Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Finally and at last, as the memorable lunch in the Hay Adams fades a bit (but never will be forgotten), we can get to the DFD matter. Alert readers will remember the genesis of my campaign to “Dress For Dinner” arose from a meal in Leonardtown where we were forced to share our anniversary dinner with a party in cut-offs and ball caps that remained affixed to their head throughout the meal. Since then, I have tried to wage a campaign to dress appropriately for the establishment you are in. Flip Flops? Fine in the Tiki Bar, not a fine dining restaurant. Ball caps? Well, I would say never unless you’re outside. Honor the food.

Anyway, over the years while I waged my campaign, there is no doubt that so-called "casual" dress has gained traction, as you see less formal dress in more fine dining establishments. When is the last time you actually wore a tie to dinner? All I ask is try to dress appropriately and tastefully (yes, that’s a subjective term) for the place you are in.

Afraid of “howling in the wilderness” on the subject, I was pleased to see an article in the latest (October) issue of Baltimore magazine entitled “No Jacket Required” which led off with a story from the venerable Baltimore restaurant The Prime Rib. They have finally taped a notice to the host stand that says “We fought the battle the longest, but we surrender”. After 50 years, the restaurant has switched to business casual. They admit that they are a business first, and they were losing business because of their jacket requirement. The story then goes on to talk about how over the years, people have eschewed “dressing up” to go out to a fine dining restaurant. I suppose it reflects the trend to be comfortable over being nicely dressed (not that they are mutually exclusive). They point out that it’s somewhat generational, quoting a former Wall Street Journal fashion reporter: “..the younger generation just doesn’t know any better, they were brought up during the dot com heyday of flip flops and T-shirts. In an era where accomplished men like Bill Gates didn’t have to dress for success (DFS?) to be a success”.

They also quote the owner of a (fine) men's clothing store recounting an experience in the Capitol Grille where the table next to him was occupied by “well dressed women, eating with “mature men” dressed in Raven’s jerseys, shorts, and – gasp – Flip Flops!” He goes on to say it offended him: “I don’t want to see guy’s legs and I surely don’t want to see their feet when I’m ordering a $100 bottle of wine". Exactly. Right on.

Well, you get the picture. When I first started, lo these many years ago, enjoying and writing about food, I used to hear the term “dining experience” and think it was sort of affected. Well, I have now come to understand (welcome to the party, Feeder) what that really means. It’s not just what’s on your plate, although that is a huge part, it’s from the time you walk in the door till you walk out the door: décor, table settings, how you’re first greeted (PLEASE without Hi I’m…another rant), service of course, and the food and wine. For want of a better term, things should be in harmony. Casual place? Fine, a nice pair of slacks and a tab or button down shirt. Waterfront Crab House? Bring on the football jerseys. But please when you’re at a “fine dining” establishment honor the food and fellow diners by wearing clothing commensurate with your surroundings. It is, in fact NOT all about YOU. Be respectful of others, the effort it takes to create a fine meal, and continue to


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hay, Hay, WHAT a day....

One of the reasons I dislike watching Mike and Mike (in the morning – ESPN radio) is that they constantly tease..”we’ve got the greatest story in the world, coming up right after this break (of 85 commercials)”. Well, dear reader, I am falling prey to the same thing. The insightful, entertaining post about Dressing For Dinner will have to wait another day because of our wonderful day last Friday…

I think I mentioned that we were going to cash in on a long awaited tour of the White House. Reservations were made and we were to appear at 12:30 for our tour. Our plan was to park “out” at one of the satellite Metro stations and take the train in, do the tour, maybe catch a quick lunch and Metro back and drive home. As the day approached, my apprehensions began to rise: What about traffic near DC? How soon should we leave? What if there aren’t any parking places in the Suitland garage? Can we navigate the necessary transfer at L’Enfant Plaza? Where’s the fare cards? How much money is on them? What happens if they didn’t know about our reservation? So, by the time Friday morning arrived I was in my usual state of heightened anxiety, thoughts of plan B, C, and D, racing through my head, now just hoping to just live through the day. Thoughts of “fun” drained by the forthcoming navigation of the day.

