Monday, August 31, 2015

say yes sir to SER, Arlington's newest Latin bistro (8-29-15)

We had heard many good things about SER which opened earlier this year in the Ballston are of Arlington at 1110 N. Glebe Rd ( We arrived and parked underground (there is virtually no street parking) but discovered at departure that with validation, the fee is only a reasonable $2.00! The setting is nice with bright floor to ceiling windows surrounding the whole rom, wooden tables and wooden chairs, that frankly start to be a bit painful after sitting for more than an hour; this is the one thing I would change. Simplicity is the rule in décor and indeed the table only had a tiny vase with one yellow and one white daisy, but I don't dine out for the floral arrangements!
We were warmly greeted by our Ukranian server, Ganna, who was very helpful in explaining the various dishes and many new names. At several points, the owner Javier came over to check on us as well.
Will started with a tasty gazpacho and Sam was also in a soup mood and went for the Chickpea Soup which was tasty and hearty. I ordered the superb Steak Tartare with Santona Anchovies, Organic Quail Egg (which Ganna offered to break tableside) and Piparra (which is the extremely tasty salad of frisee, shaved fennel & greens). The meat needed only a bit of fresh pepper as it was tasty and the small grilled bread slices were just thin enough for the steak.
Our guest had the Lamb Sweetbreads which scared me from the ingredients of Mushrooms, Maple Syrup & Ice Wine. They were superbly fried and not too sweet at all, which I feared, not to mention so tender.
We enjoyed a medium bodied, slightly spicy aftertaste red Bovale 2012 from, Utel Requena that is made from the Boval grape and really is a wonderful wine that goes with so many foods. The wine list is reasonable and fairly nice with many options by the glass as well.
Samuel had come from a big party and ordered only the Patatas Bravas for his main course which are decadent fried potato chunks smothered with a spicy tomato aioli. They need to be eaten quickly as once they cool down, the flavor (as in most fried potatoes) is flat. Main courses were all superb and varied with Tallarines a la Mariscada being a huge portion of pasta loaded with mussels, squid, shrimp, clams and monkfish all bursting with a wonderful zarzuela tomato-based sauce.
Josu's Bacalao al pilpil con Pipirrana was a yummy salted Cod with olive oil emulsion and lots of veggies that suffered only from a tad too much oil. The Carrilleras de Iberico are tasty Braised Pork Cheeks with Rioja, Ginger, Zucchini Pisto(I guess that is Spanish for pesto) and burst with flavor; the cheeks literally feel apart and could be eaten with no knife as Ganna had promised.
We were full but wanted to try one dessert and we chose a superb GOXUA to split three ways. It is a cold layered dessert with strawberries, cream, spong cake, custard and a caramel brulee crunchy top layer that was adorably served in a small jar and was most refreshing after the huge meal. Coffee here is good whether Americano, Cappuccino or Cortado(espresso with dash of milk). We will surely return to SER, but might bring a cushion next time :-)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Back in the USA, Roberto Donna makes our day at Roberto's 8 at AL DENTE (8-26-15)

We had such a great time about 7 weeks earlier dining at AL DENTE with Chef Roberto Donna cooking at Roberto's 8 (his eight seat "mini-bar" open to the kitchen where you schmooze with the chef and get a show as well) that we went back again this week with another couple. It really was just Roberto's 4 as the other seats were empty; few folks want huge meals in this heat, but we had a ball.
From the second we arrived, manager Cliff and our server, Jose insured our glasses were always full and we were happy and never lost their smiles; this truly makes a meal special as well.
We started with an APEROL Aperitivo of Mozzarella di Bufala, Olive,  and aperol with a lemon rind crunch that I loved. This was served with Clara C Prosecco which lasted for several courses and got us bubbly and cheerful for the evening.
What has to be some of the best focaccia in town arrived and while some of us gobbled up several pieces, I limited myself to one, knowing that there was much more to eat.
The adorable pizzetta in a box was the same as July with Sweet Vidalia Onions, Fontina, Soft Quail Egg & Truffle, and frankly I could eat this kind of pizza every week, not just once every 8 weeks!
Tigelle was my first experience (that I can recall) with this small version of a Panini that came with Salamino, Black Olive, Goat Cheese Burrata & Pickled Onions and Ramps, and again, who wouldn't like a little (or big) sandwich like this?
We moved to Leonardo de Toh! from which is a slightly earthy white friulano grape that was for the next several courses.
It paired very well with the Tuna & Octopus as they are indeed earthy dishes.
Tubnas was a tartare with Green Tomato & Roasted Tomato, Basil-Mint Oil, frisee salad and shoots, but it is the Octopus that we love here cooked so tender and served with Cannellini Beans, Spring Onions, Yogurt Sauce and Sweet Drop Pepper, yet brought to the table in a glass dome full of smoke and spice that wafts up your nose as the dome is revealed. Not only is it dramatic, it is ecstatic in taste and will always be one of my favorites here.
Head-On Shrimp with Saffron Mayonnaise is tasty and fun, but I would gladly take two servings of the polpo instead :-)).
We switched wines to a Depie Rose Campi Flegrei from Campagna that was fruity, fun and dry. This went amazingly well with the Corn Soup with Sausage Crumble which was spicy and had a nice kick cutting through the veloute of sweet corn. This was one of the new dishes not on the July menu that I also fell in love with.
A dinner at Roberto's 8, 4 or anything else wouldn't be complet with his signature Eggs, Black Truffle and Burrata. Chefs takes his presentation cue from the late Jean-Louis Palladin(who used eggs a lot), who was also his dear friend, and presents the dish in the eggshell but scrambles the eggs with buratta and truffle for supreme richness making it totally Italian and totally his own ultimate creation.
For the first pasta dish (those who know, there are usually three here) was also a new dish for the summer with Open Raviolo, Sea Scallops, Chives & Shitake that was just slightly creamy, but not overly rich and of course, the pasta can not be beat.
We switched wines to a Luceres Poggetto 2006 which had a tobacco nose and drank as smooth as silk. It served the Spagetti alla Chitarra quite well and I noticed that Chef Roberto has increased his spice in this dish, which I always adore, here with Pancetta & Clams. Third on the pasta plan was Risotto with Black Truffles & Gorgonzola, and indeed I can't remember risotto being richer except in tow other dishes in my life and that was under the guidance of Chef Roberto in the guise of white truffle risotto and foie gras risotto; perhaps they shall be on future Roberto's 8 menus.
The "main" course Prosciutto wrapped Squab with Dates & Spinach, which was our same dish earlier this summer and indeed is perfect on these hot nights as too much big meat can be silly. We were all nearing full and quite happy as we guzzled down our lovely Tuscan red.
Castelmagno Cheese with Honey, Hazelnut, Mostardo di Cremona and a flat thin crispy flatbread like cracker across the top was beautiful and a light but superb cheese interlude followed by a super refreshing Peach Fruit Granita.
Desserts semmed to come one upon the other starting with a refreshing Panna Cotta with Caramel Sauce, Tiramisu with burnt coffee cookie crisps, mascarpone and chocolate with coffee caviar and the most heavenly Fig Tart with Vanilla Gelato (which we also had in July, but welcomed again with open mouths).
Bicerin is that superb espresso doused with rich chocolate which is how the meal is always finished here, unless you go for an after dinner drink, but this night was indeed different from all other nights as we had eaten way too much and yearned for a rest. It was the best way to be welcomed home from our recent trip, as if we had not had enough huge tasting meals and feasts in Ireland; it's good to be back home with friends.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Kai Cafe comes to the rescue with a fantastic finale in Galway, Ireland (8-19-20)

I had chosen KAI CAFE for our last night since it seemed like a "lighter" dining spot, but boy was I wrong. We had scheduled for late at 8pm since we ate lunch that day and also gave ourselves time to finish packing and then enjoy a relaxed dinner. It was the perfect plan. We walked in and Will immediately recognized the guy from the counter next to us at lunch and we ultimately laughed off the incident as he and our server Sheena were a super team along with chef/owners David & Jess Murphy who whipped up each amazing dish in the open kitchen not far away. It's a small cozy place, but that seems to be the norm in Galway, and even with that, it was impressive.

Will ordered a vodka & tonic (they had run out of Dingle!) and I tried the house Bellini with Blackcurrant liqueur (it was so nice I bought a bottle the next day at duty free). Of course, Samuel wanted a coke, but this is all-organic and settled for an Ubuntu Cola which he said was fine.

The menu was awesome and decisions were difficult to make. We ordered a bottle of Domain de Coussergues Pay's d'Oc Chardonnay/Viognier and enjoyed our drinks until we spoke at length with Sheena. She said not to worry; we would be taken care of. I ultimately chose the Wild Clare Rabbit Rillettes & Toast while Will went for the West Coast Crab & Goat's Bridge Caviar (did I write that correctly?). They were amazing dishes and beautifully adorned with yet more edible flowers of all sizes as well as radishes and shoots; a true garden on each plate. I had a yen for the scallops, so Sheena sneaked out a plate of the creamy rich divine Scallop Ceviche & Tiger's Milk which had avocado & cucumber as well. These were three of our favorite starters indeed and they were also quite large, so we were almost full by the time the mains arrived.

Samuel ordered a Brady's Strip Steak (with a chimichurri like crust) & Tonty's Tomatoes and Chanterelle Butter, which was all to die for and came with creamy rich potatoes just in case you needed more (as if we had not eaten enough in 18 days in Ireland). Oh, did I forget to mention the Black Bread served with Sea & Celery Salt Butter. Now that we are home we have bought Kerry Gold Irish butter, but it just isn't the same!

Will & I chose to split our main courses and they were both sublime:
Monkfish & Mussels & Dillisk (seaweed) Broth which was light but dabbed with a rich Aoili

John Dory with Butternut Squash, Kale Inzimino (chick peas stew) which was slightly spicy and rich as well. It is rare to get John Dory over here and if available it tends to cost a bloody fortune, so this was a special treat as well.

The setting is quite nice with a large glass roof that looks up to a Gothic church of sorts; it was sadly not light that night as Sheena said it sometimes is. The walls are stone and there were hanging bulbs in mason jars that were really cute. If I have to complain, it would be about the not very comfortable chairs (that was the curse of both meals that day) and the loo was quite dilapidated with a broken seat (the acrylic of a large jellyfish can go as well :-)).

