A tale of two dinners

The night before last, hubby and I paid an inaugural visit to Paprika, the Indian restaurant in Millstreet. I keep asking the folks around these parts and no one seems to have any idea what it’s like, never having eaten there. Hubby and I decided it was up to us to bravely blaze the trail.

We made our entrance around 7 p.m. on a Thursday night and we the only diners in the joint. Could very nearly have heard crickets chirping, the place was so quiet, and no one else proceeded to come in the entire time we were there for takeaways or otherwise. Hm. Not encouraging, but we soldiered on.

The waiter was Indian, which fueled my belief that the food would actually be authentic and yummy. However, he seemed somewhat flustered by taking our order, which made me nervous. I worried about our entrée requests getting lost in translation, but hoped for the best.

The freebie poppadum was a little stale, but tasty, and came along with a trio of sauces — a tomato chutney, a herbed yogurt raita and some sort of sweetish curry thing. We ordered up a chicken tandoori tikka masala for hubby and a lamb badami korma for me, both with pilau rice, and an order of cheese naan bread. For being the only diners within a ten-mile radius, it seemed to take an inordinately long time to prepare our food. I wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad sign.

By the time the food finally arrived, I was nearly ready to gnaw my own arm off. The bread was fresh and tasty, but the cheese absent. Our entrees were mostly sauce and skimpy on the meat; the sauces were interestingly spiced but not spicy. The tikka masala was basically a creamy tomato sauce. My korma was more intriguing flavorwise — a yellow yogurt curry thickened with what tasted like ground almonds. Some veggies and a little more meat would have gone a long way to round things out. Both dishes were fine, not stellar, but fine. The meal was a little overpriced for what we got.  To be honest, Shalimar in Indianapolis would put this place to shame.

Don’t know that I’d rush right back to Paprika anytime soon, but wouldn’t be opposed to ordering some take out there at some point in the future.

I fared better last night at my sister-in-law Margaret’s 40th birthday celebration dinner. Bandon (the town where she lives) is much bigger than Millstreet and therefore offers more dining options. The scene of the dinner was a place called Marmatiece, an upscale trendy fine-dining restaurant on the river the flows through Bandon. I’d seen the menu posted in the window during previous walks through town and was excited to see if it was actually as good as it sounded.

The party was a vivacious group of Margaret’s female family and friends, a lively crowd of 15 or so sophisticated ladies that I was honored to be a part of. In spite of our waiter who seemed a little out of sorts about serving that many ladies at once, everything seemed to come off without any major hiccups. We kicked off the evening with champagne and things rolled on from there.

The Marmatiece menu was not extensive, but the dishes all sounded delicious. Think traditional Irish ingredients given modern twists and surprising interpretations. I nibbled the complementary bread and pesto, finally settling on the daily specials for both starter and an entrée.

For my appetizer, I enjoyed an egg roll stuffed with creamy crabmeat and sautéed summer veggies. It was served with a little shallow dish of addictively sweet soy sesame dipping sauce. Although the egg roll wrapper was a little chewy, it was still yummy. The egg roll was pretty good sized, and I kept telling myself it was ok to leave some and save room for my dinner to come, but I couldn’t help myself and polished off every crumb.

About half of the table ordered the monkfish entrée, and most were disappointed when they discovered that the monkfish was really only a small garnishing section of what was actually a large salad. Not me. My perfectly cooked fresh cod was completely delicious – a huge filet that I couldn’t even finish, drenched in a rich beurre blanc sauce atop a bed of sweet peas, bacon and sautéed onion. And because this is Ireland, a few roasted baby potatoes around the edge of the plate. Excellently done.

I was so full I had to pass on dessert, although I must admit, I wasn’t blown away by the choices. The servings I saw looked lovely, especially the pear crumble served in individual French Le Creuset-style baking dishes with tiny carafes of custard sauce and whipped cream, but I wasn’t heartbroken about missing out.

Tomorrow, hubby and I are off for a sneaky romantic getaway at the Ballymaloe House inn. Several of the in-laws have given me gift certificates to use at Ballymaloe Cookery School (think an Irish Cordon Bleu culinary academy), but I couldn’t find anything on the schedule of classes that really tempted me. Fortunately, the kind folks at Ballymaloe said it was no problem to transfer the vouchers to use for accommodation and dinner at the inn, bless them. I’ve been to Ballymaloe once before with my sister-in-law for a fabulous three-course lunch, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do for their famous weekly Sunday night buffet… stay tuned.