papadakis

Papadakis - risotto with sea urchin and cockles

One of the many things I’ve so enjoyed about being in Greece is the quality of the seafood. (I should really use the plural because, as I’ve discovered, my nephew is as gastronomically adventurous as myself.) Besides fish, Athenians know how to cook all those other devilishly difficult sea creatures with a simplicity which brings out the full force of their distinctive flavors. So on this, our last night in Greece, I thought it only fitting that we splurge and have dinner at what is considered by many to be one of the best seafood restaurants in the city: Papadakis, in the upscale shopping district of Kolonaki. Sitting outdoors on a quiet, tree-lined block we leisurely munched our way through a seafood feast of lemon-dressed crab and baby lettuces, octopus simmered in red wine and honey, orzo pasta cooked with giant langoustines, and – kudos to the kid – shellfish risotto with sea urchin. A fitting end to the evening was delivered to the table following coffee and dessert: a decanter of homemade strawberry liqueur. Despite my best attempts on this trip to get a taste of alcohol to pass his lips, my nephew has assiduously stuck with Coca-Cola. Tonight, however, he couldn’t resist – and neither could I.

Papadakis - crab salad

Papadakis - octopus in wine

Papadakis - langoutsines and orzo

Papadakis - a digestif

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summer sauce: blue crab

In my mind, crab had always been one of the few foods that demanded to be eaten as unadulterated as possible. (A wedge of lemon, a little remoulade on the side, nothing too fancy.) Not so in the Italian world of my brother-in-law, who simmers blue crabs in a simple sauce of ripe tomato, onions, and garlic until the shells are rendered as toothsome as a spring soft-shell. Piled atop a plate of plain spaghetti, it is roll up your sleeves and get messy food: a rapacious, cannibalistic experience infused with all the finger-licking appeal of a woozy summer afternoon. Consider me corrected – at least as far as crab is concerned.

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live blog: smoked out

The Burren Smokehouse is a family run business started by Birgitta and Peter Curtain to keep up with the demand which had built up around the house-smoked salmon served in the family’s Lisdoonvarna pub, The Roadside Tavern. Leaders in the local Slow Food movement, they carefully source quality raw materials like trout, mackerel, cheese, and salmon direct from the wild west coast of Ireland to produce award-winning specialties like Burren’s Hot Smoked Organic Salmon with Honey, Lemon and Dill, which won 2 gold medals at the Great Taste awards and was recently served to Queen Elizabeth II as part of a state dinner at Dublin Castle. While widely available via mail order now – as well as at Dean & Deluca – there are few locations as atmospheric in which to enjoy their ruby-red salmon than nearby Burren Wine and Food. The sign in the window promises home cooking and that’s exactly what you’ll find inside the century-old stone coach house. Nestled in the Burren hills, owner Cathleen Connole grows or sources most of the food she serves from local farmers and traders, including fish from the Burren Smokehouse and Liscannor crab. The only exception is the organic house wine. The Galway Bay label is produced in the Languedoc by her brother, Noel.

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live blog: close encounters of the crustacean kind

Out along the Doonbeg strand today I came upon a pair of prehistoric-looking crabs the size of footballs. At first glance they looked to be dead, but after finding a stick of suitable length and girth I discovered they were, in fact, just sleeping – or heavily medicated. Barely mobile, they looked to be encrusted with barnacles. Once the tide started to roll in and rinse them of their sandy camouflage, however, they revealed themselves to be a bright purple color, baring a striking similarity to the limestone landscape of the nearby Burren. Even more curious, nobody at the Lodge at Doonbeg was able to identify them, claiming to have never seen anything like them. Chef Wade Murphy finally solved the mystery, identifying them as purple spider crabs, known for their sweet and toothsome meat.

