Wednesday, August 03, 2016

To Read: Oysters, Bloodies, Bourbon

Just a few of the oysters we ate in Ireland.
Busy times chez Pollard - the combination of work and no school tends to  make things hectic around these parts. Hence, no post last week.

I have been doing some reading and writing, though. So here are a few things you might enjoy:

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I very much enjoyed researching and writing this article tied to National Oyster Day. I spoke with some of Baltimore's best oyster people about how to get the most enjoyment out of eating oysters. It made me hungry.

***

Speaking of oysters, one of the things I learned from this article about Bloody Marys is that the drink's predecessor was, essentially, a supersized, warm oyster shooter. As much as I love oysters - and Bloodies - even just typing that makes my stomach turn. The article overall is fantastic, tracing the drink from those humble (blech) origins through the prep years, to the DIY bar years and, finally, ending up with today's how-many-ingredients-can-we-stick-on-a-skewer years.

***

I haven't been a huge bourbon drinking since college (largely because I was a huge bourbon drinker in college), but I can't resist stories about the history of the spirit. They're just so...American. Right now, I'm totally taken with what the crew behind Jefferson's Bourbon is doing with their "Fantastic Voyage." The bourbon was made this past January then barreled for 6 months. When that time was up, it was placed on a raft in Kentucky and shipped off down the Mississippi, bound for New Orleans.

As this Alcohol Professor article explains, the journey is designed to mimic the path bourbon barrels followed over a century ago. It'll be interesting to see how the travels impact the bourbon's flavor.

(As an aside, with a name like Jefferson's Bourbon, how couldn't I like this? When it comes to all things booze and food and college-related, TJ was the best. He made great choices.)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Global Is the New Black

What's more global than candy sushi made by my friends' kids?
Restaurant menu trends come and go, though for the past few years, Baltimore has been on a pretty significant Southern Flavors/Regional American kick.

Over the past month or so, though, I've noticed a slight shift away from strictly American influences to a more global approach to cuisine.

I'm not talking about a largely American dish with, say,  harissa worked into the mix. What's happening now is less subtle than that. It's not about fusion - it's about whole dishes drawn from specific cuisines. And multiple cuisines being represented on one menu.

At Gunther and Co., we ate duck lumpia and a Thai hot pot - both Asian dishes with specific flavor profiles, included on a menu that also had ravioli and a truly impressive selection of oysters.

Last night, at The Elephant - which is in its pre-opening week and is gorgeous - we saw wide bowls of ramen at one table and a lamb tagine for two at another.

If I was going to write a college paper about this trend, I'd posit that because we are living in such interesting times - times of global turmoil, if you want to be more dramatic about it - chefs are gravitating to more classic interpretations of dishes. Global is interesting, but the straightforward approach is familiar and comforting.

And if I was writing that paper, I'm sure I'd find a way to tie in the NY Post's recent article about the return of fine dining. Grown-up restaurants embracing a more serious approach to dining out - it also fits with the "in times of turmoil we seek stability" theory.

This theory was the backbone of about half of my art history papers on college. And, of course, food is the new art.

If I do say so myself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ireland Adventures Part 1: The Whiskey

As I was a-goin' over Gilgarra Mountain
I spied Colonel Farrell, and his money he was countin'.
First I drew my pistols and then I drew my rapier,
Sayin' "Stand and deliver, for I am your bold receiver."
Musha ringum duram da,
Whack fol the daddy-o,

We've been back from Ireland for about a week and a half now, which has given me a little time to collect my thoughts about the trip. It was, start to finish, incredible - and as it was such an amazing and densely packed adventure, when it comes to writing about it, I had trouble figuring out where to start.

Ultimately, I decided to start at the end - not of the trip, but at the traditional end of the meal. With whiskey.

*****

Early on in the planning stages of this trip, when we were tossing around different ideas about how we might spend our days in Ireland, Cooper mentioned that he'd really like to spend some time learning the story behind Irish whiskey.

