Review: Noche Andaluza

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The outstanding premier of Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía fulfilled the expectations of the Spoleto Festival USA audience. The vitality and sensuality of the dancers made the “Noche Andaluza” (“Andalusian Night”) performance a delightful introduction into the secrets of Andalusian dancing.

Colorful dresses, clean dancing and live music harmonized in a show that had its strongest moments when the whole company danced together. Even though part of the essence of flamenco dancing is its spontaneity, the synchronization and elegantl interaction between female and male dancers gave energy and rhythm to the presentation.

The guest dancer (Pastora Galván) had an evident control of her body. Her power, security and attitude seemed to say that she could do anything she wanted to. She showed, in each step, why she has her own avant-garde style.

That is precisely why one of the finest moments of the show was the one in which Galván dances on one side of the stage, while the company is on the other. Traditional and avant-garde flamenco dancing were shown together to give the viewer a taste of the infinitive possibilities of the Spanish style of dancing.

The style of the show changed, though, when the choreographer and artistic director Rubén Olmo, appeared on the stage. His thin figure and his extremely versatile dancing capacity gave him the possibility to freely and delicately jump through the stage as if he were a bird in the act called “El Vuelo” (“The Flight”). Olmo’s solo pause the energetic rhythm experienced before and makes a good transition for the ending.

The show rightly finished with a more spontaneous scene in which the musicians had the possibility to sing and dance at the center of the stage, while the company surrounded them keeping the rhythm with their claps. This act highlights the importance of music for flamenco and especially the role that this Spanish has as an art manifestation truly encrusted in Spanish culture.

Piccolo Poetry Walk

In addition to Piccolo Spoleto festival goers attending the Sundown Poetry Series, they may also take part in the Charleston Poetry Walk sponsored by the Poetry Society of South Carolina.

The walk takes festival goers on an hour-long journey through downtown Charleston to see historic places where poets were once inspired by. “We have such a rich heritage of poets from and/or influenced by their time in South Carolina,” said Mary H. Harris, coordinator of the walk. ” It is great fun to let visitors and locals know a little more about them and hear their words.”

The walk starts at 125 Meeting St. and has several times to join starting at 10 a.m. Admission is $12.

Southern Eats: Boone’s Bar

Boone'sSometimes the most fortuitous things come about because of a wrong turn or bad directions. Leaving a meeting, I got turned around and headed in the opposite direction of the restaurant I was supposed to be going to. Not wanting to backtrack, and trying to dodge an impending thunderstorm, I high-tailed it towards my apartment.

Walking down King Street, past all of the chain restaurants and boutiques, I came upon an interesting little place. Not knowing what to expect, I stopped in and looked at the menu. The place, Boone’s Bar (345 King Street) served typical bar food: fries, sandwiches, burgers, wings, etc.

It was noon and I was starving so I ordered the “Southern Cali Turkey” which consisted of turkey, Swiss cheese, bacon, avocado, tomato, and sprouts, all served hot on toasted sourdough bread with an herb aioli. Served with hand cut fries, the bill came to $11, not exactly dollar-menu, but not back-breaking either.

The sandwich was better than serviceable; it was flat out good. The bread was perfectly toasty; crusty on the outside but soft and supple with a good mouth feel. The turkey was juicy and warm, slightly smoky but not overly salty. The bacon provided a nice fattiness to offset the lean turkey, and the creamy avocado provided richness.

The sprouts were a nice departure from the standard lettuce, but the tomatoes were muddled. The aioli was a miss as well. A touch too oily and a bit too many herbs, it provided too strong a flavor to be paired with the subtleness of the turkey and avocado. The aioli provided a jolt of flavor; unfortunately the sandwich didn’t need it.

The hand-cut fries were excellent. Crisp on the outside but tender on the inside, keeping the peel on was a nice, nostalgic touch. Overall, the food was good, but not great. For a lunchtime spot, there are definitely worse places you could choose.

Boone’s Bar

LOCATION- 345 King Street

HOURS- Mon.-Sat. Noon-2 a.m.; Sun. Noon-Midnight

Puppets Bring Shakespeare to Life

Review of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Dock Street Theatre.