Okay we got in the flutter mobile (easier to park than the Momster) about 9:30, and headed up Route 4 to begin the journey. Whew, we made that drive… easily onto the Suitland Parkway, wow, not much traffic! Okay, there’s the station we made it that far, now the parking dance. As we approached the gate, a lady appeared ahead of us walking along the chocked full rows of parked cars and, wait a minute! She’s reaching for keys! Sure enough, she goes to the end of the row, opens the door and gets in. OMG, can this be? So I remain behind, waiting for the lights to appear, waiting, oh, she’s on the phone, waiting, oh fumbling in the purse, so heart sinking I gingerly get out, and give hand signals asking if she’s leaving.. to my amazement she holds up one finger (the index) as in “one minute”, mouths “I’m sorry” and sure enough backs out, and there’s my parking place!! Hey, this isn’t so bad! A little walk to the station and the machine confirms that we have enough money on the cards. Wow. This is getting nicer! Descending the escalator just as our train is arriving and we get seats. The transfer at L’Enfant plaza was easy (good signage) and before we know it, we’re up in the sunshine at McPherson Square into a lovely warm and sunny day with signs everywhere pointing to the White House. Gee, this is starting to be fun! A relatively easy walk brought us to the tour entrance, where several very polite officials said, “good morning, welcome to the white house”, checked our credentials, “Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Moody, enjoy your tour!”. A couple more encounters with polite officials and we found ourselves in the White House, near the Library, and Vermeil rooms.

I really didn’t know what to expect from the tour, but I have to admit that it was very enjoyable. It’s “self guided”, meaning you saunter at your own pace through several rooms like the East Room, the Green, Blue, and Red rooms and the State Dining room before exiting through the main entrance room. All of the rooms have lots of art on the wall, various presidents and their wives, and some just scenes. In every room there is a “guard”, and they are there not to guard, but to answer questions. Excuse me, is that a Sergeant painting over there? Yes sir, it was painted in 1945 and it’s of…… or, “who’s that painting of up there?” Oh, that’s Millard Fillmore, painted in….’. the touring people were courteous and respectful and strung out enough that it wasn’t crowded at all.

Despite your politics, you have to be impressed with the place. It just has a “presence” and sense of history that kind of gets to you.. I don’t know if you could call it pride, but it does make an impression. I would heartily recommend going to the effort and making the tour.. Hey, it only took us 13 years!

Exiting into the sunshine I had the feeling of “what was I worried about”, this is great! Now facing the prospects of lunch, MFO says the Hay-Adams hotel is just across Lafayette square, let’s head over there! A friend had recommended the lunch in the downstairs bar, so I agreed and a nice stroll through a beautiful park (with no crazies) brought us to the hotel. The outside entrance to the bar was locked so we went into the main lobby. Good afternoon, welcome to the Hay Adams, as the door was held by a white shirted young man ushering us into an opulent wooden paneled lobby with several other hotel people in golden vests, white shirts and dark pants. I’m liking this!!

We asked about lunch, and were shown the entrance to the Lafayette Room, up carpeted stairs, leading to what looked like “the dining room” of the hotel, spacious and fancy. I asked about lunch in the bar, and yes, that was also available. As I turned to MFO, all I saw was her about three steps up the stairs. Well, there’s that decision!! It turned out that once again, she knows what she’s doing. What followed was one of the most memorable lunches we’ve ever had (well, short of the one in St. Barts). At the top of the stairs we were greeted by a server in that same golden vest, starched shirt and dark pants who inquired if we had a reservation (only about a 5th of the tables were occupied). Uh oh, but no, No problem sir, just follow me. We were led to a nice table in the corner, affording a view of the room and windows looking out on Lafayette square bathed in sunlight and green leaves. The room just exuded quiet luxury, sparkling crystal, shining silver, white table cloths elaborate decorations with a beautiful ceiling with what I learned was “egg and dart” molding. Beautiful. This day is getting great! We were greeted by the young man that seated us, no names, just a smile and welcome and would we like anything to drink. MFO asked if there was champagne by the glass, of course maam, and I said what the hell and levied the drink test. We were left with the menus, an elegant tri fold affair with starters, two levels of entrees and desserts. We decided to linger before looking at them, and before we knew it, he was back with a silver tray with a bottle of (get this) Taittinger, a champagne flute, and a perfectly made dry manhatten, on the rocks with a twist. MFO was shown the bottle and asked if that would do. Why, yes, that will do nicely. The bottle was just opened and as he poured the yeasty aroma spread across the table. Boy, was it good, and my drink just hit the spot. What a day! Pretty quickly a basked of crunchy bread appeared along with some lovely garlicky crackers.

