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NEW YORK CORNER: Cafe Gray by John Mariani
My Favorite Mansions
Mount Juliet Conrad, County Kilkenny, Ireland
by John Mariani
None but the Irish seem to take such joy in sighing. They love nothing more than to rue a moment of happiness. Take this lovely poem by Padraic Perse, "The Wayfarer":
The beauty of the world has made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun,
Or some green hill where shadows drifted by.
I was reminded of such a lyrical setting on a recent trip to Ireland while looking out the tall casement windows of my suite at the Mount Juliet Conrad, sitting as it has for a very long time on the slow-moving River Nore. All the natural beauty Pearse wrote of yawned below me, stretching across a sheep field and in view of horse stables, and the river reflected the light of a red sun as blue shadows crept from the forests. I sighed too, but not out of any sense that all this would pass--except when I left Ireland a few days later. Instead I was buoyed by the fact that such a very beautiful place has been restored and maintained so that its antique charms seem min no danger of passing away for decades to come.
Built and named for the wife of the First Earl of Carrick more than two centuries ago, this grand Georgian home was in the same family until 1914, and was taken over by Killeen Investments in 1987. The mansion is set on 1,500 gorgeously landscaped acres not far from the darling village of Thomastown in County Kilkenny, 75 miles south of Dublin. There are 32 bedrooms (right) in period decor, along with two- and three-bedroom large guest houses on the property called The Rose Garden, the Paddocks and the Hunters Yard.
There is a Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole championship golf course, a par 53 putting course, practice greens, and a 3-hole academy course. You may go fishing (with instruction, if necessary) in the River Nore and the
There is also the occasional fox hunt (which Oscar Wilde once described as "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable") held on the estate. Straight-backed riders in black and scarlet livery sit atop snorting black, brown, gray, and white horses and sip a dram of Irish whiskey or Champagne while dozens of yelping hounds mill about like anxious children waiting to get on with the excitement of it all. Then, with the sound of a bugle, they are all off together at a trot, to return hours later for more Irish whiskey and a good meal at the resort.
I decided against the trot in favor of a deep massage in the spa here, yet I felt just as deserving of a good meal as did the hunters, so my wife and I dressed for dinner (it's actually fairly casual, though several men wore jackets) at the stately Lady Helen Dining Room, whose quiet delicacy of cream-white-and-azure colored walls, a taupe-and-rose-colored carpet, carved mahogany chairs, and bas-relief filigrees is buoyed by the sound of people having a lovely time in a style that hearkens back more generations than anyone can now remember.
You may start off with a cocktail in the well-upholstered Tetrach Bar or the Major's Room overlooking the estate. (For more casual dining there is also the wood-paneled
Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
Chef Paul Quinn has a light touch without the sacrifice of flavors that depend on the correct amount of fad and seasoning. .Our dinner in the Lady Helen (right) was impeccably served by an Irish and European staff, beginning with a torchon of foie gras with black grapes and truffled tarte Tatin with vanilla-scented chutney. Four preparations of rabbit came on one plate--a tiny stuffed loin, the roasted rack, a confit of the leg, and a parfait made from the liver--very finely wrought in every instance.
A not-too-sweet tangerine sorbet followed, then a warm leek-and-potato soup before the main courses. We chose wild boar--which I thought would have had more flavor of its own--enhanced with buttery, thinly sliced, crisp pommes Anna made aromatic with smoked garlic and served with creamy truffled Savoy cabbage, carrots, a sprinkling of chervil, and apple jus to give it a little sweetness. My wife had very fine veal loin with truffled sausage, a smoked garlic potato soufflé, roasted shallots, and a confit of leeks.
We opted for cheeses, which were unfortunately served cold, then a glass of Port before retiring up the grand staircase and off to a very comfortable bed. Dinner is 72 Euros (about $92), with tax included.
I might add that the modern amenities of widescreen TV, internet hook-ups, and excellent bathroom toiletries go without saying here, but it is not the modernity of Mount Juliet that impressed me as much as its quiet sense of place and time, both thankfully reclaimed and now perpetuated for posterity. The life of an Irish country gentleman has been much improved on in the 21st century.
Mount Juliet Conrad, County Kilkenny: Tel. 353-56-777-3000; www.mountjuliet.com.
