Saturday, September 21, 2013

Having always loved the novels of and revered the work of Willa Cather, I was delighted to discover that Ms. Cather's short stories are just as good as her novels.  I have spent the summer swimming in the deep pool of Willa Cather's thoughts and characters by reading The Willa Cather Collection simultaneaously with The Selected Letters of Willa Cather.  It is thrilling to read about her creative method as she wrote The Song of the Lark while reading the novel.  Ms. Cather commented that she deeply missed the characters in that work when her writing was completed, just as we, as readers, miss them when finishing her book.  Comparisons are made between the main character, Thea, and the actual operatic talent of the early 20th century, Olive Fremstad, who was a friend of Cather.
I have now turned my summer reading theme into my autumn theme, with fall arriving tomorrow, and will revel in her characterizations and midwest scenery until the cold weather comes, and beyond, I expect.  I originally purchased 40 Classic Works to read only W. Cather's short stories, but I will now re-read all of the included novels as well.  This book is a gem!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Part Three:


Located at 167 E. Bay St., Cypress Restaurant is a unique dining experience.  The dining room is on two levels and features comfortable banquette and upholstered chair seating, white table cloths, an open kitchen and a multi-story wall of fine wine.  Colored accent lighting in the ceiling gradually fades and changes color, creating a peaceful setting for a meal fit for the most discerning gourmet.
Our servers, Greg and Jon, were skilled, efficient, and best of all, very nice.  While we chose to order from the three course Restaurant Week menu, Jon welcomed us to Cypress by offering us a treat from the Chef, a tasting portion of Sashimi Tuna topped Oysters, with a dot of wasabi sauce.  It's hard to believe, but I had never tasted oysters before and I absolutely loved them.  Thank you so much, Jon, for adding me to the list of oyster-loving Lowcountry residents!
On to our first course, Charcuterie and a bowl of Lobster Bisque.  The charcuterie, presented on a wooden board, was an aromatic mix of braunschweiger (a type of smoked liverwurst), picante salami, pork pate, Tuscan beef salami, pickled vegetables and mini biscuits.  All of the meats are made in-house, and this was my dining partner's favorite appetizer during Restaurant Week.

My first course, the Lobster Bisque, was a creamy, tomato-based soup, redolent of seafood and chervil, topped with three Carolina shrimp.  Delicious.
We both chose the Diver Scallops and Pork Belly for our main course.  Pork Belly was another first for me.  It was tender and flavorful, served beside three large scallops atop sweet potatoes whipped with chile oil and marscapone cheese.  The dish was garnished with curried raisins, bacon and sweet sauteed onions.  The flavors in the meat and fish were subtle, smoky, and complimented each other perfectly.
The last course, our dessert, was the Trio of Chocolates; deconstructed cake and ice cream.  The plate held chunks of dark, moist chocolate cake, a small scoop of white chocolate ice cream, and a bitter-sweet triangle of chocolate bark.  All around this trio were dots of caramel and milk chocolate sauce.  The portion did not look large as served, but we were unable to finish it; not, I assure you, due to the flavor, which was excellent.  
Our server, Greg, was attentive to our needs during the entire meal, checking on us often and even refilling our after-dinner coffees whenever they became half full.  Again, many thanks to Greg and Jon.  
Cypress is a favorite, due to perfect service, food that is flavorful and creatively prepared and a softly lit, romantic dining room.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tristan, 10 Linguard St. Charleston, SC


     Opting for a four course Chef's Tasting menu, my next stop during Restaurant Week was at Tristan Restaurant, on the ground floor of the French Quarter Inn.   Featuring complimentary valet parking, a lovely dining room and bar and a team of wait staff for each table, Tristan lives up to its AAA 4 Diamond designation.
     We began in the bar, where a most accommodating bartender made me a special "mocktail".  My dining partner enjoyed a Westbrook White Thai, a Whitbier style beer, made in Mt. Pleasant, SC.

