Dublin delectables

July 25, 2010

Who would have thought I'd come to Dublin only to eat Italian food? The city, as a result of the last decade's extreme gentrification, has undergone a renaissance in fine dining. While the Irish are known for liking food on the blander side, European fine dining has emerged with a smattering of French, Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese places along with gourmet American burger chains and a deluge of delicious Italian cafes, delis, pizza bistros, and wine bars to satisfy the immigrant populations, as well as the new Irish middle class.

That taste comes with a price though and it's hard to eat out at any place decent for less than 15 Euros (almost $20 USD). You really have to look hard for deals and, due to the economy, a number of restaurants are announcing early-bird specials: eat 2 courses for 20 Euro between 6 - 7 pm. My complaints about the prices have always found a sympathetic ear. It's almost shocking how expensive it is to generally eat out. You'd think living in New York would lessen the sticker-shock, but being such a large city by nature provides competitive prices and Dublin (apart from the rent) appears to unequivocally be a more expensive city to entertain oneself. The best deal I've found was through a Mexican kid I met in Galway named Carlos, a chef at Pablo Picante, that is trying to introduce cheap burritos to Ireland. Despite the terrible name, the burritos were surprisingly tasty and at 6.50 Euro, the best deal I've found in Dublin so far.

Despite the expense, I've had some delicious meals here, the most memorable of which haven't even been Irish. But they have a uniquely European flair, especially at work where my first meal consisted of chicken breasts wrapped around creamy chicken livers. Every work meal (and practically every other meal) includes a different potato side, ranging from new potatoes with rosemary to silky potato babka, usually accompanied by a kind of mid-Atlantic fish like salmon or hake. Today work even had a fluffy whole wheat pizza with german sausage, bacon, and swirls of mustard! It was actually pretty good. The snacks feel more European (and thus healthier) as well: individual rounds of cheese or brie with whole wheat, cracked pepper, or water crackers; dried apple rings and crisps proudly declaring they're cooked in 100% sunflower oil without preservatives.

But the most delicious by far have been the Italian meals. My manager Jorge has taken me to this deli around the corner from his house in City Centre called Taste of Emilia that is absolutely fantastic. They have fresh sausages, melons, mozzarella and parma ham flown in from Italy weekly. We ordered a couple antipasto boards with parmesan cheese drizzled with balsamic vinegar, kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes, mortadella, Italian sausage, parma, mozzarella brushed with olive oil and ground pepper, and a shaved carpaccio sprinkled with artichokes. For dessert with had hand-made milk chocolate with hazelnuts served room temperature so it was just perfectly gooey. I left with some strolghino salame, some parma ham, parmigiano reggiano, and a giant yellow melon for later.

In Temple Bar they have a farmer's market every Saturday where I picked up half a loaf of rye sourdough which I paired with a selection of raw cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk Irish cheeses, some cress, and the parma, sausage and melon for dinner with my roommate Ayoko. Ayoko is from Tokyo and hadn't eaten a lot of Italian food (if you don't count Domino's Pizza), but needless to say, she loved it. The Temple Bar market also has a booth with fresh oysters from Donegal (half a dozen for 12 Euro). They shuck the oysters in front of you and serve them with just a splash of lemon (and vinegar if you get a milky one) and a side of soda bread. The oysters were absolutely mammoth and fresh tasting. I've never had oysters this good. They were firm and chewy, tasting clean and lightly salty. I gobbled them down with some sparkling wine, though a good pint of Guinness would have completed that meal.

Although my neighborhood is a bit of a dead zone, there are a couple good restaurants nearby. The tiny Juniors around the corner is absolutely lovely, featuring seasonal new European cuisine and a selection of reasonable wines. The clams cooked in white wine, garlic, and parsley were rich and savory with sides of toast smothered in fresh herbs and oil. The taste of dipping those toasts into that golden broth with the taste of mussels still on the tongue has stayed with me for weeks. I had the monk fish for dinner which was thick and sumptuous. It came with new potatoes, but (and a thanks to Anjali for teaching me this), I substituted the potatoes with Irish "mash" thinking I'll be able to control my ratio of fish, potato, and broth. It was absolutely delicious. Afterwards, the chef said no one had ever asked for it like that and he was seriously considering revising the menu.


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