seafood

Memories of Ireland: Meat, Potatoes and Batty Blinks

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A fair number of people had warned me about the food in Ireland, tossing around adjectives like basic, boring and bland. I was a tad wary, but somehow I was mostly optimistic. I could fathom a fairly educated guess that the food in Ireland has evolved significantly in the last decade. Things like international travel, media, global influence, immigration, the expansion of foodieism – specifically those of us who travel to eat would not have gone unnoticed to anyone with eyes or ears in the food world.

That said, I still had a modicum of skepticism. It lingered like a noxious odour and sat uncomfortably in the back of mind. Could all the warnings be true? (No) Could the food scene be an absolute shit show? (Not at all) Will I be eating potatoes every day? (Yes, but mostly by choice) Like all foodies, finding great food in any place is a challenge accepted. Throw me anywhere and I will make it my personal undertaking to have the best fucking meal in the whole fucking place. I will read, research, scour all the websites, blogs and articles for information. I will personally reach out to bloggers in a given city for recommendations. I will talk to random strangers and hotel guests as well as anyone who seems like they wouldn’t mind chatting with me to provide their personal suggestions. My incessant prodding is undoubtedly rewarded.

While what is deemed good food is a matter of personal taste, there are, however, prerequisites and conditions that are universal and inescapable. Quality of the ingredients, expertise in preparation, the thought and skill of combining flavours, textures, ingredients and of course, the sheer beauty of a dish. However, it takes more than good food to make eating out worthwhile. Excellence in service, ambiance, and overall experience all count in the dining world. And for me it counts for a fucking lot. As someone who pays for all of her meals, if I’m throwing down cash to eat, it better be worth it.

Travelling to Ireland has been a hundred percent worth it. I had some spectacular and memorable meals. Some of these meals could be legacies of the chef, restaurant or city. They were worthwhile eats, for damn sure. And, I feel so lucky that I have had the opportunity to dine in these places.  My first stop, Dublin.

The Old Spot
http://theoldspot.ie
14 Bath Ave., Dublin 4, Ireland
35316605599

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When I arrived in Ireland, I had just journeyed across land and ocean, engaged in nearly every revolting mode of public transit, and, I survived economy class on Air Canada. I was famished and desperately in need of an alcoholic beverage. I needed to satiate my desires somewhere that felt both celebratory and comforting. I had done the work, looked into potential options and the Old Spot was the chosen one.

The room is warm, inviting and a hub for locals. It’s a wonderful respite from Dublin City Centre and Temple Bar. But not so far away that it feels like an onerous trek. Really, just jump in a cab and in a quick 10 minute ride you're there. The service is outstanding – generous and skilled. The bar has a solid selection of draught and a notable selection of whiskey (take note that the Irish spell Whiskey with the “e,” unlike the Scots. But, more on Whiskey/Whisky/Scotch another day). Also available is another notable tipple called poitín. If you have not yet suffered this poison, you really should give it a go. It is the distilled alcohol captured before being aged in oak barrels to become whiskey. It is reminiscent of swallowing a fiery hot coal and the aftermath is Chernobyl-like radiation emanating from your oesophagus. It’s an experience. But, I drank it more than once, so how bad could it be, right?!?

For dinner, we ordered the heirloom tomato salad with basil, burrata, black olives and parmesan; stuffed squid with romesco, crispy calamari, olives and aioli; and The Old Spot cheese burger served with fries. This is my kinda threesome. The food was well executed, flavourful and seasoned. The salad was fresh and the burrata was buttery, creamy and soft. The burger was big, beefy and savoury.

The star of the show, however, was the calamari. It left me weak-kneed and swooning. It was stuffed with a mouthwatering filling of breadcrumbs, sultanas, squid heads, lemon zest and parsley. I am going to be honest here. I failed to inquire about this at the time of my meal. Something I would normally would not do but, I was so enamored with it while I was eating, I forgot to ask #nolie. I understand my failings reporting on this, but fuck, it was delicious and I was enjoying my fucking meal and I was a few drinks in at this point. So, I had to email the restaurant under the guise of allergy considerations. They graciously responded and informed me about squid stuffing. Reinforcing how excellent their service really is.  

The romanesco sauce was rich and aromatic but gave the dish levity with its acid and freshness. The crispy calamari that was scattered around the plate lacked any greasiness characteristic of deep fried foods. The aioli was pungent with garlic and added silkiness to the dish. Not a morsel of anything was left behind.