Everything was so great we had to choose one dessert and since Will & I had enjoyed so many scrumptious ones with rhubarb we chose the Rubhard with Custard & Shortbread which was a parfait compote with custard and cream crumble....a wonderful end to our last supper. But there had to be more. Kanppogue Greenspot Irish Whiskey was indeed (save for breakfast the next day and the crisps from the duty free at Shannon) our last taste of Ireland, and what a fitting drink it was.

I have to say that as "ard bia" was good food in Gaelic, "Kai" is Maori for food, and there is a Maori connection with a large wall painting of the owner's great-grandmother from New Zealand.

Once again kudos to Sheena who treated us like Irish gold, and made our last night so memorable!

ARD BIA at NIMMO's and odd name, and odd place but a good meal in Galway (8-19-15)

Our last two nights were in Galway City and we had scheduled a full day of touring, but wanted to include lunch at the well known Ard Bia at Nimmo's. I learned that Ard Bia is Gaelic for good food, so that made sense, and this place was as quirky as it gets in a building on the river in the old part of town that looked centuries old. We waited for a table and then were ushered into a corner where a window overlooked the beautiful flowing river (through cobwebs) and the chairs were extremely uncomfortable. Samuel & I had a bench on either side that was hard as a rock but muffled by some (also centuries old?) very useless cushions. The table was right next to a pair of stools and counter and the guys sitting there gave us a look of extreme disdain as we sat down, but we didn't budge, I had heard great things about the food and would persevere.
Samuel ordered a fruit drink, Will a Galway Hooker Ale and I had a Roots & Greens' Liver Cleanser of beetroot, carrot, orange, lemon and ginger that was quite nice.
Samuel was not thrilled with the menu and settled on MEZZE which was a plate of a medium arugula salad with pomegranate seeds, Spiced Toasted Pita bread and three superb dips:Muhammara (red pepper), Hummus and Butter Bean. He needed extra pita and this seemed to be a big deal, but it eventually arrived after a lot of asking (and we were charged as well). Our tourguide said the Irish were simple eaters and ordered the simplest item on the menu, Panfried Haddock, saying it was delicious.
Will ordered Shakshuka which is basically baked eggs in a crock with spicy herbs, feta and brown soda BREAD. You will sense a Middle Eastern hint to the menu, which surprised me as I was hoping for scallops or lobster, but apparently lunch is a whole different thing here. I chose the Avocado & Egg, which is a name that the dish did not deserve. It was a superb warm salad of avocado with poached eggs on top, organic spinach, basil pesto and a rye bread crisp with seeds; I loved it.
I would love to come back for dinner, but doubt my rearend could take sitting in these seats or chairs for a long meal!


Monday, August 24, 2015

The grub is great in Galway-and ANIAR is on top with a Michelin Star (8-18-15)

Aniar is a tiny unassuming spot in Galway's Claddagh district and has risen to great acclaim over the last several years. Aniar  is Gaelic for "from the west" and it prides itself in that virtually every ingredient is organic and from the west of Ireland. The Fior Uisce water, the organic pressed drinks Samuel had such as Pink Lemonade and Apple/Raspberry Juice (farm pressed), the foraged vegetables and fruits and even the spices (see later) are all from Western Ireland.
Richard proudly explained the menu which consists of seven sections and is broken into 4/6/8/10/12 or 14 course meals with or without pairings.
Samuel chose four items he was thrilled about once each one was explained (read on) which took some time and he was rightfully confused yet again. We anted eight and explained to Richard that the whole table could not do the same number of courses as the menu specified; he said not to worry at all, and we took off.

The first grouping was cold pre-starters of which Sam was allowed one, and we were allowed two each.
First on the list was "Turnip, Radish, Lovage" so you can see why we needed more info. This turned out to be a local farmer's produce but with a dressing of Chicken Fat Emuslion which used the chicken skin reduced as salt, since the only other salt in Western Ireland is local sea salt. None of us had this, but we were enthralled by the concept behind the dishes.

I started with Clam, Samphire, Nasturtium which was steamed clams, blanched samphire and nasturtium gel -all presented as "Sea Flower" which was a dashi broth made from local foraged mushrooms, clam & seaweed with Sea Asparagus. The portion was small, but full of flavor in each and every different spoonful.
Will chose the Mussel, Cucumber, Seaweed which was Steamed Mussels, Charred Cucumber and Marinade, Seaweed Cream with trout roe and of course nasturtium flowers (they were everywhere in every dish).
It was as tasty as my clams and then all three of us went on to a true highlight of the trip:
Beef, Tomato, Oyster which was a Tartare made with Oyster Emulsion as a binder and then topped with Oyster Ice Cream. The tomato was semi-dehydrated and then roasted for the sauce. Samuel, who did not like the ice cream, gobbled up the tartare despite its slight oyster flavor, and then asked each of us for a bite of ours.
Breads arrived and all were baked on premises with Rustic White, Bran Soda, and the most glorious Blue Cheese Soda Cracker Scones(I got an extra to take home for breakfast) all presented by the pastry Chef Claire with Achill Island Butter with sea salt.

Will and I did not want to do pairings as they often were beer or other non-wine drinks, so we choose a bottle of Rocca del Dragone 2012 Falanghina which Richard said was a great go-with-everything we had ordered in the first several courses.
We moved on to a carafe of Cristina Sampietrana 2013 "Principe Moro" Negroamaro which is a full bodied red and it was great with our main meat courses. I actually went back and forth as you shall see we had many different types of food that went with white or red.

The second set of foods was hot starters of which again Sam could have one and we could have two each.
I started with the Pigeon, Barley, Onion which was Pigeon poached in a waterbath with 2-1/2 week fermented Barley (I couldn't tell the difference) and Roast Onion Puree with Hazelnuts. Well if poaching in a waterbath does this for birds, I'm in for it.
Will had the Trout, Pea, Curd, Watercress (one of the few items with 4 ingredients n the menu) which was Poached Trout, Fresh Peas, Goat Curd and Watercress Puree with Fermented Carageen Seaweed Moss. Don't ask, but it all tasted GREAT! For his second hot dish he was joined by Samuel in the decadent Potato, Bone Marrow, Mushroom which was Cooked Overnight Purple Potatoes in Duck fat with Bone Marrow Sauce and Wild Mushrooms including Girolles, Hedgehog, Canterelles & Mushroom powder.
My second dish was the Pork belly, Beet, Cherry which had also cooked overnight belly,Poached Fermented Beets and Slated & Sugared Cherry. the crust onn the belly was salted and crusted to perfection, perhaps one of the ebst ever.

We all enjoyed the very herbal Tea/Berries Sorbet  with borage(flowers) as a palate cleanser (they gave it to Sam even though it's not included in the 4 course menu).
I should note these menus run 55 euros for 4 courses (just over $60) and 85 euros for 8 (which is about $95) and at that price we were all completely stuffed before the end.

We each chose one main course and they were all different.
Samuel went for the vegetarian Celeriac, Snow Pea, kale which he raved over and gobbled up all the Celeriac Puree, Hay Sauce(yes, made from hay) and dehydrated Mushrooms.
Will had Ox Cheek, Carrot, Leek, Fennel where the cheek was cooked for 96 hours with Carrot Puree, Leek and Charred Fennel.
I think I won with the Monk, Ham Hock & Sea Vegetables, and no, it was not a priest like Sweeny Todd! This was monkfish with an 18hour cooked ham hock and seaweed broth of sea purslaine, kale, sea spinach which was quite creamy and rich but had no dairy added.

There were two desserts and two cheese plates and Will and I chose one from each, while Sam got to choose one dessert.
He went with the Blackcurrant, Sheep's Yoghurt, Birch which was a mousse that he liked very much.
Will & I chose the Elderflower, Gin, Oats which was an Elderflower Panna Cotta & Gel  with Gin Ices and Toasted Oats that was very refreshing.
He went with the Cheese, Chutney, Rye Crisp which was several cheeses including Dureen and a very very sharp cheddar as well as a blue which Richard explained was one of the few things that was not from Western Ireland (it actually came from Ulster in Northern Ireland) as he said the western blues were not as good.
I chose Goat's Cheese, Pear, Hazelnut which was a Goat Cheese Ice Cream, Hazelnut Puree & Praline

Richard explained that you get more courses of the above mentioned dishes if you go and only the 14 course meal includes the rare and expensive digestif of Forager's Tea made of mint, nettle, borage and fennel cost so much, we skipped it.
Claire had some little treats for us afterwards as if we had not eaten enough:
Madeleines  with Apple Syrup
Hazelnut Praline
and Licorice Rock, which you know I wouldn't even touch as it is one taste I truly dislike (my mother sad never to use "hate").
We indeed loved our meal and the entire experience and I think it opened Samuel up to a whole new way of dining.....we shall see.

Ashford Castle's GEORGE V Dining Room is indeed a destination in County Mayo, Ireland (8-17-15)

On Monday we took a long day's drive north from County Kerry making stops at the magnificent Cliffs of Moher (where we had a fun lunch of Seafood Bisque & Irish Stew at a small pub called McGann's in Doolin, County Clare) and then visited the Aillwee Caves in The Burren before heading past Galway to the gorgeous little hamlet of Cong on the edge of Counties Mayo & Galway. Here lieth the magnificent Ashford Castle with parts dating back to the 13th century. Like so many other historic landmarks, it was refurbished by the Guinness family in the 19th century and now as a 5star luxury hotels has housed the likes of the Reagans, Brad Pitt and now us.
It is a magnificent baronial estate on Lough Corrib and we were very happy to settle into our cozy room overlooking the lake with a bit of time to rest before a true elegant dinner. Upon arrival Robert, who has been the George V maître d' for decades greeted us warmly as if we were regulars. A slight mixup in the number of diners was rectified, although Samuel said he would go to the room and get room service so we could dine alone; that didn't happen, and we were all much happier as well.
The grand room is full of chandeliers, silver food trolleys and formally attired staff, but the stuffiness of a Victorian establishment was nowhere to be seen; the staff were elegant, yet trained to be thoughtful and indeed friendly.
Robert asked for our cocktail choices and I was happy that they had my newly acquired favorite: Dingle Vodka, so I went in for another dirty Dingle Martini. Philip who was the sommelier arrived and announced our gin drinks, but we were confused. We joked that he needed to blame Robert, but they both rectified it instantly with replacement drinks; Sam's coke was correct.
As the amuse of Chinese Style Duck with Sweet Corn Foam & Custard arrived on a wooden slab in a shot glass with a Bacon Cracker, we knew this was going to be a good meal. Samuel was abit confused by the lengthy and intricate menu as the ingredients were confusing, but we talked him through it and then discussed the wines extensively with Philip who was more than helpful and accommodating, not to mention quite handsome. I suggested a half bottle of white and a full red, but that was hard as Will wanted fish and I wanted lamb. We talked about the house-owned vineyard in South Africa and settled on their Pinot Noir which Philip allowed us both to taste, even though it is not served by the glass!