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hairy crab season

Hairy crab is a seasonal delicacy that happens to be winding down while I’m in Hong Kong. Prized for sweet meat and delicate roe, the small crustaceans are imported from a single lake in the Jiangsu Province and command premium prices. Nevertheless I’m on a mision to taste the last of the hairy crab before time runs out.

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what’s good for the belly

What better introduction to a country than a fashionable and defiantly cool lunch?  Relaxed and oh so chill atop the clubhouse at Penha Longa, Arola is chef Sergi Arola’s modern twist on Portuguese cuisine.  A disciple of Ferran Adria, Arola spent eight years in the kitchens of El Bulli and it shows. His respect for tradition and heritage, while contrasting unexpected flavors and textures, is an obvious homage to his mentor. It begins with a bowl on the table that I at first mistook for the centerpiece: garlic cloves, cherry tomatoes, and small toast squares.  I soon learned the trio is a classic Catalan tapa served DIY before the meal in every village in Spain: tomato toast. Halve a clove of garlic, making sure to leave the skin on so as to not get the smell all over your fingers.  Rub the cut side across a piece of the toast.  Halve a tomato and do the same.  Drizzle with a little olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and voila: ridiculously simple perfection that also happens be a convivial, participatory start to the meal.

The fun doesn’t end there either. Rather it’s delivered via the kitchen on plate – no work required: thinly sliced pata negra with spunky  Saõ Jorge cheese, Royal and King crab salad, foie gras-topped oxtail ravioli, ethereal Bravas potatoes dolloped with crême fraiche, John Dory on a puree of boletus mushroom with ox tail. I’m tempted to order the rest of the menu, but I’ve already devoured every tasting plate put in front of me – helped along in no small part by an unassumingly fresh bottle of red from Portugal’s Douro Valley. Partridge cannelloni, Iberian ham croquettes, and Massuça goat cheese will have to wait another day.  I can’t even imagine dessert until something called Arola’s Sweet Moment arrives.  It’s a petite timbale of custard with various textures of lemon that refreshes the palate and brings me back from the brink of a food coma.  I fleetingly think I might be able to go another round but wisely opt instead for a cortado and a glass of muscadet, the lighter, honeyed cousin of port.  Fresh off the plane, I am sated.  And I know I am going to love it here.

 

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the edible revolution

When people think of Irish food they tend to focus on the mythology of the humble spud – or pints of creamy Guinness.  Yet what many don’t realize is that while the Slow Food movement may have been born in northern Italy, it first gained traction and was embraced in Ireland.  Almost a generation ago a new breed of Irish chefs who had trained abroad and saw the creeping spread of pesticide-grown, antibiotic-riddled foods realized that back home the burgeoning globalization of agribusiness had yet to invade their country.  The good stuff, as it were, was still being produced locally on small farms:  beef and lamb that tasted of the pastures where they were raised, fresh dairy that didn’t have to travel across a continent, produce within a stone’s throw, and fish and shellfish foraged from the surrounding ocean.  At the same time, the growth of the Celtic economy saw a wave of returning emigres, and suddenly there were artisanal cheese-makers sprouting up near the dairy farms in Cork and Kerry, smokehouses outside the fishing villages in Clare, and stone-ground mills in the rolling hills of Wicklow:  sustainable, affordable, and deepening the country’s connection to the land. The little island was a big Greenmarket.  To be a locavore wasn’t so much a political statement – notwithstanding the colonial legacy of enforced exportation of most homegrown foods in return for nutritionally poor imports  – it was a practicality.  England may do the gastropub with more spit and polish but walk into any humble village pub in Ireland and you’re likely to find a menu with unadulterated ingredients sourced within a five-mile radius; they just don’t crow about it so much.

Of course like anywhere, you can eat a bad meal in Ireland, too.  But I didn’t have that problem in Doonbeg:  crab claws with tomato concasse, samphire and chili butter; foie gras and cherry confit; loin of Clare lamb, roasted girolles and eggplant; pear sorbet; and a board of farmhouse cheese.

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