Sunday, December 9, 2018

Piperis's Perfect Potent Potables

Repeal Day is one of those odd negative holidays--hooray, we're not getting beaten anymore!--but that said, aren't you happier you have a glass of something in your hand right now? Even if you don't drink, I hope the notion of Prohibition, saying you legally can't do something that's not morally wrong, should rankle. Well, December 5th was repeal day, the 85th year of the return for legal drinking (and producing and selling) in the USA. And there's just one MAGA I support: Make America Grape/Grain Again.

All that's prelude to getting the chance to sample the latest cocktail creations for the fall-winter season from one of our town's masters, George Piperis, at the Finch & Fork at the Canary Hotel this December 5th. I've had the luck to drink with and write about him before, but he's the kind of talent that lands drinks in Imbibe Magazine and geeks out on his milk punch project, which he talks about like making boozy cheese in reverse, and along the way points out Benjamin Franklin did it first. Hoping to have it ready for Christmas, he concludes, "I could do an eggnog, but that's so boring."

Boring has no room in a Piperis menu. The current one carries over some of the previous's greatest hits, from the delicious AND gloriously goofy Barbie's Bath Bomb to the old fashioned with the very new wrinkle--he washes the bourbon in duck fat. But it's the new creations I want to highlight, as in their breadth and depth they astound at every turn. Take the You Got Chocolate in My Peanut Butter, a nod to the old Reese's ad, but Reese's never tasted this good.
(Note these images are all on the fly iPhone photos--follow Piperis on Instagram to see them photographically pimped out.) This time it's Toki Japanese whisky that gets the wash treatment, but with peanut butter. The chocolate comes from Tempus Fugit créme de cacao and some chocolate shavings across that lush peanut butter foam that's so rich and flavorful you'd order it on its own. Despite that creamy top, Piperis asserts (rightfully), "It's not just a dessert cocktail--the most masculine man can drink it." Well, as long as he has some taste.

Then there's the Tryna Send It, which he calls one for the kids who work with him. At this point I felt truly old, but fair enough, I don't know snowboarders yell encouragement by screaming, "Send it!" Piperis wanted to make a "good Long Island Ice Tea," is how he put it, and that's a challenge, as the usual LI Iced Tea is simply "how many alcohols can we mix in one drink and make it sweet enough you want another?"

His drink still delivers a boozy punch, but does so with velvet-gloved elegance, starting with the garnish of candied ginger heavily-dusted with his own fermented spicy pineapple sambal--he warns me to mix it moderately into the drink, as it does have quite a kick. The drink is composed of pineapple juice, Casa Noble blanco tequlia, The Funk rum, and Singani 63, a Bolivian unaged brandy Piperis calls "real trendy." 
One of my personal favorites now on the list is the Captain Jack Sparrow, as I'm not trendy at all. I'd like to think of as more a Keith Richards than a Johnny Depp drink, myself, full of depth, unflashy skill, and surprisingly well-aged. It kicks off with Jack​ Daniels rye, off course, but earns its buccaneer bona fides in several ways, starting with Chairman’s Forgotten Cask rum (turns out Chairman's actually found a barrel and no one knew what production it was from). To tease out rye and rum flavors in some of their most varied directions there's Tempus Fugit banana liqueur and a roasted banana slice for garnish, and then a few shots of both blackstrap and tobacco bitters, the latter, oddly enough, not made with any tobacco but with bacon fat and coffee. (Beware, vegetarians!)

Piperis compares the drink in composition to a Boulevardier, but think a boulevard in Barbados, maybe. And no, it's not too banana in the slightest--it's a drink where all the parts add up to one lovely sum.

It's a fascinating companion to another more classically-conceived drink I don't have a photo for, Hayden on Holiday, named not just for the Basil Hayden in it but also a friend of Piperis who is always on vacation. (And given the season and our location, how do you not do a "holiday" named drink?) Definitely a drinker's drink (you know who you are) the namesake bourbon get the smoky punch of mezcal, too, plus Sfumato, an Amaro made from artichoke that's lighter and smoother than the better known Cynar. Add in some Cocchi Teatro Dopo and Thai bitters, and help people realize casks add coconut notes by drizzling coconut oil on the one big rock in the double highball glass, so the ice looks like it has a snowy cap, and the smell hits you as you go in for every sip. This is a deep drink, one worth much slow consideration.