The sparkling water here was Fior Uisca, which we now saw more often in the west, and was a bit fizzier than our preference, but still very good. Breads and butter arrived and it was hard to choose:
French baguette, Brioche with Lemon Oil, Irish Brown with honey & yogurt, Potato Rolls and a Blackseed/Sunflower Seed/Sesame Seed Flatbread with Flax--all served with a yummy seaweed butter. Decisions, decisions. Now I know why I gained 10 lbs. on this trip! Our first wine was a superb fine finish Chablis Saint Pierre 2012 from Albert which had the slightest citrus hints; the wine was served in large Riedel crystal with the Ashford Castle crest emblazoned on each glass.
I started with a magnificent Marinated Wild Pigeon in Cocoa Liqueur (it was not sweet at all, more like a mild mole) & Brassicaceae (mustard flowers) with essence of Chocolate "jelly," radish, cabbage, turnips, orange & cardamom vinaigrette. You can easily see how this menu would confuse anyone, let alone a 12-year old. We had to dissect every word, but no matter, the food was indeed spectacular.
Will had the Home Smoked Duck & White Asparagus with Summer Truffle Vinaigrette, White Asparagus "Blanc Manger" (think savory panna cotta), Hippo Tops and Brioche. I asked Will what Hippo Tops were and he had no clue, so they told us it was a type of watercress. Actually the staff were surprised we don't have it here in the States as it is common in the UK & Ireland...who knew?

Samuel had decided to forego the starters as nothing appealed to him and the mains tended to be huge. He chose the Skeaghanore Free Range Duck Breast & Foie Gras with Cherry "Gel," Pickled & Fresh Salsify, Bouchon POtatoes and Tonka Bean Jus and loved it all, but after a bite or two of the foie, offered us the rest, which we gladly accepted.
By now we had been served the amazing Pinot Noir 2012 from Bouchard Finlayson in Galpin Peak, South Africa which was smoky, yet not fruit forward like so many of the Oregon Pinots we love. It was a different take, and it was superb with both our main courses; kudos to Philip.

I chose the awesome Achill Island Blackface Lamb which was a Roast Loin & Pressed Shoulder with Aubergine Miso, Samphire, Oyster Leave and Seaweed Infused Jus. I actually learned the next day from a sweet saleslady in a store in the teeny town of Maam in Connemara that the blackface lamb is the decendent of sheep imported from Scotland and the term "lamb" strictly means a sheep of one year old or less-who knew? She actually grew up on a sheep farm. No matter, the dish was a treat in each and every way and the wine truly a brilliant pairing. Will chose the Wild Hake & Smoked Eel with Heritage Beets, Kale, Red Scallion, Pickled Mustard Seeds and Seared Gnocchi, so the wine was great for him as well since the smokiness of the eel paired sublimely with the smoke in the wine. We were all thrilled with our main courses, the meal and the way the evening turned out!

I have to note that the loo lights were odd here as they were triggered by movement, but you had to actually move into the room before they went on--creepy!

Will & I decided to do cheese and split a dessert as we had seen the elaborate cheese trolley numerous times and it was indeed calling to us.
Irish Farmhouse Cheeses we chose were served with homemade breads and biscuits as well as fruit gels of grape, apple and pear. The water biscuits were the best on earth and the rye crisp had no comparison.
We knew this might be our last cheese extravaganza so we returned to
St. Tola Goats with ash as we loved this so much so many times in so many different preparations
Durrus was another slightly intense cheese we came to love.
Mossfield Gouda was so creamy, nutty and rich like a great Old Amsterdam that we asked for a piece to bring up to Samuel, who had gone up to the room to retire. He loved it.
Carrygaline is a seaweed wrapped cheese that was novel and yummy.
Monterey Jack Corr was not your USA Monterey as this was a brilliant new farmhouse cheddar.
Cooleney was a runny Irish Brie that would compare to any French one
and another new cheese we fell in love with was the Bellingham Blue.
So sad we knew there night be little more of these divine cheese trays.
The dessert we split was an "Opalys" of White Chocolate Banana with irish Strawberry Jelly and frozen foam with White Peach Sorbet and Whipped Ganache, a truly brilliant concoction that won us over yet again with the intense fresh fruit flavors.
As if this was not enough mignardies arrived:
White Chocolate with Lemon Oil
Financier with Cherry Gel & Lemon Curd
Dark Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnut
and another I forgot.....oh well. I can still see it sitting in front of me as I look down, knowing it will take weeks to take off the pounds so lovingly earned.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Killarney's TREYVAUD's takes you home to Ireland with a novel take and great ambiance (8-16-15)

We moved only 25 miles to the north over the mountains to beautiful Killarney the next day and decided to dine at TREYVAUD's right in the center of town. I had booked way ahead by email and we got the warmest welcome from Owner Paul Treyvaud and later his brother, owner/chef Mark Treyvaud came out to talk with us extensively. We felt like we were at home in this simple  small family restaurant where the emphasis was on food and Ireland once again.
An amuse bouche arrived of Kenmare Smoked Salmon with Red Onion Marmalade, Rose Wine on a Pancake with Crème Fraiche. This was a divine take on the blini but bigger and Irish style with the most tender and tasty smoked salmon we had for the trip.
We ordered a tasty bottle of Bodegas Rioja Blanco 2013 from Muriel which was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc & Viura; here the wines were all quite inexpensive save for a couple of fancy labels and again a nice treat.
Samuel started with the Pan Seared Chicken Bruschetta on a fusion of Tomato, Olives, Basil-Toasted Pine Nut Pesto and Parmesan, which he declared the size of a main course, well at least for lunch.
Will and I both could not resist the Treyvaud's Fish Cakes with Smoked Haddock, Whole Grain Mustard and Chives with Garlic Aioli which have become a legend here. they were tasty and the sauces were superb. Everything seems to come with a small rocket (arugula in case you forgot) salad which was very tasty and had a Caesar-ish vinaigrette.
For the main course I had to have the Lough Leane Rainbow Trout (Killarney sits on this lake, as our hotel did that night, and Paul told me his brother fished the trout himself that morning!!) with Prawn Bisque Sauce and Julienne Onion, Zucchini & Carrot. Will chose the Roast Rack of Kerry Lamb with Dauphinoise Potatoes, Red Wine and Herb Jus.
I forgot to mention there were awesome breads of Sundried Tomato, White Smoked Paprika & Leek, as well as Brown with Pumpkin Seeds.
Samuel loved his Prime Irish Beef & Guinness Stew with marinated Irish Beef in Guinness with Button Mushrooms & Bacon Lardons. We also got mixed vegetables, regular potatoes and chips (that's fries); over-indulgence.
Every bite was superb and we had a ball, but we were full and decided to split one dessert of Poached Rhubarb and Lemon Posset (custard) which was creamy but not too rich with the poached rhubardb all tasty at the bottom and a gel as well.
It was the perfect finish to a wonderful meal and making new friends in this wonderful town.

Sheen Falls Lodge in Kenmare, County Kerry keeps up tradition yet soars with consummate cuisine (8-15-15)

The next night we drove about 5 minutes away to the other Relais et Chateaux hotel in the area (it is rare there are two so close!) and we were blown away by the entire experience from the time we sat down at the bar and discovered that there is amazing locally made Dingle Vodka (& gin) that makes a dry and neat martini. While the bar snacks here (overlooking Sheen Falls, a tiny stream at this point of the season) weren't as exciting as the night before (here we had olives and spicy nuts, etc). the dining experience was indeed a tour de force.

The huge dining room or Falls Restaurant is light and airy (yellow is the predominant color in the building as well as in the exterior paint) and Chef Philip Brazil works hard to impress each diner with each bite.

An amuse of Wild Mushroom Veloute came first and was spectacular, and pronounced correctly :-).

We tried the Castletownbere (again from nearby Beara) Oysters with a simple lemon shallot vinegar and pea shoots. Will declared the shoots bothersome, but the oysters were creamy and slightly briny and truly delicious.

These were enjoyed with a superb Te Pa Sauvignon Blanc 2014 from New Zealand that matched the bivalves in creaminess but with a huge grapefruit flavor.

We also tasted the Domaine de Chiroulet Reserve SFL (Sheen Falls Lodge, made for them) 2013 from Gascogne which is 50% Gros Manseng, and 25% each Sauvignon Blanc and Ugni Blanc, which will preferred. It was nice to have so many options by the glass and an extensive wine list as well, all overseen by the superb French maître d' Quentin. We also loved the grand piano in the middle of the room being played softly and politely and were excited when we heard familiar tunes from the Irish musical "Once" we had just seen in DC!

Brown soda, Granary and Onion rolls were the order or the day with more amazing butter....the curse of this trip was carbs, butter and cheese, but we loved it all. The water was all Sheen Falls Lodge locally filtered.

Will & I both started with the Roast Beet Carpaccio, Raspberry Vinaigrette, Tarragon Mascarpone, Salted Sunflower Seed Crackers and Pea Shoots while Samuel had the Rigatoni with Lemon Olive Oil, Plum Tomato Sauce, Mint-Basil Pesto & Parmesan Shavings, promising no more pasta or chips for the next 3 days!

Quentin and I discussed a 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape, Chateau de la Gardine and he said he would open it for us. He did and tasted it once, then on the second try, he declared it undrinkable bringing us an amazing 2012 Domainee Chante Cigale Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes that was drinking so smoothly is was dreamy.