Mount Juliet is within easy driving distance of the picturesque village of Thomastown (which will take all of five minutes to wander around), and also about 45 minutes from Waterford, a delightful fishing town of mid-size bisected by a waterfront and wonderful for strolling through winding streets that have obviously been enjoying a recent economic boom. Several people recommended lunch at the historic Granville Hotel, though the food turned out to be sadly typical of so much outdated Irish cooking, despite the rise of standards and ingredients throughout the country. Here was the usual meat and vegetables, the same steam-table lamb and fried cod, mucky mashed and greasy fried potatoes, along with the only saving grace, a twice-poured pint of Guinness.
Then, despite a series of counterproductive signs that had us going in circles, we arrived at the Waterford Crystal factory, which gives a really terrific tour of every step in the intense process of turning sand into exquisitely molded and cut crystal, crafted by artisans and artists (right) whose training goes on for years. It is a visit I heartily recommend.
That evening we dined at Dunbrody House Hotel (below) on the Hook Peninsula, which is clearly one of the committed labors of love I've ever seen. Set on 200 acres, this 1830s Georgian manor was ancestral home to the Chichester Family, now owned by the indefatigable Catherine and Kevin Dundon, who are content to run the hotel, and the spa, and a cooking school on premises but also to maintain one of Ireland's finest country restaurants.
Almost everything served here comes either from the estate or from local farmers and nearby waters, and menus are made up daily, as are the breads. Thus, the fish come out of Duncannon Harbor, the shellfish from Kilmore Quay, the salmon is smoked in Arthurstown, and the vegetables from Wexford or from their own gardens. Each morning the eggs are collected from their own hens, so no one is ever late for breakfast at Dunbrody.
Unfortunately my wife and I had not the time to spend overnight in this beautiful mansion, whose every room is different in style, elegantly set with antiques and superb artwork, as are the halls and the public rooms. You may sit in a drawing room (right) on a fluffy couch, enjoy a cocktail and peruse the menu before going in to dine at the Harvest Room (below). Kevin is a mildly--not a wildly--creative chef, which I mean as a high compliment: he has a fine sense of culinary imagination without ever going to a carefree extreme. So I was quite charmed with pan-seared scallops served on a risotto suffused with crab, so simple, so unconstructed. A goat's cheese terrine came with wild mushrooms, greens from the garden, and peach chutney, with garlic crostini. With these starters we sipped a crisp, green-gold '03 Montmain Domain de Bois d'Yver Chablis.
I expected good beef that evening, and Dunbrody's comes from Wexford, grilled and beautifully charred, served with golden oyster mushrooms, a gloss of white truffle oil, and a reduction of red Médoc wine. The succulence of oven-baked breast of corn-fed chicken was increased by being swaddled in a little cloak of prosciutto and flavored with basil beneath the skin. With it came cherry tomatoes and roasted garlic cream, a lovely small triumph of balanced tastes. Happily I chose one of my favorite Argentinean wines for the meats--'03 Alta Vista Malbec Grand Reserve. (Prices on wines here are not outrageous, but the US dollar does not go very far on this list.)
There were artisanal farmhouse cheeses--at ripe room temperature--and a pear in wine, then the Dunbrody Chocolate Kiss--a finale of chocolate ganache, raspberries and strawberries, the recipe for which, among others, is in Kevin lovely Full On Irish (2005), which he dedicated "to my mum, who inspired me to cook from an early age."
If Kevin's food does not sound particularly "Irish," it is not, at least not in the sense of being based on old Irish recipes. It is, however, modern European cuisine based on local provender and seafood, which is the way all cooking should be by whatever name you choose to call it. This is Kevin Dundon's food, and, with Katherine overseeing the dining room and winelist, Dunbrody is as personal a statement as any in this unique mansion near the sandy coves of County Wexford.
The table d'hôte menu is 55 Euros ($75). Tel. 051-389-600; www.dunbrodyhouse.com
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
Time Warner Center
10 Columbus Circle
With the exception of
Jean-Georges Vongerichten's ill-fated, now closed steakhouse, V, and
Charlie Trotter's, which never did open, the
restaurants (and retailers) in the Time-Warner Center at Columbus
Circle seem to be doing quite well, not least Café Gray, which since
November 2004, has succeeded in drawing crowds of fine diners who
not be up for the four-hour meals at Per Se (assuming they
could get a rez) or the $500 sushi bar at Masa.
Gray is a far more amiable place, not that tough to get into, popular
at lunch, with a good bar crowd, busy at dinner, and not outrageously
Appetizers at dinner run $19-$28, main courses, $31-$38. The restaurant is open for lunch, Mon.-Sat., dinner, daily.
Incidentally, the Time-Warner Center will be adding two new
restaurants: This fall Chef Michael Lomonaco will helm a new American
grill where Vongerichten's V used to be, and Marc Murphy, who owns
Landmarc and the new Ditch Plains, will open a larger branch of
Landmarc on the premises originally designed for Charlie Trotter's, to
open next spring.
