The Waterford Harvest Festival: I bet you’re sorry you missed it NOW!

The Waterford Harvest Festival goes on for nine days at the beginning of each September and features many instructional sessions on subjects ranging from butter making and beekeeping to square-foot gardening and cooking demonstrations.

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I went for the last three days just to eat and learn more about the Grow It Yourself movement on Ireland. During the time, I attended an Irish beer and cheese tasting, a ten-course feast, and a day-long street market.

While in Waterford, I did eat very well indeed. The main thing I learned, however, is that the Irish seem to underestimate how good their food really is.

I believe that the real secret to Irish food lies mainly in the exceptional quality of available ingredients. That, and the ever-growing skill of local food artisans in showcasing that bounty. Nonetheless, there seems to be a sort of national low food-esteem that events like these have been organized to combat.

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At the beer tasting, for example, the presenters, Kevin Sheridan (right), a local cheesemonger, and Cormac O’Dwyer (left), founder of Dungarvan, a local brewery, were cast in the role of apparent revolutionaries addressing a surprisingly skeptical crowd.

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The basic mindset they seemed to be working to change was that foreign food and foreign ways were by definition “more proper.” They suggested this radical notion against a backdrop of some of the best cheeses, locally-made whole grain crackers, and beer I have ever encountered.

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My special favorites were the starter cheese–a delicate, almost fluffy-textured Triskell goat cheese–and the last beer we sampled–a very unusual and interesting new stout called, “Black Rock,” with far less chocolate and a bit more tobacco than most others I’ve tried. There was also a very versatile and pleasant, if somewhat typical, blond ale.

An audible grumble later echoed through the room, however, when brewer and cheese-guy suggested such fabulous beer could be paired with many foods even better than wine. Further, the presenters felt compelled to argue a person seen drinking beer with food should not be deemed lacking in refinement. From the reaction of the group, it appeared this was a radical proposition.

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The next day, at the feast, I asked my compatriots what they thought of paring beer with food. (We were all drinking it; in my case a different blonde ale from a brewer called “Metal Man.”) Almost to a man, they would favor wine for the sake appearances and even seemed a bit uncomfortable eating the cheese course while drinking beer in such a group setting.

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The feast was magnificent, though laced with foreign influence–particularly, that of the French. The starter, for example, was charcuterie. And it was fabulous with Irish pork chorizo, prosciutto, and other sausages along with a pate that reminded me of south Louisiana hog head cheese. And to finish was the aforementioned cheese course.

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But by then, I was too full to continue as in between, there had been a mixed grill featuring trout, lamb, beef burgers, bacon pork chops, and sausage. Mmmmmm. And after that, fresh berries with lovely cream. I also vaguely recall gorgeous vegetables, but as I mentioned earlier, there was this ale….

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After such a display of quality and abundance, I am firmly convinced the Irish can and will take their proper place among the great cuisines and food exporters of Europe–especially with events like as this. Rather like Louisiana’s efforts to market their food in the 1980s, first, you must convince the locals. Once that is accomplished, and the producers are ready, the right marketing will easily demonstrate to the world what I discovered last weekend–that Ireland is a great food destination!

(Oh, and a special shout-out to Boho Kitchens, which is a couple of young Floridians transplanted to Waterford who make the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever eaten! Much love.)

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Rawr!

The Sunday Market along the South Quay:

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The Winding Stair is worth the climb

The Winding Stair restaurant is a quaint little bistro on Bachelor’s Walk looking out at the Ha’penny Bridge over River Liffey in Dublin.

20110912-101042.jpgThe name is taken, perhaps obviously, from the entry which is a stair that twists back upon itself before lead to the dining room.

Decor is like something out of a Bogart and Bacall movie but on a smaller scale. The bar is dark heavy oak and a large espresso machine.

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On the opposite wall is a chalkboard listing the rather lovely wine list and featuring bookshelves containing the kind of odd assortment of titles a decorator would choose for the broken clothbound and gilded spines. There was Albert Schweitzer in the original German alongside Coleridge. See what mean?

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The emphasis of the kitchen clearly was organic and local food though. In other words, exactly what I hoped to find.