The main courses were truly delicious with a Ring of Kerry Lamb Duo of Grilled Cannon (upper rump) and Confit of Shoulder served with Garlic Gnocchi, as well as Connemara Air Dried Lamb, Sour Mint Jelly, Jameson Whiskey Carrot Barrels and Thyme Essence, what a salute to Ireland. The Char Grilled Fillet of Tipperary Hereford Irish Beef came in either 10 ounce or 12 ounce portions and I went for the former, it was way big enough. The Irish Hereford and Angus cattle are all grass-fed which is why the meat is so amazing (today I found grass-fed lamb/beef burgers at the farmer's market and can't wait to try them). The dish came with a 30 hour Braised Beef Cheek & Shallot Croquette that was melt-in-your-mouth to-die-for,  Carrot Puree, Potato Mousseline, monstrous King Oyster Mushrooms and a Chimichuri Dressing with red Wine Jus. This was probably our favorite beef the entire trip.

Dessert was irresistible and we tried the Summer Raspberry Tartlet with Crème Patisserie & Lemon Curd Ice Cream which was delish, but my Chocolate & Peanut Butter Mousse with Summer Berries, Chocolate Textures (such as brittle) & Chocolate Ice Cream was again one of the best finales of the trip.

Bravo to the entire team at SFL!

Park Hotel Kenmare In Ireland's County Kerry comes up only okay (8-14-15)

We arrived at the Relais et Chateaux park Hotel Kenmare which was to be our home for two nights in County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland. It is a beautiful old country home in a grand park right in the center of the town of Kenmare, which is quite wealthy and very high end.

We decided to take drinks in the lounge and enjoy the ambiance. It was quite nice as they brought in some tasty snacks with the alcohol (and Coke for Sam) such as Prawn Risotto Balls, Duck Liver Crisps, Beetroot meringue with Goat Cheese, and a Gnocchi-like/Potato Puff of Pea & Chorizo that we loved.

The dining room is very straight-laced, and a couple from the UK next to us were staring our family down for much of the meal in a quite snotty manner. We stood our ground as we had a nice table by the window overlooking the gardens and the lush hills and bay beyond. The meal is a 3 course prix fixe and Samuel said he only wanted one course; the manager was insistent there was no discount for small eaters, which was silly. The staff was mostly Eastern European and needed a bit more training for my taste in a high end destination; I felt we were back at Mt. Juliet where the staff had no cue which cheese was which.

One server arrived and presented the "bouche for today," leaving the word "amuse" off which made me giggle as that meant he was presenting the mouth for today! He said it  was an  Apricot Veloute with Truffle Oil, which I thought was odd as a warm creamy fruit soup is a bit on the unusual side. I inquired again and after three tries, we figured out his "apricot" was actually asparagus, and it was indeed tasty. Brioche, Poppyseed with Apricot  (not asparagus!) and Brown bread arrived and we ordered a bottle of 2012 Vernaccia di San Gimignano "Ponte a Rodoline" from Teruzzi & Puthod which we have always enjoyed and di here as well, but for a much higher price than we had been paying around the Emerald Isle.

The server returned to "present" our starters on a silver tray. I always laugh at this truly silly pretentiousness for two reasons:

1)Are we going to send them back after they are presented if we don't like the way they look?
2)Presenting things on a silver tray or salver always reminds me of Salome requesting the head of John the Baptist on a silver tray (or as in the Strauss opera "silber schussel")!

We stared at our Salad of Atlantic Crab with Heritage Radish & Wasabi Yogurt which Will ordered and we were told it hailed (the crab, that is) from nearby Castletownbere on the Beara Peninsula which had just visited that day.

Sam started with the Risotto of Wild Mushroom and Truffle with Aquerello Rice and Aged Parmesan and continued with the Wild Garlic Gnocchi with Billy Clifford (a local organic farmer) Vegetables, Nettle and St. Tola (Goat cheese) emulsion. Yes, this was carb intense, but he had to pay for two courses and indeed was beefed out the previous days and as you know won't eat fish!

While Sam did pasta, pasta; I went with duck,duck (read on)

Will and I moved on to an Antinori Badia A Passignano "Gran Selzione" DOCG Chianti which was truly delicious and paired sublimely with our main courses. I had the Terrine of Confit Duck & Foie Gras with Prune Puree which was truly delicious and moved on to the same main as me, the Breast of Thornhill Duck (oh, these mains were presented as well on a silber schussel!) with Swede (a carrot/turnip kind of veggie) & Honey and Hispi Cabbage. I found the swede cloyingly sweet, but the rest of the dish was delicious for sure. The sides that came were potatoes (yes, always in Ireland), snap peas, beans and carrots. All were blanched or boiled and truly tasteless in need of massive amounts of pepper and/or salt. What happened to the kitchen's inventiveness?

A pre-dessert came n the form of a Lemon Curd Blueberry Meringue that was also quite sweet.

Since dessert was included we indulged. Samuel ordered the Passion Fruit Souffle with Sauce Anglaise, Passion Fruit Curd and Passion Fruit Ice Cream which seemed to be a big hit. Cherry and Almond was the other choice which was an Almond & Olive Oil Cake with macerated Cherries and Cherry Ice Cream that was again just okay.

I am sad to say, some of the dishes were quite nice, many were just okay and the service was overly-Victorian, yet difficult to comprehend.

GREENE's in Cork: a gorgeous city setting and great Irish cuisine to count on (8-13-15)

Samuel was quite exhausted from the full day of touring (Blarney, Cork, seaside and more) not to mention his Irish Stew for lunch, so he asked to stay in and ordered a burger for dinner. When the burger arrived before we left, I thought there was no way he could polish off the huge 1/2 pound Angus treat and the large portion of fries; I was wrong.

we arrived at Greene's close to downtown in the Hotel Isaac, but this is a separate venue from the mid-range hotel at the rear and as we walked down the alley corridor we saw a huge four-story waterfall cascading from above into a pond just outside the windows of the side of the restaurant. It was a cool, but pleasant evening and one lucky elderly couple had nabbed the only outside table opposite the fall. We later found out that this was not used and it was a special occasion for the owner's parents.

Our table was just one away from the window and the waterfall was a super touch. Local art covered the walls that ranged from Irish scenery to naked women and pigs; something for everyone. Tipperary Sparkling was poured and the amuse of Herb Yogurt with Tomato Espuma and Wild Garlic Powder arrived. It was tasty and a good omen for what was to come. The wine list was simple with six reds, 6 whites and a rose all available by the glass, 1/2 litre or bottle. The hostess/manager, Orsolya, from Hungary, was a dream and said we could taste any of the wines by the glass. We decided that the Prado Rey Verdejo/Sauvignon Blanc blend from Spain would be ideal with the oysters we chose to start with. We told our server, Artur, that we wanted to split a dozen, and he quickly ran to the tank to grab the 9 remaining mollusks; he declared the bar had been busy that evening with many drinkers and oyster eaters! They arrived some time later in a gorgeous presentation with Pickled Cucumbers, Pickled Carrots, Sea Asparagus & Fennel on top of each bi-valve. Will did not like this at all, but I loved the veggies on these very local West Cork Oysters.

Four breads arrived in the form of 2 browns, a wheat and a white; all the locally cooked fresh bread was always an enticement, though we tried to refrain, we could not.

Will started with the Cork Buffalo Mozzarella & Smoked Beef (Tartare style) Salad with arrived decorated with those colorful fresh edible flowers and sprouts (indeed, all the dishes here did as well) and Dattarino Toamtoes, Piquillo Peppers, Smoked Almonds, Basil, Olives and Pickled Wild Garlic Stems; a salad to remember and what amazing local fresh ingredients. My Duo of Orchard Farm and Ardsallagh Goats Cheese was an array of goat cheese beignets, textures of Beetroot (including espuma), Candied Walnut, Raisin Puree and Leek Ash (on the goat cheese) that impressed me completely.

Orsolya offered us a taste of Hunky Dory Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand which was overpowering and we settled on the Swallow's Tail (the wine names were all quite odd) Sauvignon Blanc/Chenin Blanc blend from Robertson South Africa that was not too complex and went perfectly with our main course (we both had the same) of Seared Hake Fillet & Seared Scallops (both from nearby West Cork) with Morteau Sausage, Sea Vegetables (including Sea Purslaine), a Roast Chicken Veloute (superb with the hake), Spinach and Confit Lemon (to squeeze on the fish). Lots of love, care and consideration went into this dish and it showed.

Of course, we were full, but decided to split a dessert we had seen at the next table: New Season Bushby's West Cork Strawberries which was an array of amazing fresh berries (perhaps the best ever save for the wild ones we had years ago in Scotland), Strawberry Meringue, Malted Milk Crumble, Strawberry Ice Cream, Strawberry Jelly, Strawberry Sorbet and Elderflower Gel. Quite tasty and again a paean to the local fruit.

We were grateful for the quiet night without Samuel, but he did miss the amazing waterfall and yummy food. To our disdain, her was awake on our return, but we all crashed quite quickly. 

FARMGATE's lunch is fine, but falls short of expectations in Cork (8-13-15)

We had heard so much about the Farmgate Restaurant located in the magnificent English Market in downtown Cork that we had to include it in our day tour. we told our guide, and she reserved ahead, which was a good idea, as the place was jammed at 1230pm when we arrived. Going through the English Market is an adventure on its own (Queen Elizabeth cam here on her visit to Ireland!) with a plethora of food shops offering almost everything fresh and local you can imagine.
We got very hungry by the time we sat down and all the rumors abut the special place (open only for lunch to 430pm) had built up, making our expectations perhaps a bit too high.
Will loved his Dungarvan Helvic Gold Irish Blonde Ale and I my Prosecco with Elderflower Liqueur. Our guide ordered the Roast Hake and said it was quite nice and Samuel loved his Irish Lamb Stew. I think Will hit the jackpot with the St. Tola's Goat's Cheese Tart with Roasted Red Peppers and Aubergine.  My Traditional Pork Sausages with Mash & Bacon, Sauteed Onions and Lentils was a heavy dish and while tasty, a bit over the top for lunch with a very rich, thick dark gravy (remember, the Irish breakfast is huge every day and always included!). I had read about their famous tripe, but passed over that and was hoping for another dish we heard about, Corned Beef & Colcannon, but alas, it was not available.
It was a good meal, but no major raves here. We can't always be thrilled. We ended by going down into the market and choosing some locally made chocolates for a treat!


