Sunday, May 16, 2010

Food, Glorious Food

We went to Dublin because it was such a good deal -- airfare and hotel with a free full Irish breakfast.  Who knew that the breakfast alone would be worth the entire cost of the trip? I have been a foodie for a long time -- I even catered out of our apartment in Brooklyn back in the 80s -- but I never associated Ireland with any kind of special cuisine.  Okay, so colcannon is delicious, but really, what other food are the Irish famous for?  Now I know!

Before we even left, Ann decided we would make our expedition a scone-tasting trip.  We started in the car on the way to the airport with scones she bought at Espresso in Sag Harbor.  Rumor has it that they buy their scone batter from Aldo here in Greenport, who makes THE VERY BEST SCONES IN THE UNIVERSE!  Aldo's scones are buttery and flaky, not sweet and doughy like many American scones.  They are loaded with raisins and toasted pecans and I love them -- which is why I have a rule that I can only buy and eat them when someone special comes to town, otherwise I would have to be buried in a double-wide trailer.  Anyway -- back to the story -- the scones Ann brought for the car ride to JFK were quite delicious.  We ate scones everywhere we went in Ireland: at the hotel, at Avoca, at a farmer's market in Blackwater.  They were all good.

We arrived in Dublin at 8 am, way before check-in, but the extremely nice people at the Burlington gave us our rooms and our first full Irish breakfast.  The dining area was lovely -- very Art Nouveau with lots of swirly wood and crisp white linens.  The breakfast had its own room. Long tables lined three walls and two smaller tables, for juice, fresh fruit, jams and honey, sat in the middle.  We started with bowls of macerated fruit -- mixed berries and mixed citrus -- yogurt and a variety of cereals.  Then came the real Irish oatmeal, cold cuts and cheeses, Irish black and white sausage, breakfast link sausages, streaky bacon, regular bacon (what we call Canadian Bacon), grilled tomatoes, roasted potatoes, poached eggs with spinach, scrambled eggs, beans, croissants, danish pastries, and -- of course -- scones, both whole wheat and white.  And I can't forget the Irish butter.  What is it that makes Irish butter so good?  At the table, our waitress had coffee and tea and real cream waiting for us, along with fresh toast.

We were faced with this feast every morning, and we ate a lot -- so much that we never had to have lunch.  But we did have dinner, and we discovered the joy -- yes, joy -- of fish and chips.

Chip shops are to Great Britain and Ireland what McDonald's is to the United States -- they are everywhere, and all the natives have their personal favorite.  Our first tasting was at the hotel itself, in the Bellini bar -- the most hideous room I have seen in a long time.  But we were hungry and I ordered my first, but not last, platter of fish and chips and mushy peas.  (Love the mushy peas.  They sell them in cans in the grocery stores.)   Everything was hot and crispy -- except the mushy peas which were actually pureed.  Yummy.

Our second night brought us to Monart, the second best spa in the world according to Forbes Magazine.  (Ann, who works all sorts of magic all the time, found this incredible place.)  We dined in their Garden Lounge and Thiery, a dapper Frenchman dressed in black, waited on us.  We shared some Irish mussels and a duck spring roll, then all ordered something different -- I had chicken, Paula had mushroom risotto, Pete pasta with seafood, and Ann had tempura cod.  We asked for extra plates and each put a portion of our meal on each of the plates which we passed around the table clockwise so everyone had some of everything.  (Sounds confusing but it worked really well.  I think it was Ann's idea -- she is one smart cookie, that girl.)  Ann's tempura cod was actually just a fancy riff on fish and chips, and even came with a lovely molded ring of fresh and dried peas with sauteed red onions.


The next night we asked the guy at the desk for his recommendation for good fish and chips and traditional Irish music.  Pete wanted a real Irish pub experience.  He sent us to Beshoff's for dinner and to Gogarty's pub in Temple Bar for the pub and music.  Well, he hit the nail on the head with Beshoff's, an inexpensive but clean neighborhood chip shop, but he really missed the mark with Gogarty's.  What a zoo!  Temple Bar is like Times Square -- tourist-oriented and overcrowded.  Monday was a bank holiday, so the bar was overflowing with drunken people.  The owners had hired Russian bouncers who were all over six feet tall, dressed completely in black, and wore CIA type microphones on their lapels so they could talk to each other.  We high-tailed it out of there, stopped in a small hotel for another recommendation and ended up at O'Neill's pub, where we drank Guinness and Smithwick's, listened to live Irish music,  and conversed with a lovely couple named Lance and Carol from England who were celebrating Carol's 50th birthday.

We went back to O'Neill's the next night --our last-- for dinner.  The food at O'Neill's is remarkable in its plenitude.  They serve lots of Irish favorites -- beef and Guinness stew, Irish stew, salmon, and, of course, fish and chips.  The fish and chips are cooked to order, so it came piping hot but not drained, but that didn't stop me.  The chips weren't quite as good as the fish, but I have to say: if you are on a budget in Dublin, this is the place to eat.  One plate could serve three people.

We're not eating full Irish breakfasts anymore, but  we are planning a Dublin night soon. We'll watch the movie version of Ulysses if Netflix has it, and drink Guinness.  I may even try to make fish and chips, since I obviously didn't eat enough of it when I was there.


Kim from The Sheep's Nest said...

What a wonderful last minute trip!! I am drooling over the food descriptions and the beautiful pictures! Good for you! Kim

Anne's Original Hooked Rugs said...

Oh boy, you have me drooling here... both for the wonderful food, especially scones loaded with raisins, which I love, and for the other activities you enjoyed. My greatest desire is to visit Ireland some day....probably because my descendents came from there....