Sunday, January 12, 2014

Rí Rá Irish Pub Food Review

A Taste of Home... in Friendly Quarters

There's a world of difference between a real Irish pub and what we find here in the States and around the globe. Rule #1... You can't fake authenticity: Either it is, or it isn't. Then there's Rí Rá Irish Pub, a national chain with an eye for the real thing. Recently, they opened their first location in the nation's capital, on Georgetown's M Street (former home to the fun & whimsical Mie N Yu.) It's still early, but if Rí Rá can manage to turn today's superior customer service into "standard fare," Georgetown may finally have a piece (or two, or three...) of Ireland to call home.

There's a lot to like about Rí Rá's 11th national location (replacing the recently-closed Bethesda space) and it starts when you first walk in. The owners are firm believers in the adage, "If you can't take Mohammed to the mountain, take the mountain to Mohammed," and they've spared no expense in bringing small (and not so small) touches of home to their latest embodiment. Better still, most everything here literally is from home (Co. Wicklow, to be exact... where my Mom and Aunt grew up.)

Visit any traditional Irish home, and you'll likely find massive cabinets filled with all sorts of knick-knacks. That's the case here, and it's most becoming. I was taken to a cozy, carpeted dining area towards the back; and immediately felt "at home." The hostess couldn't have been more gracious or welcoming (11:30 on a Saturday morning, and not all that busy. One month of positive feedback, and Rí Rá will be packed all day long.) She left me in the most capable hands of my server Heather, who brought me a glass of water, and asked if I would like something else besides said water. What a nice way of asking: Most places try to shame you into buying a real drink. For what's it worth, I ordered a glass of orange juice ($3.25.)

Irish Breakfast

I  knew exactly what I wanted... an Irish Breakfast ($13 with eggs, Irish sausages & rashers, black & white puddings, tomato, mushrooms and toast. Beans are available for an additional $2.) I asked for no puddings (pork, bread & fat... blood with the black ones) and requested an extra banger (sausage) instead. I even offered to pay for it, if they couldn't make a swap; but Heather came back a minute or two later, and said it was no problem. Nice.

The atmosphere is what you'd expect to find in an Irish pub... dark, cozy (comfy chairs) with wood all-around. Music is thankfully played at a normal decibel, and equally authentic... The Saw Doctors and The Waterboys for starters. Food arrived in good time (about 10 minutes) and looked appetizing. You get two eggs (I chose scrambled, but should have had them fried... I forgot I was half-Irish) 2 rashers (a fatty, saltier bacon) with one small slice of toast, cut in half (should be two... Irish love their toast) and three bangers (instead of two.) There's plenty of mushrooms, a hearty slice of tomato; yet NO POTATOES. Order home fries for an extra $3/5. Not sure what they did to it, but the grilled tomato was out-of-this-world yummy.

Eggs were OK (hardly memorable) but the bangers & rashers were delicious. If you want healthy, you may want to avoid Irish meats... they're greasy (but once again, delicious) especially the rashers, which were swimming in liquid. If you've never had Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, you're in for a special, special treat. May I suggest heading up the street to Dean & DeLuca to buy a few blocks, after wrapping up brunch? It literally transcends toast to a new stratosphere.

Speaking of wrapping up, Heather checked in on me twice before offering the check. Her smile alone was worth the visit: If you like kind hospitality, you've come to the right place. I tested the bounds of great customer service by presenting a $5 coupon (available on their website, if you join their Pub Club) off a $15 purchase, and after some checking... She came back (and with another smile) said "no problem." My bill dropped to $12.38 (tax included) $20 with a well-earned tip. After a pair of warm farewells from Heather and the hostess,  I was off... sad to leave; but happy to know I have somewhere else to call home, next time in Georgetown.

Rí Rá is open 7 days a week, Monday – Friday 4pm ‘til late; Saturday - Sunday: 10am ‘til late. The Whiskey Room, a speciality bar upstairs will open soon... offering an impressive slew of Irish Whiskeys, as well as small plates. Live entertainment won't be far behind.