On a quiet side street off the bustling area of Meeting and King, sits Muse, a restaurant that hasn’t received a ton of hype, but is definitely deserving of a high-ranking status among downtown Charleston restaurants. The name accurately reflects the setting – an old home with a villa-like atmosphere reminiscent of the heart of Italy. Muse boasts a wide selection of wine – 100 by the glass to be exact and 500 bottles from producers all around the world. The selections are true to their region and history. The owner is from a family that owned many restaurant establishments and even studied in Italy in college. You can tell that her time abroad inspired what is now Muse on Society Street.
Her exact inspiration comes from a story called the Villa of Mysteries. Muse’s website describes the story like this, “Perched on a hill overlooking the Bay of Naples amongst the ruins of Pompeii emerges the memory of the Villa of Mysteries. The ill-fated Pompeii flourished before Mt. Vesuvius decided to take its toll on her in 79 A.D., as it was a city of sophistication and civility with an eclectic population and style of living. The Villa, a former wine-producing estate, houses one of the most provocative series of frescoes known from the Classical world of the Mediterranean, and the frescoes have been at the center of a dynamic scholarly debate for nearly a century. Because of its mythological imagery, historians, artists, psychoanylists and viticulturalists have all been beguiled by the chamber housing the frescoes since it was uncovered from the rubble in 1908. It very naturally became the inspiration for this restaurant establishment, where one finds a rendering of the past with the present, and where the food, wine and walls meld together as in the Mediterranean tradition.”
As for the chef, Howard LaFour was born in Singapore, but grew up mostly in Lincoln, Nebraska. At age 18, he started a culinary career in New Orleans in the Pere Marque Hotel. After Hurricane Katrina, LaFour stayed and cooked for the relief workers for six months. He then went onto Washington, D.C., before moving to Charleston in 2008 where he landed a job under Craig Diehl as sous chef at Cypress. In 2011 he became the executive chef of Muse.
The menu boasts many Italian favorites. Start with grilled calamari tossed in olive oil, lemon and espelette and basil. Order the 13-ounce rib-eye steak grilled, cut and served with confit fingerling potatoes, grilled French beans and a foie gras butter. Top everything off with a white chocolate croissant pudding with cinnamon anglaise. Wine will be a natural accompaniment to this meal. Just ask the server for recommendations. You’ll leave Muse feeling as relaxed (and as full) as ever. It will be a Charleston experience in an ambiance that is truly European.