Thursday, July 25, 2013

In the matter of The Italian Secretary, a mystery is "afoot".  Caleb Carr, the author of the intricate and exciting mysteries The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, has given the many fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a new Sherlock Holmes mystery to savor.  The Italian Secretary has all of the plot points that draw us into solving crimes with Holmes and Watson.  The story is set in Victorian England, at Holyroodhouse, the official British royal residence in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Not only does Carr provide us with unexplained and unusually performed murders, but a hint of the supernatural, as well.  As addicts of Sherlock Homes mysteries can tell you, Conan Doyle was a believer in spiritualism, which was quite a popular diversion in the Victorian era, both in Europe and in the United States.  Add two royal employees, murdered in a manner "most foul", a dark castle turret room, once inhabited by the Scottish Queen Mary, stir in a ghost and characters who are not what they seem and you have the recipe for the perfect Sherlock Holmes mystery.
Having read Volume I of the Complete Sherlock Holmes and read most of Volume II, I was very excited to learn of a modern day addition to the Holmes mysteries.  Caleb Carr has captured the dark and moody atmosphere exhibited in Conan Doyle's mysteries so well, that, once firmly ensconced in the story, you forget that you are reading a novel written in 2005,  by someone other than Sir Arthur.
With all of the talk lately about the British royal family, and the birth of Prince George, third in line to the throne, this is the perfect time to delve into a story that involves intrigue in the palace of  a Queen. Written with the permission of the Conan Doyle estate, The Italian Secretary is a marvelous mystery, one which I hope and pray Carr follows with another, and another, and another....."Eh, Watson?"
Reading "The Adventure of  The Dying Detective"

I loved the mystery of "The Speckled Band"

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Ordinary is anything but.

The Ordinary is anything but.  Just walk through the doors at 544 King St. and you will see an amazing transformation from the bank that once occupied the building.  The room is open, airy, and sleekly decorated with all things "ocean".  This new-age oyster hall is all about the details, whether on the walls and shelves or on your plate.  The vault door entrance to the kitchen is the one shout-out to the bank, but all around it screams "the sea".   Serene paintings of the ocean adorn the walls, anchors top stacks of books, shells, coral, and large stuffed fish hang above the bar.
     The staff greeted us, seated us immediately, (even though we were early for our 5:45pm reservation) and our excellent waitress, Selena, guided us through the menu.  We had a few choices in mind before arriving, but we were gently coaxed to be more adventurous and creative in our combination of food choices.  The menu is set up in sections; hot, cold, oyster bar, shellfish towers, soup & salad, large plates and veggies & sides.  We took our waitress's very good advice and ordered 2 hot choices, 1 cold choice, 1 soup, and 1 veggie.  (You are encouraged to share, so that you can try more menu items.)
     We began with the 2 hot choices, BBQ White Shrimp & Charred Bread and the Clam Fritters with coriander creme fraiche.  The shrimp, large, local and firm, were bar b q'ed heads-on, served on two slices of charred bread, swimming in a pool of the most delicious sauce I have ever tasted.  The sauce, made with sherry, cream, fresh rosemary and worcestershire sauce was not too heavy and the seasonings were very happily married. The Clam Fritters were golden brown, bursting with tiny bits of clam, and served over a luscious swirl of creme fraiche.  The best part of the dish, we agreed, was taking a bite of the fritter along with one of the succulent sunflower sprouts scattered around the plate.
     Our next amazing combination was a soup and a vegetable.  We were served a scrumptious bowl of New England Style Fish Chowder, milk based, loaded with huge chunks of white fish and fresh snipped chives.  We scooped spoonfuls of it onto our plates and added the Pink Eyed Peas and Okra Croutons- a taste revelation, for sure.  The nuttiness of the peas and the crunchiness of the okra mixed so well with the creaminess of the chowder.  We finished every little bit of it!
     We decided to finish off our feast with the cold choice, as a little reward for our adventurous palates.    The Ordinary Lobster Roll, one pound of sweet chunks of lobster meat, was served on a butter-grilled Texas toast bun.   This was the one item we were told in advance to order, and we were not disappointed by the quality or the taste.  The lobster was mixed in a creamy mayonnaise sauce, with tiny,crunchy bits of veggies; easily the best lobster roll either of us have eaten.
     You would think that we would be too full for dessert, but that was not the case.  All of the portions were perfectly sized, and since we shared them, we were ready for freshly brewed coffee and a choice of 3 desserts....rice pudding, chocolate mousse or lemon pots de creme.  All sounded good, but we chose two, which, of course, we shared.  The Chocolate Mousse was served sliced, over a coffee cream dotted with bits of ground espresso beans and topped with toasted, split hazelnuts.  It was smooth, chocolaty and delicious.  As good as the mousse was, the Lemon Pots de Creme was better.  The lemon cream was so light that it dissolved in your mouth.  It was topped with creme fraiche and crumbled sugar cookies.  Again, not a bit survived on our plates.
     The Ordinary is the perfect seafood restaurant experience- something we should have had all along downtown.  Ah, The Ordinary, where have you been all my life??