FLEMING's: a true family run restaurant in a park preserves fine French style fare in Cork, Ireland (8-12-15)

We moved westward for the next two nights to the city of Cork and chose FLEMING's located in the tranquil Tivoli section on Cork's east side in a 5-acre property that is not easy to find. We finally did and drove up a tiny road to a beautiful, if unkempt, old "Country" home still managed by the same couple (Michael & Eileen Fleming) for decades. Outside were herb and vegetable gardens used for the meals! The old wooden floors, chandeliers, and fireplaces remained giving an air of post-19th century upper class living gone sad, but the warm welcome we received and the food made up for the fraying décor. Heavy curtains in the small dining room with 6 tables (that was full) with a small crystal chandelier and yellowing walls along with 70's pop music scared me at first, but Samuel was thrilled when the hot garlic bread with toasted sunflower seeds arrived shortly after we sat down. The wine list was short, but we found a tasty 2013 Pouilly Fuisse from Drouhin that was in great form and only needed a slight more chilling to suit our taste.

Samuel started with a gorgeous and huge plate of Spinach and Cheese Ravioli covered with huge swaths of fresh parmesan cheese; our hostess even brought another bowl of extra cheese for Sam to add more should there be a need.
Will had the Salade de Crabe (I loved that the names were all in French) featuring more tasty local crab with Avocado & Grapefruit. My Rable de Lapin Sauce Grain Moutarde was an excellent roast Stuffed Saddle of Rabbit with a light Plum Compote and an excellent light Grain Mustard Sauce. I marveled at the tenderness of the meat and the construction and traditional elegance of the dish; this came from a well trained French chef for sure, which is often not seen today.

Main courses were even more exciting and successful with Samuel going for his regular Filet of Beef here in a local Morel Mushroom Cream Sauce with a good dose of Rosemary. Will ordered fish, but for some reason I did not write down what he had. My Noisette St. Jacques was a revelation with fresh caught that day seared Scallops, but here for the first time in decades, the "foot" or roe sac, was attached to each and every scallop; what a treat. For those that do not know, this sac is usually removed as it cannot be eaten after more than a day or perhaps even less. I love the burst of flavor you get from this along with the tender slice of scallop and here it was in a Champagne Sauce with a hint of Balsamic for colore and a Seafood Pate with Caviar. OMG, this was one of the biggest hits and treats of the entire vacation. In the true family-style side dishes were brought and we had some bursting with flavor Baby Carrots with Cumin & Honey (from the garden I assume) and Potatoes of course.

Samuel could not resist the Hot Chocolate Fondant with Summer Berries and a huge cookie. Will and I split a superb warm Lemon Tart with Strawberries as well as one of those yummy big cookies as well. Serving it warm was novel and different, but it worked for sure, and the pastry could not have been better.
We fell in love with Flemings not mention Eileen and Michael.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

House Restauant at Ireland's CLIFF HOUSE Hotel will have you heaven for the food, the service and the view (8-11-15)

We headed south to the Irish coast and the small, classy seaside resort of Ardmore with its sandy Atlantic beaches and cliffs hanging over the sea, very much like Dover, but not white! The Cliff House is a gorgeous modern Relais et Chateau establishment literally hanging on the side of the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean; the site alone will make you swoon. For eight years, Dutch chef Martijn Kajuiter has hailed supreme here and retained his Michelin star; he deserved more than one as this was an overall experience we shall put on the top 10 list for sure.

We were ushered to our sea view table that sported fresh crisp white linens (the décor was modern, yet simple, so as not to steal from the sea or the food) and a floor to ceiling window so we could see forever. Here, house filtered (with lime from the local cliffs) still and sparkling is offered and an array of breads arrived including Fennel (which I often don't like, but adored), Spelt with honey and thyme glaze and a Seaweed Brioche with sea salt that was superb. Smoked and whipped butters were made with organic sea salt; simple yet very tasty.

We were immediately drawn to the amazing tasting menu for 95 Euros(about $107) and the accompanying wines for another 50Euros($56), but Samuel wasn't feeling that hungry and did not like a number of the courses, so we asked if he could order a la carte. They usually require the whole table to do the tasting menu for serving timing, but the staff was more than accommodating. I say staff, as we did not have one server, we had a team of at least five who were there at every moment to pour water, wine, refill the bread or just make sure we didn't lack anything.

We all received an array of amuses that would not only dazzle the eye, but wow the palate. The first was called "Edible Stone" and was a baby potato with an edible clay coating to make it look like a stone and mint mayo. Next was a beetroot macaroon with goat cheese, which we have seen often (also with foie gras), but all adore. Third was the Warm Onion Soubise with Cheddar Cheese Foam and Toasted Hazelnuts, a "soup" that was sublime.

Our tasting started with an array of "The HOUSE STARTERS" which were as amazing to eat as they were to see:
West Cork Scallop came with Sweet Corn Puree, Sea Spinach Coulis & Irish Caviar made with Black Garlic and Kohlrabi.
Duck Foie Gras arrived under a dome with Milk, Lismore Girolles, Black Olive Crumb and was on an Herb & Mushroom Cracker.
The highlight was the Dungarvan Rock Oyster in an Asian-style Citrus with Basil and a creamy "Dutch Salad" of potato, onion and cucumber. It sat atop a "plate" that was a high white tree trunk made from cut stone looking a lot like a white lava rock and was topped with Yuzu Basil Foam and Saffron Puffed Rice.  At this point my phone was malfunctioning, so photos can be seen on the FB page of Will Mark Stevenson; don't miss them. The wine wasa Mas De Daumas Gassac 2013 from Languedoc by V. Guibert de la Vassiere made from a Viognier, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc & Petit Mensang blend that we adored; sadly this wine is imported for the hotel alone, and the sommelier said it was be virtually impossible to find!

Samuel ordered a starter of Bantry Bay Organic Salmon which sounds simple but the huge plate arrived with a Ballotine of Salmon, Iced Salmon, Marinated Salmon in Beetroot a that was Nori Wrapped (like sushi), House Cured Salmon with Caviar, Maplewood Smoked Salmon Ice Cream, Pickled Vegetables, Herbs and Horseradish. This was also our next course after the huge array and presentation of the starters. There was also Broccoli Puree and an Asian gel and a compressed broccoli stem and compressed gluten-free pastry. At this point, we began to notice the many colorful edible flowers on each plate, and I began to ask what they were. Here we had Borage and Marigolds;none were bitter as flowers can be, and the color was amazing. Gels also abounded with one standout being the "gin & tonic," also used on the next course as well as a green pea shoot gel. Our pairing for this was a Sake Akashi-Tai from Honjozo, Japan which just took this "Asian" dish to even higher heights (although Will is not a big sake nut).

Our next course was Spring Chicken & Lobster with a Foamy Lobster Bisque (the word bisque here used too loosely), cherry tomato, lobster and salad with avocado and grapefruit. The gels were again "gin and tonic," basil, grapefruit, lettuce and garlic. There was a grilled spicy onion as well as a"Chicken Snap" akin to a pork rind but more like a cracker that was made from chicken skin and salted. The flowers were white borage and cucumber (which looked like a zucchini flower, but was much larger). The wine was a Chateau de la Coste Bellugue Rose 2013 made from Syrah, Grenache & Cinsault that our sommelier added on request as this course came without a wine (impossible!).

At this time, Samuel's main course of McGrath's Black Angus Beef arrived in the form of a huge Grilled Fillet and Sausage with Parfait Dome, Garden Spinach, Potato in the form of Irish Colcannon(here with spring onion, sausage and celery), Grilled Celeriac and Kilbeggan Whiskey (where we had just visited a couple of days earlier). Presented at tableside was blend of garden herbs(rosemary, sage, bay, thyme, parsley, white garlic) which was blended with Beef Jus into a Beef Tea which was poured over the meat. Not only was the dish sublime, the whole presentation was worthy of an Oscar.

Our next course was Corvina "Italian Seabass" which was with Ratatouille in the form of  BabaGhanoush Quenelles, Fried Purple basil, Saffron. The fish was top notch, as all the fish and meat in Ireland was, and had a Bell pepper Puree and here the gel was oregano. Perhaps the simplest of dishes visually, but the taste was amazing. The wine was a Spatburgunder 2013 from M. Runkel in Rheinhessen, Germany.

A palate cleanser of stupendous Carrot Sorbet was next and this was followed by our Irish Rose Veal which was roasted and served with breaded Sweetbreads, Fried Gnocchi, Green Asparagus,  Kohlrabi & Spinach in a Veal Jus with a mushroom puree. The sommelier opened the Quadrifolia wine 2014 from Douro Portugal and declared it was not just right for the dish (the 2013 was on the menu, but they had run out and the newer vintage was a bit too young). He poured it anyway, and also offered us a full glass of a rare 2011 Moroccan wine from Meknes called Volubilia made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Termpranillo which we liked much more than the Douro.

Desserts were just as exciting and even more novel with Seabuckthorn (an orange berry that grows on the seaside cliffs nearby) with Puffed Rice Meringue, Cream, Vanilla, and Hops in a Syrup made from dried fruits. The dish was tasty, but Will begged to differ saying the seabuckthorn was quite bitter. A wonderful Kracher 2012 Cuvee Beernauslese was just the right touch. This wine is usually lighter than the better trockenBeerenauslese from Kracher, but the sweetness made the dish taste even better for me.

