Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Robert Burns Dinner 2014 - The Review

I first attended a Robert Burns dinner in 2012; I wrote about it here: Robert Burns Dinner in Review. The Burns Dinner is held at Barley's Ale House, an excellent restaurant which I reviewed here: Restaurant Review: Barley's Ale House No. 2.

Somehow or other, and I'm not sure just how this happened, we missed the Robert Burns dinner in 2013.  I know - heresy,  heresy, devil worship, witchcraft, no new taxes and other unspeakable perversions.  To which I say: Bite me.  I made it this year, and to atone for this incredible faux pas I'm posting a much longer review than I'd planned, along with interesting pictures of a few notable guests and staff.

Keep reading to see what you missed at the Fifteenth Annual Robert Burns Dinner and find out why you should attend next year.

Robert Burns (b. 25 January 1759; d. 21 July 1796) was a notable poet, a revolutionary and a rakehell.  He spent a large portion of his life at hard labor and in poverty.  The cause of his death is generally listed as rheumatic fever, but was undoubtedly the result of an intemperate, impoverished life.

A Robert Burns dinner begins as an organized, somewhat solemn dinner party which slowly unravels into a happy, musical soiree as the crowd gets into their cups.  Poetry is recited, songs are sung and toasts are proposed.  Be prepared to enjoy yourself in the midst of a crowd of happy, inebriated merry-makers.

Here's where the evening begins: Barley's Smokehouse on Dublin Road.  This is actually a micro-brewery, providing customers with some of the best beer in the city of Columbus - and the best beef brisket East of the Mississippi and North of the Mason-Dixon line.  There's plenty of parking available, but you may have to walk a little way if you arrive late. 

Barley's Smokehouse and Brewpub

Barley's Smokehouse
The protocol suggests that the early booze hound gets the brew, so we arrived around a quarter after five.  The crowd in the bar were warming up for the dinner, and Big Mike and I lost no time in joining them.  This is generally a good time to get to know people, as virtually everyone in the bar is waiting for the dinner to start.
Before Dinner Crowd
The first person we ran into was Kilted Keith, who had a brand new sgian-dubh (pronounced skeen-doo) that he'd brought along for show and tell.  Trying to get a picture of Keith is problematical, as he keeps fidgeting.

Kilted Keith with his sgian-dubh
Sgian-dubh, or hidden knife
This was given to Keith by a good friend who helps maintain the USS Constitution - Old Ironsides.  The knife is made of Damascus steel and the handle is hand carved from scrap lumber that was a part of the ship, the USS Constitution.  Truly a princely gift.

Kieth and The Crew

Here is a picture of Keith and the entire crew, waiting patiently for the pipers to announce the haggis.

Hooligans Blocking the Door
The haggis is finally piped in!

Haggis is Piped In
There I was, minding my own business when, without any warning what-so-ever, a stray tomcat attacked an owl.  Or so I've heard it described.  What I really heard were two bagpipers rendering Scotland the Brave with enthusiasm.  I was fortunate to get this picture of the haggis as it passed by, but here it is in all its glory.  For those that don't know, haggis is a Scottish dish that a first time imbiber shouldn't be told much about.  Suffice to say that this is Americanized haggis; the real thing cannot be purchased in the United States due to a U.S. Government that's staffed by elected invertebrates.

Everyone follows the haggis procession into the dining room, leaving the bar somewhat empty.

The Bar After the Haggis is Piped In
Here are a few shots of the bagpipers.  I didn't get a chance to talk to them as much as I would have liked, as I enjoy bagpipe music and would have enjoyed gaining some insight into the playing of the bagpipes.  I can tell you this much, however - when I saw the pipers after they finished piping in the haggis, both were breathing heavily, and both these men look to be in good physical condition.  I think it takes considerable wind to play the bagpipes.

Pipers Preparing to Play
Pipers at Work
I would have liked to hear more bagpipe music, but we only got one or two more songs.  Too bad, as the pipers did a great job.

The Dinner Crowd
Here's the dinner crowd just before the reading of the Burns poem Address to a Haggis. This is the most solemn event of the evening.  Unbeknownst to me, the fellow in the gray sweater and white shirt is none other than Archie, who we sat with last time we were here.  I was hoping to see Archie again, as he grew up in Scotland and is able to recite Burns poetry in the Scottish language.  I should also point out that Archie is a very congenial, well-spoken man and adds a lot to the dinner by his attendance.  When I didn't see him, I was all set to propose a toast to Archie, wherever he might be, when Archie stood up to recite To a Mouse.

Archie Recites To a Mouse
I couldn't get a very good picture of Archie, but he provided an excellent recitation.  Another notable that is hard to catch in the lens is our esteemed hostess, Saint Joan.  Here she is in the next three photos.

St. Joan
Originally, I thought she was angry with our host over something.  I'm told she isn't; she's just listening attentively to whatever Len is blathering on about.

