Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Exploring Florence, Tuscany & Venice

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Crostini with mozzarella, tomato, and olive tapenade, Il Santini

Crostini with mozzarella, tomato, and olive tapenade at Il Santini

After a weekend in Rome, it was off to Florence for a few days. My Airbnb host graciously offered a few restaurant recommendations, and I took her up on most of them. At the top of her list was Il Santo Bevitore, not too far from the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrano (“Artisan Quarter,” an area that was more local than touristy). I first popped into the cozy wine bar next door, not immediately realizing that it was actually Il Santo’s sister restaurant, Il Santini. I lingered over a glass of wine and a couple of snacks, including a lovely crostini with fresh tomatoes, pulled mozzarella, salty olive tapenade, and chiffonade of basil.

I took a long walk around the area before returning to the same corner for dinner at buzzing Il Santo’s bar. During the meal, I was able to sample all the flavors of autumn in Italy: a rustic pumpkin soup with coffee oil followed by chestnut tagliatelle with oxtail ragu. I enjoyed the creativity of both dishes, but it was the simple dessert of strawberries and mascarpone cream that stuck with me the most.

Chestnut tagliatelle, Il Santo Bevitore

Chestnut tagliatelle with oxtail and traditional dolceforte sauce at Il Santo Bevitore

Strawberries with mascarpone cream for dessert, Il Santo Bevitore

Strawberries with mascarpone cream for dessert at Il Santo Bevitore

My host had also recommended Perseus, calling it “the king of Florentine steak.” While I couldn’t order the famously enormous steak, suitable for 2–4 people, I did try a smaller portion of sliced steak with a sweet balsamic vinegar reduction, and it was still very good. Perseus was also where I sated an avocado craving that had been slowly building during the trip. The avocado and shrimp worked well together as a salad, even though it didn’t feel especially Italian.

Avocado with shrimp, Perseus

Avocado and shrimp appetizer at Perseus

And of course there was gelato. Venchi is a well-known brand in Florence, and its dark chocolate gelato was certainly the most intense, rich variety I had all trip. This time, I was glad I stuck with a classic. However, I leaned a little more adventurous at Carapina, where I rewarded myself for climbing to the top of the Duomo at Santa Maria Del Fiore. The concord grape and strawberry had an unexpected seedy crunch, and the persimmon also had a thicker texture to match its unique flavor. My favorite was the creamy mint, a flavor I wish I’d noticed at more gelaterias.

Dark chocolate and dulce de leche gelato, Venchi

Dark chocolate and dulce de leche gelato at Venchi

Gelato, Carapina

Persimmon, mint, and concord-grape strawberry gelato at Carapina

Another main food and drink destination was the Mercato Centrale, a longstanding two-floor market. On the lower floor were the traditional vendors, slinging everything from pecorino to tripe to crunchy biscotti, the latter sold in an especially fantastic pistachio white chocolate variety. One afternoon, I bought a panino from the market and brought it back to my Airbnb to enjoy in the adorable backyard garden. The panino was named the Caprese VIP, because it contained truffle sauce in addition to the normal caprese ingredients. The pungent sauce really did transform the sandwich (and made me glad to be in Italy during truffle season).

An array of biscotti from Cantucci at Mercato Centrale

An array of biscotti from Cantucci at Mercato Centrale

Caprese VIP panino, Mercato Centrale

Caprese VIP panino with mozzarella, tomato, and truffle sauce from Clara at Mercato Centrale, enjoyed in the garden at my AirBnb

On the upper floor of the Mercato Centrale was a newly renovated gourmet food hall with at least a dozen chef-branded stations – plus an Eataly pop-up shop and a cooking demonstration area. After surveying my options, I decided on the pizzeria, where I could see bubbling pies cooked to order in a stone oven. The pizza Napoli had punchy anchovies and capers in addition to the cheese and sauce, and the dough had just enough salt and char, so I can officially say it was the best pizza I had in Italy. I was intrigued by the contrast between the Mercato Centrale’s two floors, though, and wonder how the vendors downstairs perceive and interact with this new area that’s clearly designed to appeal to foodies from all over the world. Isn’t Italy food-focused by default? The whole setup of the upper floor is beautifully executed, but wouldn’t the original vendors be a more authentic culinary experience? A bit of a digression, but worth thinking about.

