Posted by: wrmcnutt | April 20, 2009

Restaurant Review – Ri Ra Irish Pub, Louisville, KY

When I hit town on travel, one of the first things I do is try to find a good Irish pub. They are (mostly) quiet, dark and relaxing, have good beer, and in general feel like home.  If there’s actual Irish music going on: bonus!  There are certain things that go into a good Irish pub, and atmosphere is one of them.  Any decent restaurant owner knows that he’s not actually in the business of selling mere food.  A true restauranteur knows that he is in the entertainment business.  Atmosphere needs just as much attention and care as food preparation, or the customer is only getting a third of what he’s paying for.  (The other two thirds been food preparation and service.) The first thing you notice when you enter Rí Rá is that the do seem to have gotten the decor right.  An investigation will reveal that all of the woodwork in the pub was, in fact, restored over in Ireland and then shipped over to the US for installation on 4th Street in downtown Louisville, KY.  Without doubt, the centerpiece of the decor is the 50′ victorian bar, shipped over and installed in one piece. It’s dark, there’s lots of wood, there’s a bandstand, and all it right with the world.  (Well, I think it needs more Guiness ads, to tell the truth, but the period Victorian bar makes up for it.)  The illusion breaks down when you realize that the televisions are playing not rugbyor soccar, or even hocky, but American football.  The night I was here Rí Rá had no Irish music, and more’s the pity.  That will almost always earn a pub an extra pint for atmosphere.

Rí Rá  also has all the right beers on tap.  Guiness, Harp, Bass, and Smithwick’s; the gang’s all here.  The list of whiskeys is short, but flavorful. 

It was with great relief that I saw my Black and Tan coming out properly layered.  (I told you earlier about the horrors of San Antonio.)

For dinner, I chose the Shepard’s Pie from the traditional Irish fare menu.  This is my fall-back when heading to an Irish pub for the first time.  I found the Rí Rá  Shepard’s Pie to be rich, tasty, and filling.  It was as good as I’ve had anywhere except my own kitchen.  There was a subtle bite to it that I have trouble identifying, but I suspect the Guiness in the recipie.  If the mashed potato crust could have stood to be a little browner, that’s picking a nit.  I could also have coped with more peas and carrots in the filling.  But overall, the Shepard’s Pie was almost in the same class as that made by my wife.  My dinner companion ordered the Corned Beef and Cabbage, also off the traditional Irish fare menu.  The cabbage was property cooked, with the crunch almost all gone, but enough body to leave a pleasant texture.  The harshness of the cabbage was gone, leaving only the tangy flavor.  The corned beef was a little bland, but then, we like a really sharp corned beef at our house.

For dessert I had the warm ginger cake with a single malt Irish wiskey called Jameson’s.  The complex, spicy flavor of the Jameson’s went very well with the ginger cake, which was soft, warm, and flavorful.

Our waitress was quite slow to come to the table and get our drinks order. A man should never be thirsty in an Irish bar.  It’s just wrong.  But once our drinks order went, in came out with admirable swiftness.  For the rest of the evening she seemed to be around whenever we needed her, and glad to help us however we needed.

To sum up, I rate Rí Rá a of Louisville, KY;

Two and a half pints for Atmosphere

Two and a half  pints for Cuisine

Three pints for Service

That comes to just over 2.6 pints .  That’s above average for dining experiences.

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