Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lucky 13

A few weeks ago Bill told me he had made a reservation for our anniversary dinner, and that it was going to be a surprise. On the evening we hopped in a taxi and Bill asked the driver to take us to Stephen's Green. A large proportion of Dublin restaurants are concentrated around the green, so I still had no idea of our destination. After hopping out at the corner of the green we wandered about (Bill wasn't quite sure of the restaurant's location) but we finally wound up at the Fitzwilliam Hotel which houses Thornton's. Thornton's is a one Michelin star restaurant owned by Chef Kevin Thornton and his wife, Muriel.

Bill had reserved the chef's table, which meant we would have a window into the kitchen and would be served each course by the head chef. Thornton's prefers to seat parties of four at the chef's table because it is away from the other tables and misses some of the restaurant buzz. We really wanted to watch the kitchen, so they made an exception. The table was decorated with a stunning bouquet of red long-stemmed roses. We chose the eight-course Chef's choice menu and settled in for a lovely evening. The chef's table is near the bar, which was deserted on this Tuesday evening, so we treated it as our own private sitting area enjoying our pre-dinner Champagne.

Thornton is experimental, without losing sight of the fact that food is ultimately to be eaten. We had saffron infused mist (from dry ice) and tuna in a bowl of smoke, but it wasn't all experiential. We definitely ate.

Here is our menu:

Ballotin of Guinea Fowl with Celeriac
Gazpacho of Cucumber Jelly, Mussels and Consomme
Roast King Scallop with Truffle Mousse
'Mi-cuit' of Foie Gras rolled in new season truffle
Fillet of Red Mullet, Shellfish Consomme
Smoked Yellow Fun Tuna, Prawns wrapped in Tuna and Beluga Caviar
Nettle and Thyme Sorbet
Wicklow Venison with Juniper Sauce
Cashel Blue Cheese
Molten Valrhona Chocolate
Petit-fours and Cappuccino

The scallop was our favorite course from a pure taste experience. It was simply grilled and perfectly matched, but not overpowered by the truffle mousse. I could have eaten about fifteen. The truffle course was also great. It included a healthy portion of marinated and cured foie gras rolled in black truffle. The slices of black truffle were a great treat. The truffle powder takes three months to make and delivered a jolt of truffle power. This was Bill's favorite course intellectually and moved the meal to a higher level.

We enjoyed the autumn ingredients in the meal. The Guinea fowl with celeriac and venison were nicely seasonal, but light enough to fit into the overall meal. We enjoyed all the seafood as well. The Nettle and Thyme Sorbet was perfect! The herby sorbet worked great as a palate cleanser.

We moved back to the couch for the cheese and dessert courses. The dessert was a familiar, but perfectly prepared chocolate bombe. After all this, we were served a plate of lovely petit-fours.

We enjoyed the chef's table. Being separated from the other diners with our own seating area made it feel like we were dining in our own private restaurant. It was fascinating to watch the plates come together in the small and efficient kitchen. Chef Kevin primarily plated the meals, and yelled occasionally. At one point the server asked if we could speak French. We said No. Good, he said. We did hear a few gems like, "I asked for a opera, not a f*cking musical!" (One of the petit-fours was opera cake.)

A memorable and delicious meal. A great start to Year 14.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Working Nine to Half Five

I hit the six-month mark in my job this week. I've now completed my probationary period, which doesn't mean much except that European labor laws make it pretty hard for me to get fired. That's what I'm hoping at least.

I've found the office environment and working dynamics in Dublin to be quite similar to jobs back home. Folks here drink much more tea, and the cleaning staff come around periodically during the day to collect mugs and other glassware, but other than that people still send around goofy emails, discuss the worlds of sports and entertainment, and look forward to Fridays.

You can see a picture of me taken today at my desk. Yes, that is today, even though it looks like I'm using a monitor from 1999. I expected to loathe the open plan office, but turns out it's no bother. I'm in a bay with other BAs at the moment, but will be co-locating with my project team soon. While I started out masquerading as a QA tester, I'm now working on requirements for a new project (I'll be tester girl again soon enough). All in all, a good gig.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Weekend Update

Before moving to Dublin, Bill and I discussed the need to avoid too much of a routine, to try to keep a bit of the tourist about us, as locals can become blind to the historical, architectural, and museum-ical goodness around them. We joke with our friends here that we've seen more of Ireland than they have. But, still, the majority our days are comprised of work, eat, a little telly, and sleep. Thankfully, we have the weekends for a bit of variety. Here's a bit of what we've been doing on our days off.

In late August, Dún Laoghaire (Leary) hosts a Festival of World Cultures that features a variety of food and music. Dún Laoghaire is a lovely suburb south of Dublin on the coast, about 45 minutes away via DART. The Saturday of the festival turned out damp and grey, but Sunday was a sunny delight, so we headed to Dún Laoghaire, along with everyone else in Dublin. The festival was very crowded, so while we did see and smell a wonderful assortment of culinary offerings, we didn't want to spend all afternoon in queue. We managed to procure some falalfel and paella, which were both yum. After eating we maneuvered through the crowd to the main music stage to hear a klezmer band called The North Strand Klezmer band. They were great. If I ever pick the clarinet back up, it will be to play in a klezmer band.

Last Sunday we took a day trip to Waterford. We boarded a train at 9:30 for the three hour trip. We had another beautiful sunny day (after many rainy ones) and the scenery along the way is lovely. We were going to check out a Farmers' Market which was part of a slow food festival. The market wasn't much different than the one in Howth, but many local vendors were present, and it was the perfect day to wander around and eat lunch boxes from the Lebenese stand. We had our backpack cooler, so we bought a bunch of meat and sausages along with some other goodies.

Waterford was playing Kilkenny in a hurling match in Dublin, and the blue and white colours were out all over town. Waterford flags were flying, and many stores had "We support Waterford" signs. There was a huge screen broadcasting the match, in Irish, in the square where the market was held. (Waterford lost.)

After the market, we visited the Museum of Treasures which presents Waterford's history, starting with its Viking beginnings. The museum has a great selection of Viking artifacts, along with some cool, historical parchments. After filling our brain, it was time to grab a sandwich and catch our train back to Dublin.

Today was yet another sunny weekend day. Many times the day dawns bright, but turns to rain later in the day. Bill says this has something to do with afternoon heating. I think it's a plot against late sleepers. At any rate, we decided to take advantage of the sun and picnicked on the strand on Bull Island. We took the opportunity to dip our feet into the chilly Irish Sea. The clouds did come in a bit, but we had a lovely afternoon on the sand.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Guinness moving back home

Diageo names Leixlip as site of new Guinness brewery - The Irish Times - Thu, Sep 11, 2008

I hadn't read that stout would continue to be produced at the St. James' Gate facility--that's very good news.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Things You Won't See in Ireland

The adjacent picture is like a Highlights Hidden Pictures page of items I have not seen in a long time. How many can you find? Hot water corn bread! Yes! Large glasses of refreshing beverage (even if it is iced tea)! Very good. Do you see squash that looks mighty nice? Heck, even the liver and onions and greens look delectable, and I don't eat any of that stuff. Who can spot the gigantic bottle of pepper sauce? (I've yet to see pepper sauce in a pub.) How about, my mom! Happily, we will see my parents next month.

The featured soul food meal is my Dad's birthday lunch today at Sista, Sista, Sista. If you're ever meandering through South Arkansas or Northern Louisana, this restaurant is one of two reasons to visit El Dorado. (I forget the other one.) I really could do with some of the sista's cooking.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Can you bring me some corn bread?