Sunday, May 19, 2013

2447 Ashley River Rd., Charleston, SC

I have a new favorite Mexican restaurant...3 Matadors Tequileria.    Recently opened (on Cinqo de Mayo) in the  creatively renovated space that once housed Pinachio's Italian restaurant, 3 Matadors offers both indoor and outdoor dining.  We opted for a table inside, and were very comfortable.  The restaurant is open air,  brightly decorated and even had a pleasant breeze inside.
Our server, Justin, was friendly and efficient, giving us detailed descriptions of many menu items.  The menu is divided into four sections- Appetizers, Salads, Specialty Tacos and Sides.  Justin brought us taco chips and salsa to start, then recommended the Blackened Mahi-Mahi Bites as an appetizer.  We ordered both the Mahi Bites and an order of Queso Blanco dip with chips.  The mahi bites, delicious chunks of blackened fish, were served with a creamy jalapeno ranch dip, which was quite tasty- not too spicy.  The queso dip was the best I've had anywhere in Charleston, made with fresh jalapeños, minus the seeds, and cilantro.
3 Matadors gets their shrimp fresh from the docks at Rockville, SC , so we had to try the "El Capitan" Shrimp tacos.
(All of their specialty tacos are prepared with 6" soft tacos.)  The shrimp in the "El Capitan" was deep fried, then dipped in a signature hot sauce- crispy and hot, inside and out!  Mexi-slaw cooled the fire a bit and complimented the shrimp perfectly.  We also tried the Veggie Taco, adding chicken, just for fun.  The sautéed veggies were clearly quite fresh, and were topped with mexi-ranch sauce, finished with cilantro.  A very good choice, even if you don't add chicken.
         The prices at 3 Matadors are very reasonable and the portions proved to be just right.  I will definitely return soon to try a few more of their house specialties, like Lemon Pepper Mahi or perhaps their Sante Fe Salad- both looked very good.   The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner, starting at 11am.  See you there!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie, had been on my list of "need to read" books for  too long.   I finally purchased the book last week and read it in 3 days.  I have read many books  about the "Re-education" of the educated middle class in China, all of which brought me the kind of horror you feel in your heart and stomach....that sinking feeling you get when you realize that horrible things can happen in any society, at any time, with just a slight tilt of the universe.  Dai Sijie's story, set in 1971 China, tells about the re-education of two friends in their late teens, sons of medical professionals.  Western books are banned and craved by the narrator and his friend, Luo.  Also greatly admired is the lovely seamstress, the object of their dreams and obsessions.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I will tell you that events conspire to forever entwine and separate the three young people, pulling you into their sad yet hopeful world.  I loved this story and have heard that a movie based on the book is being made....hope it is true to this gem of a book.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Blossom at 171 E. Bay St., downtown

Happy Mother's Day to me!!  My family and I had a lovely meal  at Blossom Restaurant this weekend.
Blossom has an understated frontage on E. Bay St., and you may walk right by without realizing that there is  a fairly large restaurant there, with a cathedral, beamed ceiling and outdoor dining.
In past year's, we have watched The Kentucky Derby at their small but friendly bar and celebrated New Year's Eve in their balloon bedecked dining room.  This year, Mothers Day was well-spent at Blossom, dining on Lowcountry favorites and traditional fare.
Our starters were Buttermilk Fried Calamari, She Crab Soup and Baby Spinach Salad.  The calamari was some of the best our group has eaten in a long time, lightly breaded, tender and served with a creamy red pepper remoulade.
I am very fussy about she crab soup, and Blossom's definitely met my expectations.  It had a zing of paprika and a wonderful flavor of sherry throughout.  The baby spinach salad had a twist that I loved...candied bacon.  Delicious.
We ordered the Maple Leaf Farms Duck, Pecan Crusted Flounder and Grilled NY Strip Steak and were pleased with all three.  The duck was crispy on the outside, tender inside and served with a flavorful port cherry sauce.  I loved the flounder, which was one of the better pecan crusted presentations of fish that I have had in the area.  It was served over a bed of sweet potato hash and a puree of fig and honey.  Each bite was swirled in the puree before eaten, giving it a slightly sweet finish.  The NY strip was perfectly cooked and quite tender.  Our entrees were accompanied by a basket of bread, baked with a pretzel-like, soft crust, topped with crunchy sea salt.
The restaurant was very flexible when asked for substitutions on veggie sides and the service was friendly and efficient.
For delicious entrees and a cheerful atmosphere, I recommend Blossom on E. Bay.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

I am joining a book club in June and my first assignment was to read the book, The Madonnas of Leningrad.  I uploaded it to my Kindle and read it in 4 days.  The author, Debra Dean, skillfully tells the tale of Marina, who, as a docent at Russia's premier art museum, Leningrad's The Hermitage, packed, shipped and emotionally catalogued the art work which was at risk during the Siege of Leningrad.
In June of 1941, with the Germans closing in on Leningrad, intent on destroying the city in its entirety, those who worked at The Hermitage, and those citizens who loved it, worked tirelessly to pack over a million art treasures.  They were loaded onto two trains which safely evacuated the art they contained to the Urals, until the war and siege ended in 1945.  Spending days packing, sometimes for 23 hours at a time without a rest, and nights on fire watch on The Hermitage building complex's roof, Marina and the other volunteers lived with little sleep and less food, as they preserved the collected art history of Europe and Asia.
Told from Marina's perspective, as both an elderly, Alzheimer-threatened woman who emigrated to the United States after the war, and as a young worker at the Hermitage, the story weaves tales of war, suffering, hunger and love for art into a compelling narrative.  The Madonnas of Leningrad is also told from the perspective of her daughter, who gives us a side to war survivors that many of us have seen, that of people who have seen such horrors, that they choose not to speak of it.  Marina and her husband, Dmitri, have lived a long, full life after the war, and only reflect on their past experiences when age and dementia shuffle their memories.
I highly recommend both reading this book and looking at the website for The Hermitage,  The facts of the story and the human side represented in this novel bring a clarity to a part of WWII that many of us rarely hear about, The Siege of Leningrad.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

I am a great fan of Julia Child, her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and food, in general.  I love to look at food, think about ingredients and their combinations, experiment with food and, above all, eat food. As I thoroughly enjoy cooking my way through her book of French cooking, I thought it would be fun to look inside the life of Julia Child, to see what made her tick.
The biography, Dearie, by Bob Spitz, enlightens readers about Julia's youth, her west coast upbringing, her service during the war and, ultimately, her love affair with her husband, Paul Child.  It opens the door to Julia, the person, as well as Julia the chef.
I loved learning that Julia was highly driven, competitive and absolutely adored men, especially those she called "real He-men"!  She always appeared to be so "off the cuff" in her life and work, an impression that she cultivated but one that was absolutely untrue.  She was obsessed with the details- all would be planned, researched and rehearsed, step by step, before a recipe or tv show was ready to be used or viewed.  She was also a natural performer.  She could roll with any gaffe and had a wicked sense of humor.  All in all, Dearie was a delight and I recommend reading Dearie for anyone who is just as curious about Julia the person as Julia the chef.