As it turns out, there are not a whole lot of whiskey distilleries in Ireland. I was under the impression that the Irish, like the Scots, are distilling all over the place. Not so. Though we learned in our travels that craft distilling is on the rise, as of right now, there are only about a dozen whiskey distilleries operating in Ireland.

*****

There's only one distillery, actually, that exists within the Dublin city limits: Teeling Whiskey Co.

Teeling was the first place that made it on to our list; it's what Cooper drinks at home (we buy it at Wells) and he absolutely loves it. The two of us visited Teeling's early in the trip - our first Monday - with Cooper's parents and Dixon in tow.

It's a fairly new distillery, though the family behind it has been in the whiskey business for generations (since 1782). The location - in the Liberties, not far from Guinness - was, long ago, where all the Dublin distilleries operated. But following a massive fire (with a gross side-story) in the late 19th century, and a variety of technological and economic fallbacks (including the impact of Prohibition on the international whiskey trade), one by one, Dublin's distilleries - and distilleries throughout Ireland - closed.

We learned quite a bit about the history of distilling in Dublin and throughout the country during our tour of Teelings, which is historic and imposing from the outside but sparkling and modern inside. The tour included both a broad history lesson and instruction on how whiskey is made, with an up close look at the company's stills - three in all, to triple-distill the booze,  each one bearing the name of one of Teeling's owner's daughters.

Our time at Teelings, from our look at the stills to the tasting to signing the tasting room wall and lounging in the bar.

After the tour, we did a quick tasting, trying one of the company's whiskeys (one that is not currently produced on-site, as they've only been open in Dublin for a year and it takes longer than that to age whiskey).  We were also served a whiskey and aperol cocktail, called the Mo Chara, that was delightful. I will definitely be making it at home.

*****

On a two-week trip, one distillery was not enough, but three or four might be too many. Though the Jameson and Tullamore tours are, by all accounts, very good, we skipped both in favor of Kilbeggan, a smaller, older brand now owned by Cooley (which is actually owned by Beam and which - because everything is incestuous - used to belong to the Teeling family).

The trip to Kilbeggan was recommended by Baltimore bartender Ryan Sparks, who I got to chatting with one afternoon last spring while he was behind the bar at Bookmakers in Federal Hill. I asked where he'd recommend we go and he suggested Kilbeggan, saying it is a cool experience for anyone interested in the history of whiskey making.

He was so right. Founded in 1757, Kilbeggan is the oldest distillery in Ireland and though only a tiny bit of whiskey is made on the premises today (most Kilbeggan whiskey is made elsewhere), the space is lovingly preserved and offers a fascinating glimpse at how whiskey was made in the mid-18th century.

We're talking water wheel, massive wooden barrels, a room for coopering (!), and the oldest working pot still in use in Ireland today; it dates back to the early 19th century.

*****

We drove up to Kilbeggan with Alicia, Mike, Stacy and her dad on our first Thursday morning; it was a little over an hour north of where we were staying (an hour on narrow roads that give new meaning to the word "harrowing").

When we arrived, we had a little time to kill before our tour, so we grabbed coffee in a small coffee shop next to the distillery. Turns out, it was both a coffee and chocolate shop and it was owned by the distillery; there was a big vat of chocolate in production right in the middle of the shop and everything smelled glorious.

*****

Thanks to the coffee and chocolate aroma, we were all in good spirits when we entered Kilbeggan - and the tour did nothing but lift our moods. Not only was the space extremely cool, our tour guide, Tracy, was incredibly knowledgeable.

It ended up being a private tour - just the six of us - and she took her time, answering our questions about the history of the place, the distilling process and also about the nature of the whiskey business in Ireland as a whole. She knew her stuff and was super engaging.

Kilbeggan, inside and out, was a beautiful historic spot.

Like the Teelings tour, the Kilbeggan tour ended with a tasting; this time, we tried three different whiskeys produced by Kilbeggan. My favorite, the 8-year single grain, made under the Kilbeggan label (as opposed to Locke's or Connemara), was the sweetest of the bunch.

