Thursday, March 7, 2013

Restaurant Review: Ri Ra Irish Pub

When you think of delicious international cuisines, Irish doesn't even merit consideration for most. No one ever says, "I'm really craving Irish tonight." But make no mistake, Irish food is not just for St. Patrick's Day. So it's exciting to see Midtown Irish bar Ri Ra taking its menu up a notch, giving Atlantans a chance to sample more of what this island nation has to offer than just Guinness (although there's plenty of that, too).

Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
Ri Ra Manager Dermot Lloyd
Ri Ra is a chain, but it's got loads more charm than that would indicate. This ain't your drunk uncle's dive bar. Rather, the various components of the bar itself were restored and transported straight from Ireland, lending it an authentic, old world feel.

The manager, Dermot Lloyd, and members of the staff were even imported from Ireland. Ri Ra even has a visa program to bring over honest to goodness Irish people to work at the bar. How's that for authentic?

We were invited to sample some of Chef Kelly Sollinger's more ambitious menu items recently and found Ri Ra is dishing out far more than just traditional bar grub. Sure, wings and burgers are still on the menu, but so are Griddled Boxty, Corned Beef and Cabbage and Jameson Duck.
(L-R) Griddled boxty BLT, lamb slider, house smoked salmon

Dinner came with a side of live Irish folk rock

Corned beef & cabbage with haddock & chips lurking in the background

The Harbour Bar is all the way in the back of the bar
One course allowed us to try house smoked salmon, the Griddled Boxty BLT (a combination of griddled potato, cheddar boxty cake, bacon, arugala, tomato and balsamic reduction), and a house ground lamb slider with goat cheese and pickled red onion. I've been on a smoked salmon kick lately, which is weird since I otherwise actively hate salmon and it's technically a pregnancy no-no (but Time Magazine says it's fine, so take that overzealous pregnancy restrictions!) Ri Ra's take did the trick and was as good as what I've tasted from some well known local bagel shops. The other highlight for me was the lamb slider. It was a wee bit well done for my taste, but still a dish I'd choose to have again as it's far more interesting than just a regular ol' bar burger.

We heard from the chef that they tried a number of recipes to get the corned beef recipe just right. I wouldn't normally imagine a bar kitchen giving much thought to perfecting a recipe, and the effort paid off with a faithful rendition of an Irish classic. Their take is a 14-day house brined beef brisket served with braised savoy cabbage, mashed potatoes & Irish parsley sauce.

Still, I'd take haddock and chips any day as my entree of choice. It's crispy ale battered and served with a choice of tartar sauce or Irish remoulade. To me, this is what classic Irish bar cuisine is all about. Heck, it's what classic English, Scottish or Irish pub cuisine is about to me. Ri Ra does this dish justice with a nicely crispy exterior and moist, flaky interior that begs to be doused in vinegar.

The real surprise was how darn good Ri Ra's desserts were. Sticky toffee pudding was quickly dispensed with and Guinness and brown bread ice cream was so darned good that I wish I could go buy a pint of it right now. Consider me an Irish inspired ice cream convert! They served us beers with each course, but I of course had to abstain. I did try a few sips of the Irish coffee they served with the dessert, and found it to be tasty and comforting enough without being too strong that I wished I could have had more.
Guinness and brown bread ice cream; sticky toffee pudding
Of course, Ri Ra isn't going for haute cuisine, but overall I was impressed with their more ambitious menu. The setting is charming enough that I could absolutely envision going for more than just a pint, and it's a chance to hang out at a bar without having to resort to just jalapeno poppers.

I didn't get to sample it, but one of my favorite things about pubs in the UK was always the Sunday roast. You'd go and spend an afternoon just hanging out in a pub, sometimes even just reading a newspaper, and you'd enjoy a hot meal of some kind of hearty roast. Turns out Ri Ra has a Sunday carvery that includes a roast option, and their dinner menu includes and All Day Irish Breakfast with eggs, sausages and rashers, black and white pudding, a grilled tomato and sauteed mushrooms. Truly, nothing cures a hangover like a fry up. Might have to head back to check that out after Baby V arrives...

Ri Ra

1080 Peachtree St NE 
Atlanta, GA 30309


Ri Ra Irish Pub on Urbanspoon
*Full disclosure: Although my food was comped, I always endeavor to offer my unbiased opinion of the experience!

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