Turning to the menu it contained a delightful selection of choices (which in the interest of your time and sensibilities) I won’t recount here. Suffice to say that there was anything you might want, described with preparation, sauce, and sides. MFO ordered an off the menu sautéed Tile fish with shrimp and scallops, in a lemon butter sauce, and I chose a soup du jour “Boston Clam Chowder” scallops with a wild mushroom ragout and Yukon gold and celery root puree. I asked for the wine list, and MFO chose a glass of Sancerre for her, and I took the ’07 Far Niente Chardonnay. Figuring at this point in for a nickel in for a (whole lot more)…..we also ordered dessert. A fruit plate with sabayon for the lady and a Grand Marnier Soufflé for the gentleman.

What followed was a succession of wonderful food (although if I had to gripe, I would say the chowder was “only” above average) and service. The wines were again served by bringing the bottle to the table, a small taste given to make sure it was acceptable before pouring the glass. I did point out that the bottle of chardonnay was an ’08 instead of the ’07 on the list, and an offer was made to try something else if I wanted. Water was continually filled from the (no extra charge) Fiji bottle in the silver holder, things were cleared on time. Without going into flights of fancy, my dish was just great. Everything on the plate stood on it’s own, and the scallops were sweet and sea like with absolutely no hint of any sharpness or ‘iodiney” flavor.

Dessert? Judge for yourself:

Since by this time it was well after two and we were pretty much alone we talked with our server some. He loved his job, and had been there 13 years! We exclaimed that was a long time and then he called over <….> who had been there 20 years!. The service showed. Take a look at their site for the Lafayette room and what do you see.. a chef? Nope, a server. Says it all. Was it expensive? Unconscionably. Did I regret it! Not at all. Oh, there were probably 15 gentleman at the other tables throughout our stay. Every one, I repeat, EVERY ONE had on a coat.

Buoyed by the tour and the lunch we navigated back to the fluttermobile without incident and floated back to southern Maryland. A meal like that raises the spirits. Oh, and then we finished the day by attending a great lecture on the War of 1812 on the Patuxent.

What, me worry? a perfect day

And at the Hay Adams, we, like the other civilized diners were indeed


Friday, October 22, 2010

Sheds and Flowers...

We’re headed up the road this morning for a long awaited (like 13 years) tour of the White House, so the intended post about DFD will wait a bit. Won’t grow old…

But, just a quick report on a little lecture we went to down at St. Mary’s College yesterday. It was entitled “Amish Businesses: From Plows to Profits” and was given by Dr. Donald B. Kraybill, apparently a world expert on Amish culture. It was a pretty fascinating talk on how due to increasing land prices, population expansion, etc., more of the Amish are changing from farm to “micro enterprises”, or small family run businesses. This movement started in the 20th century and now that 60% derive their income from non-farming sources. He also said that some 20% are owned by women. Those of us who live around here are aware of the produce and flower stands, tack and harness shops, small engine repair, shed farms, furniture shops, etc. He reported that these are generally hugely successful, the national average for failure of “small businesses” is about 65% and the Amish are more like 5%. The reasons are many, low overhead, an eager and dedicated workforce, and so forth. He also mentioned that they have a very good "brand" image. Amish children pretty much have two choices, farming or working in these businesses. They have no education past 8th grade and there is an elaborate apprentice system that trains them in the various skills.

He stated that they are generally a very intelligent and inquisitive group, and enjoy seeing how they can adapt “technology” for their improvement and still remain within their Church and cultural “taboos”, like no electricity, etc. All of their (sometimes quite complicated) machinery is powered by hydraulics or pneumatics. They will remove an electric motor and figure out how to adapt an air motor. All of the profits from the business stay within the family or small group of owners, but they are very community conscious and share with those in need. Pretty much everything revolves around the Church, and each church is pretty much autonomous. For instance one group may decide that cell phones are okay, while the neighboring group does not. There is no overall organization, it’s all at the local church level.

I asked if he spoke the language, and he said he did not. Kind of a conscious decision on his part, because it’s difficult and there are many, many, dialects. Secondly he has found out that he is sometimes better able to talk with them and understand their culture if he works through an interpreter.

Anyway, a fascinating glimpse into our neighboring citizens around here. He has written many books, some of which are available at the college book store.

Too bad there isn’t anything to do around here.. Sorry I didn’t give you a heads up, you would have enjoyed it. It was pretty much a full auditorium (I think because some professors required attendance) of students. That’s a whole other story..