Pizza Napoli from Pizzeria Sud on the upper floor of Mercato Centrale

Beer and pizza Napoli with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, capers, dried oregano, and Spanish anchovies from Pizzeria Sud on the upper floor of Mercato Centrale

I wanted to see Tuscany, too, so I took a half-day tour to Siena that included tastings at two wineries. The first, Lornano, is known for its chianti classico, and I discovered that I happen to really like chianti classico. It was a privilege to tour the property and learn about the winemaking process in such a famous region. After a couple of touristy hours in the city of Siena, our final stop was Tenuta Torciano, which was both a winery and a wine school. We were educated on the proper way to hold the glass (by the base), smell, and taste as we tried more wines and paired them with a full dinner. Our host and sommelier poured white truffle extra virgin olive oil (again, it was truffle season) onto each slice of lasagna, a move that seemed lavish and excessive at first, but actually turned out to be perfect usage of that oil. At dessert, I learned about the tradition of dipping biscotti into vin sante (sweet wine) – a brilliant and authentically Italian combination.

Chianti classico tasting at Fattoria Lornano

Chianti classico tasting at Fattoria Lornano

Lasagna with truffle-infused extra virgin olive oil at Tenuta Torciano

Lasagna drizzled with truffle-infused extra virgin olive oil during wine tasting dinner at Tenuta Torciano

My last stop was Venice, where I had less than a full day to explore (and I’ll admit that I was mostly gawking at how the streets really were made of water). Caffe Florian claims to be the longest continuously operating coffee shop in the world at 290 years old, so it seemed worth a visit. While I don’t think that distinction merits the exorbitant prices they charged, I still loved sitting along the edge of bustling Piazza San Marco and listening to live classical music. The coffee I chose was a blend of espresso, chocolate, cream, and a few kinds of liqueur that lent pleasant licorice-y notes to the drink. The colorful trio of seafood toasts were a nice savory complement, especially the tuna. Next time, I’ll have to explore Venice a little longer!

Coffee and trio of toasts, Caffe Florian

Trio of Venetian toasts (tuna, salmon, and salt cod) and Caffé Anniversario Florian (to celebrate 290 years), with espresso, Aurum liqueur, Anisette Varnelli, chocolate, and cream

The details: Il Santo Bevitore and Il Santino, Via di Santo Spirito, 64/66 and 60, Florence; Venchi, Via dei Calzaiuoli, 65, Florence; Carapina, Via Lambertesca, 18, Florence; Clara, Cantucci, and Pizzeria Sud, all in Mercato Centrale, Via dell’Ariento, Florence; Fattoria Lornano, Loc. Lornano, 11, Monteriggioni, Siena; Tenuta Torciano, Via Crocetta, 18, Ulignano, Siena; Perseus, Viale Don Minzoni, 10, Florence; Caffe Florian, Piazza San Marco, 57, Venice.

Travel Eats

Travel Eats: A weekend in Rome

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Eggplant parmesan, Sofia

Eggplant parmesan, Sofia

Rome was the first stop on my recent vacation to Italy. I could hardly believe I was finally tasting Italian cuisine straight from the source! My most memorable Roman meal was at Sofia, a cozy café near the Trevi Fountain. Friends had recommended it as serving the very best eggplant parmesan, and they were absolutely right. I’m not sure whether it was the texture of the eggplant, or the gooey layers of mozzarella, or the bright tomato sauce, but if I could only pick one dish from Rome to eat again, that would be it. I was also wowed by my pasta dish: strozzapreti noodles cooked to perfect al dente, with umami-rich parmesan and pecorino cheeses underneath crispy slivers of bacon. This was another sauce that I could have eaten all by itself.