Pho Viet
http://www.phoviet.ie
162 Parnell Street, Dublin
01 8783165

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I don’t know if you know this but Ireland is fucking cold even in August, much to my chagrin. I understood that the temperatures were cooler, but I had NO CLUE that I was going to be freezing my tits off. So while in Ireland, I had to buy multiple sweaters a.k.a. jumpers, if we’re using the appropriate vernacular, to insulate myself (and my tits) from the cold. You may have also heard, it also rains a fucking tonne too. On one of those cold and rainy days I decided that I needed something warm, comforting and non-potato. Pho was summoning me. The pho was unbelievably delicious. The last thing I expected to be eating and singing the praises of in Ireland, was pho. But, this was so damn good that I had to write something about it.

The restaurant is what you’d expect of an inexpensive pho restaurant. It’s got  bamboo chopsticks, functional tables and an extensive menu. The service is brisk, polite and efficient.

But we came for the broth and it is the most magical mindfuck. It was perfectly clear, light tasting, yet, complex and flavourful. You taste the richness of bones and catch the fragrance of anise. It is a steam bath for your face and a warm, satisfying hug for your belly. I ordered the Veg Pho because sometimes I actually #adult and eat my veggies, which were aplenty and cooked to the prerequisite al dente. Whole mushrooms, cubes of tofu, broccoli, carrots, spring onion, mint, cilantro and fresh sliced chilies for good measure. It was one of the best things I ate when I was in Ireland or, anywhere, ever, for that matter.

~  Intermission for descriptions of things other than food ~

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We travelled many frightening, winding and exceptionally constricted roads to get to Dingle. In all honesty, portions of the drive were death defying. In Caribbean terms, it made my *batty blink* (translation: when you involuntarily clench your ass in fear/self-preservation) more than once. That said, in all of my travels, Ireland, without question, has some of the most striking and magnificent sceneries I have ever seen. The Slea Head drive was postcard perfect. Rugged black cliffs etched over time by rough and nebulous blue waters. Sheep that dot the verdant and expansive rolling landscape. I was awed. I was humbled. I doubt I will ever be present somewhere as beautiful, ever again.

The Skipper
No website
Main Street, Ventry, Co. Kerry, Ireland
+353 66 915 9853

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The white knuckle, batty-blinking drive around Slea Head, left me famished. Shortly after exiting our B&B, we ran into a lovely older English couple. A short but sweet conversation ensued. They mentioned a rustic and magical seafood restaurant aptly named The Skipper where they ate on  two consecutive nights because the food was so damn good. They said the chef was French and the seafood was spectacular. Fuck yea – all the seafood for me!

Ireland has some astonishingly, fresh and diverse seafood offerings. The Skipper, offered just that and had the bonus of a gorgeous view of Ventry Beach which is located just a few meters away. After carefully selecting the wine and vigilantly examining the menu, we ordered grilled lobster (obvs), pan-fried ray wing (as in sting ray) in a caper cream sauce and a necessary fresh green salad accompanied by warm baguette oozing in sexy, creamy, decadent brie cheese. If there was ever a cheese porno, Ms. Brie Rotic would be the slutty star.

The lobster was transported to the table in full glory. It was severed down the middle and presented on a platter with two ramekins of liquefied butter, along with sections of lemon, and a few wedges of potato. It needed nothing else. It was simple, delicious, and sweet. The delicate smoke offered from the grill was the perfect enhancement to the moist and easily ribboned flesh. We ate every morsel in near perfect silence.

I had never eaten stingray wing before and I had no idea what to expect. It was delectable, moist, white-fleshed with cartilage that ran through the middle of the wing. It was remarkably tasty and delicate. The subtle cream sauce and briny capers added the necessary salinity and richness. The flesh and sauce were unctuous and worked in harmony.

This restaurant perfectly encapsulates for me what eating in a different country is all about. It had scenic views, a lovely wine list, adept service and food that was anything but ordinary. The act of eating at the restaurant felt like an experience.

Ard Bia at Nimmos
http://www.ardbia.com/
Spanish Arch, Long Walk
Galway, H91 E9XA

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One morning after a night of drinking and debauchery I, by some miracle, managed to wake up early enough, hungry enough, and sober enough to want breakfast. My travel companions, however, did not. They missed breakfast altogether. A real misfortune. In my last day in Galway I was motivated to eat something memorable and guaranteed to be delicious, so I strolled over to Ard Bia at Nimmos, a former boathouse located next to the Spanish Arch which was built in the 16th century. The cool grey granite with a single red door beckons all to come in.

