There are several clues that Lahinch Tavern and Grill leans more than a little Irish. First, the Benny’s Bar and Grill replacement is from the owners of The Irish Inn in Glen Echo. Then there’s the Irish flag flanking the front entrance and a framed magazine cover in the bar brandishing Irish golfer Rory McIlroy’s beaming face.
Lahinch, after all, is the name of a small town on the Emerald Isle where one of the restaurant’s four partners—Christy Hughes—likes to hint the links. See if you can spot his first set of golf clubs among the décor on the walls.
It’s fitting then, that the Cabin John Shopping Center tavern that opened April 18 has a clubhouse ascetic and a menu that would suit a foursome finishing a round. However, like some clubhouses, the biggest draw at Lahinch is convenience, not quality. All of the dishes I sampled were starved for attention.
Hot Corned Beef Sandwich with Gruyere cheese on thick rye with Irish mustard slaw, au jus and french fries
Despite Lahinch’s Irish inspiration, the menu isn’t all bangers and mash. Chef and partner Ted Hughes’ appetizers ($2 for a deviled egg, $22 for a charcuterie platter) alone span Andalusian gazpacho, sesame tuna tartare, fish tacos, smoked salmon, a Mediterranean platter and oysters on the half shell. I begin with a trio of deviled eggs, each studded with a slice of sweet gherkin and a fried Chincoteague oyster. It’s hard to find fault with a fried morsel, so the issue lies with the cradle of gloopy, underseasoned mayonnaise.
Horseradish-potted smoked trout with beetroot and apple salad with parsley vinaigrette
The advertised “horseradish-potted smoked trout,” is a scam because the bite of horseradish that pairs so well with smoked fish is absent. And, while the lemony saucer of trout is tasty enough, it’s served with cold, crumbly bread and overdressed spiraled vegetables. Toasted baguette rounds would inspire a sláinte—the traditional Irish toast to good health—or two.
Hoping for more success with sandwiches and mains ($13-$29), I order the braised corned beef entrée, only to receive the hot corned beef sandwich by mistake. The stand-in is stuffed with juicy, house-made corned beef. However, the Gruyere isn’t fully melted and the “Irish mustard slaw” is merely a smear.
Falafel-Stuffed Pita Bread with chili-roasted eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, tahini sauce and french fries
Perhaps the biggest sign the kitchen is going through the motions is the falafel- stuffed pita sandwich. The warm patties are pleasant enough, especially after I encounter the chili-roasted eggplant tucked in the back of the pita, but the produce isn’t fresh. Watermelon radishes that should exuberantly signal summer have the appearance of dry, cracked winter skin and the tomatoes and cucumbers are limp.
Get a heady pour of Guinness or other drafts that fit the Irish pub feel, such as Smithwick’s Red Ale or Magner’s Irish Cider. Local beer lovers will find picks from DC Brau, Port City, Heavy Seas and Atlas Brew Works. All beer prices tap out at $7.50. Wine is more limited with 13 selections priced $8-$13 by the glass and $32-$52 by the bottle. If you don't want to drink an array of whiskeys neat, there are eight cocktails ($9-$12). Several can double as dessert, such as the “Chocolate Raspberry” with berry vodka, dark Crème de Cacao, cream and Tia Maria liqueur.
Live music stage
Visiting for lunch, I missed out on the live music that draws customers four days a week (Tuesday through Thursday nights, plus during Sunday’s jazz brunch). Seeing the intimate stage in a room off the main bar, I can see how it would be fun to pass a Thursday evening grooving to The 19th Street Band while enjoying a pint and some fried calamari. Lunch is quiet, save for a couple of tables of customers evenly distributed between the main bar where flat screens show a baseball game, the white table-clothed dining room and the small patio positioned in a parking lot.
Go, wait or skip
The level of execution of both food and service suggest Lahinch may well be satisfying to some customers looking for a cozy watering hole. Or, perhaps if you order with greater success, a casual, please-all place to bring a multigenerational family for brunch or dinner. Otherwise, Lahinch is a skip until the kitchen invests more in freshness, presentation and flavor.
All photos by Laura Hayes