Showcasing superb cheeses and standing out amidst an enclave of myriad restaurants
SeaBlue, established in 2004, is the bright star in the dense restaurant constellation of North Myrtle Beach, SC, a region consistently ranked at the top of national averages for the most restaurants per capita.
An emerging fine dining culture is rising above the fried seafood buffets in the area thanks in no small measure to SeaBlue’s owners, Ken Norcutt and Tracy Smith. It’s no wonder the restaurant stands out with its ultra-sultry vibe, exceptional wine collection and tantalizing menu, which includes a sumptuous cheese board.
Just last year a global market research firm ranked the Myrtle Beach area number six, right behind New York City, with almost 2,000 restaurants serving a year-round population of 743,000 and 15 million annual visitors. Those restaurants dot a wide 60-mile-long beach with one of the few remaining maritime forests on the East Coast, at Myrtle Beach State Park.
There’s also Brookgreen Gardens, the world’s largest outdoor sculpture garden with 15 square miles of verdant, landscaped waterfront splendor. Directly east, across Highway 17, nature lovers at Huntington Beach State Park marvel at wild alligators and migrating birds.
Tourists, golfers and locals who seek an adult atmosphere and upscale meals find consistent and tantalizing respites at SeaBlue. Tables are set with white and black linens, candles, fresh flowers, Riedel stemware and oversized Masterpiece crystal.
The décor exudes romance, with blue bar backlighting and dining room accent lights that create a serene underwater feeling. Many proposals have popped in the private “love booth” in the back, and it’s also where celebrities seeking peaceful meals are unobtrusively ushered, including “Wheel of Fortune” letter-turner Vanna White and PGA Tour golfer Dustin Johnson.
Smith’s role is in the front of the house while Norcutt works the kitchen, along with executive chef Robert Wray and pastry chef Deanna Demchock, transforming choice ingredients into memorable meals. The seasonal summer menu includes enormous Georges Bank scallops prepared Rockefeller-style with braised baby spinach, Neuske’s bacon, Pernod and Béarnaise aioli; pan-roasted, local snowy grouper served with lobster ravioli and butter-poached lobster claw; and USDA Prime steaks that may be rubbed in espresso or porcini powders, topped with melted Gorgonzola, or served with Gorgonzola butter, Cabernet demi-glace or balsamic syrup. Gelato, sorbet and crème brulee flavors change with seasonal fruits.
Expanded Wine List
Norcutt, who is also a certified public accountant, has expanded the wine list exponentially; and to complement it he created a luxurious cheese board. His love of fine cheeses began while he worked at Georges Perrier’s lavish Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia, which closed in 2013. After the meat course, Le Bec-Fin servers would roll out a cheese cart three tiers high filled with 20 to 25 different cheeses.
“You’d go around to every table and ask if they’d like cheese and describe [the varieties], and that’s how I learned about cheeses,” says Norcutt. “The cart had fresh fruits, jams and preserves. These days, cheese accompaniments have expanded into olive oils, balsamic vinegars, honeys, but back then it was just crackers, nuts and various dried and fresh fruits.”
Always New Varieties
The cheese board at SeaBlue is widely embraced by discriminating foodies because Norcutt regularly offers new selections, appealing to a variety of tastes. He usually has 15 or so wheels on hand, and he implements an aging program. Boards are often customized, whether by remembering repeat customers’ preferences or by inquiring about diners’ predilections.
The cheese selections also depend on what the customers are drinking. SeaBlue is one of 10 restaurants in South Carolina, and the only one in the Myrtle Beach area, to achieve the “Best of Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator magazine. The designation means the business “must offer a wine list of 400 or more selections, with significant vintage depth or superior breadth in one or more major wine regions.”
The Perfect Pairing
SeaBlue exceeds those requirements with an inventory close to 13,000 bottles purchased from boutique wineries with small-case productions. The wine list features many bottles ranging in price from $25 to $11,000, including Washington State 2007 Alexandria Nicole Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley 2009 Lail Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon from California’s Stags Leap District and 2009 La Tache Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.
The restaurant’s Cruvinet allows fine vintages to be offered by the glass, and for diners who enjoy sampling several varieties, Smith is happy to pour flights after inquiring about the customers’ palate preferences.
To complement the wines, Norcutt’s cheese board includes goat, sheep and cow’s milk cheeses, and textures from hard and firm to soft and semi-soft.
Blue cheeses such as Vernieres Roquefort usually are paired with Spanish fig jam or fresh figs, which grow well in South Carolina, and are drizzled with lemon wildflower honey. Sometimes, a square of mixed flower honeycomb is added. Goat cheeses are paired with orange-blossom honey, fresh apples or pears and sweetly delicate Marcona almonds. Sheep’s milk cheeses go well with the French and house-made jam from SeaBlue’s pantry.
Cheese accompaniments are rounded out with 12-year Italian Tondo balsamic vinegar and a changing variety of pistachios, cashews, peanuts, dried bing cherries, fresh or dried blueberries, fresh strawberries, golden raisins and seasonal fresh fruits. The cheese board is offered as an appetizer or dessert. CC
A Sampling Of SeaBlue’s Cheese Offerings
While new selections pop up frequently on the SeaBlue cheese board, recent offerings have included:
Cocoa Cardona: From Wisconsin’s Carr Valley Cheese Co., this wine-friendly goat cheese is hand-rubbed with cocoa powder.
Humboldt Fog Grande: Proving that California’s Humboldt County is home to an amazing variety of homegrown products, the rind on this aged goat cheese from Cypress Grove Chèvre develops a tangy flavor as it matures. Running through the wheel’s middle is a distinctive blue layer of edible vegetable ash.
Idiazabal: Spanish sheep give the milk to produce this soft cheese with a natural, slightly smoky flavor.
Shropshire Blue: Although this cheese derives its orange color from achiote tree seeds, with your eyes closed you might think this product of Nottinghamshire in England is ultra-creamy Stilton.
Sottocenere al Tartufo: From Italy’s Veneto region, it’s a smooth and silken pale-yellow, semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, aged in a lively mixture of spices and ashes, and studded with black truffles.
Ubriaco del Piave: “Forever drunk” cheese also is a product of Veneto. It has a dark purple rind from being fermented in a mixture of wines, and the process gives the cow’s milk cheese a sweet and fruity flavor and aroma.
Saint Andre Triple Crème: The rich umami mouth-feel of 70 percent butterfat makes savoring this rich French Brie a heavenly experience. CC
503 U.S. 17 N., North Myrtle Beach, SC | 843-249-8800