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.

Dublin Dining

Dublin Dining: Slow-cooked duck leg, cheesecake (in a jar) & more, The Pig’s Ear

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

Slow cooked duck leg, The Pig's Ear

Slow cooked duck leg with sweetcorn, truffle, grilled onion, and toasted oats

Pink door, The Pig's Ear

The pink door at the entrance along Nassau Street

It’s hard to miss the bright pink door marking the entrance to The Pig’s Ear, a charming restaurant with two cozy upstairs dining rooms. The Pig’s Ear serves contemporary Irish cuisine that earned it Michelin Bib Gourmand status (a distinction shared by many of my favorite restaurants in Chicago as well). We chose from a 3-course prix fixe menu available only in the early evening, which turned out to be an excellent value. I enjoyed the whole meal, but the second course edged out the rest as my favorite. It combined familiar flavors with more surprising techniques: an oat crust on fall-apart-tender duck, and sweet corn cut from the cob in full slices. The grilled onion and truffle sauce made the dish even more savory.

But first came the bread basket, including the hearty brown bread that is ubiquitous in Irish restaurants. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about brown bread in the coming posts, but The Pig’s Ear’s version was nicely dense and nutty. The round of butter alongside was also especially elegant with its marble slab and wooden spreader.

Brown bread, The Pig's Ear

Leather bread basket, with traditional brown bread on the right

Citrus cured Irish salmon, The Pig's Ear

Citrus cured Irish salmon with Goatsbridge trout caviar, buttermilk, and cucumber

The salmon starter was light, refreshing, and texturally interesting. Cucumber came in two forms: more recognizable slices, and smaller orbs rolled in black ash. I’ve been impressed multiple times already at the quality of salmon in Ireland, and this dish showed off the fresh fish especially well.

We finished our meal with The Pig’s Ear’s signature dessert, presented to each person in a striped pink bag. Inside was a glass jar filled with three layers of cheesecake: raspberry jam, cream cheese filling, and crushed biscuits (similar to graham crackers). It must be the high-quality Irish dairy, because the filling was some of the creamiest I’ve tasted and made each spoonful heavenly. I might go back for the cheesecake alone.

Cheesecake, The Pig's Ear

The Pig’s Ear signature cheese cake with berry jam and crushed HobNob biscuits, jarred and presented inside a pink striped bag

The details: The Pig’s Ear, 4 Nassau Street, Dublin 2, Ireland.

Travel Eats

Big news: I’m living in Dublin, Ireland!

Pint of Guinness, The Chop House, Dublin

My first official pint of Guinness at my birthday dinner in Dublin

For the next six months, I’ll be working from Dublin, Ireland – which means I’ll be eating and drinking in a whole new city, country, and continent! I plan to chronicle as many of my dining adventures as possible, both in Dublin and throughout Europe.

I arrived in Dublin yesterday, on my birthday, and enjoyed my very first Irish pint of Guinness at dinner. The rumors are true: Guinness does taste better here! And I’ll share more about my meal in the next post.

This does mean that the blog will be more Euro-centric than Chicago-centric for a while, but I hope you’ll enjoy going on this journey with me.

Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Fried giardiniera, Parts and Labor

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Fried giardiniera, Parts and Labor

Fried giardiniera with sriracha mayo

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: I first visited Parts and Labor a little over two years ago, right after it opened in Logan Square, and I’ve been going back for this unique side dish ever since. Originally, I was just intrigued: giardiniera can only come one way, right? What would a fried version even be like? Turns out, the tempura-like batter adds a fluffy layer of crust that’s masterfully offset by the vinegar-soaked vegetables. It’s spicy, especially after a dip in the sriracha mayo on the side, and is a wonderful reinvention of a humble Chicago condiment.

The details: Parts and Labor, 2700 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Cameo Kirby cocktail and beef tartare, Cherry Circle Room

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Cameo Kirby cocktail, Cherry Circle Room

Cameo Kirby cocktail with gin, dry vermouth, raspberry, lime, and egg white

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel reopened earlier this summer after extensive renovations, and it’s emerged as the dining and drinking wonderland that Michigan Avenue never knew it needed. When the Shake Shack on the first floor isn’t even the main attraction, you know you’re in for an experience.

Go upstairs, wander through the impeccably styled lobby and down a hallway paneled with the same chocolate-hued wood that’s prominent throughout the space, and you’ll find what has to be the classiest game room in Chicago. Try not to get distracted by the billiards, shuffleboard, checkers, or even the full bocce court, and walk all the way back until you reach the double doors that lead to the Cherry Circle Room. With inviting leather booths, warm lighting, and a strikingly elegant bar, this restaurant has mastered the turn-of-the-century speakeasy vibe that can so easily feel forced elsewhere. But it’s not surprising coming from the Land and Sea Dept. group – I’ve blogged about projects of theirs (Longman & Eagle, Lost Lake, Parson’s) a combined eight times, so I guess you could say I’m partial.

So back to that bar, where I chose the gin-based Cameo Kirby to sip while waiting for our table. It stayed completely balanced between fruity and dry, and was deliciously frothy from the egg white. A simple and delicate drink, for sure, but also probably one of my favorite drinks of the year.

Beef tartare, Cherry Circle Room

Beef tartare with chili, quail egg, aged gouda, and salsa verde

The beef tartare came recommended by the bartender, and seemed like the right kind of throwback dish for the setting. The luxurious creaminess of the quail egg combined with the punchy, herbaceous salsa verde brought the savory mixture together. We spread the tartare on thick slices of grilled bread, whose char added a cooked dimension to the otherwise uncooked beef. Our main courses were just as good, but the tartare definitely set the tone for the rest of the meal.

And your visit to the hotel isn’t complete without a cocktail at Cindy’s, whose 13th floor rooftop boasts what is unquestionably my new favorite view of Millennium Park. Order the rose-petaled “We’ll Always Have Paris,” , lean up against the glass, and soak it all in, whether by day…

…or by night.

The details: Cherry Circle Room and Cindy’s at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, 12 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.