Spoleto Festival USA’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is not just about bringing Shakespeare’s play to life. It’s also about bringing puppets to life in Shakespeare’s play.

The production, by Handspring Puppet Company and Bristol Old Vic, makes use of puppets to present the fantasy world. But in this realm (being housed at the Dock Street Theatre), the puppets and actors exist alongside and interact with each other.

Four young lovers —Hermia (Akiya Henry), Lysander (Alex Felton), Demetrius (Kyle Lima) and Helena (Naomi Cranston) — appear as puppets wearing the same clothing as the actors who control them. Though weird at first sight, the puppets soon interweave with the actors’ breaths, gestures, physical movements and voices.

William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The gods Oberon and Titania, meanwhile, are presented in another style, one more reminiscent of sculptures. David Pearce, who plays Oberon, holds a big wooden head and a mechanical hand that can point, make a fist and fetch objects. Saskia Portway, who plays Titania, raises a regal sculpture head. When the gentle yellow light falls on the sculptures, they look stately and solemn, yet the shadow falling to their right also adds a gloomy cast.

The puppets carry the metaphor of the play. As the story goes on, the lovers are aware of the puppets and act as counterparts with them, exchanging and even dropping them. This blurs reality and fantasy, which helps convey the supernatural powers of this uncharted era and place. The contrast between the sizes of the puppets speaks to their relative status. On the other hand, the production also makes room for the absurd, notably the conversion of Puck as a transformative creature made of carpenter’s tools (carried by three actors) and Bottom’s transformation into an ass, who plays a comical word game with his name by reversing his head and his backside.

The production does ask a lot of the audience, however, by demanding that they crane their necks for a better view of the puppets on stage in order to understand the lover’s plight in this rendition of Shakespeare’s classic.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown Round 2: SWAMP FOX

(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

As Georgia (Nic Bell) and New Orleans (Briana Prevost) natives, we know authentic Southern food. Naturally, coming to Charleston as Spoleto festival reporters meant finding the best food in the low country. Our mission started with one simple goal in mind: finding (and eating) the best bowl of shrimp and grits in the city. Our next stop in our bi-weekly Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar.  

Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar, located inside the historic Francis Marion hotel, is the epitome of Southern charm. White tablecloths, ornate settings and beautiful china, rich mahogany and Southern gentility abounds in the dining room. Nestled in the corner of the restaurant was a grand piano pumping out contemporary songs and setting the mood for a wonderfully relaxing brunch. On to Round Two!

Nick’s picks: First and foremost, as a restaurant in Charleston, shrimp and grits should be on your menu all day everyday, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and nightcap. Am I right? Well, the Swamp Fox doesn’t disappoint. When B and I ordered, we each were presented with a steaming, delicious bowl of Southern gritty goodness.

Creamy, smooth grits were topped with plump, perfectly opaque shrimp. Throughout the velvetiness, red and yellow bell peppers provided a subtle sweetness and texture. Pepper jack cheese was sprinkled over the top and provided just enough depth of flavor, but it wasn’t overpowering for the delicate shrimp or grits.

Shrimp and grits in Charleston seems to come served with a signature gravy pooled over the top of the dish, and while the grits at Husk was overpowered by the smoked tomato gravy, the grits at the Swamp Fox were elevated with its lobster and Tasso ham gravy. Rich and decadent, it provided a deliciously briny seafood flavor that only heightened the flavor of the shrimp. Morsels of Tasso ham definitely didn’t hurt the dish. It may have provided too much richness for an otherwise deftly executed dish, but the flavors melded together beautifully and left me completely satisfied.

B’s business: After trying the first batch of shrimp and grits from Husk, I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when this batch came out as I scoped the contents of its bowl. Automatically, the gravy reminded me of popular New Orleans bases for remoulade or etouffee, which was exciting – until I saw the red and green bell peppers and my skepticism was amplified.

But upon first bite of the smooth, soft grits with just Swamp Fox’s Lobster and Tasso Ham Gravy, I thought, “now this is what grits should taste like!” The savory grits were cooked just so that the pepperjack cheese blended into the grits without stringing and separating from its parent ingredient. Not too salty, yet not at all bland thanks to the rich flavors from the gravy, the grits were the main delight in this dish – as they should be.