If you want to go with what seems to be a very Santa Barbara drink, it's hard to pass on the Daughter of Man that, with its eucalyptus bitters and eucalyptus leaf tied alongside, Chryss joked, "Smells like a koala's butt." Having not been upclose with those Australian critters I can't say for sure, but the drink itself brings together Copper & Kings brandy, honey crisp apple, a black currant reduction with red wine, honey, and those bitters into a refreshing very unusual drink perfect for this time of year. Sweetish, without being sweet, fruity, but not too.
Then there's version 2.0 of last menu's In the Pines, this time featuring Death's Door Gin, a sure way into this gin-lover's heart. (1.0 had mezcal.) Of course the gin is pine-y to start but it gets extra pine power from Zirbenz, a stone pine liqueur from the Alps, plus an at the table dusting of pine pollen, fragrant as a field of Christmas trees, and supposedly an aphrodisiac to boot. Add some Cardamaro (Piperis likes those cardoon-artichoke Amaros) and Cocchi Torino and you have a drink deceptively smooth for all its gin.
Piperis sums it up this way, "It's an aggressive menu for this market but I'm just proud of it." And he should be, as it's playful, powerful, challenging, comforting, and most of all downright delicious.

Speaking of, Peter Cham, the executive chef, has the kitchen firing on all cylinders right now too. For example here's the most lovely of scallop dishes I've perhaps ever-eaten.
Perfectly seared to be nearly crunchy on the outside and just-cooked but cooked inside, the scallops sit atop a rich brown butter cauliflower puree. Then the plate is artfully strewn with romanesco, roasted to just the right toothsomeness, pickled kumquat, as vividly tasting as they look, crispy capers, and enough edible flowers to make you feel you're eating at a florist. Gorgeous plate of food. (And a great pairing with the Tryna Send It.)

Same with the trout, again showing off Cham's skill with brown butter, this time made with toasted hazelnuts. That's buried in broccoli florets, more toasted hazelnuts, and the most eye-catching of greens. And along with the brown butter, it sits atop green goddess dressing that will make you think young you might have been onto something liking even the blandish bottled versions of it (I'm remembering you, Seven Seas), and warm multigrains to give the dish yet more crunch. Eat it with an In the Pines and you'll feel like you're out fishing on a tranquil Eastern Sierra stream.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Sip This: Lucas & Lewellen 2015 Pinot Noir

Lucas & Lewellen 2015 Pinot Noir: It’s easy to believe that you can’t score true Santa Barbara pinot for less than $30, but then along comes a pour like this Lucas & Lewellen that’s far more complex than you’d expect for its $20 price point.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Sip This: Presqu’ile 2015 Presqu’ile Vineyard Pinot Noir

Presqu’ile 2015 Presqu’ile Vineyard Pinot Noir: If this is the future of cool-climate Burgundian varietals, I’m all for it.

This fascinating wine from the Santa Maria Valley is a beguiling expression of pinot noir, with tea notes, spice, and a saline quality that’s typical of the region’s sandy soil, and the seductive fruit of cherries and wild raspberry.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Sip This: Fiddlehead 2015 Gruner Veltliner

Fiddlehead Cellars 2015 Grüner Veltliner: While winemaker Kathy Joseph is best known for her work with pinot noir and sparkling wine, this Grüner, her second vintage of the lovely tart white varietal originally from Austria, should just add to her acclaim.

Want ot read more than do so at the Independent's site.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Santa Barbara Wine Pioneers Open Their Libraries

When winemaker Morgan Clendenen picks up my call to chat about the upcoming Pioneers Pour Again Heritage Tasting, she takes a break from capturing photos at Alma Rosa Winery for social media posts heralding the event. For she’s not just the owner/winemaker at Cold Heaven, she’s an unstoppable marketing force for the wine region, both here and now in North Carolina, where she lives part time.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's website.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Chaplin's Favourite Pastime*

You can teach an old bar older tricks, it seems. Such is the case at Chaplin's Martini Bar (remember Charlie owned the Montecito Inn back in the day), in the spot of the recently and quickly deposed Frankland's Crab Co.--turns out town doesn't want to pay the admittedly spendy price for ridiculously fresh seafood, particularly a few blocks from the sea, especially when chef-owners Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee then opened The Monarch next door. Lesson learned: you can drive your own self out of business with a second very hot spot.

But that doesn't mean Montecito didn't need a free-standing bar (non-directly restaurant connected, "management would prefer you eat and not just drink at the bar bar," that is), and now it's got one in Chaplin's. Plus, where do you go for a drink until midnight, when the sidewalks roll up at half past nine? You might remember the spot when it was the Montecito Cafe's bar, a bit bright, and there was popcorn and a blue cheese stuffed olive Blue Sapphire martini and a mini-menu with that trout salad everyone loved. A jewel box of a spot, with its curved wall of windows looking out at the porte cochere for the hotel and Coast Village Road, and you were, no doubt, meant to gaze out while those hoping to be as chic as you ogled in hoping to glimpse a celebrity or someone having a better time than they were.

