Samuel Beckett’s Irish Gastropub, Shirlington, VA

It wasn’t so long ago that Shirlington was a quaint little strip with one really good restaurant (Carlyle Grand Cafe), and a few lesser ones. Now, that strip is still quaint, but Carlyle is a shadow of what it once was, and once you get beyond the movie theater, you have a Harris Teeter, CakeLove, Johnny Rocket’s, etc.

And you also have Samuel Beckett’s Irish Gastropub, an ambitious, 280-seat, 5,500-square-foot upstart with three bars, two fireplaces, and a noisy, bustling interior. What people might not realize is that there’s also a serene, civilized patio off to the side, and that’s exactly where I took my French house guests.

I’d never been here before, and had no idea what to expect other than that reviews on donrockwell.com had skewed towards the positive. I was skeptical, but that little restaurant website tends to be pretty accurate (must be the handsome guy running it, or more likely, the quality of its members).

I started off with a draft of Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale ($6.50) much to the amusement of my guests, old-school French senior citizens who were completely out of their element, cuisine-wise.

“Ohhh! You dreenk a beer, Don?” they said, monitoring me while sipping their ice water.

“Yes, we’re at an Irish pub,” I said, while thinking, “Damned right I am. And I’m gonna have another one, too.”

These Kilkenny’s were in perfect shape – with an incredible inch-thick creamy head that lasted throughout the glass, giving me a moustache with each sip. If you’re here for Guinness, and have never tried a Kilkenny, do yourself a favor and try at least one.

For an appetizer, my guests split a Rocket Salad ($8.00), thoughtfully divided in the kitchen and brought out on two plates. A plate of greens with small amounts of shaved Irish cheese and dried fruit, perfectly dressed with a walnut dressing, this salad outperformed any possible expectation I could have had of it – the quality of ingredients was easily what you’d find at Whole Foods, and it was dressed perfectly. I knew that if it lived up to its potential, my French friends would love it, and they did.

Me, I started with the Tipperary Tart ($8) which was a fancy name for a wedge of blue cheese-and-leek quiche, served alongside the same greens that were in the Rocket Salad (and dressed equally well). Yes, I only got it because of the name, but I’m glad I did because I love a good quiche, and this one was.

For our main course, my guests split a Lamb Stew ($11) even though I warned them that they might be getting some questionable lamb meat (although I was encouraged that Samuel Beckett’s had lamb several places on the menu). The menu says it’s “fresh lamb” with peas, carrots, and potatoes in a Guinness sauce. It looked fairly generic, but they enjoyed it well enough, and both of them finished it (I didn’t get to taste it).

I’m a bit embarrassed that I ordered twice in a row for the name, but I got the Dingle Pie ($16), a bowl of smoked and white fish in a creamy white wine base, served en croรปte, and arriving very hot to the touch since it was baked in the oven (the main courses took awhile to arrive, and this is probably why). Again, this is pretty much everything I’d hoped for, and the crust itself was wonderful, especially when poked into the bowl and mixed into the broth which it absorbed. My one niggle is that they were a bit skimpy on the fish, but then again, it’s a sixteen-dollar dish.

My guess is that I had a “Best Of” experience here: perfect weather to be on the quiet patio, well-poured drafts, and two respectable courses. Still, this is enough for me to debut Samuel Beckett’s Irish Gastropub as the top restaurant in Shirlington in the Dining Guide (available only to participating members of donrockwell.com).

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