*****

Between the two tours, Cooper and I picked up a ton of knowledge about the history and mechanics behind Irish whiskey. And of course, the more you know, the better the stuff tastes.

Food and drink, I think, are the best way to study a culture; if you understand what people eat and why, it's not so difficult to understand who they are. The story of Irish whiskey production is a mishmash of fighting and passion and technology and law.

We certainly didn't hear about all the details on our journeys...but what we did learn was fascinating. It's a great reminder that in every sip, there's a whole lot of story.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Observations from Abroad

We have just started the second half of a 2-week trip to Ireland and Scotland - right now I'm in the Edinburgh airport, after a weekend in the city, about to head back to Athy, Ireland, which has been out home base.

I'm on my phone, which is not super conducive to blogging, but I did want to share a couple quick observations about food in these countries.

First, the whole Irish love potatoes thing...it's more real than I even imagined. Sides of chips or mashed potatoes come with everything. Even some dishes that already include potatoes.

That's why I'm sorry to say that to me, Scottish chips are better than Irish. They're somewhat skinnier and seem to have spent more time in the fryer. We've had some really good ones.

Speaking of Scotland, I am an unabashed fan of haggis - I'm such a scrapple girl that of course I love its Scottish cousin.


What I didn't expect in Scotland, though, was the best Indian food I've eaten. It makes sense - the Empire and all - but I was pleasantly surprised, anyway, to find that Mother India's, where we went on the recommendation of our AirBNB host, was outrageously good.


Finally, another big surprise: the Irish have figured out how to always - ALWAYS - serve food steaming hot. It's kind of fascinating.

More on all of this when I return!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Food in June

We are just about to head out of town on a pretty great trip (Ireland!) - and while I probably should've spent the last two weeks packing, instead, I spent it eating. It's been great.

Here's what I've been up to:

On one gorgeous Thursday night, Cooper and I went to The French Kitchen, at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, to check out their new spring/summer menu. We especially liked the fried green tomato starter, which had a spicy remoulade that was excellent. Shrimp and corn bisque, crab cakes (very traditional! In a good way!) and wild rockfish served with stewed tomatoes were other high points.

The French Kitchen's space, with its high ceilings and Eiffel Tower centerpiece, is a fun interpretation of fancy. But the hotel's real star attraction is the rooftop bar, LB Skybar. It has a killer view and we had a couple very nice cocktails. The weather was gorgeous and I left thinking that if I still worked nearby, I'd be up there every night.

The Brewer's Hill area is just blowing up lately. Last week, I went to a fun media preview at Gnocco, the new spot from Brian Lavin, formerly of Salt and Fork and Wrench. The food - Mediterranean - was excellent and the space is super cute.

And I was especially happy to see that Gilles, who worked with the chef at Salt, will be working the front of house. He's great - that he's a part of the team definitely bodes well for service!

Gnocco officially opens next week. Everyone should go!

Gunther + Co. is another recent opening, right around the corner from Gnocco. It's been open for close to a month now. We went about two weeks after it opened and already, both the service and food was in great shape.

We were especially impressed by the service; our waiter knew the menu backwards and forwards. The food was very good, too - the duck confit lumpia was probably my favorite dish - and the space is gorgeous. It's a great spot for drinks and oysters - both menus are solid - or for a full meal.


With so many places opening all the time, it's often tough to revisit restaurants, even if they're always good. Like Woodberry. I love it and don't go nearly enough.

This past weekend, I found myself there for brunch with a bunch of other moms. It was the kind of meal that is so fun to attend but, I'm sure, a nightmare to handle from a service end because everyone is so chatty, it takes a million years to turn the table.

But it was really fun - and a great reminder that Woodberry just gets it right. My meal was straightforward - a bloody mary that was exactly the right amount of spicy and a perfectly, perfectly seasoned asparagus and goat cheese flatbread. Just great all around. I should go there more, especially now that it's nice out, so the patio is open.


Finally, and also last weekend, Cooper and I attended Feastival, an afternoon on the harbor, with food from some awesome restaurants, all benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Maryland.