The final touch was called Organic Chocolate 65% and featured "alto el Sol" from Peru, vintage 2013 and "Madrifolo" from Madagascar, vintage 2012. Who knew chocolate had vintages? There was White Coffee Ice Cream and Coffee Grounds and Sea Salt as well as olive Olive Oil,  combined to make a large Relais et Chateau fleur de lys symbol which had sherry and 24karat gold as well. A Peruvian Chocolate/Seabuckthorn Puree was also in evidence. This was indeed the perfect ending to a visually thrilling and tongue tantalizing evening, which I would repeat in a flash!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Mt. Juliet's Lady Helen Restaurant;a Michelin star that shines, but needs some work (8-10-15)

We moved south from Ballyfin past Kilkenny to Thomastown and the Mt. Juliet Estate which is another large country house beautifully situated on a river with horse stud farms surrounding, not to mention the famous golf course. It has a main house which is very beautiful and other rooms in various buildings that are not as deluxe.
When we sat down there seemed to be some confusion on the part of the staff, and we realized that they were the problem for most of the night, as the food was quite delicious. It has maintained its rare Irish Michelin star for some years, but I pray they can upgrade the staff to keep that on.
Ballygowan sparkling water was used here and we found ourselves liking all of the Irish sparklings we had as they tend to be pretty mild. The bread was varied with white soda, brown Guiness ale soda, Onion bacon and white, but there was only one butter knife on the table in a wooden holder that seemed quite odd to us. When you are in a restaurant like this you also should not have to pour your own water.
Pre-amuse of gougeres with smoked cheddar were okay, but we loved the main amuses of White Onion Veloute Shooter and Smoked Haddock Arancini (well, Sam wouldn't touch the fish, even in the form of a fried risotto ball).
We ordered a Barolo and Antonio told us they were out and we switched to a Crianza, which he said was a magnum, so then he suggest a much younger Barolo which worried me, but in the end he discounted it and it was superb: 2008 Luigi Pira, smooth and superb with our food.
I started with the Quail Chromesquis oddly served on a soggy piece of bread, but still superb with a Confit of leg, Red Chicory (radicchio), apple, Truffle Aioli and Hazelnut Veloute. The amazing part was a fried breaded ball of confit with creamy sauce that exploded in my mouth. I would have thought there were too many things going on, but it all worked quite well. Will had the Goats Cheese with Pickled Beetroot, Golden Raisin, Apple Balsamic and Goats Cheese BonBon.
Samuel wasn't too hungry and went right for a main course of Linguini with Slow Cooked Duck Egg Yolk, Girolles and Truffles. He wasn't crazy about the gooey yolk, but still managed to enjoy the dish, yet still saying he won't go near fried or poached eggs.
I had Challan Duck with Bok Choy, Watermelon, Kalamni Orange and Nepalese Pepper which was a superb dish and combination of very different ingredients that worked. Will had the Suckling Pig with Pork Belly, Octopus, Soya Apple, Cabbage & Shitaki which came in the form of a puree. It too showed great thought to the various yet different ingredients. We switched halfway and agreed both dishes were perfect.
I must mention here that at one point they removed my appetizer knife and fork and almost put them back on the table to use for the next course, when I insisted on frdh cutlery; not a sign of good service. Also, the Laguiole knife for my duck had schmootz on it.
For dessert Samuel chose the Tonka & Caramel Souffle made from 70%Cacao Barry Chocolate with Banana Ice Cream and Chocolate Cremeaux while Will had the Brown Sugar Tart with Mandarin, Hazelnut, Chocolate Tuile and Mandarin Sorbet.
Eoin (pronounced Ian) arrived with the cheese trolley and I was in heaven when he allowed me to have them all, most of which came from a local cheesery down the road in Knocktrinna ( we went there the next day to buy more for our cheese picnics to come during the trip!). Sadly, Eoin didn't know most of the cheeses and we got a bit confused:
Lavissdown, Brewer's Gold, a goat unnamed, Knocktrinna Gold and Crozier Blue (the one not from Knocktrinna).
A plethora of Petits Fours arrived:
Pistachio Financiers, Black Lime Pastille Gelee, Lemon & Coffee Chocolates,
Poppyseed Tuilles, Canale Rhum Baba, Earl Grey & Citrus Macaroons, White Chocolate Nougat in Dark Chocolate coating and Honey/Hazelnut Nougat.
It was a fine finish to a tasty if confusing meal.
The room is yellow and light and overlooks the river and gardens, but is in sore need of a paint job and new carpet. It looks like Downtown Abbey after the end rather than a well kept estate.


Ballyfin Demesne an experience bar none (think dining at Downton Abbey) 8-9-15

Our first stop outside of Dublin was at the venerable Ballyfin Demesne which is a Relais et Chateau experience not to be missed; add it to your bucket list as one of the top hotels on earth.
On arrival we were whisked into the monstrous estate about an hour from Dublin in Country Laois (pronounced leash) through an electronic gate and met by a team of staff at the front door of this 15 room country home restored in all its 19th century splendour.
At dinner time we came down from our magnificent room to the grand hall for pre-dinner drinks and some tasty treats:Mushroom Arancini Balls, Chicken Liver Pate and Cheese Straws.
We were ushered into the gorgeous dining room overlooking the rear of the manse and its gardens with waterfalls. As we sat down a tasty amuse of gazpacho and the breads arrived:
Whole meal with cumin/sugar/grain crust
Baguette and a to-die-for Basil Focaccia that was more like a popover, warm and with a gooey pesto vein running through it. The butter was in small silver chiller dishes shaped like pans or more like double boilers, which  were so cute I wanted to steal them:-))
Samuel started with Fettuccine Alfredo and Will and I were immediately drawn to the Duncannon Smoked Haddock Cannelloni with New Season Leek Veloute, Spring Onion, Spinach and Exmoor Caviar. It was divine and oh so rich. Each piece of fish we have had here has been superb, but this was a novel set of Irish ingredients gone Italian/French crazy.
Chateauneuf du Pape "La Lionne" Comte de Rocoval 2011 was our white and then for the main course Will moved to an Anthony Barton 2012 Merlot from St. Emilion that was smooth and drinking superbly despite its youth.
The main course for Samuel and I was the Kilkenny (not even an hour down the road) Veal Fillet with Braised Gem (lettuce) and Veal Sweetbreads which were battered and fried. This all came with mashed potatoes, Girolles, and a Mushroom Puree in a White Wine Sauce.
Will had the Loin of Roscommon Lamb with Pea Puree, Roast Garlic, Shallots and Lamb Jus. If this was not enough it came with a huge side of Lamb Steak & Kidney Pie in a miniature cast iron pan. It was a modern take however, as the potato topping was a foam. We all tasted it and raved. Needless to say every bite of everything was superb.
Dessert was the only course that came up short with Ballyfin Garden Raspberry Souffle with Raspberry Sorbet & Coulis coming out a bit underdone and hence too runny.
The cheeses were magnificent and Irish Farm House and with homemade chutneys.
Coolatin Mature Red Cheddar from Country Wicklow
Gubeen from Cork with a wine washed tind
St. Tolla Goat from Tipperary with an edible ash coating
Durrus from Cork with wine wash rind
Millintz (which I think the server misspelled as it should be Milleens) also from Cork and our regular Crozier Blue
Candied Hazelnuts, Gooseberry Chutney and Quince were in evidence and Will and I enjoyed our newest favorite Irish Whiskey (we had a VIP tour and tasting that afternoon at Kilbeggan Distillery nearby) as we shared a Connemara Single Malt and Connemara 22 Year Old side by side. YUM...we have it in our bags now as we wait at Shannon Airport to head home!
This was indeed a very special experience all three of us shall remember forever and we are so very grateful to those who were able to make it happen as Ballyfin is so small and so special. If you want to go, be sure to book with me as our clients will all receive very special VIP treatment and extras as well!


Patrick Guilbaud: Ireland's only two Michelin star where you gotta go (8-8-15)

Our last night in Dublin was at our hotel the Merrion, where Ireland's only two Michelin star chef reigns supreme. Patrick Guilbaud is indeed a temple of gastronomy and we indulged with the 8 course tasting menu (for 185 Euros each) with wines as well, of course. Samuel was on board for this roller coaster ride which lasted 4 hours and was indeed spectacular.
I was happy from the first second with Badoit wate arrived and Haviland china and Irish linens abounded.
We had descended from the main hotel into a large room open to the courtyard where there were no more than 20 or so tables all well spaced to allow for maximum pleasure and no noise.
When the Roquefort cheese Gougeres arrived, I worried as it was simplistic, but then realized this was not an amuse. White Baguette, Brown bread, Tomato & Fennel, Walnut & Raisin, Rye, Olive & Rosemary, Onion & Bacon rolls were the array of breads and the butter was from Normandy (well, Irish is great, but this was superb).
Our first wine was a Chateau Mas Neuf Rhone blend of Grenache & Roussane from Luc Badet and paired with our large number of amuses to follow:
Liquid Parmesan on Tortellini with Fried Violet Artichoke Puree came first; need I say more. Next was Garden Sweet Pea Soup with a foamy hot mint froth. I am not a int lover, but this was excellent.
Here, we entered the actual tasting menu..and it must have been well over an hour into the evening after cocktails, ordering and amuses! What a night!
deTrafford 2013 Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch in South Africa with a tad of oak which we loved, was poured, and I must comment that every wine was poured just minutes before each course arrived, allowing us time to taste and enjoy the wine a bit before pairing it. Samuel recived a lime, sugar syrup and ginger ale drink as we asked for some fun mocktail pairings for him as well. The first course was a divine Sweet Onion "Tarte" with Mesclun & Truffle Vinaigrette as well as a crispy Parmesan cracker. The term tarte was a deconstructed form, but it was as good as any Alsatian onion tarte I have had.
Colome 2014 Torrontes from Argentina was an in your nose and face almost overwhelming wine with super huge stone fruits that really bowled us over. As soon as the Pan Roasted Duck Foie Gras with Caramel, Pineapple and Tonka Bean arrived we got the wine completely, Normally a strong white is not considered with foie gras, but someone did their homework well on this ideal pairing. Samuel had decided to switch his course for Green Asparagus, Parmesan "chaud-froid" with Bellota Iberico Ham, always the finest on earth. His dish was gone before we could even ask for a taste.
An apricot & violet aroma-ed Maison Nicolas Perrin 2013 Condrieu was a divine wine I could drink alone or with anything. It is very fine and went amazingly perfectly with wht Poached Annagassin Lobster with Green Apple Juice, Sweet Chive Emulsion and a cornet full of lobster mousse with green apple for an added touch. It had to be one of our favorite courses. Samuel, as he declined all seafood, was given a Suckling Pig Croquette with Fried Quail Egg that was also a winner. All dishes for this course were presented under silver domes removed simultaneously by the staff; tres dramatique.  
Course number 4 had the sommelier pouring a Napa Cabernet we haven't had in years, a 2009 Freemark Abbey Sycamore Vineyard with huge legs was a big wine, but sublime at 6 years old. This was paired with Meadow Wicklow Agneau (lamb) from just outside of Dublin served in a Basque Pepper Stew with Daterino (Sicily) tomatoes, Bergamot, Tagiasschi Olives and Creamy Mashed Potatoes. This was our main course, so to speak, and shined with French flair, but being a true turn on a traditional Irish stew.
The cheese cart (the size of a small car) arrived.
Our server said we could have whatever we wanted; was he crazy? Here is what we chose between Will & myself, sometimes duplicating
Puligny St. Pierre Goat
Milleens, Durrus & Gubeen from Cork
Pont L'Eveque
Langres (from Champagne)
Irish Blue Cashel (cow), they also had the sheep Crozier Blue
Now I have enjoyed a dessert wine, port or other with my cheese course but was blown away when they lined up 5 different glassed in front of us, pairing each wine with one of the 5 or 6 cheeses we had chosen!
Deutz Champagne for the Goat
Saki Junmai for the 3 Irish cheeses
Pinot de Charentes and Maury Banyuls. OMG!!!!!!!
The cheese plates were complemented by Hazelnuts & Cranberry Bread as well as a Pumpkin Seed/Oat Bread. It was a fantastic ride.
The first dessert arrived and we loved the Warm Almond Biscuit with Poached Apricot & Banyuls and milk-conserved almonds with Orange Blossom Ice Cream. The almonds were intriguing but this was a load of fun and then they brought a Pina Colada Macaroon, White Chocolate (I can't read my writing), Lemon Meringue Tartlelets, Chocolate Orange Chouquettes, Pistachio-Almond Nougat, Honey & Lavender Financier and finally a Strawberry & Violet Yogurt Lollipop. It was all paired with a Chaeau Coutet 2006 1er Cru Classe Sauternes which was a dessert in itself.
Samuel was brought a hot cocoa with fresh cream and foam made from pure chocolate; decadent and intense for sure.
Samuel was waning and asked to head up to the room as midnight was near, but they refused to stop and Guanaja Chocolate 70% cocoa salted Caramel Ganache with Chocolate Praline Ice Cream & Caramel Tuille followed with a Recioto della Valpolicella 2010 from Giovanni Allegrini. I haven't had this awesome red intense dessert wine in ages, and it is so awesome with intense chocolate, which this all was.
As if this was not enough, a huge cart was rolled over with a giant chest on it the size of a medium carry-on. They opened this to reveal hundreds upon hundreds of 80%cocoa/caramel Chocolate Truffles which were on a bed on chocolate nibs. We tasted one and asked for a box "to go" which we enjoyed over the next couple of days. All I can say is "Kron go home!"
And we did go right up to our suite to bed ending an amazing first three days in Dublin and the Republic of Ireland.