Now that glass door is mirrored, though, so you can only see out. For the Chaplin's theme is speakeasy-dark, a hide-away for assignations and those wishing they had some. You know, romantic and borderline Deco-y, especially when the piped-in tunes feature Rudy Vallee and other '20s crooners. It's like a deep dark secret right there on CVR.

Fittingly the menu leans gin, but not of the bathtub variety. Still the cocktails call back to an earlier era, too, leading with one of my faves, the Corpse Reviver #2, a blended joy of gin, lemon juice, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao (think snooty Cointreau), and Kina l'Aero D'or (sort of absinthe-y). But, hey, Chaplin's, one of the drink's great kinks is you're supposed to serve it with a cherry, its red glowering at you sexily from the v-ed glass bottom. (Dr. Cocktail says so, not just me.)

But then there's the subtly honeyed Bee's Knees from the Ritz in Paris, and for those gin-averse, another one of my faves, the Vieux Carre from New Orleans (think a Sazerac jiggered up a notch), and heck, they even feature a Rusty Nail, and if anything is due for a comeback it's Drambuie. Classics, all.

What's more, Chaplin's some nights has one of my most cherished Santa Barbara servers working the bar, Jaime Rocha (not pictured above). He's worked at the Wine Cask, San Ysidro Ranch, bouchon, and where else but here at Chaplin's, which would be one of my favorite hangouts if I only could walk to it. Because it would be best if I then walked happily, woozily home.

Oh yeah, forget to mention in the original post: you can order the entire Monarch menu in Chaplin's. So go crazy!

*"His Favourite Pastime" is a 1914 American comedy film starring Charlie Chaplin as the drunken masher.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Sip These: The Good Lion’s Green Beast and Milk & Honey’s Elizabeth Departed

What better way for the Santa Barbara Public Library to extend outreach for its Santa Barbara Reads choice for 2018, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, than by asking bartenders to pull together suitable odd parts into a wondrous new cocktail life? Four establishments are participating through October 31, and I’ve had the good fortune to sample two of their concoctions.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Bear and Starry Night

So it turns out if Eli Parker sets out to buy some art for his house, you could end up with a brilliant idea for a series of dinners. That's how The Bear and Star decided to kick-off Food for Thought, which they call "an artists series celebrating the connection between food and mind. The series invites modern innovators, from artists and musicians to technology inventors, to share their creative journey with the Los Olivos community." To begin the restaurant invited Grey Projects LA to visit, artists Tommy May and Gwen O'Neil, and set a lovely outdoor gallery behind the restaurant for us to dine in, May's and O'Neil's work surrounding us with blasts of color and composition. Then chef John Cox's plates echoed and aped the art--the bright orange hue from one canvas caught caught in the edible flower on one plate, etc.

May himself was amazed at how well Cox responded not only to their art, but to their conversations. For instance, May and O'Neil both find themselves artistically inspired by the landscapes that roll by them on long drives (such as the one from LA to SB), and one spot along that drive that always struck May is the stretched-out strawberry fields of Oxnard as one descends the Camarillo grade. Voila, the dessert, not to begin with the ending: Strawberry Fields, featuring a white chocolate cremeux (such a luscious texture and flavor), super-intense sundried strawberries, strawberry ice, what would be called strawberry leather if it weren't so ridiculously elegant (think more strawberry stained glass), pistachios, and anise hyssop.

Cox repeatedly managed to capture mini-narratives with each exquisite plate of food, while never getting precious about it. Take the opening salvo, called Mussel Beds, that he said he wanted to echo the fascinating seaside mix of nature and the industrial (Cox lives on a boat in the Santa Barbara harbor, so he knows this scene very well). The mussel is smoked, therefore all the richer in flavor, and sat upon a black garlic puree whose scent practically overwhelmed when all the servers simultaneously lined up to  plate the dish for dinners (the one fine dining touch B&S never seems to give up, and a fine one it is, so much theater and democracy in one grand gesture). But while it hits the nose like an Ali right hook, it hits the palate as if I was punching you (I'm very gentle, you know). Then there's the spectacular loop of the squid ink bruschetta, delicate almost as lace yet flavorful yet sculptural.
What a great pair with some J. Wilkes 2016 Pinot Blanc, a varietal that doesn't get enough credit, or enough drunk, but certainly had the elegance to match the powerful dish, and just enough petrol and saline to give it grip and add to the industrial edge. GM/somm Allison Crawford certainly has a lot of fun with matching these inventive dishes with the right pour (heck, it was a Jorge Ordonez Muscat de Alexandria for Strawberry Fields).

