December 16, 2006

Dublin Day 6 - The Queen of Tarts (and London!)

This morning we got up early to try a bakery we'd heard was one the best in Dublin, "The Queen of Tarts." Across the street from city hall, it's a feast for the eyes as well as taste. Debbie tried a raspberry scone, while I had to try the almond raspberry danish. The scone was great, a well executed example of the art, but the danish was astonishing. Like no other danish I've ever had, it was a flaky yeast dough around a warm soft center.

We accompanied our pastries with a decent lavazza cappucino, but don't go to Queen of Tarts for the coffee - go for the array of tempting pastries and baked goods. They had raspberry cheesecakes on display that made me regret that I didn't have all day to spend here.

We later went across the river and tried Panem, which was decent, run by friendly people, and had good coffee, but Panem seems more like a lunch and food place, while Queen of Tarts is a bakery.

After Panem, I went to work while Debbie hung out, logged in, bought postcards and sat in a cafe writing postcards and mailing them. We met back at the hotel around 2:30 to pick up my nicely cleaned clothes, then off to the airport to catch our 6:30 flight.

Unfortunately our 6:30 flight got delayed, twice, and eventually left around 7:30. We arrived in Gatwick and had to disembark down stairs. I thought those went out in the '30s! Don't you have jetways? Anyway, after taking the shuttle to the terminal and then another shuttle to another terminal, we finally found the Victoria Express train.

We bought two one way tickets on the Victoria Express and were off to London. We made it to the Victoria station without incident, but were kind of tired. We got turned around trying to find our bus stop, then spent some time trying to figure out how to buy a bus ticket. (It turns out you need £1 coins, and all we had was bills from the ATM.) A helpful clerk in the book store (cute fat girl with a labret and bright red streaks in her hair - yay London!) told us to get Oyster cards, that we'd save the cost of the deposit many times over and that it's a lot more convenient. So after some wandering around I finally obtained Oyster cards for each of us.

We caught our 52 bus out to Knightsbridge, and with the help of some friendly passengers managed to figure out which stop was ours. (The bus driver was hopeless. When we asked where the stop was he just pointed his thumb at the back of the bus and said 'ask them.') Perhaps amusingly I noticed that while we had paid our
£3 deposit for the Oyster cards, that doesn't actually give you any value for USING them. You have to add money. When we casually swiped our cards I noticed the LCD saying "insufficient funds, invalid fare" or some such. Debbie on the other hand was blissfully unaware of this and breezed onto the bus. So I just followed quietly behind without saying anything, resolving to put money on them as soon as we could.

We got off at our stop and proceeded to follow the directions we'd gotten online. The directions had us following streets that seemed curiously indirect, but at this point we weren't in the mood to take any chances. I think the directions are driving directions and the oddities are to account for one way streets, but in any case we are finally here safely in bed AND THERE'S WIRELESS!

Dublin day 5 - The Mermaid


Debbie wandered around town during the day visiting museums. In the evening, I met her at the Irish Film Institute, in their pub - does EVERYTHING in Dublin have a pub? Silly question. The answer is "yes." Iseult met us there a little later and we once again asked her to suggest a venue. This time she proposed "The Mermaid."

The Mermaid is a slightly upscale, slightly french place and seemed to be nearly full of the christmas parties that seem endemic this time of year. We managed to get a table for four near the kitchen and were seated immediately. Debbie and I shared a "rare beef salad" special, a terrine of game and foie gras, and a braised lamb shank.

The beef salad consisted of nice tasty fresh greens, marinated anchovies, seared beef, and shaved parmesan. A nicely balanced composition and good fresh ingredients, it was a happy choice. The terrine on the other hand was dense and dry and had very little distinctive flavor of either game or foie gras - disappointing. Finally the braised lamb shank was exactly what you'd expect in a braised lamb shank. Meltingly tender lamb, falling off the bone with satisfying sauce over potatoes and a yellow vegetable, in this case roasted sweet potato. Delicious. We accompanied this with a Crozes Hermitage (Iseult was drinking champagne.)

For dessert we had a sauternes creme caramel that was accompanied by braised prunes. I had a nice well balanced dessert white whose name I can no longer remember... I should have photographed it!

December 15, 2006

Dublin Day 4 - Debbie and Thornton's

Debbie arrived today! She called my loaner cellphone and we arranged to meet for dinner. My friend Iseult had generously arranged reservations at Thornton's - a fancy Michelin starred place in the Fitzwilliam Hotel. Debbie and I had agreed to meet there at 8pm, there was a small amount of confusion and after a tiny bit of anxiety we managed to find each other. She had been waiting in the hotel lobby, and I had been waiting in the restaurant.

The dinner itself was a delight. When I had walked in I saw a large open box full of truffles. Mmmm. I love truffles. In addition to their regular menu, and their eight course "surprise" menu (similar to a US style tasting menu) they had a special seasonal truffle menu.

This was the menu:
  • Sauteed Dublin Bay Prawn, Prawn Bisque and Truffle Sabayon
  • King Scallop with White Truffle
  • Slowly Braised Pigs Trotter with Creamed Truffle Potato
  • Sauteed Foie Gras with Brioche and Winter Truffle
  • Fillet of Brill, Artichoke, Truffle Egg
  • Truffle Salad
  • Loin of Silka Deer with Truffle Polenta, Valrhona and Truffle Sauce
  • Cashel Blue Cheese
  • Poached Pear William with Parfait and Truffle Ice Cream
A complete set of photos is up on Flickr.