YET ANOTHER GREAT REASON TO VISIT LIBYA
"When it's time to head for the airport, I realise a quick dose of Libya has put me in a good mood. I'm feeling healthy, tanned, and energised, and I've seen amazing things in the space of a long weekend. Of course, the whole plane is mightily pleased to see good old British Airways drinks trolley coming down the aisle--but, hey, detox, retox, that's the way we live. Eh, Bacchus?"--Nigel Tisdall, "The Lure of Libya," Marie Claire Travel (April 2006).
DEPARTMENT OF WRETCHED EXCESS
Mama Lena's Pizza House in Pittsburgh is offering a pizza measuring 3 feet by 4 feet for 99 cents.
* On May 16 North One 10 in
* Boston’s Sel de la Terre Chef/Owner Geoff Gardner and Wine Director Erik Johnson announce the next "Wine Wednesday" series. MAY 17: Bordeaux; MAY 24: South Africa; MAY 31: Picnic Basket Goodies; JUNE 7: Summer Sippers; JUNE 14: Rosé Colored Glasses; JUNE 21: Sel de la Terre Clam Bake; JULY 5: Red, White & Blue: The USA; JULY 12: No Wine Wednesday; JULY 19: Australia & New Zealand; JULY 26: Bubbles, Bubbles, Everywhere! $45 pp. Call 617-720-1300. Visit www.seldelaterre.com.
* From May 19-21 the New York Culinary Festival will be held at Pier 94 New York (54th Street and 12th Avenue), incl. NYC chefs and food from top eateries, incl. Megu, Petrossian, Artisanal, Osteria Gelsi, Blair Perrone Steakhouse, Country, Payard Patisserie & Bistro, Picholine, WD-50, Artisanal, Butter, Joseph’s, Citarella & Brasserie 8 1/2, Tintol, Colors, et al. Demos and seminars incl: “Molecular Gastronomy” by Will Goldfarb of wd-50; “Easy Entertaining” by Ted Allen of Robert Mondavi Private Selections; “Summer Cocktails” by Julie Reiner of the Flat Iron Lounge and Jason Kosmas of Employees Only; “Chocolatina, Queen of Desert” by Martin Howard; “Foie Gras Vol au Vent” by Pascal Condomine of D’Artagnan, et al. Live music, ice sculpture, fashion consultants, cookbook authors, etc. $20 pp, $10 for children. Visit www.nyculinaryfestival.com or call 1-800-555-MENU.
* On Sat, & Sun. from May 27-Oct. 8, 40
* From June 1-4, Napa Valley Vintners will hold the 26th Annual Auction Napa Valley, culminating in the live auction at the Meadwood Resort. Jack and Dolores Cakebread and family, owners and founders of Cakebread Cellars, will chair this year’s auction. Tickets at www.napavintners.com.
* From June 6-11 ‘A Taste of Andalucia’ festival at the InterContinental Miami in partnership with Diego’s Restaurant, Coral Gables, with 6 of the region’s top chefs, incl. Manolo Rincon; Jose Dominguez Oneto, chef and food critic from Cadiz; Francisco Afan Del Rio of ‘Casa Pepe,' Cordoba; plus Juan Martinez Lao, Antonio Jesus Caballero Sanchez and Francisco Javier Cobos Martin, all from Exsena Café-Teatro Restaurant, Sevilla. Also Spanish wines and ‘La Tropa’ flamenco. Call 305-577-1000.
"THE SWEET LIFE" CRUISE
This fall, from Sept. 29-Oct. 6 John Mariani (left), publisher of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet and food & travel columnist for Esquire Magazine, will host and lead a 7-day cruise called "The Sweet Life," aboard Silverseas' Millennium Class Silver Whisper, with days visiting Barcelona, Tunis, Naples, Milazzo (Sicily), Rome, Livorno, and Villefranche. There will be a welcoming cocktail party, gourmet dinners with wines, cooking demos by John and Galina Mariani co-authors of The Italian-American Cookbook), optional shore excursions will include a tour of the Amalfi Coast, dinner at the great Don Alfonso 1890 (2 Michelin stars), a private tour of the Vatican, dinner at La Pergola (3 Michelin stars) in Rome, a Night Cruise to Hotel de Paris and dinner at Louis XV (3 Michelin stars) in Monaco, and much more. Rates (a 20% savings) range from $4,411 to $5,771. For complete information click.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
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