portion of creme brulee – a pivotal plot point in the play. I was just wishing that we’d had a full portion.
Our choices for main courses were fairly basic. Given their quality, I now really want to come back and see what Chef Malik does with something more innovative.
Next the play…
An interesting premise – starving onself to death in the midst of plenty. The ironic potential is ripe for comedy, and the Furman Theater does not disappoint. Kevin Treu is wonderfully believeable as the hapless Hemmingway-quoting restaurant owner who makes the odd request of his reluctant staff. Ian Philips as Claude, the obsequious Headwaiter, steals the show with a rendition worthy of Michael Palin. With slicked hair and pencil-thin moustache, his appearance and delivery are very reminiscent of the best of the Monty Python sketches.
Meredith Neville, Charles Murdock Lucas, John Paul Foster, and Bethany Beall round out the cast, each doing an admirable job. All in all, it was a superb performance, especially with the pairing of dinner with the theater.