Ireland: Day 10-13 – Dingle and the road back to Dublin

Ireland

Ireland

Dingle

Dingle is hip.

I don’t know if it is trying to be, but compared to other towns we have been to it is.

Dingle
Maybe it’s the fact that there are spots like Inch Beach where you can surf or book stores with cafes tucked in the back of them like Au Cafe Liteartha or specialty food shops like Crinkle ––that sell local artisan made products like chocolate and sea salts with a coffee bar and gourmet deli counter full of interesting, healthy salads––or Bacus Bhreanainn––a high end bakery full of sourdoughs, pastries and specialty breads that sell out by the early afternoon.

Au Cafe Liteartha

Bean in Dingle

Bacus Bhreanainn

Bacus Bhreanainn
Bacus Bhreanainn

Dingle

Dingle’s claim to fame is not its food, however.

It is a dolphin named Fungie

Apparently, Fungie has been living near the Dingle harbor since the 80’s and loves to play with swimmers, kayakers and surfers.

Tourists line up to charter a boat out, just to possibly catch a glimpse of the lovable Bottlenose.

Dingle

Dingle
A man playing flute with his donkey in Dingle

Murphy’s Ice Cream

I am thrilled when I see this ice cream shop. There was one in Killarney and although the free samples of Gin ice cream––flavored with Dingle Gin––and Caramel ice cream––made with local honeycomb––were enticing, Celtic Donuts won on that stop.

Conde Naste Traveler has deemd Murphy’s one of the best ice cream shops in the world.

It’s easy to see why.

Murphy's Ice Cream
Their service is friendly and informative. Every employee knows the business’s story and recipes front to back and make it their mission to make sure you sample every flavor.

The quality and creativity of the product rivals the likes of Humphry Slocombe  in San Francisco.

Irish Coffee is made with Jameson; Dingle Sea Salt is flavored with local sea water that has been boiled down until only white flakes remain; Irish Brown Bread is made by steeping custard with toasted brown breadcrumbs and brown sugar; and Elderflower is made using St. Germain Elderflower liquor.

You can mix as many flavors as you like in each serving. All ice creams are hand made in Dingle.

Murphy's Ice Cream
Half Dark Chocolate, half Irish Coffee

The ice creams are made with milk from Kerry cows, raised in Lispole, just outside of Dingle. One of the oldest breeds in Ireland, known to produce milk very high in butterfat. It creates a rich, creamy ice cream that almost feels like you are eating frozen butter.

Mask

I know we are going to have a different experience here when the owner drops a basket of house made Guinness- Chocolate Brown Bread and French baguette with Kerrygold butter, local seaweed butter and a shmear he calls Cajun Hummus on the table.

Mask Dingle

“Yesterday was our busiest night of the year so far,” the owner boasts, referring to the madness from the Dingle Marathon that incurred the day before. Apparently, an onslaught of visitors pass through every year for this event.

We are laughing because while he is taking our order he almost sets himself on fire getting too close to a tall candle set on the table next to us.

“Five of our candle holders got broken last night,” he says explaining that the new much taller candles were just a temporary fix and he hadn’t quite gotten used to them yet.

Mask DingleHe follows that up by bringing us a delicious plate of grilled chicken wings tossed in a not-too-spicy Sriracha sauce with blue cheese dressing smeared on the plate for swiping. We devour them.

Mask DingleEntrees are equally as satisfying.

Local Hake is served with fresh peas and asparagus in lemony beurre blanc and Rack of Lamb from the Blasket Islands, sourced from Jerry Kennedy’s Craft Butcher Shop,  arrives a perfect medium-rare accompanied by sweet, roasted baby carrots and rich lamb demi-glace.

Mask Dingle

Mask DingleA nice surprise are the side dishes that show up unexpectedly with the entrees: creamy potato gratin, crispy chips (French fries) and a dish of buttery broccolini and root vegetables.

I glance up and notice the name of the restaurant written on the wall. It’s an acronym for four names: Millie, Archie, Sonya and Kaya.

“Are you Archie?” I ask the owner.

“No, that’s my son. My business partner and I named the restaurant after our kids.”

My brother and I smile at the sentiment and agree that this is one of the best meals we have had on the trip so far.

Mask Dingle

Dick Mack’s

Our first night in Dingle we walk into this pub and see a man named Tom beating away at his guitar, belting out Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” with an endearing, raspy Irish brogue.

Everyone in the bar is joining in on the doo doo doo doo doo doo doos.

Dick Mack’s, a former leather shop, has two confessionals situated at either end of the bar. There are small windows on each one that face into the bar where patrons can slide cash for a cocktail and consult with the bartenders about their weekly sins.

Dick Mack's

Dick Mack's

They also have a brewery out back. I’m drinking the Amber Ale and my brother is enjoying the IPA––one he likens to a “San Diego style” IPA.

Dick Mack'sThis bar has great energy, both from its bartenders (who are surprisingly nice for a hip bar like this) and patrons. Everyone is in the mood to have a good conversation, laugh and sing.

The next night we return again and see Tom sans his guitar.

“You singing tonight?” we ask.

Tom, looking as if he has just gracefully survived being run over by a truck, laughs and says, “not tonight, I’m nursing a hangover.”

On our way out a couple hours later, we notice Tom is already looking around for a guitar to pick up.

Dick Mack's
Dick Mack’s. So good I bought the t-shirt.

Bean In Dingle

These guys roast their own beans. Their house blend combines coffee from Brazil, Guatemala and Ethiopia. They are also now proudly sourcing beans from an all-woman farm in Columbia.

Bean in Dingle

Bean in Dingle

They have an extensive coffee drink menu plus chai and matcha lattes––something I have not seen a lot of in Ireland.

In an effort to protect their ocean from the perils of plastic they use all plant based packaging.

Bean in Dingle

The Little Cheese Shop

There are over 65 cheesemakers in Ireland (many award winning!) making cheese with milk from their own cow, sheep and goat farms.

German born Maja Beaujouan is now and Irish cheesemaker and owner of this wonderful shop. She carries an impressive selection of local farmhouse cheeses, olives, salamis, wine and other cheese related condiments.  Foods that inspire picnics and leisurely lunches.

The Little Cheese Shop

Free sample your heart out and don’t forget to try some cheeses made from raw milk. Something you sadly can’t get in the U.S.

The Little Cheese Shop

The Little Cheese Shop

 Foxy John’s

“Honey! I’m going to the hardware store be back in a bit.”

Foxy John’s is a good alibi and one of the most clever bar concept to ever be invented.

Stop in for a hammer, some nails, maybe a wrench? And turn around and get yourself a whiskey on the other side of the room.

Foxy John's

Cliffs of Moher

Hop on the car ferry in Tarbert to shorten your drive over to Cliffs of Moher from Dingle.

Over 350 million years ago, heavy rains pushed mud, sand and silt down a river to this place where they accumulated and compacted.

As the earth shifted, layers of rock—which can usually only be seen under sea level—emerged into what is now one of the most spectacular 5 miles of coastline in the world.

Overtime, the 702 foot cliffs have started to erode, being swallowed back up by the sea. Warm weather and melting ice caps will continue to affect ocean currants potentially sending The Cliffs of Moher back into the ice age.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Dublin

It’s my last day in Ireland and I’m back in Dublin.

The minute we cross that line from suburbs to city the traffic increases, high rises shoot up out of the ground and sidewalks are full of people.
I get a jolt of energy instantly and feel completely alive again.

I’m ready to ditch the car and hit the streets.

DingleFirst, we check into Temple Bar Inn. A hip boutique hotel tucked in a corner of its namesake neighborhood––Temple Bar.

This place is rad. Stylish and modern and full of considerate details like mints at the front desk, a serve yourself espresso bar and a killer complimentary breakfast.

We head out for a stroll around town. Busy bars, a bustling shopping district, cobblestone streets and charming pedestrian bridges to get you over the river and back.

Dublin

Gino’s Gelato

“They have a Gino’s Gelato here!” I shout.

I would remember those brightly colored waves of frozen custard anywhere.

Gino's Gelato

I’d seen it in downtown Cork and now I needed a taste. Plus, they had my childhood favorite––Mint Chocolate Chip.

Mom indulged with me and ordered her childhood fave––Malted Milk Ball.

The gelato is thick and buttery. Even more so than Murphy’s. It coats my tongue lingering for a minute before maing its way down my throat. Chunks of mint flavored dark chocolate crunch between my teeth. Man am I going to miss the ice cream here.

Gino's Gelato

Boxty

We stumble on Boxty and decide it looks like a good place for a gin on the rocks and an appetizer.

BoxtyThe service is like an iteration of “who’s on first,” but the menu looks interesting  and I’ve just spotted a gin I’ve been searching for since we were in Kinsale.

Bertha’s Revenge is a small batch gin made in County Kerry. It is named after Bertha––the world’s oldest cow––who died at the ripe old age of 48 in 1993. This gin commemorates Bertha with its main ingredient––whey.

Weird right?

I’m into it.

The whey is sourced from local dairies and the botanicals are foraged locally as well. And wow what an aroma. It’s like cracking open a bottle of flowery perfume. That whey gives it a flavor you just can’t put your finger on. Not exactly my favorite, but interesting all the same.

BoxtyFor my app I order the Boxty house pate––smooth, whipped chicken liver  served with brandied cherry compote, mixed lettuces and their signature Boxty chips. The chips are like thin, crunchy hash browns. They steal the show. I could eat a plate of just these.

Dublin“It’s a thin potato pancake that we crisp up in a pan,” our server explains.

“We sell the mix if you would like to make it at home.”

That sounds like a fantastic idea to me, so I grab a box.

Written on the back it says: “Boxty is Traditional Irish Potato Bread peculiar to the north west of Ireland. Made with grated raw potato, cooked mash potato and flour, a recipe dating back to the 17thcentury.”

