Friday, September 28, 2012

Ireland ! Dublin Eats !

One week ago, I was in Ireland.  I haven't been to any European country before, and I am not sure if Ireland would have ever been my first choice, but a trio of good friends can will anyone to go just about anywhere.

And so I found myself landing in Dublin one early Saturday morning, staring into my first, of several, Irish breakfasts.

Per our concierge's recommendation, we headed to Bewley's Oriental Cafe on Grafton St.  Why it is Oriental, I have no idea.

Frothy lattes looked like hot chocolate and were beyond creamy.

Stefanie ordered the oatmeal with sultanas and honey.  We learned sultanas is another word for super amazing raisins - plump, moist and so much better than the shrivelly things ol' Sun Maid hocks.

The rest of us ordered the Irish breakfast which typically includes toast, two links of sausage, half of a fresh tomato, an egg, black pudding (i.e., blood sausage, in the center there), bacon (bottom left), and sometimes white pudding, and a mushroom.  We also got a potato pancake thing, which is what the ketchup is resting on.  

Nothing titillates me more than four types of pork on my plate.  The whole thing was heavy and interesting - the blood sausage had a flavor I couldn't even describe, but the fact that we all left 80% of it on our plates is evidence that it's probably an acquired taste.

After, we walked around the City Center.  I stared at giant trays of gummy candies outside of the Christ Church.

They really like over easy egg candies here.  We need this novelty in the US.

We toured the Dublin Castle, which was a nice estate with beautiful chandeliers.  Then we headed for some afternoon tea at the Queen of Tarts.

Greeshma said my tea tasted like Lipton, but I think it was a little more refined than that.

Greeshma had the chocolate pear tart which was served warm, and had a soft, chocolate interior, a sturdy crust and tasty toasted almond slivers.

Stefanie opted for the apple crumble, filled with diced pieces of sweet apple.  The brown sugar, cinnamon-laced crumble topping tumbled into each bite.

Belmund's chocolate pecan tart was also served warm, and with the side of amazing cream, had a rather nice balanced level of indulgence.

I ordered a slice of the Victorian sponge cake, which is probably one of my new favorite desserts in life.  Thin layers of airy sponge cake sandwiching delicious cream and macerated strawberries.  It was basically the best strawberry shortcake ever.

And this is where I officially fell in love with Irish dairy, because the butter and creams in this country are spectacular.

For dinner, the locals urged us to eat fish and chips at one place only: Leo Burdock's.  On the outset, Leo's looks a bit like a fast food chain.

They offer several types of fish options including cod, lemon sole and others.  We went with the fresh cod and chips.  They were fried to order.

The staff will ask "Vinegar or salt?" (you should most definitely request both) before wrapping the whole lot up in butcher paper for you to eat outside like vagrants.  

Greeshma, with her bundle of fish and chips
Although it was pretty cold outside, we hovered over a ledge we found a block away, and ripped open our fish and chip package.  Inside was a giant half pound hunk of fried fish and a pile of thick fries.

And based off of everyone's silence, and Greeshma's giant grin, it was good.  Greasy, fresh, and not the least bit fishy, the whole thing was messy and just a whole lot of fun to eat.  I ended up wiping my mouth on the butcher paper because they don't even send you off with napkins.  Dublin is where life gets real !

After, we walked one block to the nearest pub and drank one of these.  The rumors are true.  Guinness does taste better here, sweeter and a whole lot smoother.

The next morning, while Stefanie and Belmund's souls were being saved by their attendance at mass, Greeshma and I returned to the Queen of Tarts, because I couldn't stop thinking about that Victorian sponge cake.

The cappuccinos were lovely.

We kept it simple, with scrambled eggs and brown bread, and it was...simply perfect.

Brown bread is another Irish staple, and seems to vary in taste depending on the restaurant.  Here it was dense and slightly nutty, and tasted a lot better slathered with some of that beautiful Irish butter.

We then shared a scone with cream (of course) and jam.  As you can judge for yourself, American scones are sucky hockey pucks, and European scones are a sight to behold.

The golden, crisp shell gives way to a wonderfully light interior that soaks up cream and butter magically.  

What is not pictured now is my sobbing face, because they did not have any Victorian sponge cake ready yet.  Sigh.  Also what is not pictured is a pretty good brownie that I did get from there and nibbled on that night and the following day.

Later that day, Greeshma and I happened upon Ireland's first bubble tea shop, Bubblicity.  They've been open for three weeks.  Lucky us!

Nearly everything is powder based, except a couple of teas, but the pearls were perfectly bouncy, and the drinks were mixed till smooth - not bad, Dublin!