There is an early bird menu at 5 p.m., as well as daily specials but, after a quick scan of the main menu, I wanted only the mussels and chips (pomme frite) served with a gorgeous paprika enhanced aioli.

The mussels were harvested on the west coast of Ireland and were generally quite fine– flavorful in an onion and white wine broth. A few were gritty however and several had not opened.

Nevertheless, I was served so so many, the dish was still more than enough for one. The broth certainly enhanced the already tasty mussels but it was a bit too salty to sip afterward.

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The chips were thickly cut and crispy. No oil was evident and their flavor was fabulous, especially when paired with the smoked paprika aoili. Mmmmmm. The Portuguese Syrah I drank was also really nice.

The service was also helpful and attentive, although the dining room admittedly was sparsely populated when I was eating at a little before 5 p.m.

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Overall, this was a very enjoyable meal and the sort of place that should be supported as Ireland earns it’s place at the big-people table in European cuisine.

Rawr!

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Overall:
Four Bones

Food:
Four Bones

Ambiance:
Five Bones

The Old Jameson Distillery–The Early Bird gets the extra whiskey!

Time for me in Dublin being fairly limited, I decided to skip the Guiness tour and hit the bottle instead. Sadly, the working Jameson Distillery has long since moved out of Dublin the result of space limitations and to be closer to their barley producers. What remains of the old site however is a rockin’ good time for the Irish whiskey lover, like me.

First off in the tour is a short film explaining the history of Jameson and a revelation of its shameful secret–it was founded by a Scotsman. That’s okay, though, as the whiskey he produced put a lot of Irish barley farmers, distillers, coopers, warehousemen, etc., to work, and it’s also awfully good.

Now at the end of the tour awaits your choice of three cocktails featuring Jameson or one straight up. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, but if your Irish, you’ll drink it like me–nekked.

The trick to getting extra whiskey is a move I invented called the “buzzer beater.” The very second the word volunteer leaves your tour guide’s lips, raise your hand. (This really works well for women, as your counterparts will still be trying to decide what everyone else will think of them.)

What you are volunteering for is a taste test. Jameson versus an American whiskey and a Scotch. Here, they don’t go for comparisons with quality opponents, like Makers Mark or Laphroig. Instead, they beat up on the highly beatable yet commercially successful Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker Black. Here’s another clue: if you still have the ability to smell, Jameson will beat the panties off the competition.

In my not-at-all-humble opinion, Tennessee sour mash tastes like razor blades, and Johnnie Walker is better as an aftertaste as it’s a bit too hot going down for me. But hey, didn’t I tell you? Extra whiskey.

The tour is fantastically interesting too. And not too long. Our tour guide was extremely interesting and pleasant. There is a bit of pressure (I felt) to hurry along after the tasting, so I gave up the rest of mine as shooting liquor is against my religion. After all, I explained to the Aussie next to me, “I’d better quit. I have to be able to walk.”

Rawr!

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Murphy’s Ice Cream has changed what I mean when I say “creamy”

Finding Murphy’s Ice Cream meant crossing the Liffey River from the suits and order of downtown straight into throngs of foreign tourists, religious figures, pan handlers, gypsies (pardon me: Romani), and hawkers of goods and services appealing to all of the aforementioned–then hanging a right.

Along a relatively quiet side street is a small shop serving ice cream that would change the way I defined several terms I thought I knew the meaning of. Terms like creamy, fresh, smooth, and satisfying.

An Irish food blogger, I can has cook recommended the brown bread flavor, so I had a small cup of it to start. He wasn’t wrong.

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The cream comes from Dingle, I was later told, as I’m sure, did all the dairy. That local sourcing showed in the indescribably fabulous flavor range and mouth feel of this magical stuff.

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You see, I hadn’t ever before experienced ice cream as refreshing. Cold, sure, but that’s not the same thing.

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The same with “creamy.” Apparently, I had confused that with a certain mouth coating quality. Not the same thing.

This stuff even had Haagen Das beaten, notwithstanding HD’s emphasis on simplicity and texture. As it turns out, nothing can beat Ireland at dairy. Nothing.

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As an added bonus, there was an audit going on while I was there. And audits mean free ice cream for the American blogger who chats up the corporate representative from Dingle itself.