The Temple Bar

The last pub of my trip.

Well, if we are in the Temple Bar neighborhood we must go to The Temple Bar––established 1840, named after Sir William Temple.

Sir William was a scholar and descendant of the Knight Templars. He was also a corrupt politician who was accused of trying to overthrow the Queen. Curiously the neighborhood and this bar were both named after him.

Temple BarFinal days of vacations are always sentimental for me. I’m excitement to go home, but also nostalgic of what I’ve just experienced.

The guitarist on stage plays Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and I get misty eyed.  The bar erupts in a sing along, swaying back and forth as if they were holding lighters in the air.

“Pink Floyd is like Ireland’s Journey,” I say to my brother.

“Yea. Haha.”

John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” have the whole bar singing again and me feeling homesick.

Next, the musician plays an Irish song. A story about a man and a woman both doing time in the Dublin prison, who get married 15 minutes before his execution. The wife continues to live another 70 years, never getting remarried. I’m practically sobbing now.

Temple Bar

That’s my cue to go….

I grab a pic with James Joyce on my way out and give one last Slainte! to Ireland.

Temple Bar

It’s been a great trip. And I will never forget the landscape, food and characters we met along the way…

Temple Bar

Ireland: Day 8 & 9 – Blarney, Killarney and Kenmare

blarney castle

blarney castle“Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit. Those who mix with Irish folk have many examples of it in their everyday experience.”–– John O’Connor Power (Irish politician)

 Blarney Castle & Gardens

I walk up the path, over bridges and past caves, to the infamous castle.

It’s “grand” as they say in Ireland.

blarney castleA towering 1446 castle situated amonst 60 acres of the most majestic gardens I’ve ever seen.

And here I am now in the cattle call, about to embark on a peculiar tradition that people from all over the world have been coming here for over 200 years to do.

I’m going to kiss the Blarney Stone.

A steep, narrow staircase spirals up through the middle of the fortress.

Through vertical slits in the walls, just wide enough to shoot an arrow through, a wonderland of poisonous gardens, fairy glades, fern jungles and a dark staircase that grants you wishes are splayed 30 feet down below.

blarney castle
Thuja Plicata (Western Red Cedar)
blarney castle
Ex-situ conservation project with Institute of Ecology in Hanoi, Vietnam. Inside the native Vietnamese plant garden, which includes cardamom plants.
blarney castle
The Blarney House
blarney castle
The Witch Stone   

It gives you “the gift of eloquence” the signs say as I continue up 100 steep, tiny steps to the top, wind howling through the cracks of the thick stone walls.

The stone has a history of its own before it came to Blarney. Starting in Ireland as “the fatal stone,” then moving to Scotland to become “the stone of destiny,” before being brought back to Ireland where it resides now.

Legend has it that it was a witch who revealed the stone’s power of eloquence to its new royal owners just after she was saved from drowning.

blarney castle

It’s my turn in the que.

I hand over my purse and glasses and make my way down to the ground. Stretched out on my back, with knees bent and arms reaching over head, I hear a man say, “grab on to the metal poles.”

Both hands find a pole and I pull myself towards the cold limestone wall, hovering over a gap between the floor and the wall, nothing between me and the ground below.

“Now kiss the Blarney stone,” the man beside me says.

blarney castle

Killarney

It’s lunchtime when we pull into Killarney.

With a stroke of Irish luck my brother finds a parking spot and we hop out in search of a hot meal. I’m thinking corned beef and cabbage today.

KillarneyA donut shop catches my eye. It’s like the one I ogled in downtown Cork. I’ll be back later for that.

Killarney

The streets are lively. Full of souvenir shops, music stores, pubs and restaurants.

There is a man dressed in what looks like traditional Irish peasant clothing playing a bodhran with a group of life-sized wind up dolls backing him up with accordions, harps and flutes.

Interesting.

Creepy, but interesting.

I giggle and take a video of the man who puts on a show just for me, waving at the camera and dancing a little jig.

Man, this place is wonderfully odd.

KillarneyLunch is underwhelming. I find my corned beef, but my heart sinks when I bite into a tough, dry piece of flavorless brisket topped with a sauce hastily made of butter, corn flour and milk resembling Elmer’s glue.

“Your’s is way better,” my brother says to my mom.

I agree. This one is missing an important ingredient––love.

I run back to Celtic Donuts before jumping back in the car.

Time to redeem Killarney.

I order a latte and a Ferraro Rocher donut––dark chocolate and hazelnuts stuffed full of ganache.

Killarney
Celtic Donuts in Killarney

KillarneyThere it is.

The love….

I found it.

I find out later from my Scottish Step-mom that the only reason a pub might have corned beef and cabbage on the menu in Ireland is for tourists.

It’s considered American food at this point. A dish no respectable Irishman would ever serve his guests.

Kissane Sheep Farm

We’ve got a 4 p.m. appointment with a flock of sheep, a dog named Gwena and a barber named John.

There is time to kill so we take it slow on highway 17, stopping to take in the picturesque views of Killarney Lake, “Lady’s View”––named after a visit from the Queen who stopped here on her trip––and “Molls Gap”––a gap in the mountains where the highways meet.

Killarney
A walk down to Killarney Lake
Lady's View
Lady’s View

This gorgeous drive we are on is part of the infamous Ring of Kerry.

The terrain looks different here. Drier, more mountainous. Timber farms have replaced dairy farms. We’ve moved out of cow territory and into sheepville.

The mountains twinkle from far away, fresh water trickling out of seemingly nowhere.

A sheep sitting on a hill, just off the highway, stares at me while she chews grass for what seems like hours. Her eyes piercing their way into my soul, utterly motionless except for her mouth rotating in circles chomping away.

Moll's Gap
My buddy at Moll’s Gap

A working sheep farm is an exciting place I tell you.

Especially when you have massive tour busses spilling hordes of tourists outside your door.

Kissanes, like many other sheep farms in Ireland, has had to resort to tours and demos to keep them in business, now that wool exports have slowed way down.

In the 80’s Kissane’s would rake in $45,000 for two large truck full of wool. These days 3.5 tons gets them a measly 1500 bucks.

kissanes sheep farm

Gwena––the award-winning, sheepherding collie dog––and Evan––sheepdog whisperer extraordinaire––put on a good show. We learn that when Evan shouts “away” Gwena steers the sheep to the left. “Come on,” triggers Gwena to steer them right. And “sit” makes Gwena sit, which in turn makes the sheep stop.

The duo parades the sheep all over the hillside for us, bringing them close enough for us for a good sheep pic.

Kissane Sheep FarmAfterward, they heard us into the barn where we watch John shear a sheep. A process that takes all of 1-2 minutes.

John’s got to be quick. On a normal shift he shears 200-300 sheep a day.

Kissane Sheep Farm
Next up for shearing

On the way out a woman, sitting by the exit door, spins wool and tales and there is an opportunity to buy soaps and hand creams made from sheep’s milk.

Kissane Sheep Farm

Kenmare

Next along the highway is the quaint town of Kenmare, where we will be stopping for dinner and a warm bed.

Mick and Jimmy are twins from Ireland who have spent time cooking in great food cities like San Francisco, London and Chicago. They settled in Kenmare in 2015, opening a charming little restaurant that pours coffee and green juices in the morning and serves world-inspired fare the rest of the day.

Mick and Jimmy'sFashionable throw pillows adorn long wood banquettes that run down the length of the room.  The words “Good food. Good friends. Good times.” are painted on the ceiling above as you enter the dining room.

Mick and Jimmy's

Mick and Jimmy's

We order three dishes, all hearty and full of spice and character.

Mick and Jimmy's
Jimmy’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken Meatballs with mango salsa, coconut rice and drunken black beans
Mick and Jimmy's
“Ropa Vieja” National Dish of Cuba – shredded steak simmered in sofrito sauce with olives, capers, coconut rice, cuban black beans and fried plantains
Mick and Jimmy's
Big Texan Burger with cheddar, beer battered onion rings, whiskey BBQ ketchup, caramelized onions, tomato and rocket.

We opt for an early night, to catch up on sleep and prepare for our big next day.

Tomorrow we drive to the Cliffs Of Moher…

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Ireland: Day 6 & 7 – Kinsale

Kinsale Ireland

Kinsale Ireland“It’s the Sausalito of Ireland!” he tells me.

My friend, referring to the posh community full of sailboats and stunning views north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is right.

The charming town that sits where the San Francisco bay meets the Pacific Ocean indeed looks and feels a lot like the charming town in County Cork where the Kinsale harbor meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Kinsale, or “head of sea,” is where you will come for fresh seafood.

Especially oysters.

It is a foodie town, which is a rare find in Ireland. Attention to technique, interesting menus and promotion of local ingredients can be found here.

Poet’s Corner

“Would you like the usual Bob?”

“A flat white and a piece of white toast?”

“Yes, I’m training for the Olympics now that I have my magic shoes,” Bob says pointing down to his new kicks.

Bob has a full grey beard, thinning snow white hair and by the way he plops down at his table looks like walking down to the cafe was compatible to training for the Olympics.

The chef comes out to greet him. They chat while the owner, a German woman who knows all of her regulars by first name, prepares Bob’s coffee.

Kinsale IrelandI came to this cafe based on the name alone––Poet’s Corner.

The walls are lined with books and there’s WIFI! This is the exact scene I need in order to get some work done for the next few hours.

Kinsale Ireland
Poet’s Corner Coffee Shop

The lattes are lovely and they also have a selection of herbal teas that are handcrafted in Germany by a company called Teekanne (Tea Pot).

I order one called “Body Defense.” It comprises botanicals like anise, lemon balm, lemon myrtle, nettles, lime blossom and echinacea. I’m feeling rejuvenated already.

