Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Buck Owen's Crystal Palace, Bakersfield

We were staying overnight in Bakersfield, California while en route to Las Vegas. A low, grey fog had surrounded our car for most of our trip inland from Big Sur to Bakersfield and we arrived in a somewhat glum mood. We were staying at the Wyndham Garden Hotel which turned out to be a hotel decorated slightly behind the times (think 1990s) but with the largest, most comfortable bed I've ever slept in. Plus they brew Starbuck's coffee to boot. Despite an intermittent wi-fi service, we set about finding somewhere to eat for the evening.

It turns out that right across the road from the Wyndham is a very unique place - Buck Owen's Crystal Palace. Apparently Buck Owens was a famous country & wester musician who decided to build his own restaurant and theatre (his Crystal Palace) in his home town of Bakersfield, which he then proceeded to fill with memrobilia gathered from years of performing.

The result is pretty damn cool. The food is straightforward and good - steak and ribs feature large and while you eat, live music plays on stage. On the night we dined there, we were treated to an excellent band covering the hits from a wide range of country & western stars. We resisted the temptation to head for the dance floor and join the line-dancing enthusiasts, but we definitely enjoyed our night at Buck Owen's Crystal Palace.

Crystal Palace, 2800 Buck Owens Blvd, Bakersfield, CA 93308. +1 (661) 328-7560

Bang San Thai, San Francisco

Our guidebook to San Francisco, Frommer's, recommended the Bang San Thai as being the best Thai restaurant in the city. When we located the restaurant on Jones Street, we were a little amused to find that it was located literally right across the street from Dottie's, where we had enjoyed breakfast literally the day before.

The Bang San Thai is a small restaurant with a few tables to the front of the restaurant and counter seating running alongside the open kitchen. Get past the smallness though and get stuck into the food as it is really good. I went for the drunken noodles topped with BBQ lamb while he had duck red curry. Following a flurry of activity from the chefs, we received two large plates of food, both of which turned out to be very tasty indeed. Barbequed lamb chunks topped flat rice noodles, which had been fried with vegetables, while the duck red curry was rich, creamy and spicy. Mmm... even though I'm now all the way back home in Ireland, I'd really go for some of the BBQ lamb right now.

Can't remember the exact cost, but two large plates of food, and one soft drink came in somewhere around $30. Excellent value, and judging by the large amount of positive comments on Yelp for the Bang San Thai, it looks as if it'll be around for quite a while.

Bang San Thai, 505 Jones Street, San Francisco CA 94102. +1 (415) 440-2610

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Eagle Cafe, Pier 39, San Francisco

Pier 39 on Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, is a fairly horrible tourist orientated place, designed to extract money from tourists as quickly as possible. We were on our way down to Pier 33 to catch our tour to Alcatraz Island, looking for something to eat, when we saw the Eagle Cafe perched atop Pier 39.

It's not cheap, but it is traditional and cheerful. The image above isn't quite accurate as the day we visited was grey, gloomy and wet but it's nice to think of it in the sunshine. We shared 6 excellent fresh mixed oysters served with hot sauce, grated horseradish and lemon. We then shared a whole Dungeness crab, served again with hot sauce and drawn butter. This was excellent eating with plenty of moist, sweet crabmeat. Since then, I've been experiencing a craving for more of that delicious crab.

Somehow, it's OK to be overcharged (and to be honest, it wasn't terribly expensive, approx $60 once wine was added) by places like the Eagle Cafe. Fresh food, great wine and superb service in a tourist spot is hard to come by.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dottie's True Blue Cafe, San Francisco

The guidebook warned us that Dottie's is a perenially popular place, with queues frequently in place outside this tiny diner. We were there soon after 8am (I believe that it opens at 7.30 am) and we were the 4th party in the queue. However, the wait wasn't too long (about 10-15 mins). While we were waiting, it was fascinating to watch the kitchen and waiting staff in action, performing a synchronised ballet in this tiny space.

There's a great selection of cooked breakfasts, as well as patries. I chose the pulled pork, roasted onion and monteray jack scramble while himself had the lamb and fennel sausage, roast garlic and cream cheese omelette. (eggs seem to feature a lot at Dottie's). In addtion to al this, we also ordered a side of their famous chili corn bread with jalapeno jelly.

The corn bread came toasted, with chunks of chili embedded in it. The jalapeno jelly was sweet and spicy and melted into the wam bread. Mmm. Both egg dishes were amazing, although I wan't overly keen on the accompanying hash browns. A charming waitress kept our mugs topped up with coffee. Total bill came to about $35 and as we left, we could see the queue extending down the hill.