Strozzapreti with tomatoes, parmesan, pecorino, and bacon, Sofia

Strozzapreti with tomatoes, parmesan, pecorino, and bacon, Sofia

At this point, I might as well skip straight to the gelato, which certainly lived up to its lofty reputation. Giolitti is probably Rome’s most famous gelateria; it’s been in business for more than 100 years, and the lines are usually out the door. There, I went with a couple classic flavors (chocolate and pistachio), plus one that intrigued me (risa, or rice pudding), and also opted for the customary mound of panna (whipped cream) on top. The gelato was dense and incredibly smooth; you could definitely taste the rice and cinnamon in the risa variety. The whipped cream wasn’t overly sweet, so it mostly added a cloud of extra creaminess. My other favorite Roman gelato was from Gelateria del Teatro. It was an adorable shop, tucked along a bustling square, and it also boasted the most creative flavors of the trip. I went for fig-cheese-walnut, raspberry-sage, and pear-caramel, all three of which were delightful and unique.

Gelato con panna, Giolitti

Chocolate, pistachio, and risa (rice pudding) gelato plus panna (cream) from Giolitti

Gelato, Gelateria Del Teatro

Gelato in pear-caramel, raspberry-sage, and fig-cheese-walnut from Gelateria Del Teatro

Another standout meal was at a traditional trattoria in the Trastevere neighborhood, La Tavernaccia, which I’d read about for its lasagna in particular. The lasagna was cooked in a wood-fired oven, so the cheese was toasted and bubbly all around the edges, yet extra melty in the middle. This was also where I got to have ultra-fresh appetizers of tomato bruschetta and buffalo mozzarella, the kind of simple Italian flavors that really needed no further accompaniment.

Wood-fired lasagna, La Tavernaccia

Wood-fired lasagna, La Tavernaccia

Tomato bruschetta and mozzarella di bufala, La Tavernaccia

Tomato bruschetta and mozzarella di bufala, La Tavernaccia

There were a few beverage highlights, too. At the top of Castle Sant’Angelo was an outdoor café with great views of the city, and I wanted to try some traditional amaro liqueur along with my espresso. The server recommended Averna, and it turned out to be a light, licorice-y pairing. For wine, I appreciated the custom of plentiful house wine at nearly every restaurant. Ordering a half-liter or liter carafe of an Italian red that was both tasty and reasonably priced made the wine decision much easier.

Espresso and Averna, cafe at Castle San Angelo

Pairing of espresso and Averna amaro liqueur, La Fraschetta di Castel Sant’Angelo

Mushroom pizza and house wine, Bella Napoli

Mushroom pizza and house wine, Bella Napoli

I also had to experience a little Italian coffee culture: standing at the counter to order your cappuccino or Americano, and then staying there to drink it immediately. On my last morning in Rome, I walked just down the street from where I was staying and enjoyed a quick cappuccino and sugar-studded apricot pastry before it was time to catch the train.

Cappuccino and apricot pastry, La Pasticceria Siciliana

Cappuccino and apricot pastry, La Pasticceria Siciliana

The details: Sofia, Via di Capo le Case, 51; Giolitti, Via Uffici del Vicario, 40; Gelateria Del Teatro, Via dei Coronari, 65; La Tavernaccia, Via Giovanni di Castel Bolognese, 63; La Pasticceria Siciliana, Via Cipro, 79; La Fraschetta di Castel Sant’Angelo, Via del Banco di Santo Spirito, 20; Bella Napoli, Via Simone de Saint Bon, 57; all Rome, Italy.

Dublin Dining

Dublin Dining: Breakfast caesar salad and Bloody Mary, Super Miss Sue

Dublin Dining chronicles my food & drink experiences during six months living in Dublin, Ireland.

Breakfast Caesar, Super Miss Sue

Breakfast Caesar with charred Cos, crispy ham, eggs, pickled onion, and salad cream

I wasn’t sure if upscale brunch would be as popular in Ireland as it is in the States, but Super Miss Sue made it clear that Dublin takes the leisurely weekend meal just as seriously. And if I know anything about brunch, it’s that most of the best ones start with a great Bloody Mary. This one was exceptional: lots of peppery spice and savory worcestershire kick, plus brine from the pickle and char from the shrimp. It felt classic and fresh all at once.