Course two was perhaps the most unusual, unless you eat more yucca in your house than we do. Chef Cox said it was about summer moving into autumn. It was called Yucca Blossoms, even if it was pretty much--emphasis on the pretty--just one, pickled from an earlier in the year harvest, sat like a cap atop the most decadent of duck egg flan. Alongside was a bit of blistered corn, some cilantro, and the dish's kicker, a poblano-bacon jam adding fatty umami and heat. Some Fess Parker Riesling, with its slight bit of residual sugar, cooled it down a bit, so your mouth was ready for the next scrumptious more.
Next up, one of the most elegant From Turf to Surf ever, complete with a seaweed and shallot ash handprint that was meant to echo the patterns found in many of the Chumash cave paintings. Plus, it had a delicious flavor, too, as you would swab a bit of the seaweed-brined Parker Ranch wagyu (again, let's not get used to this--it's a restaurant that has a ranch that provides its own wagyu) across the char and pick up even more flavor, kind of like dusting the meat all on your own. That butter poached spot prawn couldn't have been more SB Harbor or any less delicious, and then those tomatoes--that green globe is one, too--two of them roasted and rich, but the third a enchanting slice semi-dried, and all the more intense. What else could you drink with this but pinot noir? They poured Fess Parker 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard, and it was a Santa Barbara ur-wine--remember, before Sta. Rita Hills became the hot thing, it was Bien Nacido that at first defined our county's pinot.
Before dessert there was a cheese course, somewhat cheekily called The Golden State given it featured French P'tit Basque (hey, we like to accept everyone in California). The cheese got a very local turn, though, as it got smoked with hay, and came to the table served that way, giving the table even more of the wonderful smell. Those crackers were special, too, made with red wine pomace (the stuff left after the juice goes on its way to become the good stuff), providing a special depth Carr's isn't going to match, say. And why not, some roasted apple, too, as it's fall and fruit and cheese like each other, especially in your belly. The pairing: an Aspall "Grand Cru" dry English cider, its bubbles kindly scrubbing your palate of rich cheese and prepping you for the next bite.
That was an evening of as thoughtful, and taste-full, food as there could be.

Farmers’-Market Fresh at The Middle Child

The Middle Child only opened a month ago, but chef/co-owner Taylor Melonuk already faces some tough menu decisions. The restaurant’s peach-burrata salad was a best-seller from day one, but peaches don’t stay in season forever. So as we walk the Tuesday’s farmers’ market on State Street that’s just a half block from his door, he purchases 10 pounds of Cameo apples from Fair Hills Farm in Paso Robles, figuring that’s where the salad heads next.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Sip This: Seagrape Gewürztraminer

Often as scary to try from a U.S. producer as it is to pronounce, this aromatic white literally means “perfumed traminer” — it originated in Tramino, Italy. Alas, Stateside production often confuses perfumed with reeking, and often a cloying sweetness too.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

History in a Glass with Richard Sanford

If you may permit me to be fanciful for a moment, spending time with Richard Sanford, the first representative from Santa Barbara in the Vintners Hall of Fame at the CIA in Napa (that's the good CIA, btw), is like spending time with John the Baptist. At this point he's a holy figure people turn to for wisdom; he was the one who announced, before anyone was ready, "Prepare, ye, the way of the pinot" in what would become the famed Sta. Rita Hills AVA; and to be indelicate about, he's lost his head in business a few times. (I don't see how Salome plays into this already over-burdened metaphor.)

So it was a great honor to be invited to spend a media lunch at his El Jabalí Vineyard where he now makes Alma Rosa Wines with head winemaker Nick de Luca, who also joined us for the event. And the few hours made it very clear exactly why his wines are so delicious--because when you drink them, you drink history. "I'm approaching fifty years as a wine grower," he told us at one point, and then half-joked, "It scares me." But then he put his El Jabalí Vineyard into such a long context it seemed like a story torn from a James Michener novel. He told tales back to the land grants, but mostly from the 1970s on when he arrived in Santa Barbara County after his time in the Vietnam War and turned to the land and farming for refuge and peace. "In the 1970s you could still dry-farm garbanzos here and it would have made sense," he said, "but not anymore--the land's too expensive."

So instead you have the beautiful growth of these 37 year old vines.

