Saturday, February 3, 2007

When you just need some pampering...

There are days and weeks when, by the time you get to the end of one, you don't realize it but someone waiting on you would be so splendid. I had one of those months last week. I served jury duty, lost a contract on my house, prepared for an important presentation at work and was generally just too overwrought. I ended up with an evening free which is unusual since I work a late shift, but an early meeting to do that big presentation moved my work schedule up. By the time the day ended I was so aching for something lovely to happen....and it did.

A friend called me out for dinner at one of my favorite places, The Scottish Arms. I was introduced to this warm little place by Research-Geek and her husband about a year ago and honestly wish I had time to dine out more often. This would be a twice-a-week place if only. Take a look at the link to their history of before, during and after photos. I remember the building from about 15 years back when it was this really disgusting little corner store that was known for cashing paychecks on Fridays. It was small and greasy, had a counter and grill, but made the best fried egg sandwiches. That was all I could order though. The whole place so reeked of pork grease that it embedded itself into even the milk cartons in the refrigerator case. But I digress.

What is this place now, you ask? It is one of the finest places for a decent meal in a creative, gourmet Scottish style. It opened a couple years back and, in my opinion, served fabulous food right from the beginning but had a rough start with it's service. The staff was very friendly if a little on the inattentive and slow side. I never minded that since each time I dined there I was more and more convinced that this place would survive on the food and beverages alone. Wait, did I forget to mention the beverages. How could I? The Scottish Arms, with a guy from Scotland running the place, and what is Scotland most famous for? Why, the Scotch of course. And, oh, the Scotch, the Scotch. Over 80 lovely single malts from every little nook and cranny of Scotland. Each one so special, so divinely delicious. And the owner, Allistair (pardon me if I spelled it incorreclty), is so excited about the Scotch that his eyes light up like a child at Christmas. He can tell you anything you want to know about single malts and is so happy to recommend something that will please even the pickiest palette. A while back on another visit, he recommended Dallas Dhu which must have come from a special stash as it's not on the Scotch menu. The first sip told me I was in for a sublime treat. It tasted of honey, smooth and sweat, with a long slow heat moving over my tongue and down my throat. It finished with a mild peaty flavor, a little smoke to go with the warm flame. It was a small glass of all the good that is heaven and all the naughty that is hell.

This particular visit was a comfort food night for me. I really needed all the warmth and love that comes from a good ale and warm, creamy, love me meals. I passed on the Scotch just this once and instead ordered a Scottish ale on draft. It was sweet and had a fruity pear flavor and just enough kick to go to the places in my head that needed some clearing out. We started with an order of the Scotch Eggs. Ever had them? No? Get them here! I've tried Scotch Eggs in a couple of other places, but none were as good as these. The eggs were perfectly cooked and the sausage coating them was light and crisp with a nice zingy flavor. The plate came with a spicy mustard and a few leaves of greens to accompany the eggs in perfect harmony. Next was the soup, like I said, comfort food. I ordered a cup of the Cheddar Soup and, with the ale on the side, was very happy I did so, creamy and delicious.

On to the main event. My friend and I both wanted the same things, Cock-a-leekie pie and fish and chips so we decided to order both and split them. The chips were fine and the fish was good, if a little smaller portion than what I expected. The batter on the fish was crisp and quite nice and the tartar sauce on the side was so obviously fresh and flavorful. It is the Cock-a-leekie pie that will keep me going back again and again, though. This bowl of lovely is what chicken pot pie wants to be when it grows up. It is steaming hot, creamy sauce and large chunks of chicken under a golden brown puff pastry crust. When I say hot, I mean it. Order it, poke a hole in the crust to let some steam out and enjoy your ale while it cools down some. It is so worth the wait. The chicken is perfectly tender and juicy and the creamy sauce is just right, not too heavy, not too thin, with the most wonderful flavor of leek permeating throughout. Simple, divine, warm, loving food. But it's not over yet.

This was a good night to fall to temptation. The Scottish Arms makes some wonderful deserts with Cranachan and Bread Pudding leading the list. I had tried both of those on past visits so this time went for the Creme Brulee Trio, a sampling of 3 flavors, vanilla, cappuccino and ginger. That, with a pot of coffee, was the perfect end to the dinner. Each little crock of creme held a little special different flavor and all were creamy and delicious.

As I mentioned earlier, I had been a little disappointed with the staff on past visits, but that wasn't going to keep me away. About a month ago I had gone to another place downtown and was served by one of the wait staff that had been at the Arms. We asked why she left and she had said she didn't really like the changes that were going on at the Arms so decided to head for something different. Well, I liked chatting with her, nice gal, but really didn't care much for the service she had offered in the past, so thought maybe those changes were for the best. And they were. The bartender and wait staff working at the Arms now are perfectly lovely. Remember that pampering I needed? Well, that was plenty taken care of, not only by the company I kept, but also by the wonderfully attentive and prompt service. The evening could not have been more perfect.

For those of you who haven't yet ventured into the Central West End to try it, go for the Scotch Eggs and Cock-a-leekie pie. Their menu has expanded, changed from what is currently on the website. They have added some more upscale entrees that look fabulous. It was a tough choice between the pie and the newest lamb dish. I'll be going back again and I predict that once you try it, you'll be hooked.

Keep up the great work, Scottish Arms. I wish you a long and prosperous business.

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