Bloody Mary, Super Miss Sue

Classic Bloody Mary with a prawn and pickle

My entree veered even further away from tradition. It was a breakfast version of a Caesar salad, so poached eggs landed atop croutons, dressing, and charred romaine leaves. Crispy ham and pickled onions rounded out all the different textures, and also added more color to an already beautiful plate. I wouldn’t normally choose a salad in the morning, but this one definitely satisfied. And closing out the meal with coffee and gelato is never a bad idea, especially when one of the trio of flavors tasted just like Ferrero Rocher.

Coffee, vanilla, and ferrero-rocher gelato with coffee, Super Miss Sue

Coffee, vanilla, and ferrero-rocher gelato with coffee

The details: Super Miss Sue, 2–3 Drury St., Dublin 2, Ireland.

Travel Eats

Travel Eats: A weekend in London

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Duck and Waffle foie gras creme brulee

Foie gras crème brûlée, with pork crackling brioche and glass of rosé, Duck and Waffle

Before I go into any further detail about my weekend in London, I must explain this first photo. Duck & Waffle is a 40th-floor restaurant with panoramic views of London; it’s also open 24 hours a day. When I called to make a reservation, I was told that 12:45 was available. As in, 12:45 a.m., a reservation time that has never occurred to me as a possibility. But we took it, and were later whisked up 40 floors in a glass elevator for our late-night meal. A second revelation was soon to follow: this 24-hour menu listed foie gras crème brûlée as an actual dish you could order. My mind could barely conceive of this decadent combination, but there was no way I could pass it up. It had the texture and caramelized sugar shell of a crème brûlée, but the meatiness of foie. As strange as that sounds, it worked really well, and the brioche on the side even made it feel more like a appetizer. My glass of dry French rosé was much needed to cut through the richness. And of course, the lovely nighttime city views heightened the whole experience.

Rainbow of meringues, Meringue Girls at Broadway Market

Rainbow of meringues, Meringue Girls at Broadway Market

Chorizo scotch egg and Vietnamese iced coffee

Chorizo scotch egg from Finest Fayre and Vietnamese iced coffee from Cà Phê VN, both at Broadway Market

On Saturday morning, we strolled through the Broadway Market and were able to sample several offerings from local vendors. I was greeted almost immediately by the most gorgeous, colorful display of meringues I had ever seen. I tried the watermelon variety, complete with decorative black sesame seeds, and the flavor was spot-on as well. Next, an array of scotch eggs appealed to my savory breakfast cravings. I opted for chorizo, which was just a little spicy and anchored by a perfectly soft-boiled egg. I got my caffeine fix from an excellent version of Vietnamese iced coffee, whose stall also had a nice seating area. I saw a display of Persian stuffed dates, and couldn’t help but try one – the orange mascarpone, burnt almond, and pistachio were such an unexpected treat together. I was also pleasantly surprised by our donut selection: I knew I’d appreciate the banana cream and the sea salt caramel, but the mild tang of the chocolate sourdough base made it much more interesting.

Persian dates, Zardosht

Persian dates with orange blossom mascarpone, burnt almond, and pistachio, Zardosht at Broadway Market

Salted caramel donut with banana cream

Sea salt caramel and banana cream donut, Crosstown Donuts at Broadway Market

Sunday brunch was also quite special. Dishoom has a few locations in London, and serves cuisine inspired by the Irani cafés of Bombay, India. I was enticed by the dry-cured, cold-smoked bacon in the bacon and egg naan roll, and it was the perfect fusion of breakfast flavors: the classic bacon and egg alongside chili jam and cream cheese, all wrapped up in puffy naan bread. The side of masala beans were richly spiced and almost smoky. To drink, I had a bottomless cup of Dishoom’s incredible blend of house chai.

Bacon & egg naan roll with masala beans

Bacon & egg naan roll with masala beans and bottomless house chai, Dishroom

I snagged some enormous figs at the fruit market on Brick Lane, also charmed by the adjacent sign that called pomegranates “pommys.” And I couldn’t leave London without a classic, fruit-filled Pimm’s cup. The version at Marksman Public House was just the refresher I needed after braving the crowds at the famous Columbia Road Flower Market.