And yes, we eventually will talk about


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Footballs and Faux Pas

I don't think this qualifies as a rant, just an opinion and sort of an amusing food experience...

I suppose any loyal readers that follow sports, especially Pro Football, are aware of the recent action of the league in levying fines and suspensions for any players that are guilty of helmet to helmet contact or “destructive hits” or some similar term. At the risk of incurring ire or being called names like “soft” or insults to any remaining manliness I still may have, I say: “Good for Them!”. I am getting so that I don’t enjoy watching games as much as (I think) I used to. It seems that the focus of the game has shifted from outperforming the other team to seeing how many opponents you can eliminate via injuring them. Tackling? What’s that word? Hear that used much anymore? Nope, it’ “Hits”. No use of arms wrapping up the runner/receiver, just a missile shot.

I was listening to the radiocast of (It happened to be) a Skin’s game and after a particular play all of the announcers erupted with “Man! Did you see that hit! Wow!!” followed by much exaltation, laughing, and general gleeful carrying on, ending with “there’s a player down on the field”. Yes, it is a contact sport, and as MFO might interject “It ain’t ballet” but we can all tell the difference between a good tackle and a vicious hit. How many times do we see the burly linebacker “spike” the quarterback after he releases the ball, making sure his full weight is on the quarterback?

I’ve heard some of the (retired) players like Matt Millen and Golic go into histrionics about “how can we play the game? They’re taking it away from us!” and other testosterone driven comments. Well, guess what? Something needs to be done. Too many lives are being altered. Due to specific nutrition and careful training, players continue to get bigger and faster.

On a bit lighter note, and beginning the transition from sports to actually talking about food, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a Redskins game (against the Packers) and sit in the “business class” section on the club level. On each seat there is a “menu”, and you can go get stuff yourself or the nice lady assigned to your section will get it for you with an asterisk reminding you a ten dollar minimum is required for that service (which also adds an 18% gratuity). Well, that’s not a very hard requirement to fulfill. How about a cheeseburger? 10 bucks. Oh well then, maybe Buffalo Wings….same price. Bag O’peanuts and a coke? 5 + 5 = minimum. Beer or wine, 8 bucks. You get the idea. You don’t run a multi million dollar enterprise by giving away stuff do you Mr. Snyder? Anyway it was fun to see my first Redskin game in person…

Amateur Night?

Last night we had dinner with some friends over at the Dry Dock on the Solomon’s. Alert readers will remember that we have the place pretty much back on the rotation after the return of one of the former chefs and the welcome ditching of the “night” strategy. Yes, the prices are a bit higher than other places, but it remains as one of the nicest venues and “fine dining” opportunities in the area. With the burgeoning amount of chains popping up (Cracker Barrel, Texas Road House (or whatever)) it will get harder and harder for “independents” to survive. I am pretty sure last night’s experience was an aberration, and not shades of things to come at one of the more pleasant waterfront opportunities around.

We arrived around 7 and as we climbed the stairs, the noise level that greeted us assured us that it not crowded. Stepping into the room, most of the window tables were occupied, with only one couple seated at the bar. There was a bartender behind the bar and one server on the dining side, neither of which we had seen there before. Both were rushing around, acting like they were late for getting the kids to soccer practice or something, and neither acknowledged our presence. You don’t mind a couple of seconds waiting being “ignored”, but we all sense when it’s “too long”. We crossed that threshold, and then some and finally the barkeep said “be right with you folks” and continued to prepare drinks, etc. After another “too long” he came over, and we said 4 for dinner. He scanned the room and made one move toward the “duck table” (another story for another time) tucked at the top of the stairs but then, said if you’ll give me a minute I’ll clean that (only empty) table for you. At this point the server lady took over, bussed the dishes and set the table for us.

Before continuing, let me say that both of these folks were friendly, courteous, and obviously trying hard, but just evinced that “behind the power curve” persona. It did cross my mind that this could have been their first night on the job. She walked fast between tables, almost rushing, and he worked feverishly behind the bar. Our freshly set table was done in a hurry with silverware set akimbo, not aligned with each other (okay, okay, I’m picky), water glasses not filled, etc.

