When a restaurant meal begins with the waiter placing a coffee siphon on the table in preparation for the first course, you know you’re in for an extraordinary dining experience. This is the case at Hotel Domestique’s Restaurant 17 in Travelers Rest, where Chef Nick Graves walks me through an eight-course tasting.
Punch Club // Chef Nick Graves delivers flavor and style at Restaurant 17
The bowl of the siphon is filled with a cappuccino-colored pork broth, made from Greenbrier Farms pastured pork. In the top sits a fragrant mix of fresh herbs (shiso, chervil, Mexican oregano, chives) and nasturtium blossoms. The chef flips on the flame beneath the siphon and instructs me to turn it off after the liquid begins to bubble. As the broth boils, it is drawn up into the container, bathing the herbs and releasing their aroma.
The waiter then removes the siphon to the kitchen, where the herb-perfumed broth is poured over a “stew” of Anson Mills hominy, Benton’s bacon, charred octopus, pickled radicchio, and avocado purée. This white pozole, as Chef calls it, is a smoky, salty, savory masterpiece of flavors and textures.
Hot Plate // Crafted with Anson Mills hominy, Benton’s bacon, charred octopus, pickled radicchio, and avocado purée, Chef Graves’s white pozole is a smoky, savory masterpiece.
From there, seven more courses appear, each more ingenious than the last. Crispy fried sunflower buds from Graves’ garden garnish grilled chicken hearts atop a creamy sauce gribiche, while charred Brussels sprouts’ leaves are arranged like flower petals around a mound of orecchiette carbonara. For the fish course, paper-thin slices of local red carrots form the “scales” atop a fillet of poached Alaskan halibut.
Captain Crunch // Chef Nick Graves is all about creative cuisine with a local focus. Dishes like the fried sunflower buds with grilled chicken hearts (above, left) and the red wine–aged New York strip (above, right) highlight the chef’s deft hand at plating, while his take on Cinnamon Toast Crunch (below)—toasted challah bread with cinnamon and pickled blueberries in a bowl of fried Marcona almond milk— shows his playful side.
Graves likewise imbues dessert with his sense of whimsy. What the chef calls “my version of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal” materializes as cinnamon-dusted toasted challah bread and pickled blueberries in a bowl of fried Marcona almond milk.
Hailing from Charleston, Graves trained with Chef Frank Lee at High Hammock (now shuttered) in Pawleys Island and High Cotton in Charleston before moving to Nashville to help Sean Brock open his first Husk satellite. Graves put in a two-year stint at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans before moving to Greenville in 2015 to take the helm at Hall’s Chophouse. Last fall, he left Hall’s to assume the role of executive chef at Restaurant 17.
“Frank Lee and Sean Brock both took me under their wings and taught me a lot,” Graves reflects of his culinary education. “Chef Lee told me that anyone can cook. It’s all about being passionate and staying humble, and cooking what you want to eat.”
What Graves wants to eat—and what he strives to create—is food that sparks memories. When he was growing up, for instance, he loved his mother’s split-pea soup. In crafting his updated version, the self-taught chef cooks split peas and purées them, then whips the purée in a nitrogen canister until it is foamy and airy. “I serve that with a quail egg and a piece of Benton’s bacon from Tennessee,” he notes. “When I eat it, it makes me think of Mom. It has all the components of her dish, but whipping it with nitrogen makes it something completely different. The second it touches my palate, it brings me home.”
Restaurant 17, 10 Road of Vines, Travelers Rest, SC. (864) 516-1254, restaurant17.com; dinner only, Tuesday–Saturday.