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Rolling on the River

Chef de Cuisine Daniel Vesey is redefining fine dining at the Lowcountry’s newest upscale restaurant

Story by B.C. Rausch  +  Photography by Lisa Staff

The menu at River House reflects Daniel Vesey’s culinary journey, from the steakhouses of Chicago where he grew up to Asian influences developed from his time spent in the Pacific.

What’s it like creating a fine-dining restaurant from scratch?

“I enjoy the fact that you never really know when a certain aspect of a dish or art will fall into place,” says Chef de Cuisine Daniel Vesey, who was offered just that opportunity at River House at Montage Palmetto Bluff, the newly imaged dining venue at Palmetto Bluff. “It can come out of collaboration, through fine-tuning or, occasionally, strikes you out of the blue,” he said.

More than a restaurant, River House is being described as “a culinary celebration,” where Vesey’s love for the land and the local waters is delivered through premium steaks and seafood.

“I would say that our food and atmosphere tell a little bit of a story as who we are as cooks and what inspires us. We just want the guest to leave feeling they’ve experienced something new and have a fond memory to look back on.”

Vesey’s passion for creating new dishes goes back to his childhood and learning the arts of cooking and baking by helping his mother in the kitchen.

“Even though we lived up north, my mom makes the best chicken and dumplings that I’ve had anywhere, hands down. She makes everything from scratch, including breads and pastries, and is an all-around great cook.”

Vesey wanted to bring the feel of a steakhouse from his native Chicago to the menu while incorporating the resort’s coastal location.

Vesey says he gets unlimited inspiration from the availability of fresh seafood. Diners who choose his “For the Table” offering can share a selection of local and imported caviars or the visually striking seafood tower, which allows a small party to taste a little of everything. 

“Oysters from Two Directions” brings together tastes from both east and west coast waters. River House serves different oyster options weekly, meaning guests can always try something new. “There are a lot of great types of West Coast oysters that I got to enjoy in my past ventures,” said Vesey, who’s lived in Utah and Hawaii. “I wanted to share these options with our clientele.”  

His time in the West exposed him to many other flavors and cuisines that he’s brought to the Lowcountry. “I think there’s a little Asian influence on the menu from my time in the Pacific and some game influence from the mountains.”

Game is a particular passion, so Vesey includes many different chops, steaks and delicious secondary cuts rarely found in other steakhouse settings.

Other offerings change with the season and what’s available. Guests will be able to enjoy everything from North Carolina rainbow trout and Joyce Farms chicken to Niman Ranch pork, venison in many forms and other game. The sides vary as well: In spring, he’ll source ramps, morels and porcinis; in summer, look for stone fruit, squash and tomatoes. Fall is the time for white truffles and the local bounty of specialty cuts and fish.

Vesey also tends a home garden which has been supplying jalapenos, ghost chilies, Thai chilies and hot banana peppers. With winter will come home-grown Meyer lemons, tangerines and kumquats.

This chef’s creativity isn’t limited to the kitchen. He is an avid musician and collector, with 15 guitars of different makes and models. He’s played blues in Chicago and in rock groups in Utah. He’s even brought his love of music to River House, curating the atmosphere with a lively and uplifting mix of jazz and rock classics. Ask nicely, and he’ll sometimes play the guitar in the restaurant, giving diners another taste of his many talents.

Sip and savor 

Not all the magic at River House comes from the kitchen. Patrons have been extolling the relocated bar and the work of the mixologists behind it.  

The bar now sits front and center, with a relaxing patio and a comfortable foyer, both great options for relaxing before or after a meal. 

Given free rein in the development of new cocktails, the team of veteran bartenders has eagerly responded. Here are two early favorites from their experiments in chemistry:

  • Lowcountry Spring. A gin-based cocktail with crème de violette liqueur, carpano bianco and a jasmine-scented bubble on top.
  • The Albuquerque. A carrot-based drink showcasing tequila and a carrot ice cube.

River House also features an extensive wine list with more than 2,500 labels from the world’s major regions and choices from both benchmark wineries to exciting emerging producers. Watch for upcoming tasting menus and special culinary events.