After, we visited the Kilmanhaim Gaol, pronounced like jail, because it was their jail.  Guided tour times fill up fast, so we blew time looking through their museum, looking at lovely macrame purses made by prisoners, and then found ourselves in their cafe for a snack.  Nothing like eating quiche in a jail!

After Gaol, Greeshma and I did a little shopping on Grafton St and rewarded our productivity with hot chocolate from Butler's, a popular chocolatemaker in Ireland.

What's nice about Butler's is that with every drink order, you get to select a chocolate.  I had the lemon sorbet truffle which was delightful.  The hot chocolate was not bad either.

For dinner, we had reservations at Gallagher's Boxty House, known for boxties - potato-like pancakes that can be filled with things and rolled up like an enchilada.

I wasn't very hungry, so I ordered a bowl of Irish seafood chowder.  The main difference from Irish chowder from that of New England, is the inclusion of fish, usually smoked salmon.  As a result, although the chowder was good, it was also mighty fishy.  The dry slice of brown bread made great croutons in this soup.

Belmund ordered a trip of Irish stews, which gave a sampling of their full offering: McGowan's Coddle (top) that had bacon chunks, sausage, and tender potatoes in a potato herb broth, Gallagher's Irish Lamb Stew (left) and Murphy's Irish Beef Stew (right) featuring Irish beef simmered in Murphy's stout.  The McGowan's Coddle was the hands-down favorite.

Belmund and I shared a side of boxties (boxtys?) that come two to an order and is served with a blue cheese dipping sauce.  The boxty, by itself, is pretty plain.

Greeshma ate a salad and the boxty platter which included tomatoes and basil on boxty toast, plain boxtys and boxty dumplings in blue cheese sauce.  Greeshma proclaimed the tomato toast as best, but she's crazy for tomatoes.  The dumplings were a delightful hit also.

Stefanie had the pork and apple sausages, with mustard-seed mashed potatoes and onion gravy.  The serving was hefty - with four fat links, but Stefanie was a champ through all of it !

For dessert, we were misled from afar, and thought that this dish had massively thick layers of cream between chocolate cake.  It turns out the 'cream' were meringues and the chocolate cake was actually chocolate & Hennessy cream.  This dish crumbled easily under the fork, and was remarkably light.

The Bailey's cheesecake was creamy, topped with fruit compote, and had an awesomely thick graham cracker crust.

In looking back at the many meals we had during our week's stay in Ireland, this was probably one of our more favorite meals - a quintessential Irish experience.

The following day, we left Dublin to begin our roadtrip across the country.  We stopped in at Powerscourt, a beautiful, serene garden estate worth a visit if you're visiting Dublin.

We had brunch at the Avoca cafe there, and were pleasantly surprised with the meal.  Each entree is served with your choice of three salads / sides.  Belmund ate the Shepherd's Pie, which proved to be popular with all the gentlemen there, with the noodle salad, wild rice, and grilled vegetables.

I had the ham and leek quiche with the noodle salad and two helpings of fruit.

Man.  All I can say is, there should be more quiche in life.

And that wraps up our Dublin-centered food segment.  The next segment will have our top favorite eating experience in Ireland.  Stay tuned ! :)

78/79 Grafton Street  Dublin 2, Co. Dublin, Ireland
01 672 7720

Cork Hill, Dame Street, Dublin 2  Ireland
01 670 7499

2 Werburgh Street  Jamestown, Dublin, Co. Dublin, Ireland
01 4540306

George's Street Arcade & Nassau

51a Grafton St, Dublin, Ireland

20 Temple Bar  Dublin, Co. Dublin, Ireland
01 677 2762

Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Scenes of Sao Mai - Vietnamese in the East Village

As I am headed home today, I cannot wait to plow my face into a bowl of my mom's pho.  It's hard to explain to people how New York could possibly be so lacking in a good bowl of pho, but I think if they tasted a sip of my mom's finest, they'd begin to understand.

Still, a visit home does not come home as often as I'd like, and the search in our fair city continues.

This time at Sao Mai.

Vietnamese ice coffees dripped.

Mango lemonades were sipped.

Vegetarian and grilled pork spring rolls were ordered.

Grilled pork with steamed vermicelli rounds (banh hoi) were enjoyed

alongside vermicelli noodle bowls

and steaming bowls of raw beef pho (pho tai).

The place is comfortable and casual, and especially fun with good friends.  (Don't mind the awkward looking vegan who crashed this meaty party.)

But it's merely okay for Vietnamese cuisine.  It's actually not that bad.  The spring rolls had a nice balance of vermicelli noodles to vegetable and meat filling.  The pho is only a tinge musty, and the pork is classically marinated.

Han's Nonsensical Rating: It'll do the trick, but no minds will be blown.

Sao Mai
203 1st Ave
New York, NY
Sao Mai on Urbanspoon