Awash in Suds
Just as bachelor cooking makes liberal use of ketchup and fire, Irish cooking makes liberal use of beer. Certain foods are simmered or soaked in Guinness or ale to add interest to everything else, which is boiled.
Trinity Hall, the Irish pub in Mockingbird Station, is no exception to this rule. It broils pork in Bass Ale, injects green-onion queso with Harp (creating a kind of Tex-Mex blarney salsa) and simmers beef in Guinness.
Yet the only successful recipe I've come across incorporating beer calls for a perforated can of beer rammed up the rear end of a chicken. This recipe is all the more joyous because it recommends cheap swill, the kind that floats many brothers-in-law. A can of Guinness costs roughly the same as a can of Mobil One, though it's hard to tell the difference between the two in pub lighting.
Named after Trinity College in Dublin, which has been around since 1592, Trinity has more than a handful of dishes infused with beer and offering mixed results. Loin of pork braised in Bass Ale was rested on a bed of caramelized apples, which provided a little sweetness to play off the meat and maybe the beer. But while the apples and suds did lots for the loin's flavor, filling it with a hushed smokiness, they didn't do much for the texture, which was dry and mealy.
It's also hard to see what beer does for the fish and chips. This dish consisted of two large fish planks with a brittle cornmeal coating harassed with Harp. The fish was moist, recklessly venturing into sponginess in parts, while the outside was virtually greaseless. But it had no spark, no herb or spice hook to pull you in and keep you tethered to its flavor orbit until the next bite. A side of coleslaw was only marginally above dreary with a watery dressing that barely clung to the crisp cabbage shreds.
Fortunately, things got better as they got beerless. Mussels (oysters are also offered raw and grilled with garlic and butter or with Hollandaise and spinach) come steeped in a bowl of butter garlic broth with tomato. The mussel meat was clean, tender, tight and chewy, while the vegetables--scraps of celery, carrot and potato--successfully skirted the overcast bleakness that comes with boiling food into baby paste. The menu says the mussels come with dipping bread, but ours had none, and there wasn't anything in the house to use for sopping except soda bread. So we used a couple of slices to dispense with the delicious broth.
Soda bread also accompanied corned beef and cabbage, a simple staple that often gets tortured and terrorized at pubs. Trinity's version offers much less pain, if any. Thin, exceptionally lean sheets of juicy corned beef reclined against a quarter cabbage head severed in half (which I guess makes it an eighth) and positioned on either end of the plate. Between the cabbage wedges floating in a salty broth were pieces of bright orange carrot, gleaming green celery and dull white potato cubes. Braising the cabbage gives it a fine strain of crispness, threading it with a backbone that brutish boiling transmutes into spineless mush.
For the most part, Trinity resembles virtually every Irish pub. It's replete with dark woods and is packed with lots of genuine Irish this and thats of a degree of authenticity most Irish pubs currently boast. Whole pubs have been imported from Dublin to Dallas, the quest for authenticity is so great. I've often wondered why some crafty Dallas entrepreneur hasn't tried to export whole frozen margarita bars to Antwerp.
On a raised section with books (I suppose the Irish really do read while they imbibe, which is probably why a page of Finnegan's Wake feels like a 4-pint Guinness hangover) the walls are painted with quotes from writers such as Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. The sound system buzzes with U2, keeping everything so Irish you want to turn green.
Which is what the blarney Cobb has plenty of: crisp green without brown spots or slithery blemishes. Upon this virid bed rested cubes of moist chicken, bits of mushrooms, tiny rouge squares of Irish bacon, sweet onion, egg and cheese. Everything was clean and held its own--not what you expect in pub fare.
Roast chicken with shreds of mild herb cheese melted over it was good, too: thin, juicy and loaded with flavor.
Bread pudding is a perfect finish, especially in this schizophrenic weather that can't decide if it wants to freeze your hide or merely tan it. It has a hearty heap with berries scattered at the foot and a peak capped with whipped cream. All of this gooey firmness is held together with gently sweet whiskey sauce.
Service was about as good as you could expect--helpful, gracious, generous, efficient and attentive. And this is the pub element that is perhaps the most difficult to import, no matter how much Harp you use.
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