Kinsale Ireland
A latte and a biscuit at Poet’s Corner

The Spaniard

We are ready for an afternoon stroll.

Kinsale is conducive to that. It’s walking paths hug the bay and lead you to cozy bars like The Spaniard––the former living quarters for a castle built during Spanish rule.

the spaniard kinsale
The Spaniard

the spaniard kinsaleI order a Murphy’s here.

Outside of Dublin, Murphy’s and Beamish––both made in Cork–– are the local stouts of choice. Bartenders will respectfully pour you a Guinness if you order one, but they won’t recommend it.

Guinness is on the sweeter side. Murphy’s and Beamis taste more coffee-like. Each one of them delicious in their own right.

the spaniard kinsale

The Bulman Bar

If you keep walking up the hill you will eventually reach The Bulman––a fantastic pub and restaurant with a stunning view of the bay.

the bulman

kinsale irelandWe get there just before 12:30 p.m., when they open, and there is already a line forming.

Patrons shove their way in once the doors open hustling for a table.

The specials haven’t even been written on the board yet and we are already ordering drinks.

I recommend ordering seafood here.

Again, especially oysters.

I’m allergic, but my mom and brother slurp back a half dozen from Oysterhaven that they describe as creamy, briny and not rubbery at all.

They smell like sparkling fresh sea water, and despite their colossal size, I watch the soft cushions slide right out of their shell and down their throats with no effort at all.

the bulman
Oysterhaven Oysters

Meanwhile, I enjoy seared organic salmon perched atop wasabi infused mashed potatoes with buttery broccolini. The teriyaki drizzled around the edge of the plate almost tastes like balsamic.

The side salad I order tastes fresh from the garden and is dressed lightly so it doesn’t interfere with the peppery, herbaceous bite I’m enjoying from the mixed baby greens.

kinsale ireland
Seared organic salmon, wasabi mashed potatoes, broccoli, teriyaki sauce

The Black Pig

Now I really feel like I’m in Sausalito.

The first thing I notice when I sit down at this adorable little wine bar is an entire page dedicated to the farms and artisans they source their ingredients from.

The wine list is extensive. Almost to the point of being overwhelming.

It consists of 250 wines. Over 150 of them are poured by the glass and over 50 of them are organic and biodynamic.

The Black Pig KinsaleI’m all over the Iberico ham (acorn-fed Spanish black pig) croquettes.

They are light and crisp with ham flavored cheese oozing out with every bite. The spicy pimenton aioli accompanying it pairs beautifully.

The Black Pig Kinsale
Iberico ham and cheese croquettes

Sliced beefsteak tomatoes are served on a platter covered in a snowfall of crumbled feta cheese, shaved red onion and chopped parsley.

The Black Pig Kinsale
Salad of beef tomato, red onion, parsley and feta

Kerry crab and Macroom ricotta (made from buffalo milk) ravioli melt in a decadent cream sauce fortified with tarragon, ginger, parmesan and peas.

The Black Pig Kinsale
Kerry crab and Macroom ricotta ravioli with tarragon and ginger cream, peas and parmesan

Supper Club

Try to slip in early and grab a spot at the bar to eat here. Or at least make a dinner reservation. This place fills up quick.

They have good food and a full mixology program for cocktails. I slide in casually with a friend who lives in Kinsale for a cup of French Onion Soup and a nibble off her side of broccolini and chips.

Across the room a man can’t stop talking about the oysters.

“They are the best I’ve ever had in my life!” he shouts.

supper club kinsale

Fort Charles

Definitely take time to explore the star-shaped fortress that overlooks the town and bay called Fort Charles. It was built in the late 1600’s and is one of the largest military sites in the country.

Some argue that the battle of Kinsale was the most important in Irish history. It was one of the last efforts against English rule and this was the fort built to protect the town.

It’s right down the street from The Bulman. A nice hike to take after lunch.

fort charles

fort charles

Cups and Cones

“What is that?!”

I’m sitting on the sea wall in downtown Kinsale with my mom, just letting the time pass by with the moving cars around us.

A gaggle of tourists are loading back on to their bus. Approaching us is a woman holding a little paper boat in one hand and a spoon in the other .

She looks like she has just robbed a bank, won the lottery and bought a new puppy. I watch with wonder as her eyes light up and laughter emits from her full cheeks.

“It’s hot donuts with ice cream, white chocolate and caramel!” she boasts.

“They make the BEST ice cream!” she insists pointing to the little shop across the street.

When it comes to ice cream you don’t have to tell me twice, so I wander over and check out the situation.

cups and cones kinsale

cups and cones kinsale
Vanilla soft-serve at Cups and Cones

Yep, made to order donuts tossed in cinnamon sugar and soft-serve ice cream. I must partake.

I order up a little paper boat of my own.

The donuts are warm and doughy, and taste like Cinnamon Toast Crunch breakfast cereal.

But that soft serve. Holy…..

It is so creamy. Like eating frozen, whipped butter.

And it’s not too sweet. The richness and high quality of the Irish cream and eggs, used to make the ice cream, makes adding excess sugar unnecessary.

I eat it quickly before the warm donuts make it melt.

And because I’m finding it slightly difficult to control myself…

cups and cones kinsale
Mini donuts with cinnamon sugar and a dollop of vanilla soft-serve

Max’s

Our innkeeper at The Peir House B&B recommends Max’s. Also a great option for seafood.

I’m noticing more and more that many restaurants have an early bird special from around 5:30-6:30 p.m.

We are there early, so we take advantage of the deal.

Most of these menus are arranged in a prix fix style, letting you choose from a variety of appetizers and entrees.

We order the following, which all turn out to be very tasty and fresh….

Max's Kinsale
Warm smoked mackerel and potato salad, pickled samphire, beetroot, horseradish drizzle, pea shoots
Max's Kinsale
Half roasted lobster and salad
Max's Kinsale
Chargrilled fillet of sea trout, aubergine caviar, garden herb dressing courgette and french beans
Max's Kinsale
Grilled sea bass, roast butternut squash, chorizo crumb, asparagus and leek sauce

Max's Kinsale

The Greyhound

After dinner it’s time for some pub hopping and live music.

The Grey Hound has tiny, dark rooms and booths, conducive to conversation, and a modest bar where the boys huddle in to watch the game.

It is one of those places where the bar turns and looks at you when you walk in. Maybe not as much to size you up, as it is to see if you are someone they know. It is a locals pub for sure and one of our favorite so far.

the greyhound kinsale

Dalton’s Bar

I’m sipping on a Gunsmoke Gin when I notice a small group walk in the door with instruments strapped to their backs.

Ok, here we go. Real Irish music.

The group unzips their bags and pull up stools around a table. Out comes a guitar, an accordion, a fiddle and a Irish drum called a bodhran.  And is that a harp!?

They waste no time. Within minutes there is a full on jam session emitting Irish jigs, suitable to river dance to, happening right in front of us.

Dalton's Bar Kinsale

Dalton's Bar Kinsale
Live Irish music at Dalton’s Bar

We also stayed at The Blindgate House one night while in Kinsale. They had the best breakfast we’ve had so far in a B&B.

A note about breakfast in Ireland…

It is the same everywhere you go, no matter what.

A traditional Irish breakfasts consists of these components:

  • Tea or Coffee and toast.
  • Eggs
  • Black and white pudding – Sausage made from pork liver, pork, oatmeal and suet. Black pudding has the addition of pig’s blood.
  • Roasted tomato
  • Bacon (what American’s would consider ham)
  • Pork Sausage

Baked beans are also a thing at breakfast. They taste just like a can of Bush’s or Heinz.

There are also always pastries (croissants – regular and chocolate), cheese, fruit, yogurt and a variety of cereals, nuts and seeds and fresh juices laid out as well.

kinsale ireland
Vegetarian Irish breakfast
kinsale ireland
Traditional Irish breakfast
kinsale ireland
Farmstead cheeses (cheddar and chive, soft cow’s milk, aged cheddar, port salut) and local berries for breakfast

Ireland: Day 4 & 5 – Center City Cork

county cork

county corkWe arrive in the afternoon and check into the Gabrielle Guest House. Just a short walk into town.

I grab my laptop and hope to get a few hours of work in at a nearby coffee shop before it’s time for dinner.

Cork Coffee Roasters

Groovy spot for coffee, but no WIFI. In fact, I’m noticing that all of the coffee shops I’ve walked into in this country so far are WIFI free. Unfortunately this means one thing…..time to find a Starbucks. Ugh.

In the meantime, I enjoy a latte made with beans roasted in house they call their Rebel Blend.

Cork Coffee Roasters
Cork Coffee Roasters
Cork Coffee Roasters
Cork Coffee Roasters

I start cruising around looking for the Starbucks that is located next door to The English Market. I’m back in a city again. Feeling really good and re-energized.

The English Market

This is the epicenter of local food for County Cork.

The English Market
The English Market

There are a variety of imports, but an even more impressive selection of local meat, fish, cheese, bread, jams, honey, chocolate, eggs, charcuterie and anything else you can think of sold by small, family owned operations.

the english market

the english market

The English Market

The English Market

The English Market

Irish Beef
Irish Beef

The English MarketI’ve been on the hunt for clotted cream and immediately find it at an organic health foods stall called The Good Food Shop.

I find a scone made with local berries to go with my clotted cream and so much more at Alternative Bread Company. This bakery prides itself on its extensive selection, carrying Burnt Bread and “Ducks” and “Skulls”––all traditional breads from Cork–– as well as dairy free Irish Soda Bread, gluten-free breads, organic sourdoughs and pastries.

Alternative Bread Co.

Alternative Bread Co.

Alternative Bread Co.