Dublin's TAVERN at the dylan hotel is hot (8-7-15)

Our second night in Dublin brought us about a 10 minute walk away from St. Stephen's Green just across the canal to Ballsbridge and the trendy new Dylan Hotel where the feel at TAVERN is chic and trendy but not noisy nor snobbish. The service was superb and the food simply excellent and again, oh so fresh,
An amuse bouche of Irish Crab, Seaweed and Citrus was just right as it had been a long day and we were quite hungry. A 2013 Gavi "I Risi" from Giribaldi had a mineral finish that we loved.
Breads arrived in the form of cheese and herb focaccia with our choice of olive oil, Irish butter or pesto dip.
Samuel was on a soup kick and chose the Tomato & Basil Soup with Goats cheese, which he now seems to be okay with on a limited basis.
Will & I both chose the Surf & Turf which was huge Roast Prawns with a monster portion of Irish Beef Tartare. On the side was a divine bergamot aioli with lemon that was sublime with both the surf and turf. The meat was some of the best ever, as Irish beef has been on this entire trip.
For main courses Samuel chose the John Stone Irish 10 ounce Ribeye Steak with Onion Rings, Chunkey Chips and Red Wine Jus. The rings were shared and I have to say they were some of the best one earth; he adored the steak as well.
Will and I both chose the Fish Plate which was loaded with Salmon, Octopus, Salted Cad and all on a portion of Wild Garlic Risotto with Citrus & Apple. The salmon had crispy skin and like most fish comes from the west coast, where we headed afterwards, and I can't say enough how amazing this fish is.....!!!
We decided to try a side of traditional Irish Colcannon which is mashed potatoes with bacon(ham) and cabbage, which was nice but won no prizes as it really is like a mashed potatoes with some extras.
We had a long day and headed home without dessert, but full well loving every bite we had at this TAVERN!


Dublin's ONE PICO may pique your palate (8-6-15)

Our first night in Dublin and the Republic of Ireland brought us around the corner from our hotel to ONE PICO just of St. Stephen's Green where Chef Eamon O'Reilly has been introducing fine food using fresh Irish ingredients, which is indeed the story of much of our journey.
We were not thrilled with the cold White, Wheat  & Onion/Thyme; there was no amuse.
Samuel ordered the Foie Gras Parfait with Apricot which came wrapped in a white ring of clarified butter, which was odd, but it was super tasty with toasted sourdough. He decided it was not his cup of tea and I offered him my Langoustine Risotto with Roast Langoustines, Sorrell and truffle. He would have no seafood, so I offered again after I devoured the amazing langoustines on top and he tasted and agreed. Will & I polished off his pate which was sublime. Will had the Grilled Rare Tuna with Black Sesame and Wasabi Aioli which was about the size of two tuna sashimi pieces! We enjoyed a superb light red Merecurey 1er Cru 2013 "Les Champs Martins" from Domaine Juillot and the sommelier said he would even offer a 1/2 bottle (only served in fulls) and charge us only half if we wanted more. In the end he kindly poured about 65% which was very generous.
Sam gobbled up his Fillet of Rare Beef with Cheek Croquette, Girolles & Roast Shallot and Will loved his Turbot with Cauliflower Puree, Lobster Canneloni and Caulfilower Beignet. My Loin of Rabbit with Squash Puree, Crisp Egg Yolk and Hazelnut Pancetta was a dream come true. The loin was wrapped in the pancetta and the egg yolk was battered and fried so you could cut it and ooze and then munch. WOW!
Warm Chocolate Pudding with Lavender Ice Cream was Sam's finale, while I adored the Blackberry Souffle with Roast Almond Ice Cream. Will had a Lemon Possett with Raspberry Sorbet.
Chocolate truffles on chocolate mousse finished off the meal.
In the end a fine night for our first in southern Ireland.

DEANE''s EIPIC in Belfast is indeed an epic experience in the finest of dining (8-5-15)

The three of us arrived at Deane's in  downtown Belfast and the chef/owner has several establishments here as well as all over town, but you enter through his crowded and very basic fish restaurant next door to gain access to EIPIC, his temple of gastronomy. We were led through a door into a den of zen quiet and silver and gray tones with only about 10 tables. Only one other table for two was occupied that night, so we got top service from Didier who explained that everything is a fixed menu and we should simply advise of any allergies or such. It was smooth sailing through the night for us in the bright room lit with a full wall of glass to the street and hung with heavy silver/gray drapes, a dark gray slate floor, three huge oddly 3-d nest like silver discs on one wall that had overhead lights looking like aliens. A giant glass wine cellar was at the center of the room and we sat in super comfy white and silver high backed chairs. On the table was a mirrored mason jar with a candle and a vase with black twigs in lack sand; only the music at first was a bit loud and upbeat, but it often mellowed.
Hildon water from England was poured (well this is Northern Ireland and hence part of Great Britain)
Amuse #1 arrived and we all gobbled up the Phyllo Tart of Heritage (heirloom) Tomato with a hint of Balsamic
Breads arrived and we could not decide, but neither the brown bread, whole wheat or white roll here won any prizes. Abernathy Butter was an Irish butter dream come true.
Amuse #2 was a Shellfish Ice Cream with Parmesan Crisp and Parmesan Foam which could have won a prize for sure, not  mention that since Samuel doesn't like seafood, he got fried string beans to dip in his own parmesan foam. While we had wine pairings, Samuel had his own drinks and started with a Pineapple/Lime Juice with a big foam head.
Amuse #3 was a Roasted Sweet Corn Soup for Samuel and for us a Broad Bean, Courgettes, Spring Onion, Peas, Ham & cream dish with Brown Butter Dressing and an egg yolk on top with sea salt. This was so many deys and only a memory, so I can't seem to recall it much.

The wine arrived in the form of a Terraprima 2012 Xarelto from Pinedes, Spain, Massis del Garraf and all the different wines were in Riedel; another plus. It was a light almost effervescent type for the Smoked & Pickled Beetroot Salad with both Golden & Red beets, a cone filled with goat curd and a salted Hazelnut Crumble. Samuel had never tried beets before, and declared that he would eat them for sure if I made them this way!

Didier always arrived right before each course with the wine and everything moved smoothly so well, we were impressed. Next came a 2014 Domaine Fiumicicoli Vermentino from Sartene in Corsica which he said had hints of cranberry/raspberry and nutmeg; boy was he right and with a smoky mineralness that was in so many layers and extremely herbaceous. The second course was Lobster with Grilled Corn, Young Samphire in a sweet corn puree/soup with a Lobster Cake. This was one of our favorite dishes from Chef Danielle Barry (yes, a woman) who runs the show here. Samuel had grilled zucchini and beans in a chive/mint dressing.
Third course was Panfried Hake with Dublin Queen Potatoes in a super rich and thick roasted fish bone sauce with Sea Purslaine, Sea Ashers and Arrowglass as well as chives and chervil. The greens were simply novel and amazing, but the fish and its sauce shone bright; we have come to love hake on this trip. Samuel had the most beautiful Dublin Queen Potato, Grilled charred Onion, Ham Foam, and Grated Truffle. Our wine was a Serbian 2012 Riesling called Istina from Bongiraud(a French winemaker) that was unfiltered and had the scariest nse, but went well with the food (we did not like it to drink alone).

A 2013 Australian Nebbiolo arrived next from Trentham called "La Famiglia," from the Murray Darling region that I have never heard of. It had huge legs with smoked strawberry or jelly hints. Quail and its stocl and sauce with Celeriac, BBQ Sweetheart Cabbage and a Cumin-Coriander dressing gave this glazed bird (a hint of honey & soy) a superb and bold flavor.

The main dish was Salt Aged Ribeye Fillet with Garlic & Parsley Spelt with Garlic Scapes. Chanterelles & Scottish Girolles were also in company so we could see the difference up close; both were superb. Vesevo Benentano Aglianico 2012 from Campagnia was divine

A palate cleanser of Granita -looking but not ices made from buttermilk mousse and ice brown buttermilk with biscuit crunch was a novel fun dish.