Eventually the barkeep came to the table with water, and asked about drinks (at least no time for Hi I’m…) and said he would bring bread as “soon as it was out of the oven”. We ordered a bottle of wine, but I couldn’t help but levy the “drink test”. The drinks were delivered (still no bread some ten minutes later) and with the exception of a lonely maraschino cherry bobbing along side the twist, it was prepared correctly. He also took our orders, without the aid of a pad. Our order consisted of three salads (green, Caesar, and mozz/tomato) and a cup of the seafood gumbo, Three mini crab cakes, and a seafood pasta. Off he went and we continued to enjoy conversation and the libations. Around this time, another party of three appeared in the door, again unnoticed (either intentionally or not) by the busy pair, to the extent that another party stacked behind them. No break in service to the tables. Once that catches your eye, you can’t help but watch and it got sort of embarrassing. The first party was eventually led to the duck table and the other to a table that had to be set in front of them. At that point you just relax and wonder "what's next?". Kind of amusing.

Our intrepid server had to make two trips back to the table, apparently forgetting exactly how many mini crab cake orders there were (same answer both times, three). Somewhere in there the bread came out as did the salads, and the evening progressed more smoothly after that. The food arrived pretty smartly (after the order was re-confirmed) and was very good. My pasta had several large shrimp that tasted pretty good, large scallops nicely just opaque (the way I like them), with bits of fish and crab lumps in a little spicy marinara sauce. The crab cakers liked theirs as well.

As I said, both were trying hard, remained cheerful and eventually everybody in the place had their food, and things calmed down. As I said, I am sure it was just a Tuesday night, and I would hope we will only remember the evening for nice food, good company, and a good story. So take the story for just that, an interesting evening, and go there. The Dry Dock is certainly worth visiting again if you haven’t for a while.

IF I were asked, I would easily forgive the other stuff, but I really feel that the moment somebody walks into your establishment, you should/could say; “Hi Folks, we’re really busy at the moment, but we’ll seat you as quickly as we can – or you can sit at the bar for a bit”. Had they done that, it would have defused a lot. Not hard, a good lesson for them.

Oh yes, of course we were


And, had I not been so verbose I have something to report along that line. Maybe tomorrow

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Rant, the Guide, and future King....

A return to form...

The Rant:

As we struggle back to reality after our Irish interlude, I picked up my October copy of Bon Appétit. By the time I finished going through it, I was ready to pitch it in the bay. I was livid.. The first aggravation was seeing the column by Molly (I love me, a whole lot) Wizenberg, the lady who parlayed her vapid (I’m cooking a crème brute tonight!) blog Orangette into a column in Gourmet and apparently Bon Appétit has picked it up (those Condé Nast folks are just one big happy family). In this issue there is a column by her called “In search of the perfect meatball”. She confides to us that after a seven year vegetarian stint, she had an apocryphal event (in a Seattle restaurant) where she discovered a...... meat ball. She then goes on to relate how this awakening “that a sphere of seasoned meat could make me so thoroughly ecstatic” sent her off on a quest for the “perfect” meatball (and apparently changed her eating regimen).. Gimme a break. After some more pap, she relates what she considers the “perfect” recipe.

Okay, meatballs probably fall in the category of crab cakes and chili. You like what you like. Apparently Ms. Wizenberg assumes that whatever she considers “perfect” is also what is good for you. Excused me Molly, is there enough room in here for an ant and your ego?

And she then goes on to say that one of the reasons for success of the recipe is how you hold your freaking hand, describing how you need to adopt a “claw” approach, complete with instructions on how you hold your fingers what the tension should be, even a diagram in the "Prep School" section at the back. I repeat, gimme a break. It's just a meat ball for God's sake.

After the foam subsided from my mouth, I leafed through the rest of the magazine, my blood pressure lowering as I observed the recipes for root vegetables, (Horseradish Glazed Brisket and Short Ribs with Root Vegetable Hash)., and Soy Based Country Ribs with Carrots and Turnips. then a nice little article on mushrooming in France, Okay, that’s fine, I’m calming down now…

And then, and then, I turned to the last page, where they usually “interview” some celeb, asking “what’s your favorite….” I was interested (and surprised) to see that this month they selected Danica Patrick, who some may recognize as a NASCAR driver. With increasingly mounting ire, I read the “interview”. She claims she has taken classes at CIA, “there is no better place to learn, and the whole experience taught me to use different ingredients and be adventurous”. Wow, Danica what a great lesson and insight! The standard question of “What’s your favorite restaurant?” was answered with “the French Laundry – whatever they are serving that night is fine by me”.. Gosh, Danica, you’re so real. Was that written by your publicist?. Excuse me, how many races have you won? And after your dinner at the French Laundry, do you go do those tasteful Go Daddy dot com commercials? Is it all about you? Ya think?

