With just over a week left in 2014, I have my winner for the best meal of the year. We ate a lot this year and had the opportunity to do some great travel (Best of travel coming tomorrow!), so it was tough to decide. Our experience at Aniar in Galway was just so exquisite though, I couldn’t NOT choose it as the best of 2014. My photos don’t do this meal any justice; the lighting was perfect for a date night but not great for photos. And I definitely know I am leaving details out, since it seems like this dinner was ages ago. Below is my best effort at sharing with all of you an evening that delighted so many senses and left us singing Aniar’s praises all over Galway and beyond.
Aniar means “west” in Irish, and much like wine makers, they are driven by terroir. You won’t find lemon in your water at Aniar because lemons don’t grow in Ireland. Our tasting menu feast highlighted meat and produce from Ireland; it was a great testament to the fact that Irish food can be REALLY good, something I have been trying to get across for years. Ireland has some of the best raw materials for amazing cuisine, and it’s great to see places like Aniar showcasing that.
We decided to go all out and do the tasting menu with wine pairings since this was my belated birthday dinner, which we didn’t make due to a flight cancellation from Scotland.
I was so glad that we did the wine pairings, as they were spot on perfect. The service was even better. The wines weren’t listed on our menus, and when I asked about them at the end of the meal, our server hand wrote each one on the back of the menu. Throughout the night there were so many little added touches where the staff went above and beyond.
A light, fun, Prosecco kicked off our night, and went nicely with our first course, a fresh piece of mackerel. I love pairing a fatty fish with bubbly, and our first bites set the tone for the whole meal.
We had a table right by the window, so we were able to watch the hustle and bustle of a rainy Galway evening while we dined. It was cozy and romantic, and despite Aniar being a Michelin star restaurant, there was nothing stiff or pretentious about the place. It felt so homey and relaxed.
Halibut dusted in fennel, deliciously flaky and meaty at the same time, paired with Chardonnay from Beaujolais (Terres Dorées 2012 Classic) that was acidic and crisp, full of mineral and lemon.
Somewhere along the way (I am missing a course, pork neck.) we were served a wine that I was able to instantly recognize as Gamay, the grape in the oft overly fruity and awful Beaujolais Nouveau. This Gamay, by Jean Paul Brun, was a perfect example of how good Gamay can be when aged and finessed the right way. Big, dark cherry notes and a little earthy funk made this wine a new favorite, and I am definitely hoping to get my hands on it in the US.
A beautiful local herbal tea sorbet was the perfect mid-meal palate cleanser.
The tasting menu included some things I don’t normally go for, like venison, but I was adventurous and tried it all. And I hate to say it, but I thought the venison was incredible. It was so tender and flavorful and paired perfectly with the earthy, seasonal vegetables served with it. A gorgeous Rhone Valley Syrah rounded out each bite. This was my favorite course of the night.
Dessert was a fun and foamy blackberry, apple, and buttermilk concoction paired with a Chateau Jolys Cuvee Jean, a dessert wine that had so much balance with its honeysuckle sweetness that even I, one who does not like sweet wine, loved it.
I wish I had taken the time to take more photos and notes along the way, but the way this meal flowed, the chat with our servers, watching the people go by and peeking into the insanely clean and busy kitchen all caught my attention before the thought of blogging creeped in. This night was a delicious, long breath of fresh air, filled with flavor and obvious love of food and of Irish ingredients. Bravo to Chef Ultan Cooke and the Aniar team, and thank you for being my best meal of 2014.