Alternative Bread Co.

the english market
Dairy-free Irish soda bread from Alternative Bread Co.
the english market
Local berry scone and jam from Alternative Bread Co. with Clotted Cream from The Good Food Shop

The Chocolate Shop carries organic Wilkies Chocolate (made in Cork) and Skelligs Chocolate (made in Kerry) plus a wide variety of other high end bean-to-bar chocolate bars and house made truffles.

The Chocolate Shop

The Chocolate Shop
The Gin & Tonic bar is made with juniper berries and really tastes like the cocktail!

Toons Bridge Dairy, a buffalo, sheep and cow farm 45 miles from town, runs a stall called Real Olive Company, where they sell olives, cured meat and other Mediterranean provisions next to their farmstead cheeses and raw honey harvested from beehives on the farm.

Real Olive Company
Real Olive Company
Real Olive Company
Real Olive Company
Real Olive Company
Real Olive Company

The cheeses are exceptional. We try a tangy sheep’s milk Pecorino and smoky Scamorza while we wait for them to cut us off hunks of ‘Nduja and Caciocavallo.

Real Olive Company
Scamorza from Toons Bridge Dairy

Caciocavallo, which benefits from the probiotic bacteria of the cheesemaker’s hands, must be hand-stretched. It is made using a similar technique to mozzarella with raw cow’s milk cheese.

Toons Bridge Dairy makes three types of Caciocavallo all made with different types of rennet. This is “Dolce.” It is made with calf’s rennet and is aged 6-8 weeks. It’s sweet and nutty and is fabulous paired with the spicy ‘Nduja––a spreadable cured sausage made with smoked paprika, dried chilis and pork offal.

Toon's Bridge Dairy
Caciocavallo from Toon’s Bridge Dairy
N'duja
‘Nduja

On the way to dinner later I walk down Oliver Plunkett Street by a couple of fun, novelty dessert shops.

The Shack sells elaborately decorated cake donuts and a few storefronts down from that a sidewalk explodes with brightly colored gelato. Gino’s Gelato, made on site daily, is swirled so luxuriously I just want to dive in head first.

The Shack donuts
The Shack donuts
Gino's Gelato
Gino’s Gelato

Market Lane

The first thing I notice about Market Lane is that they use a wide variety of local ingredients on their menu, many coming from The English Market.

Market LaneMom orders an elegant craft cocktail called Autumn and Eve that comprises gin, apple cider, fresh apple and lemon juice, ginger beer and cinnamon.

Market Lane
“Autumn and Eve” at Market Lane

I’m ready to try some Irish beef. I order a 10 ounce, local, grass-fed, 28-day aged sirloin steak. It arrives with typical Irish sides––chips (fries), roasted mushrooms and tomato. I choose the green peppercorn sauce for my steak and ask for a side of béarnaise to dip my chips in.

The steak is expectedly lean, but is cooked perfectly and is full of flavor thanks to the aging process.

Mom’s duck breast is cooked nicely as well and is served with a red currant jus, broccolini and a puree of roasted onion and parsnip scented with vanilla.

Market Lane
Sirloin and Duck at Market Lane

The only thing I want for dessert is to try Baldwin’s Farmhouse vanilla ice cream, which is made nearby in Waterford using non-pasteurized milk and cream from their farm. We talk our server into selling us a scoop with fresh local berries.

Market Lane
Baldwin’s Farmhouse Vanilla Ice Cream at Market Lane

The evening was young and this neighborhood is ripe for pub hopping. At The Oliver Plunkett we giggle at the bartender who despises making Irish Coffee.

At Hi-B bar, known for grumpy regulars and an even grumpier owner, we learn that you will get kicked out if you are caught on your cell phone.

And at An Bodhran I discover that the locals don’t drink Guinness they drink Murphy’s––Cork’s version of Guinness that is less sweet and more coffee-like.

Oliver Plunkett's
Oliver Plunkett’s

The Hi-B Bar

The Hi-B Bar
The Hi-B Bar
An Bodhran Bar
An Bodhran Bar

Electric

This restaurant contains three seafood concepts in one. Downstairs is a casual gastrobar with small plates. Upstairs you can choose between a high end dining room or raw bar.

We choose the raw bar, which reminds me of the oyster bars I’ve been to in Seattle. We settle into a counter overlooking the river and get a front row view of a beautiful rainbow and stunning sunset.

Electric Restaurant
Electric Restaurant

Electric RestaurantMussels are steamed with smoked bacon and a puree of mint and English pea.

Electric Restaurant
Mussels with pea, mint and smoked bacon at Electric Restaurant

Tuna Crudo is served with teriyaki sauce, compressed watermelon and seaweed salad.

Electric Restaurant
Tuna crude with teriyaki and seaweed at Electric Restaurant

Smoked Mackerel and Hake Pate reminds me of the marlin dip I get back home on Oʻahu. It’s creamy and rich and served with a crusty, house made baguette.

Electric Restaurant
Smoked Mackerel and Hake pate at Electric Restaurant

Irish Scallops are seared and served with spicy chorizo, potato confit and a mustardy cream sauce.

Electric Restaurant
Scallops

For dessert we indulge in a caramel centered chocolate lava cake they call “baby cakes” with more of those amazing Irish berries and Irish Coffee made with Jameson.

Electric Restaurant
Chocolate baby cake and Irish Whiskey at Electric Restaurant

The Shelbourne Bar

This pub, located in the Victorian Quarter, is known for their extensive whiskey collection.

But, I’m drinking gin.

I sample two more local gins here: Blackwater and Method and Madness.

Blackwater is more juniper forward with a clean lemony finish.

Method and Madness is Jameson’s first gin made in their microbrewery in Midleton. It’s gorgeous, exploding with citrus and flowers upfront with sweet spices that linger on your tongue for several minutes afterward. One of the botanicals used for this gin is black lemon, or dried lime, which gives it an indescribable zesty punch.

Side note. I think I am slowly turning my mom into a gin drinker…

Method and Madness Gin by Jameson
Method and Madness Gin by Jameson

 

 

 

 

 

Ireland: Day 2 & 3 – Waterford, Kilkenny & Cashell

On this leg of the trip we are visiting a famous crystal factory, a castle and more ancient ruins. Food isn’t front and center, but I do stumble on to a few typical Irish dishes to write home about.

Waterford

At Geoff’s in Waterford we have a lunch of simple Irish fare: Fish chowder made with salmon, cod and smoked haddock and brown bread.

waterford ireland
Geoff’s in Waterford, Ireland
waterford ireland
Fish chowder and brown bread at Geoff’s in Waterford
waterford ireland
Bread and scones from Fresh Food Hall Deli in Waterford

I also find a bakery for scones and a sweet little coffee stand  called Arch that carries high quality, ethically sourced beans from places like Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Ethiopia.

waterford ireland
Arch Coffee in Waterford
waterford ireland
A scone and a flat white in Waterford, Ireland

And I am loving all the butcher shops. There is one on practically every corner!

waterford ireland

waterford ireland
Joe’s Family Butcher Shop in Waterford, Ireland

The House of Waterford Crystal

Waterford Crystal, established 1783, was the very first product manufactured in Ireland. Next to streaky bacon and cow provisions of course.

Glassblowers have four minutes tops to expand and shape the crystal using the power of their lungs and the quickness of their hands before it cools and hardens. This coordination is where the real talent of the glassblower comes in.

Waterford Crystal
Glass blowing at Waterford Crystal

The glass cutters use diamond wheels and the pressure from their hands to do their part.

Mike was 16 when he started cutting glass. He’s 63 now. When I ask him if he ever gets tired of his work he says, “On some days, but mostly no.”

“It’s like a hobby,” he says with a smile.

“So, you would do it even if you didn’t get paid?”

“Yes! But don’t tell them that,” he laughs darting his eyes in the direction of the main office.

Waterford Crystal
Glass cutting at Waterford Crystal

After the glass is cut it gets sculpted and engraved.

Kenneth McEvoy is a cutter, master sculptor, engraver, painter and poet. He too has been working here since age 16.

Waterford Crystal
Sculpting at Waterford Crystal

Waterford is some of the finest crystal in the world. It makes the best glassware to enjoy fine wines and spirits out of.

Waterford Crystal
Waterford Crystal for serious gin drinkers
Waterford Crystal
Waterford Crystal for serious wine drinkers
Waterford Crystal
Waterford Crystal for serious whiskey drinkers

Waterford Crystal

Waterford Crystal

The Miler Pub

We check into a B&B and the innkeeper recommends the local pub down the road.

the miler pub waterford
The Miler Pub in Waterford

We see him over there about two hours later.

I peruse the backbar.

“How is Thin Gin?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s very good! Made in Waterford!” our innkeeper recommends.

He laughs when I order it straight up on the rocks.

Most of the bartenders I’ve encountered in Ireland so far ask if I want tonic with my gin, or they try and throw fruit in my glass. I want to be able to smell and taste all of the nuances of each gin I’m trying. I order it straight to not make the flavors.

thin gin
Thin Gin. Made in Waterford.

Thin Gin is crisp and clean.

I learn that it’s made with native botanicals like elderflower, hawthorne and tansy. The floral and citrus notes mingle beautifully with a faint hint of juniper berry.

The Miler Pub Waterford

On our way out we catch a beautiful sunset. Our innkeeper reminds us that it is unusually warm right now for Ireland.

“Enjoy the Irish heatwave!” he jokes.

Waterford, Ireland
Waterford, Ireland

Kilkenny

The most popular tourist attraction in this town is Kilkenny Castle. Built in the 12 century and refurbished to reflect the way the castle appeared during Victorian times.

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle
The gallery inside Kilkenny Castle

Playwright

We hear screams and shouts.

A jubilant crowd is cheering on their favorite football (soccer) team from inside a nearby pub. We decide it looks like a decent place to grab lunch.

The Playwright in Kilkenny
The Playwright in Kilkenny

“We have a special today,” our server says.