Getting to chomp on some of the grapes you taste why the wine is so delicious--the flavor is all there waiting already. (The grapes were less than a week away from getting picked.) "The leaves are turning just at harvest," Sanford pointed out. "That's what they want. Chemically forced vineyards are too happy. Nature wants the plants to settle down."

He and de Luca were particularly proud of their shift to the Simonit & Sirch method of pruning, an Italian system that is much more precise and delicate than most typical U.S. pruning regimens. "All the pruning removes outer shoots, so we don't interrupt the sap flow," he explained. "The lifespan of vines is greater pruned this way. And with age, you get an elegance to the wines."

Of course, in addition to discovering this most delicate of pruning systems, Sanford has been farming organic before anyone thought to make it a marketing term. Part of that was a desire to be very kind to the land after the horrors of a war that thought napalm was a wise weapon, but it was Richard's wife Thekla who made the push. "It took two years, and we had to be innovative," is how Sanford describes the process, telling a story of the vineyard crew blasting bugs off the vines with flames, not poison, during one infestation.

Add it all up, and de Luca points out, "When we have healthy grapes, we can use little to no sulfur." He quickly insisted, "But we're not making natural wine. It all comes down to hygiene. If I knew I was going to have a major surgery, I'd want it on the floor of winery."

Just to focus on two of the enlightening wines shared with us that afternoon, I'd like to write about the 2011 and 2016 El Jabalí pinots. The older wine was aging well under screwcap, for as Sanford insisted, "It's a wine of the people." He delighted in the "forest floor that develops with age" and the translucent color, citing Michael Broadbent telling him, "Richard, you sohuld be able to read a newspaper through a good Burgundy." Turns out the news you can read through it is a review praising its grace and still plenty of fruit seven years after release. Sanford accurately said, "There's a lyrical quality to these wines that lasts," and then he slowly drew his hands apart to emphasize his point. Meanwhile the wine slowly set out taste buds at attention.

The just released 2016, on the other hand, was ridiculously delicious given its youth. de Luca said El Jabalí was always their most tannic wine, so they massaged it with oak. He shared a line from a French friend about barrel-aging, "If the wine is so good, why are you afraid?" Alma Rosa isn't, so this pinot gets up to 50% new French oak, but it's integrated well, helping with structure but not tasting like you've bit a barrel in the least.

Oh, and if you're going to be drinking wine this good, you better have suitable food to match. Fortunately the lunch was catered by First & Oak, with Executive Chef JJ Guerrero himself making our meal. Here's the main, a breast of duck (my guess would be sous vide first, then pan-roasted?), with English peas, charred romaine filled with mustard seed so it seemed to be a whole new plant, pearl onion, gnocchi, and a mint velouté (you know, one of the mother sauces).

We're pretty lucky to live where we do, you know.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Night Lizard Brews Up Environmental Awareness

John Nasser, the father of the family team behind the recently (and finally!) opened Night Lizard Brewing Company on State Street, hopes their customer experience plays out like a comic strip. And in the last frame, he envisions, there’s a butt going out the door with a thought balloon that says, “That’s really good beer. I want to come back and try some of the others. And I learned something about conservation on the Central Coast, too.”

Want to read more then do so at the Independent's site.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Sip This: Château de Berne Emotion

Who could say no to a Provence rosé with a funky, fancy bottle (curvy with white striping) and easy-on-the-wallet pricing at $16? That’s all from an estate that also houses a Relais & Châteaux inn, the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Jardin de Benjamin, and a cooking school, 25 miles from the Mediterranean yet at a bit of altitude too, around 1,000 feet.

Want ot read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

SB Poets Take Ireland: Day 12

And so we've come to the final day of our tale, my friends. Thanks for stopping by George's Pub, and if a one-way conversation can be craic, I hope this was edifying, illuminating, and intoxicating, at least at one remove. (Yes, we actually flew out the following day, but I'm not doing a post about airport food and a taxi ride. You're welcome.)


What's read all over? Ireland!


Here's the view out our window from the Sligo Park Hotel.
Yep, good old Ben Bulben out past the car park. Turns out it would be yet even more of Yeats day than we imagined, as we'll get to in Toured.

Then we do have one more night in Dublin, since we flew out early the next day--that meant we could drop off the rental car this day, walk about, and just taxi to the airport. While our first place was right in town on the Liffey, this time the Air BnB was in the more suburban-feeling Portobello, in an apartment in the land of rowhouses--it felt very Baltimore or Brooklyn. There was laundry. It was a bit quirky--the living room, of all things, was dominated by a painting of New York City (where we were headed next--I wonder if they do that for all their guests?), but for a night it was perfect.