Figs and "pommys" at Brick Lane Fruit Market

Figs and “pommys” at Brick Lane Fruit Market

Pimm's cup

Pimm’s cup, Marksman Public House

The details: Crosstown Donuts, Broadway Market Schoolyard at London Fields Primary School; Meringue Girls, Cà Phê VN Saigon Street Cafe, Finest Fayre, and Zardosht, all at Broadway Market; Duck and Waffle, 110 Bishopsgate; Dishroom (Shoreditch), 7 Boundary Street; Brick Lane Fruit Market, Sclater Street; Marksman Public House, 254 Hackney Road; all London, England

Dublin Dining

Dublin Dining: Baked salmon, sesame-glazed chorizo, shakshuka & more, Sister Sadie

Dublin Dining chronicles my food & drink experiences during six months living in Dublin, Ireland.

Chorizo and goat's cheese bon bons and roast carrots, Sister Sadie

Sesame-glazed pan-fried chorizo with goat’s cheese bon bons with spiced hazelnut, rocket salad, and soused onion; lemon and tahini roast carrot with fresh herbs

A local friend suggested we check out Sister Sadie, an eclectic little café launched by another popular restaurant called Brother Hubbard. Sister Sadie had just recently started supper service three nights a week, and once I read a few early reviews, I was sold. The menu itself was small but ambitious, with a focus on creative seasonal ingredients and warm Middle Eastern spices. We shared several dishes, each with unique character. Rounds of sesame-glazed chorizo and seeded goat cheese joined an unlikely combination of hazelnut, roasted red pepper, pickled onion, and mixed greens in a way that worked incredibly well. Soft, herb-roasted carrots with zingy tahini sauce and a heavy dusting of za’atar were what every vegetable side should aspire to be.

The baked salmon salad excelled in both texture and flavor: citrusy, sumac-crusted salmon and plenty of crunch from pickled fennel, spiced seeds, and greens. I also enjoyed Sister Sadie’s version of shakshuka (baked eggs, also a favorite at Avec brunch in Chicago) – the rich, chunky tomato sauce and feta cheese tasted great with both the eggs and the accompanying za’atar flatbread. The service was easily the most attentive I’d had so far in Dublin, and we were even sent home with a pastry for breakfast the next morning.

Baked salmon and shakshuka, Sister Sadie

Warm salad of sumac and citrus-spiced baked salmon fillet with pea and roast cherry tomato salad, turmeric pickled fennel, and spiced seeds; shakshuka-style baked eggs with feta cheese, coriander, and za’atar flatbread

The details: Sister Sadie, 46 Harrington St., Dublin 8, Ireland.

Dublin Dining

Dublin Dining: Spiced beef blaa, pear-almond tart & Earl Grey iced tea, Hatch & Sons

Dublin Dining chronicles my food & drink experiences during six months living in Dublin, Ireland.

Spiced beef blaa, Hatch and Sons

Blaa with Michael Birmingham’s spiced beef, coolea, onion relish, and mayo

Nestled underneath the Little Museum of Dublin is Hatch & Sons Irish Kitchen, a cafe that serves “stews, cakes and salads – the kind of food we all like to eat,” as its sign outside proclaims. The inside was cozy and minimalist, and the menu was equally well-curated. I was intrigued by the “Blaas” section, and learned that a blaa is a soft Irish bun with a healthy dusting of flour on top. My petite blaa was piled with shredded beef, melted coolea (a cheese similar to gouda), greens, and a sweet caramelized onion relish. The toppings worked well together, but the soft-yet-sturdy texture of the blaa is really what turned my savory brunch sandwich into something extra special.

A glass of Earl Grey iced tea was a sweet, refreshing complement – and was so memorable that I’m now inspired to try making my own at home. Hatch & Sons was also the kind of place where you couldn’t help but linger and enjoy some cake (which in Ireland can refer to any variety of pastry or baked treat). My pear-almond tart was true to the classical French version, and the chilled cream on the side added another touch of elegance.