“Roast beef with mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables.”

It sounds great. Already catching on to the portion sizes served in Ireland my mom and I order one to share.

“We have half portions,” the server says.

“Would you each like to order one of those?”

“Sure.”

roast beef at the Playwright
Roast beef at the Playwright

This is the half portion guys. A ten ounce slab of roast beef (well-done of course) with roasted carrots and parsnips, mashed potatoes and a whole boiled potato.

We laugh out loud when they appear. I am curious what the full portion looks like.

Lunch is warm and satisfying. It reminds me of having dinner at my Scottish step-mom’s house. And the gravy rocks.

Ireland
The Irish countryside on our way to Cashell

Ireland

Ireland

Ireland

Cashell

The next day we visit the Rock of Cashell––a national monument of ruins dating back to the 4th century. The Cashell, which means stone court, is built on limestone rock. It has a royal history from the 4th to the 12th century until it was turned into a church.

The Rock of Cashell
The Rock of Cashell
The Rock of Cashell
The Rock of Cashell
The Rock of Cashell
The Rock of Cashell
The Rock of Cashell
The Rock of Cashell
The Rock of Cashell
The Rock of Cashell
Bailey's B&B in Cashell
Bailey’s B&B in Cashell

We stay at Bailey’s B&B where we also have dinner. A brothy beef soup, spiced with a heavy hand of black pepper, a really good salad of baby greens that has delicate, crispy crumbles of bacon on top (seriously so good) and warm fresh baked brown bread (some of the best I’ve had so far).

After dinner we land at Billy Foley for a nightcap and chat with the locals.

Billy Foley's in Cashell
Billy Foley’s in Cashell

Here I try Gunsmoke Gin from Drunshambo, Ireland and meet Jimmy.

Billy Foley
Billy Foley Pub
Gunsmoke Gin and a Guinness at Billy Foley Pub in Cashell

I can hardly understand Jimmy, but he’s a sweet old man who sings my brother and I Irish limericks and tells me all about his recent trip to Cork, where we are headed next.

I take notes and enjoy his jokes. The ones I can understand anyway.

Gunsmoke Gin is distilled by hand in copper pots with botanicals like cardamom, coriander, caraway, star anise, three varieties of citrus and it’s namesake––gunpowder tea. It is a stunning gin.

After the bartender tosses a lemon wedge, lime wedge and two blueberries in my first drink I have to remind myself to order it without the training wheels on the second round.

Cashell
Where Guinness was actually invented

One last interesting detail about Cashell….

According to our tour guide at The Rock of Cashell, the Palace of Cashell was where Guinness was actually first invented. Richard Guinness, Arthur Guinness’s godfather, was making beer here and instead of adding boiled barley he accidentally grabbed burnt hops. The rest is history…

 

Ireland: Day 1 – Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford

Glendalough medieval monastic settlement

Glendalough medieval monastic settlement

…continued from London Travel Guide 1, 2 & 3.

Sleep just does not seem to be in the cards for me so far on this trip.

I barely got three hours last night and we are headed out early this morning.

Mom and I leave London and join my brother in Ireland. We’ll be covering most of the southern half of the country in a two-week road-trip, starting and finishing in Dublin.

But before we get underway, the Guinness Factory….

Guinness Storehouse

The city of Dublin would not be what it is today without the efforts of Arthur Guinness.

As an entrepreneur and philanthropist he brought great innovation and prosperity to Dublin.

An unparalleled commitment to quality and excellence continues to make Guinness a main driver of the local economy still to this day.

Guinness Storehouse
Guinness Storehouse

Here are some of the things that make Guinness so special…

  • Ingredients:
    • Water – Only high quality water (soft and low mineral), from the Wicklow Mountains above Dublin, is used to brew Guinness.
    • Barley – Mostly local and always of the highest quality. A combination of malted, unsalted and roasted barley is used. The roasted barley is what gives Guinness its iconic color, flavor and aroma. They are one of the few breweries in the world to roast their own barley on site 365 days a year.
    • Hops – Highest quality sourced from Australia, the Czech Republic, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand. Hops is the natural preservative responsible for the shelf life of Guinness.
    • Yeast – They have been using the same yeast since the 19th century (legend has it that it’s the same yeast that Arthur Guinness first used). Yeast is transferred from each brew and is kept in a safe to secure its legacy.
  • Nitrogen – Guinness was the first brewery to incorporate nitrogen into their beer. Because of this, bars require special taps. The 30 million bubbles in every pint are responsible for Guinness’s smooth, creamy mouthfeel.

Here’s how I would describe drinking a properly poured glass of Guinness straight from the factory…

Imagine you are standing on a cobblestone road overlooking green pastures of grazing cows as far as the eye can see. The air is cool. The sky is grey.

A creamy, smooth froth hits your lips like you’re sipping a mocha latte. It’s luxurious, like settling underneath a down comforter lined with satin sheets.

Once you are past the milkshake-like layer on top a stream of rich, nutty caramel hits your tongue. Visions of spiced gingerbread, a bowl of hot morning porridge and walnut-fudge brownies dance through your head, warming your belly and soothing your soul from the inside out.

Guinness Storehouse
Sampling Guinness at the top of the factory overlooking all of Dublin.

Aside from it’s great taste, Guinness is “one of the most technologically advanced and environmentally sustainable breweries in the world,” according to them.

And of course they are known for their clever,  out-of-the box advertising.

Including an entire campaign, based off market research, claiming that Guinness has antioxidant compounds and is therefore good for your health.

Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Storehouse

Guinness StorehouseOne of my favorite advertisements is called Fish on a Bicycle. It was part of a campaign by Ogilvy and Mather called “Not everything in black and white makes sense.”

“The idea was to challenge the received wisdom of famous quotes,” according to Guinness.

Fish on a Bicycle
Fish on a Bicycle
Fish on a Bicycle
Fish on a Bicycle

I had the opportunity to try some of the dishes in their restaurant––brown bread, beef stew and chocolate mousse––all made with Guinness. I didn’t taste the flavor of the beer much in any of them. Portions are huge and filling, and they don’t have take-out boxes, so I recommend sharing.

Guinness beef stew and brown bread
Guinness beef stew and brown bread

We leave Dublin and drive through County Wicklow.

After lovely strolls through the gardens of the Powerscourt Estate and the medieval monastic ruins and graveyard of Glendalough we arrived to Wexford.

The house at Powerscourt Estate
The house at Powerscourt Estate
Irish thistle at Powerscourt Estate
Irish thistle at Powerscourt Estate
The gardens at Powerscourt Estate
The gardens at Powerscourt Estate
Japanese tea garden at Powerscourt Estate
Japanese tea garden at Powerscourt Estate
Glendalough 6th century monastic settlement
Lower lake at Glendalough 6th century monastic settlement
Glendalough medieval monastic settlement
Glendalough 6th century monastic settlement

Premier Fish & Chips

It’s about 6 p.m. Time to find some dinner.

We get a recommendation from the front desk of our hotel (something I never recommend) and not surprisingly end up at a pub serving uninspiring, watered down tourist food.

“We gotta get off the main street,” my brother says.

“Agreed.”

We make a right and start heading down back alleys until we stumble upon a chip shop.

“Too clean,” I say.

“Yea, and there’s no one in it,” my brother points out.

“Let’s keep moving.”

The streets are empty. It’s dead for a Friday night.There are a few bars with some signs of life, but they don’t serve food and most of the retail shops are closed for the evening.

And then we find it.

A tiny chip shop with a simple menu and a line at the register.

“This is our spot!”

Premier Chip Shop
Premier Chip Shop in Wexford

We walk in and strike up a conversation with a man standing in line.

“Where do you like to eat around here?”

“Here,” he chuckles, smiling with big rosy cheeks.

OK, I get it. This is not a food town. But, at least it appears we have stumbled on a local’s favorite.

Premier Chip Shop
Premier Chip Shop

We order fish and chips, mushy peas and an order of onion rings. The woman behind the counter dresses our fish––a splash of malt vinegar and a heavy shake of salt.

Premier Chip Shop
Premier Chip Shop
Premier Chip Shop
Fried cod at Premier Chip Shop
Premier Chip Shop
Premier Chip Shop

When I say “heavy shake” of salt I mean a boatload of salt.

It looked like the lid had fallen off the shaker and a stream of white was now shooting out like a firehose on full whack.

“Um, can I purchase a bottle of water too?”

The woman wraps up our fried food parcels in newspaper like meat from a butcher’s shop and we head back to the hotel.

In the lobby I unfold the greasy packages and we dive in.

The fried, flaky white cod is GBD (golden, brown and delicious) on the outside and super moist inside.

The onion rings are some of the best I’ve ever had––crunchy on the outside, smooth and creamy in the center.

Mushy peas live up to their name and bring a necessary contrast to their salty, fried friends along side.

Premier Chip Shop
Premier Chip Shop in Wexford

I practically never eat foods like these (and probably won’t again for a while), but I’m happy we got a proper fish and chip experience in.

It did not disappoint.

 

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The River Cafe (London Travel Guide For Foodies: Day 3 of 3)

the river cafe

the river cafeFind day 1 of this trip here

Find day 2 of this trip here

This post is dedicated to two men I spent most of my waking hours with between the years 2006-2011: Staffan Terje and Umberto Gibin.

My morning started slow and mindful like it usually does. A little reading, a little journaling, some meditation.

But my zen routine quickly turned into a mad sprint when I received a call from the front desk of our hotel.

“Would you like to request a late check out?” a lady with a friendly voice inquires.

Gulp. “What time is check out?”

“11 a.m.”

“Uh, what time is it now?” I ask with a large lump now forming in my throat.

“It’s 11:45 a.m. ma’am.”

Holy shit!

“Mom!”

