Saturday, December 17, 2011

I went to Ireland and all you get is this lousy review!

As I returned from my first-ever vacation to Asia this past September, the procrastinator in me had been working on this, a summary of things that I ate (and drank) in Ireland last April, since the spring. The Malaysia/Singapore article is actually very close to being done as well, so that one will be coming soon, but let's go ahead and tie up this loose end first...

Apparently having not done my research, I had heard nothing about Supermac's (the country's largest indigenous fast-food chain) until coming across it at Dublin's Heuston Station. Before hopping on a train to Tullamore, we decided to stop for lunch to see what this was all about. With a menu mostly based around burgers and chicken, I opted for the five-ounce Supermac Burger and a side of fries, which are revered by the company as "unrivalled and unequalled." Made to order and brought to the table after ordering at the counter, my burger included a creamy tomato-type sauce, ketchup, red onion, lettuce and tomato. The meat was a noticeably high-quality (according to the company, it's 100% Irish beef that can be traced to the farm of origin) and was perfectly grilled. The fries are fresh, thick-cut steak fries that were served hot, crispy and as fresh as the burger. I would have gotten the Taco Fries, but I didn't realize they had these until I was walking out. [TO BE CONTINUED]

Supermac Burger:

We ended up going back a couple of days later, this time after a night of drinking, to the O'Connell Street location, where I ordered the Mighty Mac (a Big Mac-type bread-meat-bread-meat-bread burger) and a side of Taco Fries (natch), which were part of an intriguing array of french fry varieties including Garlic Fries, Cheese Fries, Curry Fries and Coleslaw Fries. Somehow I had missed these the last time, so I had promised myself I would be back. Let's go ahead and not rate this one, since I was not of sound mind when I ate this meal, but the burger was awesome (though not as good as the Supermac Burger) and the fries, while an absolute mess, were probably one of the best drunk foods I have ever eaten.

These were a whole lot better than they had any right to be.

It's funny how I live in a region that would be considered "Texican" (although you're more likely to hear "Tex-Mex" or "tejano") but I have to take a nine-hour flight to find a Burger King that sells this item. I can't say it's one of the best things I've ever eaten, but it certainly gets points for creativity. The Texican Whopper includes the usual patty-and-bun combo with onion, lettuce, jalapeños, "creamy cajun sauce" (I know, but let's just leave it alone) and (wait for it) a mass of beef chili formed into a patty and breaded in a "crispy taco coating." You can't make this stuff up, folks. So it's basically a Double Whopper with one of the burgers replaced with a patty of breaded chili. The jalapeños and sauce give it a nice kick, and all in all, while a mess of ingredients, the integrity of the burger stays pretty well intact throughout. I probably wouldn't order it again, but it wasn't bad at all.

Texican Whopper:

This must be what they eat in Texico!

On the way back home, we stopped at the Burger King at the airport for a quick breakfast, and while my friend decided to try the aforementioned Texican Monstrosity, I went with the breakfast menu, and the Big Beefy. While Burger King has offered Whoppers during breakfast hours for several years now, one would think that a foray into a breakfast burger should have already happened, no? Of course, the gourmet, "foodie" types (and the Malaysians) have been putting fried eggs on burgers for years, but a fried egg does not a breakfast burger make. However, one thing I have noticed since coming back from this trip is that quite a few fast-food restaurants (Wendy's, Carl's Jr., Krystal) save for Burger King have some sort of breakfast-type burger available.

Big Beefy: bad name, good burger

The Big Beefy included a Whopper patty on a sesame-seed bun with scrambled egg, cheese, bacon, tomato and ketchup. One might say that the tomato and the ketchup is redundant, but one can also shut the hell up. This burger kicked all forms of ass and with a side of large hash browns, it hit the spot. Aside from Supermac's, this was arguably the best fast-food item I'd eaten throughout the entire trip,

Big Beefy:

As we were eating I saw this, which, unfortunately, was unavailable.


And yes, of course I went to McDonald's after doing the walk of shame after a night of that's not really important or pertinent to this article so let's move on because I wanted to try the Sweet Chilli Crispy Chicken Wrap. And this was actually pretty good. I've had wraps similar to this in Vienna and Hungary, as they're meal-sized in comparison to their North American counterpart, the Snack Wrap. The wrap included crispy breaded chicken strips, lettuce, cucumber, mayonnaise and a red, sweet chili sauce that tasted almost exactly like this. On the other hand, the mozzarella sticks that I chose over fries were mostly unimpressive, and a lot of it may have had to do with the fact that they were lukewarm. Plus, the dipping sauce just wasn't cutting it as an accompaniment; labeled as "salsa" it was more like a mystery tomato something or other that would have been better off as marinara sauce. But I guess that's how it works: in North America we eat our mozzarella sticks with a bastardized version of a European sauce, while in Europe they eat their mozzarella sticks with a bastardized version of a North American sauce. Fair enough, I guess.