Although originally doubtful, the other contents within the grits were surprisingly agreeable to the palette. The onions were sautéed just right as to taste a hint of carmelization while the sautéed bell peppers supplemented the slightly sweet flavor in contrast to the savory taste of the thick grits they sat atop.

The shrimp, however, was not worth adding to the rest of the medley of flavors in the bowl. Tastlessly too fishy, the shrimp was also translucent and tough. By the end of my meal, each piece of seafood had been pushed to the side of my bowl, leaving me to enjoy the tasso ham as the meaty counterpoint for my grits consumption.

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s pick: The bread pudding was all kinds of decadent, but it wasn’t nearly as heavy or dense as some that I’ve had before. Inundated with raisins, the vanilla custard was subtly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Delicious and unctuous, the bread pudding is definitely not something to be missed.

B’s business: The bread pudding was not terribly drenched in a cream based finishing sauce, this warm dessert-for-breakfast had just enough cinnamon and dryness to the dough to be considered a mushier version of French toast. It included a New Orleans favorite ingredient – raisins – dispersed perfectly throughout the pudding as to not overpower any of its simple tasting pleasures.

Robot Candy Co. store closing

One of the first places that caught my attention on King Street was the Robot Candy Co., with its large T-Rex in the window, and eponymous machines on display. It was exactly the kind of place I’d like to shop for candy, inviting me to explore that kid-centered part of my brain that wishes to really just make things and eat sugar.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I learned they were closing.
However, as reported in March by the Post and Courier, the store will be closing as the owners search for a new location in the downtown area. Until then, if you want to get their quirky and tasty candy, you’ll have to stock up before June 1st, or make the trip out to their Mt. Pleasant location.

Check out this panorama of the current store’s setup before it disappears.

Robot Candy Co.
Mount Pleasant
Belle Hall Shopping Center
Mt. Pleasant SC 29464
robotcandy.net

Getting to Know a Couple of “Reformed Whores”

 “Reformed Whores” will be running at Theatre 99 in Charleston as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival from May 24-28. The musical comedy duo, Katy Frame and Marie Cecile Anderson, perform songs about love and life in what they describe as a “raunchy country-western hoedown.”

Listen to an audio clip of the two “Reformed Whores” talking and singing about their show. (Audio by Christina Riley)

Who are the “Reformed Whores”?
Frame: We are a musical comedy duo, singing in a country western style. We have an hour long show we do. It’s full of raunchy fun, which incorporates music into a raunchy hoedown.

How did the duo come to be? 

The two ladies of "Reformed Whores"

The two ladies of “Reformed Whores.”
Photo: Christina Riley


Frame: Marie Anderson and I met at a mutual friend’s birthday party about three years ago. We started talking about music, and she found out I play the accordion and she plays the ukulele. And we thought we should start a band and it really started organically from there.

Are there any other “Reformed Whores” in your band?
Frame: No, it’s just us. We play the accordion and the ukulele. But on our CD, we do have a full band.

Where does the inspiration for your songs come from?
Frame: Definitely from real life experiences—break ups, relationships, things that have been bugging us that we think should be talked about more… things that I think are relatable to both men and women, but we are girls so it’s things that are from a female perspective.

How would you describe the genre of music you play?
Frame: I would say country-western comedy.

How would you describe your performance?
Frame: It’s kind of a concert but it’s also very theatrical depending on the performance.

How did the name “Reformed Whores” come about?
Frame: Actually, my roommate had a playlist on her computer and it was titled Reformed Whores and I loved it. I loved the concept. I brought it into Marie when we were looking for names and it just really made a lot of sense for what we were talking about.

Taking a spin on the Auto-Banh

The last thing I expected to see in True Value’s parking lot on East Bay this past Wednesday was a large purple truck.  But there it was, the Auto-Banh Vietnamese Sandwich food truck. It smelled delicious, so, I stopped to read the massive chalkboard that served as a menu affixed to the side of the vehicle.

There were people milling around, but not a big crowd. A generator hummed nearby. Getting in line, I was helped very quickly, and ordered a lemongrass chicken sandwich.