In this instance, the young ice cream server was being tested on his ability to produce a peanut caramel sundae topped with whipped cream. OMG! I’d say he passed.

As delicious as the whole of the sundae was, this little (Read: huge) bonus also gave me the opportunity to analyze its components. The caramel was the most buttery and flavorful you can imagine; the whipped cream, light, and again, fresh.

Murphy’s Ice Cream taught me many things I never expected about how delightful dairy desserts can truly be. I may never eat American ice cream again! (Yeah, right.)

Rawr!

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Overall:
Five bones

Food:
Five bones

Ambiance:
Five bones

(Warning: little bones pics may be added later. I don’t know why that necessitates a warning but it seemed amusing at the time.)

Momma’s Place–but only if you like food

Come here.

Why? If the funky-cool juxtaposition of the old, pink and lavender dining furniture with the seriously hard-core steel breezeways and red and slate walls running through the space or its near-total integration with filmIreland’s filmbase isn’t enough, then for heaven’s sake, come for the food.

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The hostess recommended the special lemonade and smoked trout tartine. The lemonade was made at the time of order so I was able to ask for less sweetness than I feared might otherwise occur. The pomegranate and mint provided a lovely richness and balance to the acidity you usually find in even the best lemonade.20110909-033643.jpg

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The tartine was a pair of wheat crostini topped with a yogurt-dill dressing, lovely smoked trout, which was slightly pink and not too smokey, and finally, olive oil dressed arugula. The result was a nod to the traditional smoked trout and dill but a deviation with the addition of the yogurt and cucumber that imparted a new level of freshness. No fishy taste it turns out is NOT all you can ask from smoked seafood.

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In final analysis, Momma’s Place is a great place for brunch, lunch, even a light supper, as it’s open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Rawr!

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Overall:
Four bones

Food:
Five bones

Ambiance:
Four bones

(I will add pics and graphics some other time, Chrissakes.)

Foodie Goes to Ireland–for Indian?

And before you ask, yes, there is a method to this madness. You see, I’ve heard good things about Indian food but living, as I do, in the American South haven’t yet experienced it in a restaurant.

So being jet-lagged, wet, and cold from my day’s travels, when my host gave me a list of nearby places including the Mint Leaf, I jumped on it! My convoluted reasoning went something like this: Ireland close to England; England former occupier of India and popularizer of all things Indian; therefore, Indian in Ireland would be better than Indian I normally ate. Turns out, I wasn’t far off–whatever the cause.

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I dined from the early bird menu and as it was lunch time back home, dinner at five o’clock seemed like a great idea. For €16.95, there were a choice of appetizers and entrees plus a beer or wine of your choice. I went with the samosas and chicken bhuna (I think) and house red wine. I have no way of knowing whether these were good examples of either dish as I’ve never eaten either before. All I can say is everything was delicious.

The wine was every bit as good or maybe a little better than a $20 bottle in the States. The meat samosas (they also come in veggie) reminded me of really good, Indian-spiced taco meat in the best kind of eggroll wrap, fried in triangle-shapes like spanakopita. There wasn’t a trace of oiliness, the spices gave the lamb stuffing a warmth without overpowering, and the chili sauce was fabulous.

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The chicken entree was served in a red curry slash brown onion reduction, medium-hot. Definitely a touch of turmeric was present, as it was in the basmati rice side, but other than that, my untrained palate was unable to discern.

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Beautiful dishes, well-prepared, good service, and decent-sized portions. I was not disappointed (which, sadly, cannot be said for my past encounters with this cuisine). My newly-informed opinion is we Americans in the South should demand more of our Indian restaurants. This is really great stuff it turns out!

Rawr!

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Overall:
Four bones

Food:
Four Bones

Ambiance:
Four bones

(I’ll insert little bone graphics when I get back home. Dammit.)

Heading out and hoping Italy gets it together before I get there! But first it’s off to lovely Ireland in Autumn.

So I’m in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and locally-grown is featured even here–in a restaurant called, One Flew South.

Having a farm bacon goat cheese frisse salad and a lovely Ben Marco Malbec. I won’t lie to you: it’s hellaspensive, but at least it’s available as an alternative to the endless chain-restaurant-lined corridors you might have found here just five years ago. Another Ruby Tuesday, I can do without!

Rawr!