Originally created 07/31/98

Sixth at Watkins has tasteful atmosphere



We were fending off the last of a vicious summer cold. Alanis Morissette was crooning Uninvited on our cab driver's radio. The summer heat was waning as twilight approached, and we had eaten nothing but chicken noodle soup for a week. We were in the mood for a little pick-me-up, something romantic, something "knock-your-socks-off -- Wow!"

And we found it: Sixth at Watkins, nestled in an unassuming building, is a hideaway for those in love.

Once inside, you'll think you've walked into an English parlor -- richly colored window dressings; soft, flowing patterns on the wallpaper; contrasts of mauve floral and solid designs on the linens; large, elegant arrangements of dried flowers; a well-stocked wine cabinet in the corner; candles, small lanterns and romantic music flowing throughout. We settled into a table in a remote corner of the room, as the last of the late-day sun streamed in through the Venetian blinds. We were in for an evening we'd never forget.

Tom: Everything about this place was remarkable. My first concern is always service. So I'll start by telling you about this wonderful woman I met there, Allison, an 11-year veteran of Sixth at Watkins who anticipated my every need before I voiced it. We were a match made in heaven: demand and immediate supply.

Julie: I'm convinced Tom was royalty in a past life. Allison started us off with cocktails and gave us a wine list, which was extensive, full of good quality wines, one for every palate.

As she left our table, Tom called after her, "Did I mention I was sick?" She smiled sweetly.

If she could keep that smile all night, I'd kidnap her and take her home with us.

Tom: Julie was the one who gave me this plague. . . . Moving on, I can't remember a time when I've gone to a restaurant, perused the menu and been unable to make a decision. The variety of entrees and appetizers was impressive.

Julie faced the same dilemma. After much hemming and hawing, she decided to be adventurous and try the frog legs -- a delicacy she had never had.

Julie: And Tom ordered the bacon-wrapped smoked mussels.

Tom: But I didn't inhale.

Julie: As he was giving his order, he asked Allison how he was going to get the mussels out of their shells if they were wrapped up in bacon.

She was still smiling sweetly. And again he said, "Did I mention I've been sick?"

She strolled off and quickly returned with a bottle of Kendall Jackson Merlot, for medicinal purposes, of course.

Tom: The wine and the horseradish sauce that accompanied my smoked mussels did the trick. I was beginning to feel like my old self again.

Julie: God help us.

Tom: I so enjoyed the tasty mussels that I almost forgot to ask Julie how she was enjoying her new experience -- you got it, she said, "It tastes like chicken."

Julie: Not exactly, they were more tender. The meat had a more savory taste. And the mustard-barbecue sauce that accented it was delicious. I ate every bit.

Tom: Then came the salads. I lobbied for some semblance of bleu cheese or ranch dressing, which Allison happily provided.

Julie: The sweet vinaigrette house dressing was every bit as good. The plentiful greens were crisp, as were all the vegetables on the salad.

Tom: I told Allison she was a good cook. Now comes the good part -- the entrees. I selected the filet mignon, which was finished with twin sauces of béarnaise and juice burgundy. Cooked medium.

Julie: And I chose the veal scaloppini Cinderella, which is sauteed with hearts of palm, baby shrimp and sauce béarnaise.

Tom: Tender and rich are the buzz words to describe these cuts of meat. My filet melted in my mouth. Absolute perfection.

Julie: I have never had veal you could slice with a fork. The combined tastes of the meat, shrimp and sauce was nothing short of decadent.

Tom: You know what's coming next. Julie finished off the evening with Death by Chocolate.

Julie: A confection that put me out of my misery.

Tom: Sixth at Watkins, owned by sisters Helen Watson and Michelle Reese, operates a successful catering business in addition to the offerings you'll find for lunch and dinner at the restaurant. We cannot rave enough about this place. All we can tell you is that you need to go, and you need to do it soon.

Tom Curran and Julie Gates are the proprietors of Floyd Manor Inn in Blackville, S.C. They may be reached for comment at (803) 284-3736.

Ratings:

Atmosphere: ****

Service: ****

Food: ****

Dining Out

•  What: Sixth at Watkins

•  Where: 559 Watkins St.

•  Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 6 p.m. until, Tuesday through Saturday

•  Phone: 722-8877