After a long night of drinking, one usually isn't too choosy when selecting something to eat. Seeing as I love döner kebabs and have never had a bad one in Europe (yes, maybe a mediocre one of two, but never a bad one), Abrakebabra was a no-brainer (or so we thought). Although the half-dozen or so stools inside the place were all taken, it was only a block away from our hotel, so we would be able to get our food back to the room before it got cold. I ordered the döner kebab with a side of curry fries, and €13 later I was back in the room eating the most disappointing meal of the trip. The meat had obviously been sliced hours earlier and held under a heat lamp, while the cabbage that accompanied the mediocre-at-best sauce was browning and wilted. The thick-cut fries were good and very fresh, but the curry sauce that suffocated them was like a congealed chicken broth with a hint of curry powder.

Arbakebabra is apparently huge across the country, proclaiming itself "Ireland's premier fast-food chain, offering high-quality international food and unrivaled service." Yeah, I guess the guy behind the counter was cordial enough, but the words "premier" and "high-quality" don't come to mind when I think of this meal. Seeing as each outlet is independently owned and operated, maybe I just picked a bad one on a bad night at a bad time, but I wasn't willing to shell out the money to give it another chance. While one of the shawarma I had in Tel Aviv was pretty terrible, with its insipid sauce and gristly meat, at least the vegetables were fresh, so this edges it out as the WORST KEBAB EVER. Even worse, though, is the fact that I was so drunk that I ate the whole thing.

döner kebab:
curry fries:

We stayed at the Blooms Hotel in Temple Bar, which, while in an incredibly rowdy and touristy area, was in a fantastic location in relation to the rest of the city. If you do happen to go to Dublin and can sleep through drunken idiots shouting in the street below, this was a good deal. It also featured a traditional pub in the lobby, called The Vat House, and Club M, a dance club that was reminiscent of a poor man's Ministry of Sound. While not particularly a fan of the latter, the former was a good place to relax, have a beer and listen to a live band any night of the week. The first night I had the Irish stew, which, while a simple mix of beef roast, potatoes, carrots and onions, made for a solid meal and was complemented perfectly with a Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale. Like a smoother Smithwick's with the head of a Guinness, this is one of NEW favorite Irish beers, second only to Beamish (which we also had, at a bar across from the brewery in Cork). I went back a couple of days later to try the bangers and mash: sausages adorned with mashed potatoes in a brown onion gravy. The sausages had that perfect "pop" when bitten into, and the gravy was a perfect complement. I like to think that I have a pretty robust appetite, but after this fantastic meal (and the obligatory Kilkenny), all I wanted to do was sleep.

Irish stew:
bangers and mash:
Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale:

As Jameson's official version of the hot toddy, in regards to the Hot Jameson, I cannot even begin to stress how outstanding this beverage is. It's not just a drink, folks; it's a fucking art form. Experienced for the first time at The Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street, like a true tourist, I was absolutely floored by the shot of Jamo topped off with hot water and perfectly blended with sugar, lemon and cloves. It's so simple, yet so beautifully executed.

Hot Jameson:

Looking at this photo gives me a semi every time.

The Porterhouse Brewing Co. is an Irish-based brewpub with franchises in Dublin, London and New York aside from the flagship in Bray. With a good variety of house brews, I went with the oyster stout (4.8% ABV), which was very smooth and drinkable with the umami of the oysters coming through. My friend went with the Früli strawberry Belgian wheat beer, also on tap. Brewed in Ghent, "Früli has a delicious and refreshing taste that has been compared by Time Out magazine to a smoothie with bite." If you like your fruit beers über-sweet (Lindeman's lambics), this is your cup o' tea.