Whew, I feel better.

The Guide:

On a little brighter note, today’s Wash Post Magazine is the yearly dining guide by Tom Sietsema. Probably rates a little more ink when I (ha ha) digest it, but a quick look through reveals that the Inn at Little Washington and Michel Richard Citronelle retain their 4 stars (Superlative, unsurpassed). Michel’s downtown bistro Central garners only two and a half stars. More later...

the (Future King):

Okay, have to gear up for the second day of the St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival out at the fairgrounds. Yesterday’s superlative weather brought out almost record crowds. I spent a lot of time at the cookoff, and met some new cook friends. I also have tons of pictures which will find their way here in time.. Mark your calendars for next year as the Bottom Feeder will be crowned “King Oyster”.

So today I will be


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Irish Eyes...

I’s...... be done with Ireland. The memories are all locked away in the memory bank, they won’t change now, maybe fade some, but always available. As usual, the pleasant ones remain, and the not-so (how far is that toilet stop?) will eventually turn into stories.

We saw so many wonderful things and learned more of history than I thought imaginable. There were insights into life long ago, not knowing when you woke up in the morning if you’d die before sleep that night.

Just a random selection of memories:

The Irish are a wonderful bunch as typlified by a castle owner who showed us around his "home:

and a group in a pub -- C'mon In!!

And, as long time followers will remember, I always add that all the food, drink, sights, experiences are great, but when you enjoy them with people you like, it’s what it’s all about: people, people, people. Know them, understand them, love them. A wonderful trip, thanks to Cole Travel and Henry Miller

And somehow what kind of captures it all:

many centuries:

hundreds of centuries


That was the turning of the key for a while on the Irish memory locker and tomorrow the Bottom Feeder will return to food, traffic, restaurants, and rants. And the continuing battle for everybody to


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Irish Reflections Five...digs, cliffs, tea...and whiskey!

In (what we all probably hoped was) the last entry for Ireland (hey, I still have about 850 pictures to show!) there’s a few things that don’t fit into categories, not weighty subjects like the Battle of Boyne, or the historic significance of that castle, they were just fun, pretty, and some things normal “tourists” don’t get to do. So a few last this and that’s for Ireland..


With the archeological connection of our tour leader, we were able to visit an active dig, at Clohamon, working to document one of the Calvert’s Castles. The local archeologist in charge of the project had a powerpoint presentation for us in a barn (talk about an odd juxtaposition - straw and microsoft)

And after a little background on the project we headed out into the field for a little more orientation

And then we saw the part of the castle they were uncovering, what they figure was the entrance (the little sloping wall near the bottom)

It was fun to see an actual project in work


We visited the fabled Cliffs of Moher on the coast

A spot o’tea:

At the end of that day, we visited a “working” farm (called Rathbaun), had a little demonstration of sheep herding (yes, there was a dog, but it wasn’t in the picture, sorry)

and then went into a charming cottage (notice thatched roof)

And had some fabulous scones with clotted cream, preserves, and tea which just hit the spot..

Irish WhiskEy:

Although as I mentioned we did less than I hoped on the Pub scene, another objective was pretty well fulfilled. I wanted to learn about Irish Whiskey (as opposed to Scotch). One of the first things you learn is that there is a difference in spelling. Ireland and (generally) the United States use the “e” is used in the word, but in Scotland, and many other European countries it is spelled “Whisky”. Check that bottle of scotch in your bar. I find out that the “e” was dropped to differentiate the two products. Another difference is that the Irish version while made pretty much the same is not “smoky” as we associate with Scotch. This is because the Irish version halts the germination of the malted barley with “plain heat”, the Scottish use peat fires for the source of heat, thus imparting the smoky flavor. Lots of variation there, but that’s generally the difference.

Anyway, on one morning as we started touring, we visited Locke’s Distillery, home of Kilbeggan’s Irish Whiskey

one of (if not the) oldest distilleries in Ireland, beginning in 1757, using the small pot still technique. It ceased “real” production around 1957 but is still operated as a museum. It was a charming building with a nice little courtyard

And the distillery may still be powered by a waterwheel as it was originally

As part of their museum exhibit, they make small batches to demonstrate the technique

It was a neat tour, and of course like all such places there was a tasting room. Nothing like a little whiskey to get you started on your day..