Pear-almond tart, Hatch and Sons

Pear-almond tart with cream

Earl Grey iced tea, Hatch and Sons

Earl Grey iced tea

The details: Hatch & Sons, Little Museum of Dublin, 15 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland.

Dublin Dining

Dublin Dining: Kerala Kitchen, The Paella Guys & more, Irish Village Markets

Dublin Dining chronicles my food & drink experiences during six months living in Dublin, Ireland.

Grand Canal, Irish Village Market

Diners lining both sides of the Grand Canal during the lunchtime market

Thursday is quickly becoming one of my favorite days in Dublin, and it’s mostly because of this pop-up lunchtime market on Mespil Road. Vendors start setting up their stalls along the Grand Canal early in the morning, and by around 11am, they’re serving more than a dozen different global cuisines right across the street from my office. Every week, I join hundreds of other businesspeople who grab lunch and find a spot along the canal to enjoy it, often on blankets provided by the market.

Chicken tikka masala and Keralan chicken coconut curry, Kerala Kitchen

Chicken tikka masala and Keralan chicken coconut curry from Kerala Kitchen

Queue for Kerala Kitchen

A long queue for Kerala Kitchen, as usual

I couldn’t help but notice the long queue at Kerala Kitchen week after week, and finally had to try it for myself. Both dishes – chicken tikka masala and Keralan chicken coconut curry – were completely delicious. If I had to choose between the two, I’d go with the Keralan coconut, simply because it felt more unique and had a nice balance of sweetness and spice. But since half-and-half is an option, I probably won’t ever have to.

Half paella, half meatballs, The Paella Guys

Half chicken and chorizo paella, half moorish meatballs from The Paella Guys

Steaming paella, The Paella Guys

Steam rising off the enormous pan of paella at The Paella Guys

The half-and-half is also a staple at another perpetually crowded stall: The Paella Guys. Why just order chicken and chorizo paella, cooked in the largest paella pan I’ve ever seen, when you can add in garlicky moorish meatballs in a rich and aromatic sauce? The pairing of flavors was even more satisfying than I expected, and the large portion was enough to have leftovers.

I was also charmed by the Pieman Cafe, whose tagline is “Look Into My Pies.” During my first week in Dublin, I tucked into the Sunday Dinner pie special, complete with mashed potatoes and brown gravy, and it couldn’t have been more comforting. And of course, there’s dessert, in the form of picturesque cupcakes from The Cupcake Oven. I was a fan of the traditional Irish toffee flavor.

Sunday dinner pie, the Pieman Cafe

“Sunday dinner” pie with mashed potatoes and gravy from the Pieman Cafe

Cupcakes, The Cupcake Oven

Toffee cupcakes (and other varieties) from The Cupcake Oven

There’s also a coffee stall, Bryan’s Coffee, which came in especially handy when I needed an afternoon pick-me-up and the office coffee machine was out of order. At the last minute, I noticed that marshmallows were an option for the latte, and I had to smile when these pink and white miniatures were scattered on top. It made an already tasty latte extra special.

Latte with marshmallows, Bryan's Coffee

Latte with marshmallows from Bryan’s Coffee

The details: Irish Village Markets, Mespil Road, Dublin 4, Ireland (one of several market locations throughout the week).

Dublin Dining

Dublin Dining: Cheeseburger and strawberry milkshake, Bunsen

Dublin Dining chronicles my food & drink experiences during six months living in Dublin, Ireland.

Cheeseburger and strawberry milkshake, Bunsen

Cheeseburger with all the toppings (pickle, onion, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, mayo) and a strawberry milkshake

So far, it’s been a lot of fun to live in a new city and learn about its most-hyped restaurants. From what I can tell, Bunsen burgers are to Dublin as Au Cheval burgers are to Chicago. They both serve a burger that uses the best-possible beef, keeps it simple with the toppings, and is so inexplicably good that it remains heavily sought after by locals (and in-the-know tourists). The medium-sized patty came as a true medium rare, so the juicy black angus beef made an even better impression with each bite. The brioche bun was spongy enough to soak in the cheese, lettuce, tomato, and classic sauces. Final verdict? Hype-worthy, to be sure.