St. Joan in Happier Times
St. Joan

Here's the first course - Haggis!

Haggis with Bashit Neeps an' Chappit Tatties with Demi Galze
Haggis is traditionally served with tatties, neeps and nips, the tatties being potatoes, neeps being turnips and nips referring to a nip of Scotch whiskey.  Our first nip was Old Pulteney, a 12 year old single malt Scotch that was very smooth.  The Scotch went down pretty quickly.  The haggis was very nice this year, but I took it easy on the tatties, even though they were excellent.  The thing is, potatoes are filling and we have three more courses to enjoy, along with drinks.

Here's the second course: green food.  Okay, let me say right up front that I don't like salad.  There ain't no such thing as green food, Old Son.  All that showing my prejudice, this stuff is excellent.  There's only one small problem with the salad...

Freesia Salad on top of Scottish Aged Cheddar Cheese
Eating it when you've been drinking.  Before we even started out, Big Mike and I had a perfect Manhattan at Mike's house, which was an excellent idea and picked me right up.  When we got to Barley's I had a glass of cider, then another at the table.  The thing is that the greens are zillions of tiny, thread like plants that are all tangled together into one large lump.  Think in terms of several hundred yards of nylon fishing line tangled and wadded up.  I attacked it with my steak knife and after an extended bout managed to separate a mouthful, dip it into the dressing and shove it in my yap.  Now remember, I'm in my cups here... so my mouth is now overfilled and I'm trying my best to be polite.  I sneak a look at the people across the table, and I note that everyone is having the same trouble.  Even the women, all of whom are experienced salad consumers.  I don't feel so bad about my performance.  Well, in truth I'm happy.  I attack the salad again and manage to subdue it.  It is excellent, and the cheese is a nice contrast in flavors.

Scotch eggs, for those who have never had one, are excellent.  Scotch eggs are made of a hard boiled egg coated in crumbled sausage meat, coated in bread crumbs and baked.  Most of the women around me turned up their noses at the egg, but I enjoyed it as I always do.

Our third course was the dinner, and consisted of Chermoula Crumbed Lamb Filet, Auberine and Tahini Puree garnished with Chipotle Cinammon Spice and Shoe String Sweet Potatoes.  It was absolutely magnificent. I've dined in fine restaurants all over the Eastern United States, and I know superb dining when I find it.  This meal is superb, perhaps doubly so when you consider that the Chef has to serve a banquet room full of people.  The lamb was done just right, and the flavor of the tahini sauce was an outstanding choice; it provided a complement to the lamb and a contrast to the sweet potatoes.  The texture of the sweet potatoes was perfect, being slightly crunchy and chewy, which contrasted the lamb.

My compliments to the chef for designing an outstanding entree.  Few people in Columbus dined as well as we did that night.

Chermoula Crumbed Lamb Filet

While we enjoyed our dinner,  guests were invited to stand up and recite poetry as they saw fit.  The couple sitting across from me decided to accept the invitation, and Steve (possibly not his real name, as my memory is clouded here) got up and recited a Burns poem.

Steve Reciting
Steve's Main Lady
I can't remember her name, and I wish I could.  She was good company and we were fortunate to be seated near her.

Steve and his Main Lady
My thanks and congratulations to Steve for adding to the evening's entertainment.  The firkin was tapped during dinner, and the contents distributed to the guests.  This is the saddest part of the evening for me.

Brewmaster Angelo Signorino on the left.  Hit it again!

You see, back in 2012 I discovered I had an allergy to beer hops.  I found this out the hard way, by drinking the dry hopped Scottish Export Ale at the Burns dinner.  I've always gotten a little congested while drinking beer, but since I tend to enjoy mild tasting beer I always ignored the symptoms.  On the fateful evening that I tangled with dry hopped beer three things happened: One, I loved the flavor and so knocked back my glass like a thirsty sailor and got a refill right away.  Two, I got sick.  My pan turned a bright red, I swelled up and started sneezing and snorkeling all over the place.  I actually became somewhat disoriented.  Three, Big Mike and Lash recognized my distress and asked me if I felt alright, and I didn't.  I was sick and didn't get back to normal until Big Mike drove me back to his place (which he did immediately when I said I didn't feel all that well) and filled me full of Benadryl, which fixed me up.  Sort of.  Several days later I tried drink a little Natural Light, but no go.  I swelled up and turned red after a few swallows.  So that, as they say, is that.  Poor me, right?  My drinking is confined to anything that doesn't have hops in it.  Whiskey, for instance.  Wine, although the sulfates in red wine tend to provoke a reaction.  Then of course I have cider, as described in the song Johnny Jump Up.

