Thursday, March 18, 2010

Packie's Food and Wine

Happy St. Patty's Day! I know, I know, I'm a day late. But, admit it - you had so much fun celebrating yesterday that you were actually wishing you could prolong the day. Hopefully, this will help. And after finally making my first trip to the Emerald Isle this winter, I feel even more compelled to celebrate and praise the Irish for as many days as possible. If I could find a reason to talk about Ireland every day, I really would. I just can't believe it took me 29 years to discover the place! I had always been eager to wander the lush, green landscape and enjoy a few pints with the locals. But, in all honesty, I had never imagined the food would be anything to write home about. When was the last time I raved about a meal at an Irish restaurant?

I really I had no right asking that question having never visited Ireland. And, had I been there before, my answer most certainly would have been: "In Ireland!" I am not only writing home about their food, but I am praising them for it. I think the Irish have it figured out - they have kept the best of their cuisine confined to their own little island - fooling us all into thinking they couldn't see past meat and potatoes. Of course you will find both meat and potatoes on nearly every menu; but, they certainly know how to turn them into so much more - making me think twice whenever I now walk by an Irish pub in New York. Although, I know better than to stop and see if it can compare. To truly taste Ireland, you've got to get to Ireland.

My preconceived images of gorgeous landscapes and friendly Irishmen do not even begin to do them justice. Everything is just that much greener and that much jollier in person. And that is exactly how I feel about their cuisine, especially after dining at Packie's Food and Wine in Kenmare. Located in the southwest of the country, this picturesque town is situated on the Kenmare Bay, in County Kerry linking the Iveragh and the Beara Peninsulas. For nearly two decades, this tiny restaurant has taken all the concepts that Americans love and produced some of the freshest, gourmet dishes ready to take on any fine dining scene. With a focus on organic produce and fresh seafood, Packie's offers a menu that still has an Irish stamp on it. A basket of their brown bread, one of my favorite culinary discoveries during the trip, greeted us at the start of the meal. Wherever I went, I could not get enough of this national delicacy. At Packie's, I was careful to save room for our meal since the romantic, cozy setting alone had convinced me that I was in for a real treat.

We started the meal with potato pancakes and mussels in a garlic, white wine sauce. The potato pancakes were out of this world - a dish that is usually just so simple and mediocre, actually blew me away as they were full of flavor (most likely butter), while perfectly crisp. It takes a great deal for potatoes (besides French fries) to get me this excited. The mussels were, in their own way, equally as exciting. They were extremely fresh and infused with garlic. I soon realized that the Irish are not afraid of garlic - another sign that I was destined to discover and love Irish cuisine. For main courses, I highly recommend the roast rack of lamb with rosemary, red currant sauce and lentils. This is a simple, yet elegant preparation. The monkfish has been on the menu for years - and for good reason. It is roasted with a garlic and ginger crust and served with a thai dipping sauce. All dishes are offered with sides. The colcannon, an Irish specialty of mashed potatoes with cabbage and bacon, gave me reason number two to love the Irish handiwork with potatoes that night. And really, isn't everything better with bacon? For a lighter option, go with the simple green salad tossed with a light vinaigrette. It reminded me of being in a French bistro where the side salads are served with little dressing, yet just enough to fully appreciate such a simple vegetable.

While Packie's was certainly a night of fine dining in Ireland, I can easily declare that the food throughout the rest of my journey continued to impress me. Whether I was enjoying a "toasted special" - ham, tomato, and cheese toasted sandwich- or a seafood stew at a casual pub, the culinary talent was right up my alley. I'll take both shabby and chic, as long as the flavors are right on. And, I really do think the Irish are wise. Some may view it as keeping the best to themselves, while I like to think they are just perfecting their ability to host. The Irish are truly some of the most hospitable people I have encountered - so long as you head to their little gem of an island!

Packie's Food and Wine
Henry Street
Kenmare, County Kerry
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):


Anonymous said...

Everything you described sounds perfectly delicious to me--not just corned beef and cabbage. Since I am half Irish, I am sure that I would enjoy every mouthful just so long as there is nothing like that vile haggis the Scots serve.

GTS said...

Don't know what looks better.....the scenery or the food!!!! A great combination...

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