“We gotta go!”

I’ve always hated black out curtains in hotels and this is a perfect example of why they can be a luxury and a liability at the same time.

I haven’t slept past 7 a.m. in years, but I think after two fast and furious days in London our bodies obviously needed the rest.

In fifteen minutes we were downstairs hailing a cab, completely out of time to visit Bouroughs Market. Bummer.

But, there was no way in hell I was missing River Cafe for lunch…

The River Cafe

We fly in hot with bags and suitcases flailing.

“We have to be out in 45 minutes,” I say apologetically.

“Absolutely, let’s get you set up right away then.”

“May we hold your suitcases for you?”

My mouth drops. I don’t know why I am still surprised at how helpful and kind people are here. The service in London is absolutely unparalleled to what I have experienced in the rest of the world.

the river cafe

I drop my purse and my mom at the bar and start exploring the restaurant.

the river cafeI am immediately transported back to my days cooking at Perbacco.

I scan the dining room.

There’s Sarah, our pastry chef, behind a counter of freshly baked tarts slicing Chocolate Nemesis Cake.

the river cafeI look over at the pantry station, lined with big bowls of ceci bean and kale salad; stewed peppers and blistered tomatoes; and freshly picked apples and I flash to visions of Yati, our pantry cook, squating down peeling beets before service.

the river cafe

the river cafeI look to the left at the expansive French brigade style hot line and see Benji, Alex and Sergio calling tickets back and forth, flipping pans of pasta and searing sardines ala plancha.

the river cafeI snap back into reality when my eyes make their way to the grandiose, neon pink wood burning oven–– the centerpiece of the dining room and kitchen.

It’s magnificent.

the river cafeI walk past its smoldering embers and smell of sweet smoke to the terrace outside. A long garden brimming with squash blossoms, cherry tomatoes, herbs and lettuces line the perimeter of the patio full of sophisticated diners basking in the sun.

the river cafe A man points a healthy bunch of kale out to his little boy.

the river cafeI walk back to the bar and notice that a plate full of fluffy, crusty focaccia fresh from the oven has appeared with three tiny bowls: olio nuevo, cracked black pepper and Maldon salt.

Oh man.

Savoring the bread is like riding a cloud up to heaven. I think, if I died right now I’d be cool with that.

the river cafe
Focaccia

I pick up the menu.

Ordering is easy. I know this food.

Not just in the way I know the names of classic Italian dishes and can tell how a dish will be presented just by reading its menu description. No, I KNOW these dishes. With every inch of my being.

I know them with my hands, the hands that spent hours tirelessly prepping these dishes over and over the same way day after day for five years.

I know them intellectually, from thinking about them every day. Ordering their ingredients, concocting daily specials,  studying their origins in cookbooks.

And I know them with my heart. The part of me that fell in love with Italian cooking and that lights up whenever I smell fresh basil, stir a pot of bolognese or drizzle olive oil over a plate of…anything.

The dishes on this menu were my life.

Grilled bread, covered with a heaping spoonful of those peppers and tomatoes I saw back in the kitchen are covered with purple and green basil leaves and peppery olive oil. A slice of creamy mozzarella di Bufala rests at its side.

the river cafe
Mozzarella di Bufala with bruschetta of grilled Italian peppers, basil and marinated summer tomatoes

Sarde––butterflied and wood roasted sardines––lie under a snowfall of crunchy breadcrumbs, lemon zest, chopped parsley and freshly pitted Nicoise olives.

the river cafe
Sarde – butterflied sardines wood-roasted with black olives, parsley, lemon zest and pangrattato

Beef carpaccio––thinly sliced raw beef top round––is rich and deep red like a ruby. Shaved baby beet, capers and grated horseradish complete the dish along with a glug of good olive oil and crunchy sea salt.

the river cafe
Carpaccio di Manzo – with pink & gold beets, parsley, capers and horseradish

Perfectly al dente ribbons of house made tagliatelle nest chunks of rabbit that have been slowly cooked with white wine and pancetta. Fresh basil. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Simple perfection.

the river cafe
Tagliatelle – rabbit cooked in Pinot Bianco with basil, pancetta and parmesan

We are jamming through these dishes knowing that we have to leave for the airport very soon when I remember…

We must have dessert.

I place an order for their infamous caramel gelato and a slice of strawberry-almond tart while we finish our pasta.

Desserts appear and I am nearly in tears at this point.

I’m back at Perbacco now, sneaking into Sarah’s freezer for a spoonful of caramel gelato.

I smile when I take a bite because I actually remember enjoying Sarah’s more.

The trick to this gelato is burning the caramel, so that its flavor can over ride the fattiness of the cream in the custard. The flavor results in a pleasant bitterness reminiscent of a high acid, full body cup of coffee.

Sarah used to take her caramel to just under burnt, so that the flavor was sweet while still being front and center.

the river cafe
Caramel gelato

But, the tart. OMG.

Is this the best thing I’ve put in my mouth this trip? Or maybe ever?

OK, that’s saying a lot, but seriously this was one of those moments in my life that I will never forget.

The almond tart is chewy and buttery, sweet and nutty, caramelized and gooey. There are so many things going on in my mouth that my brain doesn’t know what to think. And frankly, it doesn’t want to even try.

Perfect, pink strawberries are intentionally placed in precise rows along the top of the tart and dusted in powdered sugar. The fresh, sweet, tart, crunchy berries pair with the tart so well I could never imagine them being apart. There is also a pool of silky smooth creme fraiche on the side for dipping.

the river cafe
Strawberry-almond tart with creme fraiche

Looking around the restaurant I start thinking about Staffan and Umberto and my stack of River Cafe cookbooks at home.

I get it guys.

I “got it” back then, but now that I’m here… I really get it. What inspired you about this place is inspiring the hell out of me now. And I have to say….you have succeeded.

You have taken the feel and beauty of this place and recreated it in a way that is you. That is San Francisco. That is completely unique, yet just like this at the same time.

So, thank you.

Thank you for everything you taught me, and gave me access to, in order for me to arrive at this place.

In this moment.

At this time in my life.

Right now.

Our bartender gets us out exactly on time to catch our flight. Before we know it we are being handed our luggage and settling into a Mercedes Benz Uber outside the restaurant.

On our way to  Heathrow airport I savor the taste of that strawberry-almond tart on my tongue.

In what was one of the quickest meals I have ever had I never felt rushed or stressed once.

I got everything in that I wanted to, and had a lovely time.

It was truly one of the greatest meals of my life.

 

Read the rest of my London Travel Guide for Foodies: day one here and day two here

* Side note: I always travel with a list of restaurant recommendations longer than I can possibly tackle. Here are the ones I didn’t get to on this trip that I will definitely visit next time…

Bourough Market

Ottolenjihi (Notting Hill)

Ye Old Cheshire Cheese

The Lamb

The Grapes

Darjeeling Express

Ivy

Pillars of Hercules

The George

Granger & Co. 

Moro

Caravan

10 Greek Street

Gloria’s 

Dean Street

Sketch

Smithfield Market

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London Travel Guide For Foodies: Day 2 of 3

london travel guide

london travel guide

Find day 1 of this trip here

I start early again today.

I’m excited to get moving after yesterday.

But first, coffee…

Monmouth

This local coffee shop in Covent Garden responsibly sources and roasts beans from single farms, estates and cooperatives. They use high tech Loring Roasters from California, for all you coffee geeks out there.

manmouth coffee london
You can purchase beans by the kilo from their extensive selection to take home, or you can order a coffee drink to enjoy in house.
manmouth coffee london
A special note…On every table lies a cereal bowl full of organic whole-cane sugar from Costa Rica (dulse) for you to add to your coffee as desired.

Here I meet Alex, a friendly woman wearing a Pulp Fiction T-shirt and thick, black-rimmed glasses. We share a table and swap restaurant recommendations while I drink my Flat White, made with Yellow Bourbon coffee from Fazenda Santa Ines grown in Brazil.

manmouth coffee london
The coffee is thick and nutty with a caress of bittersweet toffee. I devour it in between heavenly bites of buttery Pain Au Chocolat made by local bakery–– The Little Bread Pedlar. Dark chocolate gushes out of every orifice with each bite.

manmouth coffee london    
Giddy and high on caffeine, my mom and I skip off to enjoy a stroll through manicured gardens and crowded streets along the River Thames. We take photographs of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster and a tour of Westminster Abbey.

London travel guide
Inside Westminster Abbey is poets corner where legends like Shakespeare, Anthony Trollop and C.S. Lewis are buried.

Looking down at Dylan Thomas’s memorial plaque I read this quote:

“Time held me green and dying. Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”

Man, if that doesn’t seize your guts…

westminster abbey

Dum Biryani House

Down a narrow staircase, in the basement of a tiny building in SOHO, where the walls are brightly painted and covered in Indian pop art I’ve come in search of Biryani.

Biryani is an Indian rice dish that’s made with meat or vegetables and all of the spices you’d find in curry powder.

The version we try here is tasty. Tender chunks of chicken legs are cooked with fluffy, curry scented jasmine rice. Fluorescent yellow raita and crispy papadam dusted with coriander and cumin are served along side.

biryani house
I appreciate the fact that they serve the sugar on the side when you  order  Masala Chai. I prefer mine with little to none.

It was another hot day in London so instead of sugar I infused my cup of tea with ice cubes.

Barrafina

A five-minute walk down the street and I’m at Barrafina.

A zippy, sleek Spanish tapas bar lined with stainless steel and good looking people.

I sit down directly in front of the hot line. The kitchen is serious. Everyone is speaking Spanish, heads are down and tweezers are out.

