Years ago, there was a joke making therounds of Europe's snobby centers of gastronomythat went something like this:"What's an Irish seven-course meal?A six pack of Guinness and a potato!" Today'sgastronomic Irish Celts have completely turnedthe tables (pun intended) on those Euro foodies.
Nowhere is the emergence of Irish cuisine morenoticeable—and enjoyable—than in Ireland's capital,Dublin's Fair City, where the fare is as unique in itsorganic purity and palate-surprising pleasures, as theatmosphere is lively and outgoing. When you thinkof Irish food, forget corned beef and cabbage, whichis not of Ireland, but rather a concoction that evolvedin the slums of New York City at the turn of the 20thcentury by emigrants. But, Molly Malone's cocklesand mussels are still as audacious and voluptuous asthe bold, bronze statue memorializing her on CollegeGreen and Grafton Street.
Where Literary Ghosts Dine
The foods so heartily enjoyed by Leopold Bloomin James Joyce's : lamb kidneys for breakfastand a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich and Burgundyfor lunch at Davy Byrne's pub, are still around, butLeopold would be hard-pushed to find them onDublin's restaurant menus today.
Pure Irish Eats
Today's Irish cuisine reflects a new-found passionfor good food and wine. Emigration from Ireland tothe four corners of the world is a thing of the past.On the contrary, the country's booming economy hasopened up opportunities for disadvantaged and asylum-seeking emigrants of diverse cultures who arenow part of the Dublin City scene. Young restaurateursare designing their menus with innovation andintelligent integration of Euro, Afro, Latin American,and Middle Eastern flavors and textures.
The new wave of restaurants in Dublin todayboasts pure, organic produce. Vegetables, fruit, andherbs, planted in the rich brown Irish soil, washed bymore than their fair share of rain, never dusted withpesticides, explode with flavor on the palate. Locallyraised, free-range cattle, lamb, poultry, and game arefree of hormones and other unnatural additives. Irishgastronomic delights available in Dublin's trendynew restaurants are oysters from Galway, bestwashed down with Guinness and Moet & Chandon,"Black Velvet." Some of the OB/GYN physicians atthe Rotunda Lying-In Hospital in Dublin claim thisis the real McCoy of an Irish aphrodisiac, judging bythe number of bouncing babies they deliver who nodoubt have a built-in taste for Guinness.
Then there's the wonderful wild salmon from theWest of Ireland. Salmon is a revered food in Ireland.It goes back to the days of the young FionnMacCumhail, apprenticed to a very old sage whohad searched all his life for the Salmon ofKnowledge. According to prophesy, the first personto taste of this salmon would be given the gift ofclairvoyance for life. In his waning days, the old maneventually caught the Salmon of Knowledge andgave it to Finn to cook over a pit of glowing twigs.Finn put the fish on a spit and watched as the juicesbegan to drop from the salmon and sputter in the hotcoals, scorching him. A blister arose on his thumb,and Finn stuck it in his mouth to ease the pain. In sodoing, he was the first person to taste the Salmon ofKnowledge, and he received the gift of clairvoyance.The rest of the legend, well known to students ofIrish mythology, is a subject for another day, perhapsover a fine meal in Dublin.
Quintessential Dublin Dining
The following are some hot spots you will want toadd to your list of places to dine when you visit Dublin:
•The Cellar Restaurant at the Merrion Hotel (011-353-1-603-0600; www.merrionhotel.com/cellar_restaurant.asp), named Dublin's restaurant of the year, is theepitome of the new Celtic culinary renaissance. Theshellfish platter of cockles, mussels, winkles, clams,crevettes, Dublin Bay prawns, and oysters, is superb.For the main course, try the calves liver with bacon,spring onion mash, and pink and green peppercornsauce. It will make a liver lover out of you.
•Town Bar and Grill on Kildare Street (011-353-1-662-4800) is a favorite of Ireland's politicians and governmentministers, because of its close proximity to theDail, Ireland's seat of government. Try the pan-fried lambkidney bruschetta with whole grain bread and sherryand the roast stuffed loin of lamb with feta and blackolive, sweet roasted peppers, and salsa verde. Town Barand Grill has a great wine list, live music, and a lively,friendly crowd. It's a great Dublin dining experience.
•Ely Wine Bar on Ely Place (011-353-1-676-8986)is the hottest wine bar and restaurant in Europe. This isa serious place for lovers of the fruit of the vine and forthose who are into pure, organic foods. The wine list hasan impressive offering of wines by the glass, rangingfrom high-end vintages to the less expensive, but satisfyingwines. The most memorable dish is a wild Irishsmoked salmon salad with caper berries and traditionalbrown bread. It's heavenly. The restaurant's menu featuresprime beef, pork, and lamb organically grown inthe Burren, County Clare. An interesting footnote onmenus is that most dishes are suitable for coeliacs.For more information on Dublin and its culinary highlights,visit www.visitdublin.com.