Upon arrival at Ard Bia at Nimmos, I was seduced by the scent of freshly baked goods, fresh coffee and a counter full of glorious pastries, pies, cakes, breads. My mouth watered with desire and anticipation. I wanted to eat ALL THE THINGS I saw. Instead, I opted to dine in for breakfast at a long, wooden communal table in a cozy and inviting dining room and ordered from their succinct brunch menu. At the server’s suggestion I selected the Colleran’s honey baked ham which consisted of three generous slices of ham, served with two exquisitely poached eggs, a sweet and savoury tomato relish, sautéed spinach, a herbed hollandaise all atop a toasted English (or I guess, Irish???) muffin. Breakfast bliss.

This brunch was the amalgam of all the right things. I left the restaurant completely contented.

I got crabs... to eat, I mean

market crabs

I was an oversubscribed child of immigrants. I was registered in ALL the classes within a 10-kilometer radius of my house. I’m certain my parents wanted to ensure that I didn’t end up a degenerate – immigrant parents’ collective nightmare. So, as immigrant parents do, they put me in everything that they could afford - ballet, karate, swimming, piano, figure skating and Kumon, so that I never had to engage with the rest of the riff raff (read: normal children) that would undoubtedly lower me to the depths of social and moral depravity. For the record, Kumon didn’t help. Decades later I still get math headaches and sweat when I have to fuck with numbers and an Excel spreadsheet. However, my need to be constantly engaged in some kind of activity hasn’t changed.

It’s the long weekend and I need to get out and do stuff. More specifically, I need to EAT stuff. Long weekends are an opportunity to capitalize on downtown closures and head out to the ‘burbs’ for delicious sustenance. I have a hankering for seafood and pungent flavours. Today’s road trip takes me to Fishman Lobster Clubhouse Restaurant on the Scarborough/Markham border. (#ScarboroughRepresent) It’s time to enjoy the cuisine of the Chinese immigrants who know how to perfectly crispy fry shellfish and assemble them into towers that look like architectural feats.

I turn into a heart-eyed emoji face every time I see the images posted on Instagram and Facebook. I have been waiting to go here for some time and today is my *big day*. Fuuuuuuck yeeeeaaaaaa! However, there are only two diners at my table today. So, towers of lobster to feed 50 people is not happening. Instead, I turn my eye to my actual favourite sea creature to devour. Crab. Crab wins on every front for me. You crack open that mean, shrapnel-like shell to reveal fibers of sweet, tender white meat. Something about crab is just so much more satisfying to me than lobster. Maybe I like how hard I have to work for it. But, mostly, I am enamored by its ability to stand up to robust flavours and searing scoville heat despite its delicate flavor and texture.

After you’ve placed your order, the server brings you the sea creature that is ultimately sacrificed for your gluttony. It’s alive and wriggling and so, so fresh. I see it and say a silent thank you to the crab and literally cannot wait to devour it. We wait. And, we wait. And, we wait some more. It takes waaaay too long for my ass. However, as I’m waiting, I have time to observe that the room is crowded with boisterous diners. The look of excitement and absolute astonishment never stops as tables get their food. Two servers are required to hoist a giant platter onto a nearby table. TWO SERVERS! Then, soon afterwards, without any pomp or ceremony, my little crab heap for two appears. But, fuck, it looks so good.

crab

It’s smokin’ hot, the crab is piled atop e-fu noodles, with lots of tender greens and whole cloves of powerful stir-fried garlic. This dish is small, but it’s mighty. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the delicious crab bits. And, without fail, it’s like an R&B love song in my mouth - all sexy and shit. This crab is perfectly cooked, deep-fried and lightly greasy on my lips. We eat the entire meal in virtual silence. Stopping only to mutter from time to time how tasty the crab is and to take a swig of Tsing Tao beer the perfect beverage for this meal. 

crab and e-fu noodles

The e-fu noodles, however, leave a lot to be desired. I know noodles are simply flavour absorption devices. But, damn, carbs are so fucking good – don’t mess with that shit. The noodles were pale, overcooked and limp. They lacked the spring and the characteristic yellow hue of egg noodles. The greens, however, were delightful. The side dish and the stir-fried greens in the crab dish offered bitter and refreshing bites, contrasting beautifully the sweet and oil slick crab.

side greens

Dessert is warm sweet black sesame soup, but it falls flat. It lacks viscosity and the rich toasty fragrance of sesame. I guess after eating excessive amounts of seafood, dessert isn’t most peoples highest priority… unless you’re me. I want to be dazzled and shit. I didn't even take a picture because it was really rather underwhelming.

Things to note if eating here, the restaurant takes debit and cash only. The menu is a bit pricey – so if you’d like to save a few bucks, go for lunch and order off of the lunch menu. It’s best to go with a group, but that said, I thoroughly enjoyed going as a party of two. I would definitely come back because the seafood is so fresh and well prepared, but the next time it’s going to be with a whole crew of people to take on that lobster tower.