“Voy atras!” the dish washer announces as he slides behind line cooks to pick up dirty pans.

barrafina
Along the edge of the kitchen, where the grill intersects with pantry, are two shelves filled with the ingredients of the day.

barrafinaCarabineros, a prized species of deep-sea prawns, sit in a row with their striking deep burgundy shells still on. Razor clams, Tobay prawns and tiny monkfish are at their side. Leafy bunches of French Breakfast radishes, fennel, eggplant and a giant mound of dried paprika chilis spill over the shelf just above.

I order a glass of Hart Bros. Manzanilla––an aged, unfiltered white Sherry that is bottled just for Barrafina. It’s complex with that wonderful walnut essence I love so much about Sherry. It pairs beautifully with both dishes we order.

First is a plate of thinly sliced monkfish that has been cured with vinegar, sugar and pimenton lying in a vibrant sauce of fresh ginger and lime juice. Each slice is adorned with a piping of Membrillo (Spanish quince paste), avocado puree and sun-dried tomato.

barrafina
The second dish is Morcilla Iberica––black pudding made with Iberico pork. Two slices of rich, juicy sausage powered by smoky paprika lay in mounds of roasted Piquillo peppers. Fried quail eggs are gently laid on top and delicate, thin slices of crostini lean across each bite for crunch.

barrafina

Neal’s Yard Dairy

These guys select, mature and sell high quality local farmstead cheese. They truly deserve their own blog post, so I’m not going to go into detail here.

neal's yard dairyYou’ll want to learn more about them though….

Visit https://www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk

neal's yard dairy

I sampled two cheeses: Durrus––a buttery cow’s milk wash rind cheese from Cork, Ireland–– and Innes Brick––a silky raw goats milk cheese from Staffordshire, England.

LIving in Hawaii it’s been a long time since I’ve had cheese this good. I wish I had a whole day just to eat bread and cheese here.

neal's yard dairy

St. John’s Bakery

Right around the corner is Neal’s Yard. A colorful courtyard full of cafes, a sweet little health food store and Fergus Henderson’s bakery.

neal's yard

st. john's bakeryEagerly anticipating my dinner reservation at Henderson’s restaurant later tonight I stop in for a pastry.

st. john's bakery

st. john's bakery

st. john's bakery
I select a sugar coated, vanilla custard stuffed donut and grab a bench outside. The yard is a buzz with thirty-somethings blowing off the afternoon to enjoy life, and I’m starting to get used to these ridiculously well made pastries I keep finding everywhere.

st. john's bakery

neal's yard

The Dog & Duck

Just down the street I pass by The Dog & Duck, a victorian style pub in SOHO where George Orwell used to hang out.

the dog and duck

Duke Of York

It’s beer o’clock. I’m heading back to Seven Dials in Covent Garden where I drank yesterday.

“The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…” – Charles Dickens

Yes Charles, that’s true.

Another regular spot of Charles Dickens was The Duke of York. This was a very seedy area in his day and this pub was particularly well known for gang violence.

Anthony Burgess was also a regular. It was here, watching the bloody razor blade fights between rival gangs, that “A Clockwork Orange” was inspired.

the duke of york
I sip a local lager that’s brewed down the street called Camden Hells and watch businessmen talking and laughing, enjoying a late afternoon pint.

the duke of york

St. John

It all comes down to this:

Respect for ingredients, starting from the farmer to the chef to the diner, equals good food.

st. john

St. John restaurant has zero ambiance, a very simple menu and even simpler food. It is by far one of the most respected restaurants in London and beloved by serious cooks and foodies around the world.

Fergus Henderson made nose-to-tail cooking and philosophy a thing. His style of cooking has inspired great chefs everywhere.

By the way, this was either him hanging out in the bar when I first walked in or his doppelgänger.

st. john

If you want traditional British cuisine done well, come here.

Sauteed lamb’s brains are served with parsley-caper sauce in a cast iron skillet. The brains are plump and creamy,  cooked so delicately they are able to still hold the integrity of their shape, unlike many “scrambled egg” versions I’ve tried in the past. It’s just like eating veal sweetbreads.

st. john
Light and puffy fried cod is served along tartar sauce made with hard cooked eggs. A squeeze of lemon is all you need.

st. johnI try grouse for the first time. A game bird not served in the U.S.

The kitchen cooks it perfectly, right on the cusp of medium rare. The crispy skin breaks off like shards of glass and the red currant jam along side complimented the gaminess of the tender, juicy meat.

Lightly sautéed spring greens, that taste like collard greens, and nutmeg scented bread sauce (breadcrumbs cooked in thickened milk) make lovely side dishes. And a piece of toast slathered with foie gras NEVER hurt anybody.

st. johnPer the suggestion of the man who sold me the donut at St. John’s Bakery this afternoon, I order the Madeleines for dessert. They are baked to order and come out fluffy and hot. Simply divine.

st. john

Another showstopper day in grand old London town.

Find day 3 of this trip here

Like this article? Subscribe to The Healthy Locavore for more on how to eat local and live well in Hawaiʻi. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!

London Travel Guide For Foodies: Day 1 of 3

london travel guide

london travel guideIt’s 3 a.m.

Time to get up.

Bleary eyed, I brush my teeth and shove my toothbrush, clean laundry and a stack of books into my suitcase. I zip it up, grab my phone and order a Lyft.

There are zero people in line when I arrive at the San Diego airport. But, it’s like a full crowd scene in Salt Lake City. And in Raleigh, a kind southern lady points me to gate C23 in order to complete the last leg of my journey abroad.

A poor excuse for pesto pasta, a documentary on agave and one sleeping pill later and I’m standing in line at the U.K. border at 7 a.m. the following day, dreaming about my first stop…

Nopi

“We are well known for our Shakshuka. Lots of restaurants are serving it now, but I think we were one of the first. Our chef is a bit of a trendsetta,” our server explains in a beautiful english accent.

Sold.

“We’ll have that, and one of your almond croissants please.”

“Excellent choice. Our pastries are my favorite.”

london travel guide
House made sourdough and pastries (Nopi)

A cauldron of smoky stewed onions and tomatoes glimmering with toasted cumin and coriander appears with two perfectly poached, neon orange farm eggs and two dollops of creamy lebneh nestled inside. A few sprigs of micro cilantro and two slices of house made focaccia rocking a crusty char and a soft center complete the outfit.

Shakshuka at Nopi
Shakshuka – braised eggs, piquant tomato sauce, smoked labneh (Nopi)

We dig into the croissant. A sugar coated seduction of laminated dough shatters upon impact, leaving a buttery trail of almond infused fairy dust all over the collar of my shirt.

london travel guide
Almond Croissant (Nopi)

“We’re off to a good start,” I tell my mother.

london travel guide
A bathroom selfie from all angles (Nopi)

The heat, rising faster than cars racing over the autobahn, is inescapable as we walk down winding, narrow streets to our next destination…

Lamb and Flag

“it’s the oldest pub in town,” I report, leading Mom down an unassuming back alley. We stumble upon the charming two-story pub of Lamb and Flag. At 11 a.m. it has just opened for the day.

Three tables are already enjoying a round of pints and a cliche of a man dressed in traditional English attire with a mustache holds court practicing politics.

london travel guide
Lamb and Flag pub

“Out of the four local gins on your menu, which would you suggest?”

The bartender doesn’t hesitate. “Why that would be the Sipsmith of course.”

london travel guideHe sets down a rack of clean glassware to prepare our drinks.

“I’ll have the Cornish Gold Cider,” Mom says, eagerly awaiting a cold beverage.

london travel guide
Mom at Lamb and Flag

It’s unusually hot and this city is not equipped with air conditioning. I wonder how long Mom is going to last.

“This was one of Charles Dickens’ old haunts,” I recount from a blog post I’d recently read.

“It’s cozy,” Mom says with a loving twinkle in her eye.

Dishoom (Covent Garden)

“Do we have a table for two?” A young woman wearing a headset inquires to an army inside.

“We can seat you right now.”

“Great!”

The hostess leads us through tiny, crowded tables overflowing with plates of chicken tikka, soupy bowls of dahl and baskets of garlic scented naan.

The kitchen is pumping out food like it’s the Cheesecake Factory and I’m wondering how the hell they keep up with a dining room this busy.

Pau Bhaji, a classic Bombay street food snack, hits the table first. I slather the spicy, mashed vegetables onto lacquered house made buns sampling every sauce on the table: Mint-Coriander, Date-Tamarind and Chili Chutney.

london travel guide
Pau Bhaji, spicy lamb chop, gunpowder potatoes and roomali roti (Dishoom)

Next comes grilled lamb coated in a wet rub of ginger, cardamom, allspice and garlic with fresh pomegranate seeds and mint scattered on top. The meat pulls off the bone in one swift motion.

Tiny round potatoes smothered in toasted, crushed coriander and cumin seeds, cilantro and melted scallion arrive with a side of yogurt for dipping. The grilled starchy side dish is smoky and delicious.

london travel guide
Gunpowder potatoes (Dishoom)

I pick up a piece of roti like it’s a wet rag and tear off a piece. It’s warm and covered in black spots, blistered from the tawa it was cooked in. Perfection.

“I need a reset,” Mom says. Not surprised, I encourage her to go back to the hotel to cool down and get some rest.

I walk off in the opposite direction to find more gin…

Marquis of Granby

The menu says: Gin and Ale house. My kind of place.

The gin selection is impressive. I find one on the menu called Silent Pool. The description says: “Made using the water from the silent pool in the Surrey Hills.”

“I’ll have a double.”

london travel guideWhile the essence of 24 different botanicals delicately dance across my tongue I read a famous poem written by a regular of the Marquis of Granby––T.S. Elliot.

“Let us go then, you and I …”

london travel guide
Marquis of Granby

Virginia Woolf, the woman who brilliantly once said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” also frequented this pub.

As did Dylan Thomas.