The cause is such a good one and it warms my heart to see how the city's chefs rally behind it. It is also super fun. The day was a little breezy, but sunny, and Cooper and I arrived right when the party started so we could make the most of our time there.

Here's what I remember eating: tacos from Clavel, shrimp with pineapple foam from The Food Market, oysters from Loch Bar, salmon sashimi from Azumi, a spicy banh mi from Gunther + Co., sticky and sweet sesame wings from Hersh's, a gorgeous gruyere gougere from Colette (OK, three of them - they were so good), sausage and peppers from Wit + Wisdom, squid ink pasta from Aggio and raw carrot cake from Encantada.

I'm sure I'm leaving someone out, too! Everything was good (for real), but those gougeres...I could've eaten about forty of them and still gone back for more.

I washed everything down with an herbaceous vodka lemonade that was ideal for outdoor day drinking. It would have been easy to have about forty of those, too.


This actually isn't even everything. We've also had some fun pool cookouts and last night, we went to an amazing dinner at Boordy Vineyard, catered by The Food Market and featuring their new line of wines, Sweetland Cellars. More to come on that - the drinks, the food and the space all blew me away and I remembered just how much I love it up there.

It's been a good month so far, no doubt. Good...and full!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pool Season


I love pool season. When I was little, it meant long days, starting with early morning swim team and ending much, much later, at the pond in Ben Oaks, where I grew up. My parents would sit underneath a big willow tree (which is, sadly, no longer), drinking beer and hanging out with their friends. It was pretty great - for me and for them.

When I was teenager, I was the lifeguard there and I spent my days off laying out on the little strip of land that separates the pond from the Severn River - always on my stomach, trying to even out my tan. (Or, rather, "tan." I am pasty or pink, but never quite golden.)

As an adult, I miss Ben Oaks, but the Stoneleigh Pool - even though it's not next to the river - meets all of my summertime social needs. We log a lot of evening hours there in the summertime. It's a good time.

Since there's a very strict no-glass rule at the pool, summertime, for us, is all about plastic and cans. This year, that means lots of LBLL's (schlepped back from Keuka Lake), Leinenkugel grapefruit shandies (finally, this year, available in cans), and Union Craft Old Pro (how can you resist that can?).

I've also developed a recent obsession with the salsa and guacamole made by the people who work at our local Giant. They are so good - especially the salsa, which is very slightly spicy and just a little bit sweet. I eat an embarrassing amount of it when I'm home alone.

But that's what summer is all about, right? Eating salsa instead of dinner and drinking citrusy beers while your kid wears himself out messing around with friends in the pool.

Now, if school would just end, we'd really be in business.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Spring 2016 Recap

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone and everyone at my house is 100% over school (despite the fact that school itself is not actually over), it's time for a big, long recap of all the things I've neglected to write about over the past couple months.

So here it is: the parties and drinks and meals that made Spring 2016 fun (but that haven't made it onto the blog until now):


Way back in March, I helped my brother and sister throw a 70th birthday party for my dad. We ate oysters and Boston cream pie and drank a ginomrous bottle of French wine. We decorated my parents' screened in porch with old photos (my sister's idea) and about 10 million of those poms you have to manually fluff.

We also, at the last minute, thought it would be fun to have a photographer come to take some family photos. Rachel Rock came to the house and took some awesome pictures of all of us - and she was very fun while she did it. Most of the pictures below are hers:



Also back in March, Cooper and I went to Cellar Sessionsa wine class with Wit + Wisdom's sommelier Julie Dalton. She is so smart and good at her job.

The class was no joke - she walked us through how to blind taste wines like a sommelier. Walking into the class, we both thought we knew some things about wine - this was not the first tasting class we've taken. But it was definitely the most intense in terms of knowledge. As a result, Cooper's wine vocabulary and ability to pinpoint specific aromas and flavors has increased significantly. (I still mostly smell fruit and booze when I stick my nose in a glass...his palate continues to put mine to shame.)



