Marbled & Fin breathes new life into the standard steakhouse experience


Tradition and innovation come together in an exciting and unexpected way at Neighborhood Dining Group’s (NDG) latest restaurant, Marbled & Fin. NDG is known for the groundbreaking concept Husk, garnering numerous awards, including Bon Appetit’s 2011 Best New Restaurant in America. Also in the group’s portfolio are local favorites Delaney Oyster House, Minero and The James, and others throughout the South. With Marbled & Fin, the hospitality group breaks the mold for the classic American steakhouse with bold strokes—replacing dark woods with whites and warm jewel tones that flood open spaces with dimensional light, offering a clean chicness to the entire dining environment, and serving steakhouse standards with an elevated twist and some rarely seen features guaranteed to impress.

Located a stone’s throw from the harbor on East Bay Street in historic Downtown Charleston, Marbled & Fin is poised to establish itself as a center for steakhouse innovation, featuring an over-the-top food and beverage program, highly trained staff and the NDG brand of hospitality that ensures an experience that is at once top-shelf and accommodating of every guest.

“I’m excited for the public to see and experience the enormous amount of talent we have procured to run this one restaurant in Downtown Charleston,” says NDG founder David Howard.

The day I toured the not-yet-open eatery, I was wowed by the building’s smart, sleek lines and all-white palette with pops of green provided by flowing integrated palms framing the entryway. Inside Marbled & Fin, a light and airy open dining space glistens beneath high ceilings. The white theme continues, providing a clean canvas for contrasting warm tones in the striking herringbone patterned flooring and a shimmering tile wall bordering a wraparound marble-topped bar.

“David came to us with the intent of designing a modern steakhouse that was out of the ordinary,” says Mollie Bean, founder of MB Within Design Studio. “Heavy, dark woods are traditional in most steakhouses. We wanted to change that narrative.” Custom lighting throughout the dining room was designed by MB Within with the intention of drawing the eye up and through the space. “My studio custom designed the delicate aerial lighting suspended over the bar specifically to reflect on the tile wall,” explains Bean. “Here again, creating dimension with the lighting.”

Inspired by a desire to cultivate a sexy dining atmosphere infused with natural elements, Bean used biophilic design—a concept used to foster a connection to nature in humans—strategically throughout the property. Palms sprout from the floor, creating drama and defining dining areas with living green walls—a statement piece exclusive to Marbled & Fin.

Seating includes a mix of handcrafted tabletops in walnut tones from Timeworn Wood with thickly cushioned white leather chairs from California-based Rove Concepts, and deep rose-colored banquettes that Bean says are meant to mimic living room furniture and feel like a warm hug. Banquette fabric is United Fabrics’ Roy “75 Sushi” textured corduroy.

A private dining room glows with richly lacquered walls and is illuminated by repurposed chandeliers from McCrady’s, the renowned Charleston eatery and former NDG property. A stunning 1,500 bottle wine display was crafted by artisan woodworker Stephen Powers of The Carpenters Hands in Charleston.

Over the couple of years it’s taken to renovate the property and develop Marbled & Fin, NDG leadership assembled a front and back of house team of professionals whose high level of skill and passion were on full display when I visited the restaurant.

“I’m so lucky to have such an amazing collection of talented people in this company,” notes Howard, a James Beard Foundation Best Restaurateur Southeast semifinalist. “We’ve been able to cultivate an environment where they can be successful. It’s a myth to think that we’re in the food and beverage business. It’s all about the people—we’re in the people business.”

Howard discovered as a child at home with family in Burnham Thorpe, England, the joy that food brought to the people around him, prompting his decision to become a chef at age 8. After college, he landed an apprenticeship at Claridge’s in London, a Michelin star and Forbes five-star property, immersing himself in the structure of classic French cuisine at one of the top five luxury hotels in the world. He moved up the industry ladder, working at prestigious properties throughout Europe before opening his own restaurant, Chicago’s Steak and Seafood, in Roswell, Georgia.

