Pull Up a Chair at R. Kitchen for Casual, Fun Food

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Chef Webb flambes the appetizer of the night, a drunken potato smothered with melted deliciousness in the form of goat cheese
 
Diners looking for a new way to connect with the chef preparing their food need look no further than R. Kitchen, a relative newcomer to the Charleston restaurant scene. The restaurant, helmed by chef/owner Ross Webb, is a tiny slip of a place sharing the neighborhood along Rutledge Avenue with institutional favorites Hominy Grill and Lana, and the place has been getting lots of great local attention ever since it opened in May 2014.
 

Drunken potato with goat cheese topped with pancetta and caramelized onions
 
Chef Webb is an affable, aw-shucks kind of chef, the kind who makes his 30-seat establishment feel like a glorified home dining room. Our Friday night supper menu, a staggering five courses for a very reasonable $25, didn't seem like it would be anything fancy at first. The ingredients themselves were simple at first blush. We arrived to see stacks of thickly sliced potatoes hanging out on the same bar where we would end up eating and chatting with Chef Webb. As he transferred salmon filets to a tray for ease of pan-searing later in our dinner, he casually chatted as if we'd been friends just checking in with each other. As a home cook who loves to entertain, I can surely attest that cooking while entertaining can be a dangerous game to play. I want to be a charming hostess, armed with an ice-cold beverage and a perfectly pressed apron to greet my guests as they arrive at a fashionably late hour. The reality is that usually I'm a hot sweaty mess, there are dirty dishes everywhere, and somehow I've gotten hollandaise sauce on the ceiling. Not to mention that all of my cooking these days is punctuated by intermissions where I have to chase a toddler or two at full speed. 
 

 
But I digress. Chef Webb's main skill isn't just in the kitchen—it's that he, with the help of minimal staff, has managed to create a convivial, friendly atmosphere that makes dinnertime entertaining and accessible, especially to locals who are looking for a fun, casual restaurant with fresh energy. As Chef Webb put it, he's kind of a food truck/hibachi/Iron Chef, and it feels that way. He doesn't make onion towers or flambé teriyaki shrimp, but the same "show within a dinner" feel exists. Before firing each course, he asked for diners' preferences, including those of our four year old, who loved the one-on-one interaction with the chef (and tried all five courses, to boot).
 

Pan-seared salmon with avocado couscous
 
As for the food itself, think of the meal you can expect as twists on everyday favorites. Our made-to-order dinner (Chef Webb changes his menu almost daily, depending on what's available and in season) included a pan-seared salmon, cooked to a perfect medium rare. Overcooked salmon really bums me out, so I was very excited when my filet, which arrived in front of me with a perfect golden-brown crust, flaked away easily with a fork to reveal swirls of glistening fish. Seriously, folks: good salmon should be medium-rare. Don't just trust me; look here. The salmon was accompanied with an avocado couscous, which ended up being a nice fluffy, creamy contrast to the salmon.
 
Our other dishes included a classic yet gluten-free fried chicken accompanied with traditional greens and broad beans, and a ribeye curry flavored with Indian rogan spices. Everything we ate had clean, simple flavors that accentuated the natural tastiness of the ingredients. Most of all, we loved the collegial atmosphere and the warm feelings we left with. R. Kitchen and Chef Webb are having fun with their tiny place, and you should, too.
 
R. Kitchen | 212 Rutledge Avenue | Charleston, SC
 
For more information and photos about R. Kitchen, check out Grits & Chopsticks here
 
Photos by Ann Kaufman; please do not use without permission, or credit http://www.gritsandchopsticks.com