Dessert #1 was Strawberry & Meadows Sweet (I had never heard of this white flower) iced tea foam which was oddly bitter.
A 2012 Les Charmes Celeste from Chateau Boucasse, Pacherenc Moelleux was a nice dessert wine but a bit too acidic and strawberry for me (that made sense in the pairing though).
Dessert #2 was Strawberry Curd, Mousse and Ice Cream with Meringue & Strawberry Crumble. On the side was a Strawberry Cream donut that was sugar dusted and MeadowSweet Cream
and finally Desser #3 was Chocolate Cone with Goat's Milk Ice cream, buttermilk foam and crumbled chocolate.

When the bill arrived I was in shock that the entire food portion of the experience was 60 pounds each or about $95 which could never happen in any big city. But Deane's Eipic, is a one of a kind experience in the whole of Northern Ireland and not to be missed.


lunch at HOME in Belfast, is better than lunch at home(8-5-15)

ay we had a superb lunch at HOME right off the main square in downtown and it was superb. Pulled Pork Sandwiches were a big hit with red cabbage slaw and housemade BBQ sauce and fries (not called chips once again). Samuel had a great Duck Ragu with Parmesan Gnocchi with charred Broccoli & Spring Onion while I had two starters: Fish Caked with Indian Spiced Pearl Couscous (more like orzo) and Curry Mayo that I loved and Salt 'n' Chilli Fried Beef with Asian slaw and Wasabi Mayo that was tasty, but slightly too greasy for my tastes.
One of our friends had the Roast Hake (a super fish here) with ratatouille, polenta fries and green veg....that was the description.

My glass of Esporao Pe Tinto from Alentejo Portugal was a nice full bodied red.

Dinner is planned tonight at the best place in all Northern Ireland-Deane's. 

Belfast's Merchant Hotel offers a great meal deal in The GREAT ROOM (8-4-15)

We arrived at the top hotel in Belfast decided to take advantage of their special 3-cpurse meal (26.50pounds before 630pm, 29.50 after) in a gorgeous setting in THE GREAT ROOM (or entry lobby) of the renovated Ulster Bank which is now the Merchant Hotel. A huge dome and chandelier sit above the room with gidled walls, cherubs and tons of over-the-top décor that would definitely give it #1 setting in Northern Ireland for dining, but the food matched as well.

We ordered a bottle of 2011 Newton Johnson "Felicite" an unoaked Chardonnay form the Hemel en Aarde Valley in South Africa that was full of fruit flavors in the mouth and was simply perfect with my Seared Scallops with Garden Peas, Girolles, Summer Truffle and Gnocchi. The gnocchi were not listed on the menu, so I was not really happy as I didn't want pasta, but they were tasty and Samuel agreed; the rest of the dish was divine especially the girolles (chanterelles) and peas (the question is are English Peas called Irish or Northern Irish peas  when over here in Ireland?). Will loved his Kilkeel Crab which I thought more tasty than the previous night as it had much less mayo and was served with avocado puree, Prawn Beignets, Pickled Cucumber & Quail Egg. Samuel loved his Local Tomato Vine Soup and went on to gobble up his main of Lough Erne Lamb Saddle with Asparagus, Violet Artichokes, Grelot Onions, Taggiasca Olives and Wild Rocket (arugula).

We moved on to a superb light red perfect for both the fish and duck. A 2012 Santenay AC 1er Cru from Jacques Girardin was just what we needed as it was now pouring and chilly out. Will chose the Hake with Comber Potatoes, Smoked Anchovies, Grelot Onions, Heritage (that's heirloom back home) Tomatoes and EVOO since I had loved my hake the night before. I went with the Skeaghanore Duck Breast & Leg, Peach Confit, Girolles (I can never get enough chanterelles) & Carrot which was superbly yummy and flavorful and quite tender as all the meat here has been.

Desserts were Profiteroles Swans with Warm Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream for Will (check FB) and Sam chose the superb Frozen Parfait of Milk Chocolate and Raspberry Macaroons. I had a yummy Peanut Butter Sponge Cake with Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Caramelised Orange Gel.

We must also praise the delicious local RiverRock Sparkling water and the breads and butter everywhere.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Bravos to Bushmills Inn Hotel for their Northern Irish ingenuity (8-3-15)

Our first night in Northern Ireland took us to the north central part of the region and the famous Giant's Causeway which is truly a gorgeous place with many natural wonders, not to mention good food and hospitality. We chose the Bushmills Inn Hotel, which is unquestionably the top place in town and also dined there, another wise choice.
The restaurant is cozy and warm, which was nice as it had gotten chilly and wet just as we checked in at the end of the day, with lots of local charm. Samuel perused the menu and immediately declared his choices: Butternut Squash Risotto with garden herbs, basil pesto and parmesan to start, followed by the Pan Fried Mature Beef Fillet (8 oz.) flambéed in Bushmills whiskey with cream, cracked peppercorns and mushroom confit. I failed to mention that Bushmills is famous for the oldest Irish whiskey distillery on the entire island, and while we did taste, we were not huge fans. Furthermore, our experience the next day in attempting to take the distillery tour were fruitless and we ended up going elsewhere (no fear, we have other superior distillery tours arranged). Will and I started with a bottle of 2014 Saint Veran Macon-Villages, Vins Auvigues which was refreshing and superb with our starters of Kilhorne Bay (the southeast corner of Northern Island) Salad with endive, chicory, julienne vegetables, poached quail egg and lemon mayonnaise. It was tasty, but had a bit too much mayo and the crab was nice, but we are spoiled back home with our superb Maryland Blues.
Will chose the Crispy Pork Belly with Cauliflower Puree, Savoy Cabbage and Cider Soaked Golden Raisins which was one of the best main courses of pork belly ever; so crispy, tasty and so little fat. He had a Wyndham Estate Shiraz with his food while I continued with the Saint Veran with my Greencastle (on the Republic of Ireland side of the bay from Londonderry, Northern Ireland) Hake Fillet pan fried with Cockles & Mussels Beurre Blanc Sauce with Chives. It was superb fish and I have now decided to include chives in my sauce at home along with Samuel's favorite capers. We had sides of what the menu called "garlic fries," which were actually sliced roasted potatoes which were great in all the sauces, but especially Samuel's whiskey peppercorn and my beurre blanc, as well as Roasted Carrots with Courgettes in Almond Beurre Noisette which was yummy, especially the slight hint of sweet from the carrots.
Breads were delish with wheat/rosemary/ and sourdough with raisin, but the butter here in Ireland is always amazing.
Andrea offered dessert and we both decided we could not resist, while Sam chose to head back to the room to play on his electronics. Will had the with Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding rich Toffee sauce & fresh cream which he loved and I was nuts about my Rhubarb & Ginger which was Gingerbread with Poached Rhubarb, Rhubarb Sorbet, Sticky Granola, Whiskey Syrup & Vanilla Panna Cotta which had everything going for it.
Since it was our first night in Ireland we spoke to Alex, the whiskey sommelier, if you please, and told him our likes. He suggested a Connemara Peated Single Malt from Riverstown in County Louth (Republic of Ireland) which was just the peaty rich whiskey we loved. We did taste the famous local Bushmills 12 years and we remained unimpressed, and even moreso this morning when we stopped there! So onto Connemara for our whiskey!

when back in the UK, Judges Kirklevington (Yorkshire) will take you away (8-2-15)

Every time we return to Middlesbrough to visit Will's family, we stay at the Judges Country House at Kirklevington in Yarm, a sweet country town just minutes from the big city. We love their awesome breakfasts (local smoked salmon & scrambled eggs and full English or whatever) and superb dinner in the elegant country house dining rooms or on the glass-enclosed porch overlooking the beautiful gardens.
We took our friends, Sue & Steve, here for our final dinner before heading to Ireland and it was all superb. We started with drinks in the bar and canapés were sent out as we perused the menus: Fried Cheese Balls, Saffron Crackers with Spiced Cod Puree and Ginger Ale & Rocket (the British term for Arugula) Shooters which were fun and tasted like a fizzy health drink with a slight bitter herb flavor on the tongue at the end.
Since the sun doesn't set until very late, the gardens were bright and we all took a little walk outside and then sat down to a bottle of Baron d'Arignac Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs which was brut, but neither totally dry, but then not sweet or demi-sec either; decent, but I would not order it (it was a generous gift from the hotel management). We moved on to a superb Beaune 2011 1er Cru aux Coucherais from Marchand de Gramont which was a superb light red that went perfectly with our pretty heavy fish dishes and the pork.
Starters were an aromatic Summer Truffle Salad of fine beans, baby artichokes and Cabernet Sauvignon Vinaigrette and I adored the Norfolk Quail with grilled charred Sweet Corn and a Girolles Puree and quail jus, perhaps one of the best quails ever with little baby onions and yummy pork cracklings. 
Samuel gobbled up his huge main of Courgette (Zucchini) Risotto with parmesan, tomato (sundried as well) and magnificent chanterelles (he actually ate most of these) sprinkled generously on top.
Most of us had the magnificent Monkfish with Smoked Sausage, broccoli, creamed Spinach (which came in a small fried dough ball with goat cheese!!) and several vegetable purees. One Pork Ribeye with Savoy cabbage, turnip and Passionfruit got raves.
Samuel left us to head to the room while the four of us shared desserts:
"Michel Cluizel" Chocolate Delice with pralines, espresso ice cream and hazelnuts reminded me very much of our own Michel Richard's chocolate bar dessert.
Macerated Strawberries said it came with caramelized cream, which we discovered was the local term for crème brulee as well as strawberry sorbet, honeycomb and tarragon--most refreshing.
White Peach with elderflower and cream was an even better fruit dessert full of flavor, cold and tasty.
The cheese plate was superb dotted with jellies, chutneys (one was a cauliflower/mustard seed!), seeded lavosh, housemade walnut bread, celery and so many condiments, but the cheese starred here with four kinds: Collingwood Mounts Cheddar, Monk's Folly from Fountain's Gold, Barkham's Blue from Two Hoops and an amazing runny cheese called Mayhill Green covered with chopped nettles. They were all divine, but I doubt I will ever find these truly local treats again unless we return to Yarm for a meal, which I know we will do for sure.