Fed & Poured

One last hotel breakfast buffet--you do a few of these and you wonder if there's just one central kitchen that caters them all. Quite pleasant, certainly filling, but nothing to blog home about.

As we did so well while traveling, we sort of were preoccupied through the lunch hour (and more), as we had to make the drive from Sligo to Dublin, drop off our suitcases at the Air BnB, then drive to the north side of Dublin to drop off the car. Then, us being us, we walked back from there to the heart of things. But sneaky Chryss had led a thought since we left Dublin, and it was this: Pieman.

It's very hard to take pictures of walk-away food as your hands have better things to do--stuff your face--than click away. But Chryss had a veg and I had to have a steak and stout, as that seemed only appropriate if I was only going to have one--start with the traditions, then try other things. (It's just like writing poetry--you can't rebel if you don't know what you're up against.) Flaky, meaty goodness. Gone in 90 seconds, probably.

Then we dinnered pretty quickly atop that, too. Our DK guide seemed high on The Market Bar in its pub section, so we went there, a very large space that likes its turn over--there's a limit to how long you can keep your table (it's reasonable, but still, it's like the meter's ticking). The draught list is big, but not necessarily in a great way--lots of what you might expect (Heineken and Heineken Light)--and it also featured a beer with a name that bugs me. Just like I find San Diego's Belching Beaver just too rude to reward with my business (whether the beer is good or not--c'mon guys, grow up and don't flatter the incels), Ireland has a brand called Cute Hoor. As in, "I'll have a Cute Hoor." Hahaha. Pass.

Instead I went the bottled route. Tried to order a Third Circle Rye Stout, but they were out. Luckily they did have the Third Circle Saison, which survived being agitated on the way to the table (I assume), as I ended up with a very heady pour.
So Dublin itself can brew some fine craft beer. The saison was a mildly sour one as the style goes, but had some character and kick and a surprising amount of hops, too.

For food we went about as traditional as we could for our last pub supper in Ireland. Chryss had the fish and chips; I had bangers and mash (and onion rings--we should have invited Paul, who actually was still in Sligo anyway).
You know how food can satisfy but not intrigue? There you go. I have to admit what looked like too much gravy wasn't, but, of course...gravy.

To be honest, it wasn't fair to drop this meal as a capstone on all the rest of our two weeks of eating, so much of it revelatory. Turns out you can go out with bangers and with a whimper. I'll show myself out...of the country...tomorrow.

We did think about following that up with one last pint at a pub, but it was Friday and we were mostly in Temple Bar, but even south of that crowds were the norm. If you want to rob houses in Dublin, do it on Fridays from 5-7 pm, because everyone is at pub, and every pub takes over as much space on the sidewalk and sometimes street in front of it as it can. It's as if a liquor license covers any space that contains a drinker who could bump elbows with the next drinker, back to the bar itself, kind of like some ant colony a-swarming with a mighty thirst for stout and the weekend. While I refuse to judge, I also couldn't get up the energy to join the scrum, what with the impending weight of "early a.m. international flight" on my brow. I mean, I look sort of stupid silly here, don't I, and I've had all of one beer?

Since we had the time to do it--the drive from Sligo to Dublin is two and a half hours--we headed back in to town before we left town, if for nothing else than to see it on a nicer day (cloudy, not drizzly). Poor Yeats, though, gets the bird drizzle.
But that might just be what happens when you head out wearing your own words. We also tried to check out spots with Yeats memorabilia, and while the Sligo Library and County Museum (note the telling order there, btw) is quaint, it offers things like a replica of Yeats' Nobel Prize. And no photos allowed.

Then there's the Yeats Building Visitors Center, which seems tangentially associated as it's the home of the Yeats Society. When we were there summer school was in session so you couldn't get into most of the rooms, anyway.
All that said, it's still a lovely town along the Garavogue, even without early evening lighting making it a pointillist's dream.
Speaking of lighting, how cool is this lamppost in Dublin?
It's as if almost everything popped out of the Book of Kells, ornate as an illustrator's wildest dream.

But when it comes to fascinating, it's hard to beat bog bodies form the Iron Age. So yes, we visited the National Museum of Ireland, Archaeology, as it's not every day you get to see remains from 2000 BC. (Except, maybe, in the mirror the morning after a hard hard night before.) It's a bit tricky when you have to share your viewing with hordes of schoolchildren, who, it turns out, are just as rowdy and bored as American children, but if you wait the busy buggers out, you get to have a viewing with something as stunning as Old Croghan Man.
That's a person. Think about that. How can you not think about that.
That hand, if not for the coloring, could be anyone's, yours. Plus 40 centuries. If it moved you wouldn't jump; it's almost more shocking it doesn't.

