08 October 2010

What wouldn't we give for

Lest you think my recent foray to The Great Satan was solely for the purposes of gathering material for angry (if occasionally erratically spelled) rants, well, my friends, you would be wrong.

The irony of America being the first place I travelled to after finally acquiring a full and valid Irish passport was not lost on me, but nonetheless time and tide conspired together to provide me with a perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with friends from The Have', something which against all odds I have managed to do almost every year since leaving The Have', and America, altogether. Normally I manage to catch up with folks on a 24-hour stopover en route to somewhere else, but being based in and around NY for ten days allowed two separate extended visits and a more relaxed and leisurely pace, the longest single visit to the Have' since we left in 2004.

Despite the occasional anti-hegemonic polemic that appears on these pages I loved living in America, or more specifically in The Have'. The friends we made there are now scattered across the globe, but we still manage to see a good few here and there each year. Despite the intervening years between encounters it always seems like no time has passed, never more so than with those whom fate (and Very Understanding PhD Programs) has kept firmly clasped to its bosom, and by bosom I mean The Have'.

Any visit there always begins with the ritual visit to Miya's, home of possibly the best vegetarian sushi in the world (I am informed that the fishy versions aren't that bad either). The owner and creator of one of the most imaginative menus I have ever seen, Bun Lai, has an almost religious approach to food and eating, bringing his social, ecological and political beliefs into every meal that is made there, and yet I am hard pressed to think of a more relaxed and welcoming environment to eat in. Four or five hour meals are not unheard of when we get together there, the length of time each roll takes to prepare serving as a good pace-setter, allowing for conversation to flow freely between ecstatic bites.

Communal eating formed a major part of this visit to the Have' with our favourite micro-brewing black-belt Arjedre treating us to a fantastic meal at her place, Mr & Mrs Tim sharing their Sunday afternoon Packers and wings-fest with us (Green Bay won, yay!), and closing out our trip with dinner at Thali Too, a new (to us) veggie Indian restaurant with a ridiculously affordable menu.

This doesn't seem to happen that much here at home. Restaurants in Dublin are just not that enjoyable, being on the whole too expensive and of indifferent quality, more concerned with getting as many covers through the door each night than with their patrons having a relaxed and enjoyable night. Dinner in Dublin, it seems, is what you do on your way to something else, not the object of the evening itself. A few notable exceptions spring to mind, Monsoon in Rathmines (easily my favorite Indian in Dublin), Yamamori Sushi (the larger one on the quays, not the stuffy one on George's Street with the annoying Knuttels on the walls), and The Hop House on Parnell Street, a fantastic Korean restaurant that is relaxed, inexpensive, and delicious. There are restaurants that you go out of your way to visit for the food (Cafe Paradiso in Cork, Hangawi in NY, Millenium in San Francisco, Terra a Terra in Brighton, Joia in Milan and, of course, Miya's in the Have'), but most of the time what you want is something to serve as a perfect accompaniment to the company of your friends, and apart from these three very few places in Dublin do that for me.

Of course the best option is always to eat with friends at home, but these days this seems to happen even less than our infrequent restaurant experiences. The difficulty of getting a group of friends together when economics, family, time and geography seem determined to drive everyone apart means that on those rare occasions when the stars are aligned and real interaction does occur, the moment should be savoured.

And savour we did, our time in The Have'.

Just amazing guys, thanks for such a brilliant time!

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