“All these experiences, my travels, had a profound influence on me,” Howard says. “I learned a lot about food, and I also met a lot of people from all over the world who shaped what Neighborhood Dining Group is today. When I opened my first restaurant in 1991, of course I had to make decisions about rules, policies, procedures—the environment we’re going to create, the type of people we’re going to hire to serve our guests. The team we put together to lead this business will make or break it. It’s that simple.”

Howard set down his personal beliefs covering a wide range of tenets and conduct in what he calls a doctrine. “That very doctrine, 33 years later, we live by today, in all our restaurants,” he adds. “People are coming for the warmth of hospitality and an experience—for courteous, thoughtful professional service.”

Leading the culinary team are executive chef Eucepe Puntriano and chef de cuisine Paddy Coker. Puntriano got his start in hospitality catering at Meat Market in his hometown of Miami, working his way up to head chef of Meat Market’s Tampa location. “I learned not just about the kitchen, I learned about people,” Puntriano says. “How to work with people and show them it’s not just about how we put the dish up but how we get there—to create a marvelous dish. A chef’s success is the people behind them. When we’re all on the same page, helping each other, have that same focus every day, we can be a successful restaurant.”

Before joining the Marbled & Fin team, Coker worked as a sous chef for the popular steakhouse Hawksmoor in New York City, where he worked his way up to executive grill chef and then executive chef.

“It’s a powerful combination of talent,” notes Howard.

My dinner sampling was designed to reflect the menu’s 50-50 ratio of beef and seafood, and the thought process involved in transforming steakhouse classics into dishes that are a reflection of the people crafting them.

Prime strip loin represented the beef side in a delightful tartare. The perfectly cubed bits of beef crowned an ingenious egg yolk jam—a touch of gastronomy Puntriano says takes the dish to another level. The yolks were brined and cooked sous vide, then spun in a Vitamix to produce a fluid gel effect. Capers, shallots and house tartar sauce finished the sophisticated dish. Accompanying were house potato chips fried in beef fat after a brining and overnight soak to release their starch; they were lightly salted and so translucent you could almost see through them.

Among the steak entrées on the menu: a charbroiled 40-ounce Tomahawk prepared with Marbled & Fin custom seasoning and a 20-ounce dry-aged Kansas City bone-in New York strip steak.

Next out were onion rings—a steakhouse standard Coker put a unique spin on by brining thick slices of onion in a house brine before battering and deep-frying them. The process truly elevated the humble allium.

Ora King, a rich New Zealand salmon, was pan seared and oven roasted, and came to the table in a classic French presentation—with a twist. The creamy beurre blanc was finished with a heavy sprinkling of red smoked salmon roe, and chervil, chives and tarragon in addition to the usual parsley. The red roe added lovely pops of color and flavor to the dish. Inspired to use 100% of the fish in the dish, Chef coated the delicate salmon skin with Marbled & Fin steakhouse seasoning and baked it to produce a crisp, chicharron-like component to munch on.

The creamed spinach was the kitchen’s take on another steakhouse standard. The challenge: to create a lighter version that would appeal to the gluten-free diner by replacing the normal bechamel sauce with a heavy cream reduction thickened with cream cheese instead of flour. A thin crisp of parmesan was layered over the entire dish, making a hard skin that, upon presentation, the server whacked with a spoon—a playful bit of interactive fun.

Robuchon potato puree was a luxurious dish that lavished the golden potato with an 80-20 ratio of butter and cream; the mixture was then whipped by hand to aerate the potatoes and create a light, pillowy effect. A shower of chives finished the addictive dish.

From the dessert list came a decadent mousse cake—chocolate Valrhona entremet—created by pastry chef Mae Co to take the ubiquitous steakhouse “big slice of chocolate cake” to another level. Saffron and black pepper combined with layers of crunchy hazelnut, a dark chocolate mousse, house-made chocolate shards and a touch of 24K gold leaf. The result is a rich, bold play befitting a modern steakhouse.

