Sunday, October 31, 2010

Driving on the Other Side of the Road, Part III

The Setting: Halloween. Just got back from a lovely drive through the Keys with Hoosband and his folks.

The Soundtrack: The clickity-clack of a different set of keys, as Hoosband finalizes an essay for application to a place where smart people go, and I divert myself with writing so as not to disturb him.

On The Stove-top: Stuffed so fully with raw oysters, crab cakes, alligator, conch fritters, grilled scallops, salad, and key-lime pie that I can't lift a finger to cook.

The Scenario: Wrapping up the Ireland saga, slowly but surely.

The Fota Island Hotel and Spa in County Cork is the kind of place you conceive of as a kid, gradually filling in the details and deepening the colors as you become an adult and your ideas of a good time expand to include luxury amenities and well-stocked bars.

One part Tiger Woods and one part tigers in the woods, the private island features three top-notch golf courses, a free-range zoo, and Ireland's premier cheetah run.

The hotel is fire and ice, light and earth and water. Stacked-stone walls and mammoth windows make you feel at once outside and in, adventurous but comfy.

To further aid your relaxation, the shimmery, trance-inducing spa features more than 60 treatments, from hydrotherapy to seductive chocolate body scrubs to signature caviar facials.

I checked into my room, peered peacefully out my window at the expansive rolling hills, and plopped onto the bed, sinking blissfully into the plush comforter for a brief perusal of the spa menu and a briefer attempt at napping before the alarm went off to dress for dinner.

Originally constructed in 1728 for Sir Richard Pyne, a former Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, the historic Ballyvolane House, or "place of springing heifers," could easily serve as the setting for the next re-make of The Secret Garden.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010, it would serve as the setting for one of the best meals of my life.

We were welcomed with bright and whimsical sloe-berry martinis made from sloe berries from the garden and shaken by Justin Green, the hospitable head-proprietor.

Martinis were followed by family-sized platters of homemade gravelox with cucumbers and mustard sauce. Resident chef Teena Mahon uses only locally-sourced fare for her incredible and sensual feasts, most ingredients coming exclusively from County Cork, and many from the Ballyvolane property directly.

The beautifully watermelon-hued salmon, caught by Mr. Green on the River Blackwater on the edge of Ballyvolane, melted in my mouth like velvety, briny butter.

Warm potato-leek soup in adorable miniature mugs was the perfect partner for the tender and crumbly brown soda bread I considered stuffing in my purse before determining instead to increase the amount I stuffed in my face.

When a platter of twice-baked Dubliner cheese souffles--saucy, delicate, creamy puffs of perfection--was placed before me, I had to close my eyes to keep them from rolling back in my head and bite my tongue to keep myself from releasing the inappropriately pornographic sigh of ecstasy I knew was imminent.

Lamb with a mint-and-mustard-seed salsa verde was accompanied by sweet and savory sauteed leeks, cut on the bias in a manner I had never seen and cooked more perfectly than I could ever have imagined a leek could be cooked.

Desserts were an amazing sort of free-form, panna-cotta-esque, lemon custard-mousse with fresh blueberries, and, perhaps the grandest revelation of the night, brown-bread ice-cream with sugar cookies.

Back at the Fota Island Hotel, I slept very, very well, if very, very briefly.

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