A tucked-away hotel eatery serves farm-to-table dishes, second to none
What guests staying at the elegant Marina Inn at Grande Dunes have happily discovered is now leaking out: The resident WaterScapes restaurant secreted at the bottom of the curving stairway and just past the hotel fitness center is a hidden gem of an eatery.
The best seats are undoubtedly on the terrace overlooking marina life. The main dining room is rather small with only about 20 tables, but the ambience is cozy as couples sit side-by-side at intimate banquettes sharing the meal’s end bowl of complimentary homemade fluffy cotton candy—the WaterScapes version of an after-dinner mint.
Executive chef James Clark is serious about sustainable “Farm-to-Table” dining to the point that he lists all “our farms, fishermen and friends” on the menu itself so you know where each element on your plate hails from.
A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, Clark honed his skills with the likes of Jeff Turks in New Orleans and our own Louis Osteen. His methodology is simple, yet requires great finesse: Get the freshest foods possible, use only three or four ingredients per dish, and maximize those flavors via the right cooking techniques.
Eating up Clark’s culinary philosophy, the grass-fed, porcini-rubbed beef tenderloin was fork-tender, served with crispy onion rings that held a crunch to the last bite and a cider-based au jus. And the off-of-a-Murrells Inlet-fishing-boat snapper, simply seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, was nothing short of delightful when paired with an earthy wild mushroom ragout, small dice of cooked turnip and delicately sautéed Brussels sprout leaves.
We marveled at the Parmesan Seared Romaine Salad starter, a deconstructed traditional Caesar salad recreated in a most novel and delicious way. An intact heart of Romaine is dipped into fresh Parmesan, then pan seared until the cheese forms a meshy crust on the lettuce. It’s drizzled with a kicky dressing and surrounded by bits of sun-dried tomato, prosciutto and a surprise of salty Kalamata olives. That, plus a substantial crouton.
The dessert menu and breads are crafted by pastry chef Tina Spaltro, who raised the bar on sweets during her tenure at the private Dunes Golf & Beach Club. Taking classic American recipes and adding in her Italian roots, Spaltro is the master kneader of WaterScapes’ unforgettable bread basket heaped with homemade olive bread, honey-oatmeal-wheat bread and a wafer-thin Lavash covered in toasted sesame seeds.
She’s also the confectionary creator of the likes of a frosted flake crème brûlée and rum-soaked coconut cake encircled by passion fruit sauce.
As a nod to fall, we decided to share Spaltro’s sweet potato bread pudding, topped by a noggin of slightly charred marshmallow crème and set in the middle of praline sauce with a hint of bourbon and candied pecans. It turned out to be a comforting classic, taking my senses back to childhood campfire roasts and after-school snacks of warm spice muffins.
You won’t find a pondering menu at WaterScapes, but a focused one. For the winter, standard dinner entrees include a roasted chicken, 36-hour short ribs, New Bedford sea scallops, quail, teres major, a pork rib chop and vegetable pasta. Fresh fish filets and shellfish change daily, and featured items come and go with the season’s bounty.
It’s not often that I feel the need to salute my meal. But after spreading the roasted vegetable and garlic tapenade and Vermont butter on all the luscious breads and taking time to savor every bite of the seared salad, when my snapper dish arrived in all its simple glory I had to raise my glass of Rodney Strong Chardonnay and say, “Ah. This is the way food is supposed to taste.”
Marina Inn at Grande Dunes
8121 Amalfi Place
Myrtle Beach, SC 29572
Breakfast 6:30–10:30 a.m.; Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner 6–9 p.m.