And, my research didn’t end with the book larnin’, it carried over into actual experimentation. I began in our original hotel, and told the barkeep of my quest, and he recommended starting with a Redbreast. Brand determined he then asked how I wanted it, and when I queried what’s traditional, he said with water. Fine, I said, let’s do it. So I got a glass with (very little) whiskey, along with a small pitcher of water. Not exactly knowing what to do next, I added a little to the glass and sipped it. Very pleasant, but it was soon gone. The portions never varied over my experimentation, always a sort of “Gee, can you spare it” thought races through your mind. Eventually I took to asking for ice, which added usually a couple of cubes. Over the course of the trip besides the Redbreast, I sampled Greenore 8 year old single grain, a Powers gold label, Paddy’s, and the Kilbeggan, and also a Bushmills. There didn’t seem to be a great variation, although a comparative tasting would be instructive, most were smooth and went down well. I think I could become a fan, but getting some of those different brands here in the states might prove difficult.

A little closing note about Irish drinking. I don’t believe that cocktails play a big part in their drinking habits. I tried the “drink test” a couple of times, and finally gave up,. Just asking for the dry Manhattan, on the rocks with a twist got me a martini straight up, and even in the Michelin one star I got sweet vermouth. I didn’t send it back. After those experiences when I said I’d like dry vermouth, with bourbon, on the rocks with a twist, I usually got the correct drink. Mostly I went native, with Guinness or Smithwicks, or the Irish Whiskey.

Okay, that’s about all the news from Ireland, maybe a general wrap up tomorrow, I suspect you’re blog weary at this point (and I’m working up a rant on another subject) so I won’t even say

DFD oh, wait….

Monday, October 11, 2010

Irish Reflections Four.... The Place

After spending (a lot of) time on things to please the palate in Ireland, it’s time to turn the (figurative) pen to things that please the eye and mind. While I always pay attention to the food (hey, it’s my job), the beautiful Irish countryside and what we saw far outstripped a rasher of bacon or a pint of Guinness (well…). As most readers know I come from an engineering, scientific, by the numbers background, and while I did have some history classes along the way, probably my mind was more affixed on that differential equation assignment than on things like the Norman invasion. There were several others on the trip who had more historical knowledge in their little pinky than I had in my head, and probably some of them are reading this, so forgive the engineer discovering what they have understood for years..

I guess what struck me the most from our travels around Ireland was its sense of history. Driving around the country as we did on some backish roads, you see evidence of their history all around. A ruin here, a tower there, some marked, some not.

These structures are a constant reminder of their past, and it seemed (to me) that there is more of a general awareness of their heritage than is evident in America. Most of the people we met had a good sense of Ireland’s history, and there are still strong feelings and opinions expressed on such people as Oliver Cromwell and William of Orange.

We saw things that have survived for centuries. From early monastic villages dating from the 6th century, such as Clonmacnoise:

with ORIGINAL celtic crosses (also called high crosses) which were put inside to prevent any further decay

Or another at Glendalough founded by St. Kevin, also in the 6th Century (St. Kevin was supposed to have lived in a tree for a while – stern folks these monks)

We also saw the so-called “tower houses”,

Many Castles from around the 11th and 12th century

And more "modern" ones that were/are manorial homes

And while the 6th and 10th century seems old, in County Langford we saw a restored portion of a road called the Corlea Trackway, built in the bogs that dates from 148BC,. The wood was perfectly preserved by being overcome by the bog, so after careful restoration (a la the Viking ships, etc,) these are the actual logs

Nobody has much idea why the road was built, probably NOT to get across the bog, maybe just into it for sacrificial purposes. Who knows..they figure it was only useful for 6 years before it succumbed again to the treacherous bog..

There were rigid requirements while viewing the exhibit

And to put our little busy lives in perspective, see this?

A pile of rocks? Nope,it’s a dolman burial site that’s oh, only 4500 years old.

Engineer meets history part:

To me (and my uneducated brain), it seemed that the history of Ireland was mostly embroiled in constant conflict. There were battles between Celtic war lords, disagreements with the Normans, and more recently (17th century) continual struggles between the Catholics and the Protestants/Anglicans (Cromwell that guy William of Orange again). And these battles weren’t easy either. There were slaughters of defenseless people, thousands of them died, just because they didn’t have the same beliefs as the invaders. (okay, that may be a bit oversimplified, but....)

