Drive about an hour south of Charleston into the heart of the South Carolina Lowcountry and you’ll come to an exclusive retreat called Kiawah, an island that’s chock full of multimillion-dollar homes, world-class golf courses, and miles of beaches. The crown jewel of Kiawah is a luxurious beachfront resort called The Sanctuary, which is dripping with Old World opulence. Its hotel rooms are palatial, its spa and golf courses are world class, and its restaurants are spectacular. We recently had the opportunity to dine at The Ocean Room, the resort’s Forbes 4 Star- and AAA 4 Diamond Award-winning flagship restaurant, at their invitation, and had a meal that we won’t forget for quite some time.
The restaurant, perched atop a grand staircase on the resort’s second floor, is made up of two rooms: a front bar and lounge, and a spacious dining room. The front room boasts a well-stocked bar, dark woods, and a roaring fireplace — the ideal setting for a whiskey on a chilly day. The main dining room is expansive, with plenty of windows overlooking the ocean, ample space between each of the roomy tables, elegant carpeting, and plenty of high-end fixtures and furnishings. It was the ideal setting for what proved to be a spectacular meal.
All the steaks on offer here are USDA Prime, and along with a wet-aged filet, New York strip, and ribeye, there are also three dry-aged offerings: a 21-day bone-in Kansas City strip, a 21-day bone-in ribeye, and a 40-day T-bone for two. If you want to gild the lily, toppings and sauces include roasted garlic, jumbo lump crab or broiled shrimp Oscar, lobster tail with béarnaise, horseradish crème fraîche, and house steak sauce. You’ll also find plenty of steakhouse staples on the menu, like shrimp and lobster cocktail, oysters, caviar, loaded baked potato, creamed greens, and lobster mac and cheese.
But as the restaurant’s name might imply, there are lots of seafood offerings as well, including braised octopus, Atlantic salmon, plancha-seared tuna, and truffle-encrusted halibut. These aren’t “simply prepared,” as many steakhouses do it; the octopus is served with scallop mousse agnolotti, butternut squash purée, squid ink sauce, aged feta, and frill mustard, and the halibut is served with little neck clams, salsify, romanesco, leek, charred onion, pine nuts, and fumet blanc. Even the chicken, which is sourced from nearby Storey Farms, is plated with roasted carrots, smoked carrot purée, braised wheat berries, purple cabbage, and Madeira jus. These are some seriously “cheffed up” dishes, and this restaurant would be worthy of acclaim on the backs of these alone, even if there were no steaks on the menu.
But there are indeed steaks on the menu, and they didn’t disappoint. Nicely crusted on the outside courtesy of a ripping-hot broiler, they were generously portioned and perfectly cooked to the requested medium rare. I decided to splurge and ask for my dry-aged strip to be served Oscar-style with jumbo lump crab, and the steak came atop four crisp asparagus spears, topped with a ladle of rich hollandaise and a generous portion of big, fresh hunks of jumbo lump crab. To say I ate it with gusto would be an understatement.
The rest of the menu from executive chef Kyle Bowling didn’t disappoint, either. A “Farmer’s Salad” of shaved vegetables, toasted cornbread, Benton’s country ham, pecans, and buttermilk scallion dressing was perfectly composed and addictively tasty. Maine lobster bisque was loaded with buttery lobster and kicked up with Madeira and vanilla sabayon. And the “Kiawah Oyster Roast” — four local oysters topped with Cheddar, cornbread, and hot sauce and broiled — was fun and tasty, and the brilliant addition of smoldering wood chips to the platter nicely perfumed the proceedings. On the side, Brussels sprouts with bacon, pecans, and maple carefully toed the line between sweet and savory; and for dessert, the “Chocolate Brownie Dome” — vanilla ice cream, brandied cherries, and pecans covered by a dome of chocolate that’s melted upon service by a dose of hot butterscotch — is a must-order.
This would have been a great meal even if it was served in a toolshed, but the setting definitely enhanced the experience. The dining room was quiet and refined, and our server was friendly and knowledgeable about all the menu’s ins and outs. He helped guide us through the (very impressive) wine list, decanted our selection with just the right amount of fanfare, and kept our glasses full.
The Ocean Room is the culinary jewel in the crown of The Sanctuary, and it isn’t just a must-visit for guests of the resort; it also easily justifies the drive from Charleston, which is full of great restaurants in its own right. It’s an ideal special occasion restaurant, an upscale spot for a perfect steak and a bottle of Bordeaux, and an elegant destination for locally-sourced dishes cooked with creativity and a whole lot of skill.