And Bunsen’s business-card-sized menu made ordering easy – though I did have to throw in a (fruity, delicious) strawberry milkshake for good measure.

Business card menu, Bunsen

The menu came in the size of a business card

The details: Bunsen, 36 Wexford Street, Dublin 2, Ireland.

Dublin Dining

Dublin Dining: Mussels pot, prawn cocktail & more, Matt the Thresher

Dublin Dining chronicles my food & drink experiences during six months living in Dublin, Ireland.

Prawn and lobster cocktail, Matt the Thresher

Prawn and lobster cocktail with iceberg lettuce and Marie Rose sauce

I knew I wanted seafood during my first week in Dublin, and the seafood at Matt the Thresher impressed both in quality and quantity. We began with a prawn and lobster cocktail with rosy-colored Marie Rose sauce, which is apparently a traditional preparation in this region. It was lovely to look at, vibrantly colored and served in a martini glass. I was also glad to see that the seafood wasn’t too heavily dressed. It wasn’t until later that I learned that Michelle Obama and the girls ate here during their visit to Ireland in 2013, and that Sasha and Malia chose this same appetizer.

And then came the main event: the mussels pot. Underneath the heavy iron lid was easily the largest portion of mussels that I had ever been served (the photo doesn’t do it justice). I lost track of how many of the petite, meaty mollusks I pried out of their shells, but they were so fresh and simply prepared that it was well worth it. And then, of course, dunking the crusty garlic bread into the white wine broth completed the whole experience.

Mussels pot, Matt the Thresher

Roaring Water Bay mussels pot with white wine, cream, fresh herbs, and garlic bread

O'Hara's Pale Ale, Matt the Thresher

O’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale (and the ubiquitous brown bread)

I decided to eschew the Guinness and instead tried a pale ale from O’Hara’s, a popular Irish craft brewery. It was quite easy-drinking and paired excellently with the mussels. I also kept getting distracted by all the details in the restaurant’s interior, whether it was the stained glass windows overhead, the sprawling, spiral-shaped light fixture over the bar area, or the multiple seating levels with tables tucked into every curve.

Stained glass windows, Matt the Thresher

Stained glass windows above our upper-level table

Storefront of Matt the Thresher

Storefront of Matt the Thresher

The details: Matt the Thresher, 31-32 Lower Pembroke Street, Dublin 2, Ireland.

Dublin Dining

Dublin Dining: Irish Hereford Prime beef fillet with potatoes and red wine jus, The Chop House

Dublin Dining chronicles my food & drink experiences during six months living in Dublin, Ireland.

8 oz. fillet of Irish prime hereford beef , The Chop House

Grilled 8 oz. fillet of Irish Hereford Prime beef with braised pork, herb crust, pommes dauphinoise, and red wine jus

I ate at The Chop House on what was both my very first night in Dublin and my birthday. In this case, a doubly celebratory occasion could mean only one thing: I would order a steak. Little did I know that it would be such an outstanding one. The Irish are serious about high-quality beef, and The Chop House sources theirs from Irish Hereford Prime. At The Chop House, all of the day’s cuts of meat are proudly presented by the server on a wooden cutting board. While it was a little startling at first to see a board covered in hulking pieces of raw meat, it did solidify my decision to order a beautiful 8-ounce filet mignon.

The beef itself was excellent, tender and full of flavor. The steak was then crusted with herbs and topped with a little braised pork – just enough to add sweetness and even more meatiness. The silky red wine jus coating the plate was exceptional, and the pommes dauphinoise (layered potatoes similar to au gratin) were a nice nod to classical French technique. I’ll just say between that steak and my first Irish pint of Guinness, I wasn’t so focused on jet lag anymore.

Meat board, The Chop House

The day’s cuts of meat as presented by the server on the “meat board”

The details: The Chop House, 2 Shelbourne Road, Dublin 2, Ireland.