Dottie's True Blue Cafe, 522 Jones Street (between Geary & O'Farrell), San Francisco, CA 94102

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Evermore - Alyson Noel

Evermore is one of a stream of young adult fantasy novels that are hitting the market at the moment. The flavour of Evermore is not vampires or werewolves, but instead Immortals.

Ever is an orphan, sole survivor of a car crash that killed her parents, sister and family dog. She is wracked with guilt following the collision and she is now living with her aunt. The difficulty of adapting to a new school and life is compounded by the fact that she acquired psychic abilities as a result of the crash. She spends her time in baggy jeans, baggy hoodies with iPod buds in her ears in an attempt to negate the pyschic noise that washes over her.

Her life gets even more complicated when Damen, an incredibly hot young man, enrols at her school and shows an interest in Ever. When she's with him, silence falls around her, and she is drawn deeply into him.

Alyson Noel weaves an interesting, intriguing and romantic first section to this story. It is sexy and alluring, but falls apart somewhat in the later section. Ever's dilly-dallying is a bit annoying and things never feel quite resolved enough to be truly satisfying. Despite all this, Evermore is going to be successful - Noel can really conjure up teenager romance. This will surely be a series to watch.

Viral Loop - Adam L. Penerberg

The internet has transformed how we communicate and it has given virality a whole new lease of life. In the past, word of mouth generated publicity for goods. Recommend a book to a friend and chances were that they might buy it too. However, with the advent of the internet, this effect has snowballed.

Virality is now an integral part of life, with events on the internet taking on a life of their own (recall how Obama's campaign used the internet and Twitter to groundbreaking effect). Penerberg has written a book which focuses on the viral effect used by sites such as and Facebook. In essence, what good is posting a video on YouTube if no one sees it. To grow, these sites have to get people to visit, connect and share. The author discusses the concept of the Viral Loop, or the point of referral which a website has to pass in order to become self-sustaining (i.e. have a viral coefficient greater than 1.0).

While the book claims to reveal the "Power of pass it on", it really is more a history of the most successful websites in recent years. It takes us through Ning, Hotornot, Facebook, Flickr and many more, but doesn't really reveal too much other than a potted series of anecdotes. Ultimately, while interesting, it's not very revealing.

Monty's of Rathgar

Monty's of Rathgar is one of those long-established Asian (Nepalese to be precise) restaurants in Dublin, along with its sister restaurant in Templebar. We'd never eaten there before despite being afficionados of all forms of Asian cooking, but we were finally lured in with their recent value menu. They offer 4 courses - vegetarian for E20 and meat for E21.

While we waited, we were given thin, crisp poppadoms and sauces to munch on. The starters were simple, but perfectly executed. He had delicately trimmed, spiced chicken wings cooked in a tandoor oven, while I had onion bhajee. The mains turned out to be truly excellent. My Masu Ra Cauli (lamb curry with cauliflower) had a rich, tomato based sauce, with a warming heat level that built up the more you ate. His Jhinga Pathia (prawn curry) was tangy, flavoured with lime. Rice or naan is included in this offer, as is the chef's dessert of the day. Dessert that evening turned out to be gajar halva, or a pudding made with carrot which has been cooked for hours. Served warm with a quinelle of vanilla ice-cream, it turned out to be naturally sweet and very pleasing as a cooling counterpoint to a spicy meal. Tea or coffee is also included in the offer.

I really enjoyed the meal at Monty's - it really was exceptional food. I hope that they rotate the dishes on offer on the value menu as this will give me another excuse to return.

Total cost, including two very nice glasses (a tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon) came to E53.90.

Monty's of Rathgar, 88 Rathgar Road, Dublin 6. 01-4920633

Sunday Lunch at Bijou, Rathgar

Late last Sunday, on a bitterly cold and wintery Sunday, we found ourselves in Bijou, Rathgar. We had been trying to get to Dundrum, but the lines of cars snaking into the centre from every direction meant that we gave up and headed back towards home instead.

Bijou is relaxed and elegant with striking glass chandeliers and impeccable service. As we defrosted, we browsed the menu. I chose the ribeye steak with bearnaise sauce and home fries (E21.95) while he chose the venison pie (E16.95). A perfectly cooked and seasoned steak was just gorgeous, while the addition of green peppercorns to the bearnaise sauce added a little something extra. The venison came softly cooked with winter veg and richly flavoured with juniper and other herbs. It was served in a little pastry dish topped with a little puff of pastry and served with mash. This was really warming winter food.

We shared an absolutely fantastic black forest gateau and two espressos to finsh the meal, bringing the bill to a total of E56. There is something so nice about a relaxed Sunday lunch, with no time pressures and rich, warm food. Bijou definitely delivers.

Bijou, 46/47 Highfield Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6. 01 - 496 1518
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