This one is a bit more skeleton in the closet.
They think most of the bog people were sacrificed. We like murdering each other when we can pretend it means something.

To finish, though, where else could we go on this trip of words but the National Library of Ireland? We didn't get into the great reading room, even, no matter how I adore those, cathedrals to books and the people who love them, each a priest for the religion of reading. Instead we explored the exhibit "Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats," and ended up finding more than we ever dreamed even Sligo might offer.

The NLI knows how to put on a show. Different aspects of Yeats' life and career each got its own nook, from Maud Gonne to Easter, 1916 to An Occult Marriage. That nook would be decorated to fit the theme, and include poems and letters and well-done videos we didn't have enough time to dive into.

But then there was this. The lapis lazuli Harry Clifton gave to Yeats that inspired the poem it's named after. Generally it's just in the Yeats family, but they loaned the stone out for the exhibit. I felt like I was seeing something I shouldn't, a before too brilliant for my eyes to spy. The poem is posted aside, so you can read it, and then realize how much Yeats created, the lapis small and the faces of the figures inscrutable. Yet Yeats writes:

Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

The poet, and the lapis, and the lore and lure of Ireland, they all ask us to delight to imagine. What lives as long as a the draw of a bog body's mystery? Mournful melodies ring exact rhymes with our glittering eyes. How much beauty we mine from the tragic scene.

Go back to the post on Day 11 (Sligo).

Sunday, September 16, 2018

SB Poets Take Ireland: Day 11

I had to open this day with that photo so I could then insist the rest of the post lies under bare Ben Bulben's head. For today's post is haunted by the ghost of W.B.


The last stop on the whirlwind tour, but what could be better than to cap things off with a reading in William Butler Yeats' favorite Irish town? The PLs were reading as part of the seventh annual Tread Softly Festival in Sligo, so got in a fancy program and everything again. One thing Ireland arts groups have down is rounding up a host of artistic events into one mega-festival. We need to do that here in Santa Barbara.

As the PL reading was a bit of a late add to the schedule, it became a late evening event on the schedule, too--the event began at 10 pm. Of course in Ireland it's still light then on a summer's eve, but we're all slowly becoming Benjamin Franklin folks (early to bed, early to rise, especially when one of our stars was not healthy [you not it's not healthy to assume poets are wealthy]).

And in a funny twist, the location was switched last second--one of the organizers might have pushed the key right through the keyhole at the original location, might I say, so suddenly we were in a wonderful room in Sligo City Hall. Which has inspiring words painted on all its walls. And is where Yeats lay in state before he got buried out at Drumcliff.
The poets went back to their connect-the-poems round robin ways, which, of course, works even better when you worry an audience member could drift off due to a late start. But all went very well, even the couple of times I stepped in for Chryss's round when she was worried her poem might sound like, "hack hack blasting GGG it hack RRRR apart."
It wasn't me!, Chryss says.
Good eye contact while reading, David.
Looking serious, Paul.

Of all things the crowd even attracted a woman who had lived in Santa Barbara but moved to Sligo over two decades ago. At least she was able to vouch for us as representatives from California.


Another one of the advantages to a reading by a sponsored party--they land you hotel rooms. For our single Sligo night we got put up at the Sligo Park Hotel & Leisure Club. We weren't there long enough to take advantage of the leisure, but it certainly was nice enough even if our room was right across from the stairway from the lobby, so we got a bit of guest chatter. (And not even anything salacious and fun.) We did get to hang at the bar a bit, but you'll read about that in poured.


It's a long drive from Dingle to Sligo, as you have to get off the peninsula to start, and then tunnel under Limerick (we both took time to compose dirty ones we won't share), then keep driving north. We even skipped the spot where supposedly Mary made an appearance to villagers in 1879, mostly because it's named Knock, and I just wanted to do knock-knock jokes. ("Who's there?" "Mary!" "Mary who?" "The mother of God...Jesus!" And that last part has to be said in a voice that's as exasperated--yet holy--as you can.)

We got into that let's not stop, let's just get there, damn we're hungry, we don't have to stop death spiral, but our bladders won out. So we stopped at one of the tarted up rest stops they have, petrol station-store-deli-ma-jigs that are about as depressing as similar stops we have in the U.S. See, we are all one (sad) peoples. Unless you get a bag of these:
According the contents, there really are shamrocks in there. Turns out they taste like chicken parsley.

