Irish Stew

"I think it's because everybody's families came from somewhere else," I said. "Now that we're all here together, every group makes a fuss about their national origin. They don't just take it for granted the way people do in countries where everyone's the same."

For a main course John chose Irish stew ($8.50), described on the menu as "lamb and vegetables cooked in a rich hearty broth." There was a lot of broth but hearty it wasn't; it was pale and yellowish, bearing a few mushy wisps of diced potatoes and carrots, and small chunks of lamb that could've used longer cooking. "Irish stew is supposed to be ploughman food -- thick and dark with a lot more potatoes," John noted. "This is too watery, too light." Edna's two hefty grilled pork chops ($10) were good and juicy, with the black crosshatching of a gas grill. They came with "apple honey sauce," a pleasantly tart, coarse-textured applesauce that we all loved, though we couldn't taste any honey. "My mom makes these," Edna said. "They're stewed apples -- just cooked in their own juices with no sweetening added to them." Sharing the plate were some overboiled nude veggies and a heap of "fennel creamed potatoes" in which the middle word again seemed inoperative. Edna identified it as authentic home-style Irish cooking -- that is, probably boiled until the potatoes fall apart and the water cooks away, leaving a lean, pleasant "mash" made with no cream or milk. The same vegetable assortment came with my grilled "Gaelic steak" ($13), a 10-ounce flavorful rib eye, probably choice grade, done rare as requested, topped with sliced wild mushrooms (perhaps mere shiitakes, but they tasted mighty wild) in a delicious red-brown Irish whiskey glaze. I thought both the grilled meats were real bargains at Sinead's prices. But TJ was out of luck with baked red snapper ($10) in white wine, topped with tomato slices and feta crumbles, and oven-braised until all the flavor was leeched out and the fish-flesh was dry. "What kind of fish is this?" Edna asked. "Dead fish," I answered. However, the accompanying herb-roasted red potatoes were dilly and crisp-crusted.

Meanwhile, from a short, unexciting list of mainly California wines, Edna and I shared a bland $21 Bonterra chardonnay (at nearly triple-retail markup), while our beer-drinking gent friends had a world of choices, including Guinness on tap ($4). For dessert, though, I made up for it with a glorious Irish coffee ($4) -- strong and not oversweet, sharpened by a double shot of Paddy's, with a mere daub of whipped cream scattered with bitter chocolate shavings. It was a good foil for the very sweet desserts. Irish Mist creme caramel ($4) had a heavy, eggy custard with the classic thin caramel liquid on top. "Another French dish," said John, as he and Edna polished it off. Vanilla cream-cheese cake ($4) was tall and rich. "Now, this is my idea of cheesecake," said TJ. "Sure, it's homemade Sara Lee's," I sniped. "Quite heavy," said John, evaluating it carefully -- neither he nor Edna had even heard of cheesecake before their arrival in the U.S. Chocolate truffle torte ($5) was, of course, a chocolate decadence, very close to Narsai David's original of the 1970s -- mainly just bittersweet chocolate and butter, like a humongous truffle for folks who can't eat just one. "This tastes just like our Bournemouth candy bars back home," said John. "They're less popular than regular [milk] chocolate, but those that like them, demand them."

By now, they were starting to roll up the dining floor and turn it into a disco, and with the first squawks from the loudspeakers we made tracks. Checking back with John and Edna, they said they wouldn't go out of their way for another dinner at Sinead's. On the other hand, I thought that if there was something good at the Coronet I'd ask Sinead's if they would disguise their squid as popcorn so we could sneak it inside.

Errata: In our review of Vinga, while awaiting arrival of our new eyeglasses, we placed Barcelona on the Atlantic instead of the Mediterranean. We also referred to Catalan as a "dialect." Catalan is actually a language, not a dialect, and is largely incomprehensible to Spanish-speakers.

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