Oh never, Oh never, Oh never again
If I live to be a hundred or a hundred and ten
I fell to the ground and I couldn't get up
After drinking a quart of the Johnny Jump Up

Since I haven't tasted the tipple of the evening, I'll rely to Big Mike's discriminating palate.  Here, in Mike's own words, is a review of the Scottish Export Ale:
My palate is experienced rather than edu-ma-cated.  I don't command the dubious vocabulary that posing bluenoses use in place of "I liked it" or "it sucked".
This year's Robert Burns Scottish Export Ale: I liked it.  Thicker and sweeter than Barley's own "MacLennys's Scotish Ale".  The hops were more floral than citrus, and this batch was less hoppy than the batch from the last time we attended the event two years ago.
There you have it.  After the firkin was tapped we were provided more entertainment by Kilted Keith and another musician.  These men did a very good job, but it was a little difficult to hear them over the general roar of alcohol fueled fun.

I think that next year a small public address system might be set up and used to amplify anyone who is singing or reciting.  I emphasize small here, as you don't really need much.  Just enough to make yourself heard over the dull roar.

Here's desert, the fourth course: Oatmeal Shortbread with Whisky Chocolate, Scottish Marinated Raspberries and Whisky Caramel Sauce.  Well, the chocolate certainly cheered the ladies up, I'll say that.  I could have done with a few more raspberries and a lot less chocolate, but I'm not complaining.  I had a magnificent meal and enjoyed it in good company.

We were served a flight of three Scotch whiskeys, all top shelf.

Old Pulteney, Glenmorangie and Ledaig
All three of these are what I would call smooth flavored Scotch.  Smother than, say, Cutty Sark or Dewar's.  Most people seemed to like the choices this year; in our previous dinner, the Scotch was very strong tasting and some people ended up passing their glass to a neighbor.  I wasn't one such, needless to say.

I think there were three very pretty girls serving the room.  Our server did an excellent job for us, keeping my glass full and attending to our various needs.  The three kept everyone in the room comfortable, and if not for their efforts the evening would have been a failure.  I didn't get their names, and I should have.  Here are my thanks and congratulations to all of them for a job very well done.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that all three were hotties.

Our Server
Executive Chef Wolfgang Huddleston and General Manager Dan Pollock
I believe these two are our chef and brewmaster, but I'm not sure.  They were introduced at the end of the evening and I can't remember their names or titles - can you blame me?  Big Mike is driving, so I'm free to enjoy myself. Update: On the left is Executive Chef Wolfgang Huddleston and on the right is General Manager Dan Pollock.

Here are two people that I do remember.  Saint Joan and her Main Man, Lenny Kolada.  Note that Lenny appears to be wearing a kilt. He isn't. You see, Len ordered a kilt from some place on the Internet, but it seems that the vendors have their own list of priorities and deadlines which, now that he's paid his money, do not match up with Lenny's.  So what happened next is the stuff of a true Scottish legend.

I, Mad Jack, am of Scottish heritage. On my father's side I have the clan Macfarlane which includes Black Duncan 'of the mischief' Macfarlane.  On my dear mother's side, I have the clan Cameron of Lochiel, which includes Donald Cameron, a chieftain known for his magnanimous, gallant nature.  These two clans are opposites, but have one thing in common: Scottish frugality.  This is one characteristic that I'm familial familiar with, as I've experienced it on both sides of my family.

Although Len claims he has no Scottish ancestors, I'm doubtful.  The sporran you see him wearing was a gift from his son; the kilt used to be a woman's skirt which was purchased from a used clothing store and altered to fit Len's prosperous girth.  The cost-utility formula yields a value that any Scott would be pleased with.  All that needs to be done is to cancel the order for the (doubtlessly) overpriced kilt that the vendor failed to deliver on time anyway, and nothing anyone can say will convince me that there isn't a true Scott somewhere in Len's family tree.  A pleased, proud Scott that will hold Len's thrifty nature up as an example for younger men to follow.

Len in His Kilt

Len and Saint Joan

As usual, the evening concludes with an alcoholic rendition of Auld Lang Syne.  All five verses are sung; thankfully, lyrics are provided although I'm not certain just how much good that does.  Most of the guests are too well-lit to read anything, much less Scottish verses printed in ten point type.  Everyone joins in on the chorus, which gets a little better as the song staggers to an end.

The cost of this year's dinner was $60 per ticket, and it was the smartest money that I'll spend this month.  If you haven't attended a Burns dinner at Barley's, you're missing a great time.  You won't find a better, more congenial crowd or a more generous host than you'll find at Barley's.

See you next year, Archie!


BrewDood said...

Nice review. Thanks!

Just for clarification, the picture of Chef is not with our brewmaster. (He's pictured on the right side of the firkin, further up.) In the picture are Executive Chef Wolfgang Huddleston and General Manager Dan Pollock.


BrewDood said...

Dang it. Our brewmaster, Angelo Signorino, Jr, is on the left side of the firkin!

Mad Jack said...

Thanks BrewDood. Updates and corrections have been made.

Here's mud in your eye!

Old NFO said...

Very nice report, and glad y'all had a good time!!!