I look at the menu again and notice that it includes dishes such as chicken wings and a blue cheese burger. The strings of festival posters strung across the bar don’t exactly go with the antique decor either.

As I longingly reflect on my life and the modern bastardization of this lovely old pub I shuffle through my brain’s rolodex of favorite quotes to a favorite one by Dylan Thomas.

“Though lovers be lost love shall not.”

I get up from the table and walk back out on to the street before the first sign of tears can hit my cheek.

SAID Dal 1923

What is that!?

I look up to see a case full of chocolate truffles, cakes and pastries of every shape and size. There is a towering stack of brownies studded with walnuts staring down at me. And is that an espresso machine?

london travel guide
SAID Dal 1923 chocolate and espresso bar

Time for a detour I think.

“Do you make your chocolate in house,” I ask, staring at the selection of chocolate bars laid out like greeting cards.

london travel guide
SAID Dal 1923

“Yes we do!”

“Let me get a bar of this 72% dark chocolate and one of your SAID mochas.”

london travel guide
Chocolate truffles (SAID Dal 1923)

A cup of coffee appears like an angel rocking a halo, playing a harp.

Two shots of espresso, a dash of steamed oat milk and decadent liquid dark, white and milk chocolate dumped unapologetically all over the rim and saucer of the cup is placed in front of me.

SAID mocha (SAID Dal 1923)

Wow.

I suck it back like I’m making sloppy, drunk love to the Italian barista with the dark hair and tight pants behind the counter.

This is freiken amazing. Why have I never seen or had a drink like this before?

The Fitztroy Tavern

Ok, one quick pint I think as I enter the Fitztroy Tavern.

london travel guide
Fitztroy Tavern

Two hours later I walk out pleasantly buzzed with a new friend named Frank.

He was sitting at the bar unwrapping a Frank Zappa CD when I saddled up. “They still make those things?” I say with a wink. He looks up through his thick glasses and laughs.

Ok, I can tell we’re gonna be friends.

We settle into a pleasant conversation discussing our favorite Netflix shows, two buck chuck and my career as a chef in San Francisco.

I ask the bartender to recommend a local lager.

“You want to try mine?” Frank says.

God, people are friendly here.

I end up going with the Samuel Smith Organic Lager which is quite guzzable.

An hour later Frank buys the next round.

“I gotta get going Frank. But, let’s take a photograph before I go!”

I shake his hand and inform him that he has just agreed to let me use the photo on my website. He laughs, indicating that it’s fine with him and I head out to catch the Underground.

london travel guide
Me and Frank (Fitztroy Tavern)

Years of living in cities taking public transportation ignites a fire in me as I enter the subway. I walk up to the ticket machine and swiftly select my route like I’ve been living here all my life.

My intuition kicks in and I start navigating tunnels and turnstiles, switching trains and maneuvering through crowds without hesitation. My brain, now completely switched off, relies on my legs which innately know where to go. The rest of my body is now just along for the ride.

london travel guide
Riding the Underground

I happily slip back out onto the busy street like it’s an oversized, fuzzy robe. The rush of the city soothing me like Ritalin calms a kid with Attention Deficit Disorder.

London travel guide
London Underground

Black Axe Mangal

I’m meeting Bianca here.

A young, intelligent, beautiful blond bombshell who I met through Darya Rose. Bianca is PhD bound and studying to become a therapist.

We waste no time diving right into a deep philosophical discussion before barely getting a drink order in.

“Shall we order a bottle of red?”

My mom has rejoined me too. She looks much better after a shower and nap.

“Let’s!”

Bianca is a doll and plates start hitting the table. They are shockingly good.

Flinstone sized hunks of bones split in half, roasted and slathered with braised oxtails and anchovy-herb butter with bone marrow seeping out of all sides are divine.

london travel guide
Bone marrow, oxtail and anchovy bread (Black Axe Mangal)

A “hot pocket” stuffed with chard, potato and unpasteurized English Ogleshield cheese oozes when I cut it open with a knife. We dip pieces of it in apple jelly and moan over how good it is.

london travel guide
Chard, potato and Ogleshield hot pocket with apple jelly (Black Axe Mangal)

A crunchy terrine resting in a pool of tart, spicy, sweet chili sauce garnished with julienned apple called “Crispy Fuckin Rabbit” arrives next.

london travel guide
Crispy Fuckin Rabbit with sweet chili and apple (Black Axe Mangal)

“Oh that’s good,” I say as I construct another forkful.

A wedge of charred cauliflower appears wearing a glob of smooth, tangy goat cheese, covered in a flurry of chopped cilantro, lemon zest and bottarga is equally as wonderful.

london travel guide
Charred cauliflower, goats’s curd and bottarga (Black Axe Mangal)

So is the Mushroom Mapo Tofu with tempura fried enoki mushrooms with pickled red jalapeños.

london travel guide
Mushroom mapo tofu and enoki tempura (Black Axe Mangal)

I thought the meal couldn’t get any better until dessert came. A frozen candy bar that tasted like Reeses Peanut Butter Cup covered in chocolate and chopped peanuts.

I’m officially in heaven. Don’t anybody pinch me.

london travel guide
Peanut butter bar (Black Axe Mangal)

I wish Bianca well and Mom calls an Uber.

As we ride back to the hotel chatting with the driver I notice how clean the city is and reflect on how kind and respectful everyone is here and how absolutely perfect the day has been.

Welcome to London.

Find day 2 of this trip here

Find day 3 of this trip here

Like this article? Subscribe to The Healthy Locavore for more on how to eat local and live well in Hawaiʻi. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!

Camping Out In Carlsbad

campfire

campfire

Campfire––a farm-to-table restaurant from the owners of Ironside and Craft & Commerce––nails their camping concept in highly refined ways.

One of my favorite things about coming home from camping is jumping into the shower and rinsing the campfire out of my hair. The scent of smoke brings me right back to sitting around a fire pit with a plate of grilled meat in my lap and a glass of red wine in my hand (yep that’s how I roll).

As I wash the smell of blazing embers out of my hair I reflect on fond memories one last time before sliding back into the real world of living and cooking indoors.

Campfire, the hottest restaurant to hit Carlsbad three years ago, aims to spark memories such as these, taking the term “glamping” to a whole new level. campfireTwo roaring Santa Maria style wood burning grills, and a smoker big enough to crawl inside, sends smoke up into the sunny San Diego blue sky and charred goodness down on to your plate.campfire Almost everything on the menu is prepared over an open fire. Combine that with an inviting communal vibe and you’ve got a campground fit for a foodie.

campfireFire and locally grown ingredients fuel the majority of the menu. Blistered wax beans, piled high, act as a base for succulent spiced hamachi garnished in micro cilantro. Smear the 63 degree poached egg that’s thoughtfully placed on top with your fork for an instant rich and creamy sauce.

campfire
Blistered Wax Beans with Hamachi and Brisket Sandwich

That brisket sandwich though… If I close my eyes, the aroma and feeling of buttery, fatty meat melting between my teeth brings me back to Taylor, Texas eating salt and pepper brisket off butcher paper in a smoked stained BBQ Shack like Louie Muellers. That peppery bark hanging out of two chargrilled slices of baguette, chili aioli oozing, will make any Texan smile.

campfire
Brisket – green tomatoes/mustard greens/garlic/onion/gruyere/baguette

The Peruvian style ceviche is refreshing and delicate. Chunks of mild rock fish swim with chunks of crunchy cucumber, creamy avocado and shaved onion in a lightly spiced “leche de tigre.”

campfire
Ceviche – “tiger’s milk”/cilantro/avocado/onion/cucumber

The mixology program at Campfire is reason alone to camp out. If I could have one thing every time I visit, it would be the Roasted Beet cocktail.

Roasted beet infused gin balances pungent house made ginger syrup, a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of honey brilliantly. The aromatic thyme sprig placed strategically on top of the glass, so that your nose is in direct alignment on every sip, makes the drink pure perfection.

The Big Texas is also stellar. It comprises ingredients like brown butter, vanilla and cinnamon in a way that makes you feel like you are eating a rye bourbon infused cinnamon bun. If you’re the type who orders your dessert in a glass, this one’s for you.

campfire
Big Texas (left) and Roasted Beet (right)

And speaking of dessert, what could be more fitting than a S’more Sundae? Chocolate ice cream settles into a paint stroke of torched, creamy marshmallow. Drizzled chocolate sauce, crumbled graham cracker and a few sprigs of woodsy thyme seals the deal. I was on cloud nine.

If chef were to throw a disc of meringue into this dish I would have immediately been transported to my favorite dessert in San Francisco––the Vacherin at Loretta Keller’s Coco500 (now closed). These two desserts remind me of the home made Sundaes I used to make as a kid. I’d lay on the couch swirling Hershey’s chocolate syrup, ice cream and nuts around in a bowl until the concoction resembled soft serve.

campfire
S’more Sundae – chocolate ice cream/graham cracker/chocolate sauce/marshmallow/thyme

A glass of Cryptology––a mystery varietal red wine blend from Cloak and Dagger–– pairs perfectly with the S’more Sundae. We loved it so much we bought a bottle to bring home.

campfire
Cryptology by Cloak and Dagger

campfireMy hair didn’t smell like smoke in the shower the day after we dined at Campfire, but the memories of that meal lingered just the same. I thought to myself how well the owners have managed to transform a rustic kitschy concept into pure elegance. I didn’t want my meal to end.

I bet these guys have created a problem for themselves. Their concept is so dialed in they probably have campers sticking around every night.

campfire**Pro tip: Check out Campfire’s new sister restaurant one block down the road––Jeune et Jolet. This 1920’s themed novelle french bistro, named after the owners’ daughters, looks like a cozy, romantic spot. And if it’s anything like Campfire it has amazing food to match.

Campfire, 2725 State St., Carlsbad, CA 92008, (760) 637-5121