Porterhouse Brewing Co. Oyster Stout:
Früli strawberry Belgian wheat beer:

A day trip to Belfast occurred halfway through the trip, with a Bushmills/Giant's Causeway jaunt being dashed to pieces because we should have left the hotel earlier. (If anything it gives me a reason to go back someday.) After a stop at the picturesque Crown Liquor Saloon for a Bushmills, we went wandering for some food. An unassuming storefront on the outside, my friend and I scanned The Ginger Bistro's menu and went for it after the escalope of salmon with crab and rocket risotto in dill butter (from the "Lunch/Pre-Theatre" menu) caught my eye. The beautifully pressed and cooked fillet was served on a generous bed of moist risotto, mixed with the perfect amount of rocket (a.k.a. arugula) and flaked crab meat, held altogether with the rich dill butter. As I mentioned when I ate it, it was the best thing I had eaten or likely would eat on the entire trip. If Belfast hadn't been a day trip, and we had actually stayed there for a few days, it's safe to stay that I would have returned at least once more to order the same exact thing. At £10, this was such a good deal that it more than made up for the terrible conversion rate and surcharge perpetrated by my unscrupulous financial institution for having put it on my card. Moreover, once I received my meal, I was more than willing to overlook the waiter's correcting of my pronunciation of "risotto." (By the way, had I have stayed in Belfast for a few days and returned to order the same thing, I would have pronounced it exactly the same way, because I was right.) My friend had Ginger's Fish Pie, which was a pot-pie-type item filled with all types of seafood and peas in a creamy sauce as I resist the urge to tell the joke about when I used to date a redhead. Sampling a bit of that, it was also excellent, but the salmon was transcendent in comparison, as it gets the FIRST PERFECT FIVE RATING I've ever given on this blog.

salmon with risotto (which does not rhyme with "motto"):

Ginger's Fish Pie:

No visit to Dublin would be complete without a trip to the Guinness Storehouse, a seven-story brewery tour/tourist trap located at the historic St. James's Gate Brewery that is shaped like a giant pint glass, with a bar and observation deck at the top. Starting at the ground floor, you get the lowdown on the basic ingredients of the beer, and along the way learn fun facts, such as the amusing one about the 9,000-year lease that the brewery's founder, Arthur Guinness, signed in 1759 (at a fixed rate of £45 per year). And yes, lot of people say that the world-famous stout tastes better in Ireland. This is horseshit, as I can pretty safely say that the beer tastes exactly the same (Guinness Draught in this case, is good, but not the best thing that they brew); however, one must take into consideration that being in Ireland probably adds to the overall experience. After all, everything tastes better on vacation. And I think I may have actually marked out more when I heard DJ Shadow's "Stem/Long Stem" in one of the rooms of the exhibit than when I tasted the beer.

pint of Guinness Draught at the bar down the street from my apartment:

pint of Guinness Draught at the St. James's Gate Brewery:
+ honorary point for the panoramic view of Dublin as you drink it


One of the several times to and from our hotel in Temple Bar, we passed Monty's of Kathmandu, though it was usually early in the morning or late at night, so the place was closed. I'd had a chance to try Nepalese cuisine in 2005 while in Amsterdam, but squandered that opportunity for reasons that I can't recall (though I can't recall other portions of that trip, either), so I figured I'd make up for it here. Plus, upon reading up on it beforehand, I discovered that, over the years, the place has won seemingly as many European awards as every Radiohead album combined, so my friend and I agreed that this needed to happen. We hit it up around 7:30pm, as it was close to being packed to its capacity. We apparently should have made a reservation, but the host was kind enough to offer us a table with the arrangement that he had to be done in an hour so that he could give the table to a party that had reserved it. Instant points (read: extra tip) there. Although we ordered garlic naan as a starter, before that we received a dinner-plate-sized crispy fried (possibly rice) disc that I'm sure has a name but was served with a trio of sauces (one spicy red sauce, one creamy sauce and one resembling pico de gallo) and was gone within a minute or two. The naan (oven-baked flatbread) came to the table piping hot and brushed with garlic butter and some diced garlic. Much like the mystery disc that appeared before it, this was on its way to a quick fate, though my entrée, the chicken gorkhali, arrived very quickly. The gorkhali is, as the menu says, a "spicy Nepali dish with yogurt, fresh chillies, coriander, ginger and a touch of garlic," and was awesome. Not only were the chunks of chicken perfectly cooked, but the creamy, light green sauce was just the right amount of spiciness: giving a nice burn but nothing too overbearing. I used the remainder of the sauce as a dip for my last piece of naan, as I may have actually felt the confluence of the Visvadevas in the depths of my stomach.

garlic naan:
chicken gorkhali:

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