The combination of crunchy pickled carrots, daikon radish, cabbage, and cucumbers with the soft bread worked in keeping my taste buds excited for the surprisingly fresh cilantro boldly keeping its own flavor above the mayo and nuoc chom. If those were the only contents of the sandwich, it would still have been delightful to devour. But there was the chicken, which added warmth and subtle sweetness to the sandwich that sealed the deal.

Given a tasty, memorable lunch with quick and pleasant service, I’ll be sure to find them again in Charleston.

The Auto-Banh Vietnamese Sandwich truck can be found online on Twitter, Facebook, or their at auto-banh.com.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 1 HUSK

(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

As Georgia (Nic Bell) and New Orleans (Briana Prevost) natives, we know authentic Southern food. Naturally, coming to Charleston as Spoleto festival reporters meant finding the best food in the low country. Our mission started with one simple goal in mind: finding (and eating) the best bowl of shrimp and grits in the city. Our first stop in our bi-weekly Shrimp and Grits Showdown was Husk.

Voted as GQ’s best new restaurant of 2011, Husk has been awarded many accolades, both from locals and critics alike, but it does have a reputation for being a little inconsistent. Our immediate reaction to Husk was how gorgeous it was. Situated in an old antebellum house, complete with a two tier wraparound porch, the restaurant had a rustic feeling with dark wooden floors and butcher block topped tables. Even the dishes were rustic and earthen.

Nic’s picks: When our shrimp and grits arrived, I was a little confused by the contents of the bowl. Perched atop the grits were wonderfully plump and tender shrimp, but it was all bathed in a disturbing amount of a tomato sauce. Included in the dish was peppers, onions, peas, and smoked pork.

The grits were velvet smooth and satisfying, not as gritty as most grits I’ve had, but not too watery. The smoked peppers, onions, and peas were a pleasant surprise, but the tomato was heavy handed and overpowered the subtle taste and texture of the star ingredient, the grits.

I appreciated the smoky flavor of both the pork and the tomatoes, but the overwhelming amount of tomatoes, in my opinion, ruined a perfectly good dish.

B’s business: Husk’s shrimp and grits comes in a huge bowl fitting for its contents. Comprised not only of shrimp and grits, but also a bed of peas, chives and tomatoes with tomato gravy sat atop the white corn confection.

Although a bit gritty, the grits were cooked just long enough and with just enough butter to be enjoyed by itself. The peas added an extra unexpected mini burst of flavor when combined with the subtle taste of cheese, however, the overpowering taste of the tomato and its juices took away any chance this dish had at making it an enjoyable hodgepodge of southern flavor.

Too bad too, the best part about Husk’s shrimp and grits was the shrimp. Jumbo and plump, the shrimp reigned supreme as both meaty enough to make this dish edible as a main course, yet flavorful on its own merits.

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s picks: The cornbread. Studded with bits of bacon and topped with sea salt, this was a delicious compliment to the creaminess of the grits.

The burger. It’s not a stretch to say that this was the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Soft, supple bun, perfectly melted cheese, briny pickles, and pungent mustard for a great burger make. Also serve with potato wedges and homemade ketchup (which was delicious, and also coming from a man that HATES ketchup).

B’s business: Another unexpected treat was the cornbread. Baked with bacon and basked in butter, this cornbread had more of a savory fill than sweet but was just as moist as should be. For any sweet toothers (like myself) a slather of Husk’s Portland butter on the cornbread will fix this problem. And as the sweet butter melts into the cornbread, so will the cornbread into your mouth.

King Street Storefronts Get Festive

The entire city is preparing for the start of Spoleto, and the stores on King Street are no exception. With storefronts containing the festival poster and window displays inspired by it’s aesthetic for Spoleto Festival USA’s merchant contest, the shops on King Street are certainly showing their Spoleto pride.

Juicy Couture is promoting the festival with this simple window cling.

Juicy Couture

Shooz has installed this series of hanging pentagons inspired by this year’s poster.

Shooz

Copper Penny decked out both window displays with Spoleto colors and shapes.

Copper Penny 1

Copper Penny 2

American Apparel ran with the colors and shapes from the Spoleto poster.

American Apparel

Francesca’s surrounded their hand-stitched poster with orange products. 

Luna's

Spot any more festive window displays on King Street?
Send us your photos on twitter @SpoletoChas!