In April, I was a judge at the Taste of Pikesville, which was hectic and fun and full of surprises, like an excellent bread pudding from FutureCare, pretty sushi from Wegmans and a smorgasboard of Uzbek specialties from the guys I love at Silk Road.

I also left with this gorgeous collection of chocolates from Raimondi's. They tasted even better than they looked.



After a couple years of not being able to make it for one reason or another, Cooper and Dixon and I finally made it to The Emporiyum, the big, roving food festival.

I spent the first few minutes feeling totally overwhelmed, but once I got acclimated, I loved every second of of the experience. Some of my favorite food people were there, like the crew from Clavel and Nick from The Local Oyster, and I had my first taste of an Ekiben steam bun. It totally lived up to the hype. And there was a lot of hype.



One sunny Saturday afternoon, Cooper and Dixon and I drove up to John Brown General and Butchery, which met all of my very high expectations. Not only is the place adorable, it's also filled with incredible meat, cheese, wine and other things I didn't even know I needed in my life, like a fistful of ramps (later grilled) and a plastic tub of creamy fresh ricotta.



One quiet Monday night, after a hellish day of writing, I had drinks with Charm City Cook at WC Harlan, followed by queso fundido (and more drinks) at Clavel. It was my first trip to WC Harlan, which was, as I expected, very cool and the drinks were thoughtful and creative and completely delicious.

The whole experience improved my day (and week) considerably. "Monday night drinks" sounds risky, but in this case, it was nothing but smart.



One good way to justify Sunday afternoon drinks and apps is to present it in class form. That's how I found myself drinking and eating my way through an afternoon at Bookmakers (again with Charm City Cook). CCC and behind-the-bar master Ryan Sparks teamed up for an Instagram class that genuinely helped me with my crappy picture-taking skills.

Also, it helped me enjoy my Sunday. Because, how couldn't I?



Baltimore's food scene has been exploding over the past couple years - and that's especially noticeable right in the middle of the city, near Hampden/Remington/Clipper Mill, where new restaurants and food-centric mixed use real estate projects are popping up every day.

I checked out one of those developments, Whitehall Mill, during a fun event organized by Baltimore magazine and CCC (she gets around). Whitehall Mill will include a pretty massive food hall and a restaurant, which is great  news for anyone who likes to eat.



At the end of April, I met college friends in New York and had brunch at Hudson Clearwater and drinks at Grand Banks (it's a bar on a sailboat!) and dinner at The Greenwich Project.

The weather was gorgeous, we drank a boatload of rose and prosecco, and it was so much fun. We hadn't all been together in twenty years, so the weekend could have, theoretically, been awkward. It wasn't. It was great.

Also, I want to give a special shoutout to the staff at The Greenwich Project.There was a seating mixup while we were there - something annoying but that could've been fixed with a single round of drinks. Instead, they bought all of our drinks and dessert - and encouraged us to keep ordering more. They went above and beyond to make sure we had a good time. So we did.

In mid-May, I went to Black-Eyed Susan Day, where we ran into Bowtie Bob, did not win any money, had our picture taken by an ESPN photographer, and were reminded that hats can seriously impede peripheral vision. Also, they make my head hot. But they're so cute!

Black-Eyed Susan Day, the day of races before Preakness, is billed as a ladies' day (though there are lots of guys there, too). Mostly, it's known as a more manageable, more grown-up Preakness for locals. There's still some great people-watching, but BESD does not involve the sort of infield antics that Preakness is known for. It's a good time!



Finally, we spent Memorial Day on Keuka Lake with Mike, Alicia and Maggie, watching Dixon learn to SUP while eating and drinking our faces off - including a trip to McGregor (my favorite Keuka winery) and two trips to The Olney Place, where Cider Creek's Cran-Mango Saison became my new favorite thing.



This isn't it, of course. There have been little girls' birthday parties and back porch dinners and a mother-son Oriole's game and two museum-heavy DC visits and a whole bunch of other fun things. It's been a great spring...and all signs are pointing to a summer that's just as eventful.

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