Tristan offers history, sophistication to Charleston, S.C., diners – Design

Tristan offers history, sophistication to Charleston, S.C., diners – Design – New restaurant

Lori Lohmeyer

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Nestled along the coast of South Carolina, the 300-year-old port city of Charleston offers visitors and residents a wide variety of daytime attractions, including historic forts, castles and beaches.

But in recent years a fresh crop of culinary offerings has proved to be one of the city’s biggest draws. And while the look of many of those restaurants is inspired by Charleston’s long history, a new restaurant called Tristan is designed to showcase the city’s sophisticated side.

“Our goal was to carve a niche for ourselves in a fine restaurant city by reflecting the fact that Charleston has become a much more cosmopolitan city,” said Sharon Toporek, co-owner of Tristan. “Even though it has a beautiful history, it’s a very sophisticated town.”

While Toporek instructed architect and designer Bill Johnson to stray away from incorporating aspects of Charleston’s colonial heritage into the design, she did encourage him to highlight the coastal aspects of the city. From large ellipses on the ceiling, curved banquettes in the dining and bar areas, and rounded glassware, every element in the restaurant gives guests an impression of water, Johnson said.

To invoke further a feeling of water, Johnson added a glass sculpture depicting the ebb and flow of a wave and added a waterfall effect into the restaurant’s sign. In the bathrooms, the sinks are semicircular glass trays. Water falls off the trays into troughs, again creating a waterfall effect.

One wall of the restaurant uses a unique lighting technique that makes it seem to be a wall of water. Several menu items, including a custom-designed blue Cosmopolitan and a blue sorbet, also allude to the restaurant’s water theme.

According to Johnson, the restaurant’s elliptical space was developed because of its street-level location in the city’s new French Quarter Inn. Toporek said that to increase customer appeal, the restaurant’s design was created to focus on fluidity and comfort.

With two entrances on opposite walls, Johnson said he needed to develop an easy way for traffic to flow through the restaurant and give visitors from both entrances a bird’s-eye view of its 45-seat bar and exhibition kitchen. As n result, Johnson installed a hostess stand at each entrance and installed an elliptical-shaped bar with easy access from either side.

The bar is separated from the restaurant by a glass wall covered with sheer draperies. Putting up the wall helped prevent bar patrons from feeling they were enjoying their cocktails in a fish bowl, Johnson said. It also helped to keep noise and smoke out of the 150-seat dining room, he noted.

To give diners the opportunity to enjoy dinner-table conversation and accommodate live music in the restaurant, Johnson cut elliptically shaped openings in the restaurant’s ceiling, adding to the curved aspects of the space. He decided to rely on the tablecloths and padded seating to reduce the noise level for diners. The restaurant boasts a small baby grand piano, and the restaurant’s co-owner, Eddie Toporek, has been known to play the trumpet for customers, his wife, Sharon Toporek, said.

With a nod to the sleek designs of restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, Tristan incorporates a sleek and subdued color scheme. Johnson said he used white and navy with Brazilian cherry tones to highlight the restaurant’s cuisine.

“We wanted something that would be a bit on the minimalist side, so you didn’t have this busy, visual environment that competes with the dishes,” he added.

Toporek said she uses feng shui techniques, such as strategically positioning white flowers on the table, to help soothe customers while dining.

Tristan offers more than 2,000 wines and champagnes and a menu of eclectic, creative cuisine. The restaurant’s wine cellar has glass walls to give customers a view of its offerings.

Executive chef Mark Timms spearheads the menu. Two of the kitchen’s popular offerings include sea bass with orange mist tea sauce, lobster risotto and chive polenta cake and oven-roasted chicken breast with twice-baked sweet potatoes. Timms ensures that the restaurant’s modem design does not put off those guests who are interested in a casual, friendly dining experience by serving cotton candy at the end of each meal.

According to Timms, the restaurant’s exhibition kitchen helps promote the cuisine and provides an appreciative environment for cooks to showcase their talents. But being exposed to customers requires a series of extra hurdles that must be overcome, Timms said. He has to keep the space sparkling during peak times and make sure his cooks are on their best behavior.

“I love the fact [the kitchen staff] can’t swear or lose their temper,” he said. “We do fun first, and we’re not about having big egos. It reflects to our customers.”

To help make sure his workers stay grounded, Timms sends each of them out to do community service.

“It’s so easy for cooks to get an attitude that they’re great,” he said, adding that exposing his chefs to real-life traumas helps them keep the critiques of customers in perspective and improves the restaurant’s food quality.

Using an exhibition kitchen also helped modernize the restaurant and separate it from other Charleston mainstays. According to kitchen designer A1 Berger, formerly of Dallas-based Food Service Concepts, the days of dining in restaurants without any bodies moving back and forth is over.

“We’re far less formal today than we’ve been in the past,” he added. Berger’s portfolio includes some of the country’s top restaurants, such as Craft in New York and Jasper’s in Dallas.


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COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group