During the meal, Chef Kevin Thornton came out and showed off the truffles and chatted with us about the meal and what to expect. He's a charming man, friendly and likes talking about food. We talked about a few of the dishes, and I asked him about an ingredient in one of the dishes that had been driving me nuts (it was an herbal flavor in the truffled apple juice that was served with the foie gras. I had finally figured it out and he smiled and confirmed it had a "teeny tiny bit" of the flavor I had guessed. I'm insufferably pleased with myself.)

His wine list is also quite impressive - we had a half bottle of "Clos de la Mouchere" 2001 Puligny-Montrachet with the prawn, scallop, and brill, and a half bottle of Chateau Tour du Pas St George 2001 St. Emilion with the foie gras, salad, and deer. On our way out I complemented the Maitre d' on the cheese cart, saying we were sad to have missed it. He brightened and said it was his own little project. He's Kevin's brother Garret, and it turns out that the Cashel Blue that we had probably has milk in it from their family farm. Almost all of the food at Thornton's is Irish sourced, and it was all delicious. I'm very happy with our evening.

December 13, 2006

Dublin day 3

Most of the officehere doesn't show up till 10:30 ("half ten") or later so I got up at 8:30 ("eight thirty") showered and had breakfast. The hotel provides a breakfast buffet of cereals and milk, coffee, stewed prunes, grapefruit sections, orange juice, breads, croissants, cold cuts, cheese, bacon (irish bacon is soft and kind of like ham, delicious), scrambled eggs, sausage, white pudding, black pudding, and coffee. Surprisingly (t o me) the coffee does not suck. I have bacon, grapefruit, and coffee; edit yesterday's post and head off to the office.j

...

After work a bunch of us head to The Porter House brewery/pub in Temple Bar. Rebecca ("Bink") had suggested it on the way to The Market Bar so I suggested it to some of my co-workers. It's in a four story building, and serves a number of ales, lagers, and stouts they brew themselves. They also serve food. I tried their "Porterhouse Red" (an Irish ale with crystal malt and decent balancing hops), "Brainblasta" (a strong ale advertised to have good hops), and their "Celebration" stout. They're celebrating their tenth year, and from the quality of the beers I can understand why and wish them a prosperous ten more. The Porterhouse Red is a nicely balanced beer with mild caramel notes and a subtle hops balance. It's not as caramelly as, for example, Anchor Steam, but it's more subtle. This is a beer that I could drink all night - it doesn't tug at you demanding attention. The Brainblasta was stronger, but still well balanced, not as hoppy as a hop-head like me would have liked, but still very drinkable - except that at 7% alcohol you need to be a little careful. Finally the Celebration stout. In a city known around the world for one stout, it would be a little presumptuous to brew a competing stout and serve it under the nose of St. James Gate. It would be quite presumptuous to brew and serve two. It would be the height of presumption to brew and serve FOUR different stouts, and to pointedly not serve Dublin's most famous stout. Good for them. The Celebration stout at 10% alcohol celebrates their ten years in business. This stout is strong! It's also very malty and sweet, in the Russian Imperial style. It was a great finish to a delightful evening.

The food at The Porterhouse is much better than typical pub food, but is not the reason to go there. I had an Irish stew, others of my co-workers had fish and chips, burgers, and a salad. They were good, but go for the beer. We sat on the top floor, in a corner by a large copper beer wort vessel and a view of the street, it was lovely.

Dublin Day 2

Day 2 after work I met my friend Iseult who I'd known from San Francisco. She's moved back to Dublin and I hadn't really expected to get a chance to see her again. How nice to be wrong! She suggested we go to a place called L'Gueuleton, a very popular French bistro in Dublin City Center.

They don't take reservations, and when we arrived at around 9pm the wait was about a half-hour. We entertained ourselves in a nearby gay pub while we waited.

When we were seated I got the chicken liver and foie gras parfait, which was a little like a livery pot de creme with a hard port glaze on top and a caperberry. Served with toasted brioche, poached pear, cornichons and greens I found it to be excellent. I also had another starter, and a 50cl bottle of house Cotes de Rhone. An excellent place - I recommend it highly.

The company certainly helped. Iseult and I spent the hours catching up with our respective lives and relationships, what it's like to live in Dublin, what it will be like to live in India, our jobs, families, hope, and plans.

December 11, 2006

Arrived in Dublin


I'm safely in Dublin, at the Park Inn, Smithfields. Took the bus from the airport to the downtown bus station, then the Luas (pronounced "lewis") from there to Smithfields, which is one block from the hotel. Total cost €5.40. The hotel is more swedish modern than I would choose for myself, but it's apparently ownedby SAS so what do you expect? The Luas is fantastic. I love it. Reasonably priced, quick, convenient, goes useful places.

After arriving I wandered around Dublin for a few hours. St. James Gate Brewery is just a few minutes walk away, and the Heuston train station just a few minutes from that. Tried to take natural light night photos with the new Canon and no tripod. It was... interesting. I threw away a lot of photos.

After that it was time for dinner with co-wokers. We ended up at the Market Bar which serves tapas. I ordered olives, marinated anchovies, a cured meat plate, and patatas bravas (adventurous, eh?) other people ordered a "fish pie" that was more like a gratineed fish stew in a cream sauce and was absolutely delicious, a grilled chicken salad, and meatballs in a tomato sauce. All accompanied by lots of Guinness.

More photos on flickr at http://www.flickr.com/gp/87232391@N00/J80Y3y

December 10, 2006

Lunch at SFO

This was lunch at SFO, Firewood Grill. $10 for two tiny overcooked pieces of tritip, $6 for a beer. I should know better. On the other hand, I'm now waiting to board my flight to Dublin!