We did make up for that with an incredible dinner, starting with its inviting jewelbox exterior.

Eala Bhan (which means white swan) is rightfully lauded as one of the places to eat in Sligo, and how could a bunch of poets and spouses not want to go to the kind of place that has Yeats' quotes adorn its walls?
But on to the food, which kicked off with an amuse of seemingly simple yet serious deep consomme, potato and leek and perfect on a drizzly evening.
And of course there was bread, brown, but not just with the usual beautiful butter but a pesto of sorts, too.
And then my delightful appetizer, a trio of duck with the most luscious scoop of ice cream made with Cashel blue cheese (savory ice cream is the future!).
Reading from left to right that's a duck liver pate, carpaccio of smoked duck breast, and mini duck spring roll. Lots of flavors and textures, of course, the pate pungent and creamy, the carpaccio almost a duck pastrami, and the spring roll nodding to Asia, but then if you used the Cashel blue ice cream as its dipping sauce, veering back to Ireland fast. With the accoutrements of sauce dollops and salad and red onion marmalade, this could have been my dinner and I would have been happy.

But, of course, I opted for happier, and went for the catch of the day.
Had to have one last shot at hake, didn't I? (A bad not-quite-poem: Hake, hake, I love how you flake,/ Delicious, nutritious white fish!") Those are baby turnips along with a couple teensy potatoes and different sauces so each bite was a unique burst of flavor. Plus an edible flower garnish.

Chryss had the vegetarian lasagna no one had to suffer for, as it's mushroom, spinach, and blue cheese with expertly made pasta between (and not the most photogenic dish, alas).
All in all a rich incredible meal and a fine last supper for all 6 of us on the trip as we would all go our separate couple ways the next morning. It's been weird not having everyone to eat with since.


So we got to do some afternoon drinking after all that driving from Dingle to Sligo. Fortunately the hotel bar was a fine place to hole up as the drizzle-to-rain-to-drizzle came down, and they even offered several local brews we had not run into yet. A particular favorite was this one
because, as I must emphasize as Chryss put it, "Here's your tall White Hag." The beer itself is called Little Fawn, and it's yet another session IPA, as if they might be afraid to make a full one. Or know CA has that down, so why bother? Not quite as good as the one at Dick Mack's, but tasty enough. We'd revisit it at Eala Bhan, too. (And then I had a glass of Neftali Sauvignon Blanc with my fish, too--good match from Argentina for the sauces.)
And while the British Empire did plenty of nasty damage--hey, that's what empire is all about, no?--one good thing it left behind are the lights on taps at a bar. Aren't they an attractive beacon to your beer? Got them in Australia, too. For my first then I enjoyed a Lough Gill Lost Armada APA, which as a fitting name as it doesn't exist on this Sligo-based brewery's website.
Once again, pleasing, direct, low in alcohol, easy to drink, easy to not think about too much. I guess in a land where there's so much rain and you can garden a lot, it's good to have a surplus of beers to consume while doing yardwork. Then for a second I tried another Lough Gill, and this one even makes their website, an Anderson's Irish Ale. Figured given Chryss's family name is Anderson, we couldn't go wrong. Malty with just enough hop kick, this one clocks in at 4%. You are truly meant ot drink all day in Ireland.

After our reading we went with our new-old Santa Barbara friend to The Harp Tavern, near to City Hall, for a nightcap. The pub was jumping, with live music in the back and us sneaking our way to share a snug with some others in the front. More White Hag was to be had. And soon the lights came up, as bars close early there. But we can say we drank until the end of the night, which is only fitting, as we barely fit.


David and I were the only two up enough late afternoon for an excursion through the mist to Drumcliff, just  north of town, for Yeats' grave. Given the poet left his own epitaph, you sort of have to go. And somber and grave (oops) it is.
We weren't on horse, so we didn't pass by; even worse, we had to wait a few moments as a bus tour pulled up for their photo op/respects. The church itself has that "here's where charming meets spooky" vibe down, which kind of happens when something is Gothic but not outsized. It seems so aspirational.
It's surprising on the inside, that's for sure, eschewing Christ on the cross for this terrific mural that lights up when set off by the wood and stone.
And I have to leave the post with this shot of dusk as it settled upon the Garavogue River that helps make Sligo wistful and romantic, especially after a day of light showers giving everything a wash, a sheen, especially when the iPhone camera wishes it were an Impressionist painter.

Go ahead to the post on Day 12 (Sligo, Dublin).

Go back to the post on Day 10 (Dingle Day 2).