Not another Irish pub,” groaned a friend when I informed him we would be eating at the new Rí Rá in the Shoppes at Mandalay Place. I admit, the field is getting crowded. This one, though, happens to be a cut above.
First off, it’s gorgeous in here. The pub is fronted by what appears to be windows from an old apothecary, stocked with ancient medicines. Three—count ’em—bars line this long, narrow space, two of which are crowned with gorgeous wooden mantelpieces from the 19th century. A twin mural of theater-goers peering out from trompe l’oeil curtains has an eerie effect in the rear dining area, furnished with real curtains the lurid red color of Sweeney Todd’s barber chair.
Service ranges from competent, when performed by local veterans of restaurants around the Strip, to charmingly inept, when the servers are real Irishmen hired for their accents as opposed to their service skills. I had to flag one of the latter down for attention on two occasions, and on another, the server didn’t bring the delicious house soda bread—or water, for that matter—until I’d asked him three times.
That said, I enjoyed almost everything I tried here, even though for me this cuisine is somewhat bland. “That’s funny,” remarked a manager to me when I mentioned that a dish needed more spice. “I’m from Ireland myself,” she told me, “and we make our food spicier for Americans.”
They will swear that the Guinness tastes the same, though. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this product, it’s a stout, not a beer, and a religion on the old sod. They pour it twice, in order to achieve a head that is both thick and creamy. The temperature is cool, not ice cold, so you can better taste its complex, bitter chocolate and grainy flavor.
A full Irish breakfast is available all day, an artery-clogging combination of two eggs, Irish sausage, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, black and white pudding, and grilled tomato. Everything on the plate is tasty. Corned beef and cabbage, incidentally, is an American invention. The Irish eat bacon and cabbage. Rí Rá solves the problem by serving both, with Rí Rá the house-brined corned beef being, in my opinion, the superior dish.
Rí Rá is the only place in Vegas that makes a proper shepherd’s pie with ground lamb, as opposed to beef. (When it’s made with beef, it’s a cottage pie, just for the record.) This one had a mashed-potato crust. I thought it was underseasoned, but maybe that’s just me.
Fish and chips is terrific here: a delicious beer-battered haddock filet on a pile of hand-cut fries served with Irish remoulade or tartar sauce. I wasn’t able to taste the smoked salmon plate because, on separate occasions, the restaurant was waiting for a shipment from Éire. But an excellent pot of Penn Cove mussels steeped in Irish whiskey, wine and garlic butter provided adequate compensation.
Desserts are reasonably good, too, especially a rice pudding with a crackling sugar top, and a creamy Irish trifle with lots of whipped cream. In practice, I had an Irish whiskey called Red Breast for dessert, which isn’t cheap at $14 a shot. Erin go Bragh.