Co’s inspiration for her key lime baked Alaska was centered around the Southern obsession with the key lime pie. Her striking presentation was built with layers of house-churned key lime ice cream, raspberry sorbet and a key lime custard on a graham cracker crust. The classic meringue was topped with a piece of delicate honeycomb and set ablaze at the table with a splash of Boomsma, an herbal liqueur. A showstopper of a dessert and delicious to boot.

The Marbled & Fin kitchen sources fresh produce, seafood and other products locally as much as possible, and it has established relationships with a wide array of national and international vendors. General manager Geno Dew points to a “beef ethos” developed by leadership to ensure that the dining experience is exceptional. The beef program is centered around partnering with esteemed suppliers such as Meyer Natural, Meats By Linz and DeBragga, renowned for their high-quality meats, ranches and butcher shops. Cuts the kitchen uses include Prime Black Angus, Miyazaki A5 Japanese Wagyu, and Australian Wagyu from Westholme and Jack’s Creek. “The tenets include a commitment to our guest to deliver the highest-quality, best-tasting products while upholding environmentally sound practices and ensuring humane treatment of animals,” notes Dew, who was on the development team of establishments that include The Chastain in Atlanta. The farm-to-table restaurant garnered the Michelin Green Star for sustainable gastronomy.

David Howard and Mollie Bean

Those tenets extend to the wine program, with an eye toward offering a list of thoughtfully selected, quality vintages and making them accessible to every guest—whether an oenophile or a novice. The Marbled & Fin program focuses more on whites, rosé and Champagne than the typical steakhouse. Single glass pours are available in two sizes: 5 ounce and 8 ounce; Krug Champagne, Grande Cuvee is also offered by the glass.

The wine list offers an exciting “sommelier’s selection” page hosted by Marbled & Fin sommelier Tres Coker in which she shares her take on new wines with in-depth analysis. Coker’s wine program is contemporary while still respecting the classics. She says she enjoys introducing staff and patrons to new varietals and showcasing wines that represent the terroir of their region. “We will also be highlighting on our wine list a little green leaf denoting those farmers and winemakers who are both paying attention to and taking care of the Earth, and employing sustainable farming practices, whether organic, biodynamic or regenerative,” she says.

Kenny Lyons, NDG vice president of operations, points out that at Marbled & Fin wine pours arrive in crystal stemware from Riedel, and luxury pours come in handblown Zalto from Austria. Cocktail, water and rocks glasses are from Nude Glass. Handmade porcelain dinnerware is from North Carolina-based Haand, and stainless flatware is from the Robert Welch Sandstone line.

Given the popularity of the espresso martini, the bar program established a unique partnership with Ketel One to ensure guests receive a consistently elevated cocktail. Ketel One supplies Marbled & Fin with its own specialty espresso machine with a built-in nitrous generator for infusing the drink with a mouthfeel that’s luscious and foamy.

And to produce an elevated cup of espresso sans the vodka, NDG invested in an Eversys espresso machine. “It’s the Bentley of espresso machines,” says manager Carl Gilbert, a certified barista. “It automates all of our coffee production to allow us to serve a consistently high-quality drink. It’s invaluable—it eliminates the need to train staff. It’s uncommon at most high-end restaurants because of the cost.”

Charleston-based Counter Culture Coffee supplies on-site roasted single origin coffee to Marbled & Fin.

Culinary director Katy Powers, who came to NDG after a six-year stint at Michelin star recipient Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center in New York, is charged with conceptualizing and bringing to life new hospitality endeavors. “David Howard leads with honesty. He wants to have great restaurants; he wants to run a great business that offers people a great livelihood. I’m very proud to be a part of a team that believes in people and wants to serve people and be a part of the community,” she says.

“Our goal is to ensure that while we are providing a luxury experience, everyone feels welcome and comfortable,” Lyons adds.

That care and pride came through in true hospitality at every turn. Charleston is fortunate to add a stunning destination like Marbled & Fin to its roster of fantastic eateries. *

Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer (sweetgrassandgrits.com).

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