Our table was ready promptly at our reservation time and we were seated in their ultra-modern, softly lit dining room.    The wait staff team began by offering us a variety of water choices, with an option of lemon or lime.  The next team member brought us our choice of a sour dough roll, sprinkled with sea salt or a generously sized piece of olive focaccia bread- the roll was soft and warm, with a crunch of sea salt in each bite.  The focaccia was light and moist, topped with black olives.
     Next, we were treated to an amuse bouche, which is loosely translated from the French as "entertainment for your mouth".  The Blood Orange Curd we were served was so pleasantly and intensely flavorful that it truly was a party for your mouth!
     Our waitress, Hannah, was efficient, knowledgable and, above all,  fun.  She deftly served and quickly whisked away each course, refreshing all utensils each time.  The first course she served was Beer Glazed Shrimp.  The shrimp, glazed with Westbrook White Thai butter, was accompanied by tender pretzel gnocchi, crisp haricot verts and a garnish of heirloom greens.  The wine pairing was a Hook & Ladder White from the Russian River Valley.  (My dining partner opted for the wine pairings with each course.  Each was perfectly matched to the flavors in the dish.)
     The second course was Eggless-Eggplant Parmesan Flan.  This smooth and creamy flan had a distinctly smoky aroma, matched as it was with the Benton's bacon broth.  Toasted pine nuts topped the dish, which was accented by a thick, tangy dash of San Marzano tomato jam.  The wine pairing was a Simple Life Pinot Noir, from  California.
     A palate cleansing was in order, after all of the intense flavors experienced so far.  Consequently, we were treated to an intermezzo of grapefruit and tarragon sorbet.  The grapefruit taste was bright and light, the tarragon appropriately understated.
     All of the portions were sized to please but not fill, so we were able to enjoy each offering without being overly full.  That said, we were ready for our third and main course, the Braised Beef Pave.  This rectangle of tender, shredded beef sat on a bed of crushed redskin potatoes and butter braised cabbage (delicate in flavor and a perfect compliment to the Tea & Cider Jus on the beef).  The topper  to the dish was a perfectly prepared vidalia onion slice that melted in your mouth.  The flavors of each component of this dish were so well matched that every bite carried with it the aromas and taste sensations of Autumn.  The wine pairing was something new to us, a Malbec from Argentina.  I highly recommend choosing the wine pairings at Tristan when offered, as they enhance the flavors of each dish so well.
     The dessert course was another example of how high Tristan chefs set the culinary bar.  We were served a "deconstructed" Apple Strudel.  Arranged on the plate were three thin pieces of puff pastry, alternating with cooked apple slices, both with a gentle cinnamon/sugar flavor.  Dots of golden raisin puree and milk jam surrounded this apple gem, which was also accompanied by toasted oatmeal gelato on a tiny, crispy oatmeal cookie.  By dipping the spoon into each component, you were able to  taste a most amazing strudel which dissolved like apple magic in your mouth.  The dessert wine was a lovely, slightly sweet California Muscato.
     In conclusion, meals at Tristan are Perfection on a Plate

Friday, September 6, 2013

It's here!!!  The Greater Charleston Restaurant Association's
Local foodees know that this 12 day event occurs twice yearly...once in the fall and once in the winter.  The current event runs from Sept.4th to Sept.15th, with over 100 local restaurants participating.
I usually visit 3 restaurants each Restaurant Week, creating my own theme each time.  This week's theme for the Charleston E.Diner is "Restaurants that I haven't visited in the last 5 years".  Those choices are Hank's Seafood Restaurant, Tristan's and Cypress.  (Past themes have been New Restaurants, Favorite Restaurants and Award Winning Restaurants.)  Those of you who regularly read this blog know that I only review restaurants that I LOVE.   If the food is not good, the restaurant is not mentioned.  But, since I've already mentioned the three restaurants I'm eating at this week, there is the possibility of a critical comment or two!   This three part series begins with Hank's Seafood.

     We arrived 45 minutes early for our reservation at Hank's Seafood, planning to have a drink at their bar before being seated.  Not only did the friendly hostess peruse her schedule and offer to seat us immediately, but she quickly rearranged her seating chart to accommodate my mobility/disabiliy issues by giving us seating at a very comfy booth (rather than ladder-back chairs at the other dining tables).
     The dining room is large, with a high ceiling but, due to discreet sound panels above, the room is not noisy at all.  We could easily converse in hushed tones without repeating ourselves and could not overhear the conversations at nearby tables (ok, that may not be as interesting, but it did make for a more peaceful meal!)
     Hank's offers 3 Courses for $40.00 per person during Restaurant Week, as well as their regular menu.  We chose from the Restaurant Week menu.  Our first course choices were She Crab Soup and the House Salad....I'd skip the house salad next time.  It was just mixed greens, and although the portion was large, it was slightly boring.  The She Crab Soup, on the other hand, was fabulous; rich, creamy and just enough sherry to be tasty, but not overpowering.
     Our second courses were the Grilled Swordfish and the Shellfish Pasta.  The pasta dish was loaded with scallops, mussels in the shell and shrimp, tails on.   Served over linguine, in a lemon saffron sauce prepared with liquids from the shellfish preparation, the result was a light, clean taste, with a hint of white wine.  It was quite delicious, if a bit salty.
     The Grilled Swordfish was also quite light, without a bit of seasoning- again, a clean taste.  It was served over a generous portion of absolutely delicious wilted spinach and surrounded by lightly breaded and fried okra- the perfect mix of crunchy and smooth textures.  It was accented by a bisque of pureed sweet corn and leek, flavored with ham hocks.  This dish was so good that I was sad not to be able to finish it all; the portions are really that large.
     Our third course was dessert, a choice of a Chocolate Cookie Mudslide or a slice of Lemon Cheesecake.  We chose both, planning to share, but each dessert was so good that we didn't share very much!  The mudslide was a mousse made with ground and chopped chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies (you know... Oreos!).  There was a whipped cream garnish, accompanied by two large strawberries and a chocolate straw.  The lemon cheesecake wedge was bursting with lemon flavor, a thick, NY style cake that was not too sweet....not even a crumb was left on the plate!
     Over all, I would say that my assessment of Hank's Seafood is that it reminds me of this quote from the movie "Lawrence of Arabia":

Jackson Bentley: What attracts you personally to the desert?
T.E. Lawrence: It's clean.
     For an experience that offers expertly prepared seafood that leaves a clean, fresh taste on the palate, try Hank's, 10 Hayne St., downtown Charleston.