Charleston’s blossoming food scene isn’t lacking much, with seafood establishments, Italian restaurants, steakhouses, and vegan cafes more plentiful than ever. There are several eclectic eateries pushing the boundaries, but there are few places — until now — offering the tantalizingly spicy and vibrant Western Chinese Sichuan cuisine.
It Started as a Pop-Up
Chef David Schuttenberg introduced Kwei Fei — a concept he named after the love story of an 8th century consort of the last Tang Dynasty — at the Daily in October of 2017, quickly growing to cult popularity during a Friday and Saturday night pop up series. Read up before stopping in to the new full time James Island location attached to The Charleston Pour House, which opened in November.
Fans Rest Assured
Fans of chef Schuttenberg’s pop-up offering at the Daily, which ran for nearly an entire year, will be pleased to find several familiar items on the more expansive James Island menu. The spicy dry rubbed wings are sure to have patrons reaching for water and another bite all at once, while the rich, wood ear mushroom-laced mapo tofu sauce makes the normally flavorless bean curd stand out.
The new menu is broken into three sections — shareable small plates (Loud), main dishes (Hot), and side dishes (Vibes). Two types of dumplings — lamb and pork — are part of the Loud, while the Hot is full of saucy dishes often involving noodles.
Deciphering the Noodles
Some dishes arrive ramen-like while the noodles fully absorb the sauce in others, as Schuttenberg utilizes a variety of base spices stemming from the Western Chinese influences. Xiao mian is a broth-based ode to a typical Chinese breakfast dish with an extra punch of flavor from rendered chicken fat and Chinese pickles. “Ants Climbing a Tree,” on the other hand, is a classic Sichuan dish featuring mung bean thread noodles that fully absorb a sauce made of spices, ground pork, and chicken stock. The metaphoric name is based on the pork’s representation as the ants and the noodles’ as the branches of a tree.
Angry Lady Sauce
Don’t sleep on the jar of sauce resting in the middle of each table. Schuttenberg heats canola oil and pours it over a blend of chili flakes, Sichuan peppercorns, fried garlic, and shallots creating the Angry Lady Sauce — a tribute to the popular LaoGanMa spicy chili crisp. Start with a small dab, as this hot sauce manages to be incredibly spicy while maintaining flavor, just as is the case for much of the Kwei Fei cuisine.
The new eatery offers a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. which features several of the normal menu items alongside a few playful additions. “Open Mouth Laughs” is essentially a sesame-covered Chinese hush puppy, crisp on the outside and doughy in the center. Eggs Benedict Sichuan-style comes in the form of the wild mushroom and scallion turnip cake topped with a Fili-West Farms poached egg. Wash it all down with a fresh mango mimosa or One Love Kombucha.
Kwei Fei offers a substantial selection of local beer, wine, and spirits neat or on the rocks. The bar staff whips up a Sichuan Negroni filled with peppercorn-infused Campari, vermouth, and Beefeater gin, and also gives patrons the chance to try their hand at mixing drinks with the DIY cocktail tray— it arrives complete with a 100ml flask, sparkling water, ice, bitters, and one of three spirits.
Kwei Fei serves dinner from 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Kwei Fei [Official]