We finally found a GREAT restaurant in Galway. It opened three months ago. But before I get to that, let me tell you why I'm rejoicing.
In our opinion, Ireland has lived up to its reputation as mediocre when it comes to culinary arts, great food. Sure, they have these cows and sheep, so butter and cheeses are excellent here. And those potatoes. Produce is fresh and usually flavorful.
But dining at restaurants has always been a let down for us. To date, the best meal we had the entire year -- as far as Irish cuisine is concerned -- was at The Winding Stair in Dublin. And I've read several stories about Ireland's fine dining scene coming to life.
But we've been on a budget, so splurging at the best spots wasn't in the cards for us. Our only big splurge of the year was for Valentine's Day at O'Grady's on the Pier, located about 15 minutes from our apartment and rated the Georgina Campbell Seafood Restaurant of the Year in Ireland in 2008. The weathered wood table by the old fireplace was cozy and romantic. The food was quite good, almost as good as The Winding Stair. But we felt it lacked something -- I can't put my finger on it, maybe integration of flavors -- and for €105, we definitely recalled many better meals we've had in San Francisco and Napa Valley with a $150 tab. We also dined at Itsa4 in the Dublin suburbs for my birthday. The food and wine were great, but €18 for a hamburger?!?
After several "just okay" meals in Galway -- then the ridiculously expensive and disappointing one at the Huntsmann which cost us €48 for some fish and chips, a burger, one Coke and a glass of New Zealand Pinot Noir -- we gave up on going out to dinner here. For the first time in my life, I actually preferred the value-quality from my home cooking over well-regarded local restaurants.
Then our friends Mike and SuAnn who moved here one month before us from Minnesota for a one-year assignment with Medtronic invited us out for a farewell dinner. They return home in one week. I suggested the Thai restaurant in town, which is decent; then SuAnn called back and asked if we'd like to try a new place called the Asian Tea House on Mary Street in Galway city centre. We're always up for something new, so we said we'd "give it a go" as they say here.
This place was outstanding. The chef is Malaysian. They consider their menu a blend of Asia, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and China. SuAnn is from Malaysian, and she praised the quality and authenticity of the food. All ingredients were fresh and cooked to perfection. The ambiance is great too. The floor tiles in the restaurant came from Cambodia. Asian Tea House rivals The Slanted Door in San Francisco from a food standpoint, though it's on a much smaller scale.
We may actually have to go back there before we leave the city!
Sure, it's not Irish cuisine, but it's high-quality cooking, and this country needs high-quality cooking from many different countries to converge here for the culinary scene to continue to mature and thrive.