Red Fish, Hilton Head, South Carolina

Before our first trip to Hilton Head, more years ago than I care to disclose, my nephew and Carolina food expert, Jimbo Tanner, recommended Red Fish. He was right then and it is still a top restaurant on the island, and it was the perfect place for us to go on Nancy’s birthday, especially after my breakfast debacle that morning. Nancy and I, now bereft of Eric and Sinclair, were pleased to be able to get a reservation.

Red Fish is a lovely place with a broad porch. It stands on its own property, a spacious lot with ample space on either side, something unusual on that part of the island. They must have purchased the lot decades ago. The interior also has a very relaxed feel. They have a large wine list, and bottles of wine are a major element in the decor. They sell bottles at retail with a merry $10 corsage fee. Nancy and I were seated outside on the porch on a beautiful evening, and I ordered a glass of rosé with the irresistible name of Hogwash. Aaah! Presently the table blossomed with some excellent bread with butter and a chimichurri sauce that rated “A+” in my notes.    

Nancy ordered a fried green tomato caprese to start.

That’s pesto on the fried green tomatoes. The accompanying red tomatoes were local, real tomatoes that actually tasted like tomatoes. As you can see, it all was served over some peppery baby arugula with a drizzle of balsamic dressing. Nancy loved it.

I started with a cold cucumber dill soup.

The soup was refreshing and tasted delicious.  A little yogurt served to thicken the soup, but added no heaviness. Cucumber and dill are a great combination. Great start.

For her main course, Nancy chose a special, red snapper with assorted vegetables.

The snapper was beautifully cooked  and well seasoned, and Nancy ooh-ed and aah-ed about the vegetables. Again, the tomatoes were flavorful, plus the corn and asparagus were freshly harvested. Every item of the melange added flavor, and the multifarious flavors blended beautifully. This was a thoughtful and well executed dish.

I chose the blackened grouper.

Often when you get blackened fish, it has merely been dusted with some spices. This grouper was seriously blackened. It was spicy with pepper(s), but had a subtle blend of spices that produced layers of flavor. There isn’t much of any seafood better than grouper, and I eat it often when I’m far enough south, usually blackened. I honestly can’t recall a better preparation.   

The grouper came with Sea Island red peas and broccoli. I’m no George H.W. Bush, but I’m not a big fan of broccoli. Broccoli rabe and Chinese broccoli, yes, but standard broccoli, no. But I’m willing to bet that this broccoli — or broccolini — was local, based in part on the non-uniform shapes and sizes of the pieces, but mainly on the flavor. Think of the difference between just-picked sweet corn and that corn you forgot was in your refrigerator. The Sea Island red peas — cow peas — came in an absolutely delicious sauce. I’ve made a new Resolution:  always save a piece of bread to sop up every bit of sauce.  Heck, always ask for a spoon.

This was a great birthday celebration for a wonderful person, the love of my life, and one of the nicest, most generous people I ever have met. Some of you know that Nancy has been on multiple (13) Operation Smile missions all over the world, that she was the Outstanding Volunteer of the year for Children’s National Medical Center here in Washington, that she volunteers wherever there are children in need, and that she takes care of and puts up with a lot from one very large, very old child. She deserved a very special birthday dinner to tide her over until the big “Birthday observed” celebration with Liza, Michael, Ella, and Lily, and she got one at Red Fish. If you get to Hilton Head, be sure to go there.

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