Samuel Beckett’s Irish Gastropub, Shirlington

(See the May 28, 2011 Review here.)

I stopped into Samuel Beckett’s early Saturday evening, at a time when Shirlington Village was packed outside, but the crowds hadn’t yet made their way into the restaurants there – I took a seat at the front bar (there’s also a much smaller bar in the back room).

One thing I noticed on this visit was that the selection of beers was ordinary, at best – there were plenty to choose from, but I was struggling to find something of interest. Often, in situations such as this, I’ll go ahead and try something I haven’t tried before, figuring that if I wasn’t going to be delighted with my beer, I could at least have a new experience.

The last time I had a Smithwick’s was at Duffy’s Irish Pub, and I believe that might have been the Pale Ale, so I ordered a pint of Smithwick’s Premium Irish Ale (a painful $7). Brewed in Kilkenny, Ireland by Guinness Brewery, this is a mediocre, mass-produced beer that leans malty and slightly sour, and reminded me of why I haven’t had one in several years.

Samuel Beckett’s is one of only two Irish pubs in the DC area that I have ranked in Italic in the Dining Guide (the other being Daniel O’Connell’s in Old Town). In my experiences, these two have stood head-and-shoulders above any of the others I’ve tried, and I was curious to see how well Samuel Beckett’s has stood up over the past few years – I was last here perhaps three years ago. Having confidence in the kitchen, and noticing that both items I got on my previous visit (the Tipperary Tart and the Vol-au-Vent) were still on the menu, I went ahead and ordered something of a high-risk dish – the daily special of Beef Wellington ($22), six ounces of steak, cooked to a perfect medium-rare (although my bartender said they were coming out medium), and served with a generous scoop of Parmesan Mashed Potatoes and Broccolini with a bit of dark reduction sauce under the Beef Wellington.

Well, not only was I pleasantly surprised “for an Irish pub,” but I thought this was one of the best Beef Wellington dishes I’ve had in many, many years. I adore Beef Wellington, and see it so rarely that I nab it whenever I can, but I haven’t seen it in a long time now – this was a fantastic version, so good that I almost ordered a second one to have for lunch the next day, but I realized that it wouldn’t reheat very well, and that (as my mom always said) “my eyes were bigger than my stomach.” The potatoes were delicious, and the broccolini, while well-cooked and coming in a generous pile, was plain, unseasoned, and the only thing on the plate that needed improvement. This was a big winner for Samuel Beckett’s that would draw me back on a regular basis if I could have some assurance it would be a regular dish on the menu.

For my second beer, I switched to a bottle of New Belgium Ranger IPA ($5), a stereotypical American IPA brewed in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was full of hops and citrus, and reminded me of why I so rarely get American IPAs. No matter – the Beef Wellington was the calling card of this unexpectedly wonderful dinner, and I hope to see that dish taking its rightful place on Samuel Beckett’s menu on a permanent basis. A fantastic job from the kitchen of this large Irish pub, which remains enthusiastically in Italic, and rests alone atop the restaurants in Shirlington Village – if there’s a better restaurant than this in the neighborhood, I’d love to hear about it.

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