All those tower houses and castles didn’t look that way because they were attractive, they were designed purely for defense. The tower houses had the “first floor” usually 20 feet or so above the ground so the ladder could be pulled in to prevent access for those outside (although eventually somebody figured out that a tower house has a lot in common with a chimney, so with a little fire... you get the idea). Those turrets in the castles weren’t for prettiness, they provided a means of shooting arrows in almost any direction. In short, most of their lives seemed to revolve around just staying alive. Death was such a part of everyday life, no wonder religious beliefs were important to them.. one can see why Christianity and "ever lasting life" had its attractions...

a wonderful country...

and i don't even have to say


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Irish Reflections Three - the Pubs

Our last ramble on the food of Ireland, we’ll finally address the ubiquitous institution of “The Pubs”. As it turned out I didn’t do as well as I had anticipated before the trip. There’s those expectations again. I had pictured sitting in a pub eating hearty food with pints of Guinness listening to traditional Irish music and generally carrying on. Mostly, due to my own doing, this really didn’t happen. For one thing climbing up circular, dark, staircases in ancient castles can be tiring, and despite the wonderful things we learned and saw during the day, the body just can’t support heading out late in the evening anymore. From what I saw, they really don’t start happening until sometime after ten o’clock. I think one would have to tailor one’s itinerary with that in mind. I will hasten to add, however that there were a few stalwart souls on the trip that were able to burn the candles at both ends.

Pubs are literally on almost every street corner, regardless of the size of the town. They’re in the big cities

They’re out in the country

In short, they’re everywhere.

I did get a chance to go inside a couple, for lunches both in the cities and the country, and what food we had was quite good. Menus varied a lot as to options, from just sandwiches to pretty much fullish meals like bangers and mash (The Hairy Lemon, Dublin)

Here is one we had lunch at in Ballyvaughan in County Clare after we toured the Burrens.

It was charming inside

And we had a very nice lunch of soup and salads. All of the soups we encountered in Ireland seemed to be cream based and pureed. If they say “vegetable” soup, you’ll get a tasty bowl of greenish creamy soup. Service was, as everywhere earnest and helpful.

And when you get back on the bus, there are helpful road signs for navigation..

So our exposure to “pub food” was quite limited, but what we had was good. Each place we went was unique in it’s décor, usually several smallish rooms, some with upstairs, mostly you get the feeling of “cozy”. Dumb word, but you get the idea. And besides the food aspect there was the


Despite my opening remarks, I did haul myself out a couple of times at night (before the witching hour of 10 mostly) and did encounter a couple of pubs (Kyteler's in Kilkenny) that were featuring music. I think out of the maybe 4 musicians I saw min various pubs, 3 of them were playing the banjo, and the other an amplified guitar.

Another instance in one of our hotels, they announced that there would be live music in their lounge starting at ten. Okay, so i went down about ten of, and sure enough there were musicians setting up. After a good bit of set up and testing, they started to play----a rendition of "Mac the Knife", followed by several other standards of similar genre.. not everybody wants "traditional", another hurdle.

I had expected/hoped to find fiddle and accordion, maybe the Bodhran, penny whistle or the like. Nope, banjo and one guitar. Not that that was bad, just not what I had hoped. The music and musicians were good, but I really wanted to find a fiddle..

Our last meal in Dublin the night before we departed was in the Temple Bar area, at a Pub & Restaurant called “The Oliver St. John Gogarty”, named for a person by that name who was sort of (in)famous as a rebel and a jokester. They have “traditional” on all their voluminous souvenir pamphlets and rack cards.

My first impression was “tourist trap’, but I was once again proven wrong in my normal pessimistic view of things. Our small party of 40 or so was ushered into an upstairs room set with long tables (excuse the mediocre photograpy)

Our travel hosts provided wine and of course there was also Guinness if you wished.

The menu was again a table d’hote affair with three choices of starters (Renvyle House Smoked Salmon; Esther Dunne’s Potato Cake with Bacon; Bacon Spare Ribs –traditional ringside dish with traditional sauce); and three main courses (Poached Irish Salmon – leeks, lobster, and cognac sauce; Gaelic Steak – stuff with an Irish Whisky cream sauce; and Trinity College Chicken – Original Recipe dates back to 1800) and a selection of desserts. I tried the ribs, and MFO the potato cake (a tennis sized ball of deep fried potato which was very tasty); I did the salmon and MFO the Chicken. Again all the food was quite good.

so the sated, tired travelers went back to a final night of hotel sleeping and changed from




PS: of course you know John Lennon would have been 70 today. an interesting image. Go check out Google home page if you see this saturday (10/9)