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Dining

Erin go blah

McFadden’s is short on ambiance and authentic pub food, but, oh!—that Reuben

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Sliders.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

First, I’ll give you the good news.

The food at McFadden’s, a self-styled Irish pub that originated in New York City before expanding into a national chain, is quite good, although only marginally Irish.

Now, here is the bad. During the evening, when the free show at the Rio’s Masquerade Village is pounding your eardrums, and on the other side of you a cacophonous pianist is doing the Billy Joel thing, you can’t have a conversation, much less think. After having a tasty dinner here the other night, I wanted to head for the sensory-deprivation chamber.

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Restaurant Guide
777-7777. Open daily, 11 a.m.-5 a.m.
Suggested dishes: Almost Famous Boneless Wings, $10.95; crab cakes, $11.95; pan-seared halibut, $22.95; Reuben, $10.95.

So come for lunch.

Irish cuisine used to be one of those thin books, but lately, the conventional wisdom no longer applies. Ireland has become high-tech and prosperous, and there has been a foodie explosion, so lots of Irish pubs in this country now have fresh salmon, soda bread, champ and delicious finger foods. In case you are wondering, champ is cabbage and potato mash that you can get in some of our Irish pubs. You won’t find it here, but much of what they do serve is going to be a pleasant surprise.

McFadden’s is the latest incarnation in a space once home to the upscale pub JR’s, and a place with the tongue-in-cheek name the Tilted Kilt. JR’s, operated by Charlie Palmer alum Joe Romano, may have been too sophisto for the young animals around here, while the Tilted Kilt may have been, believe it or not, too basic.

So this operation strikes the right balance, food-wise. Yes, there are things such as Irish nachos, made with delicate house-made potato chips, and the expected Buffalo wings and burgers. But the kitchen here also turns out one of the best crab cakes in the city, and one of the best halibut dishes as well. That means a serious eater can enjoy a visit here, too.

This is a large space in the corner of Masquerade Village, with a nice parquet floor, suggestively clad waitresses and a display case selling T-shirts and other stuff with the company logo on it. Sorry, fellas, I ain’t buying. I don’t do free advertising.

Naturally there are Guinness signs all around, and the Guinness flows freely in here. The one complaint, from a seating standpoint, is that most of the tables have stools, so low tables furnished with chairs where you can put your feet on the ground are at a premium in this joint.

Hungry yet? I’m still craving the Almost Famous Boneless Wings, chicken wings basted in a nice, spicy sauce the color of Agent Orange. Hey, no one says this is health food. You can also have the wings on the bone, and either way, the portions are huge and the taste delicious.

Sliders are also fine, a trio of mini-burgers topped with the requisite grilled onions, plus the good house fries, which are spiced and lightly battered. Irish nachos are a good bet as well, although the kitchen occasionally runs out. Topped with cheese, real bacon bits and green onion, they can be dabbed in ranch dressing for a true cardiological nightmare. Yum!

I loved my crab cake for its crisp crust and persistently crabby flavor, actually another trio of small patties redolent of peppers, served with a properly emulsified lemon aioli. I also give high marks to the oft-overlooked shrimp cocktail, six huge prawns bobbing in a tangy red cocktail sauce. But I’m less enamored of the Irish onion soup, served in a cereal bowl, not a crock, and topped with too much gooey melted cheese.

Yes, there are salads, but who in the hell comes to a pub to eat a salad? If you must, the goat cheese, candied walnuts and julienned apples are tossed in raspberry vinaigrette. I’m not sure about Vegas, but if you ordered something like this in Dublin some yobbo would smack you off your stool.

Now a real man might like the Irish lamb stew, hearty chunks of tender meat, potatoes and vegetables in a red wine broth, the one knock being that it is a tad salty for my taste.

Barbecued ribs are slightly sweet, excellent quality baby backs finished in the oven, with fries and bland house slaw.

To my mind, the star dish here is pan-seared halibut served over a corn bacon hash, but there is another standout. That would be the Reuben, perhaps the best one in the city. It’s loaded with fork-tender corned beef, a mild sauerkraut and just the right amount of Swiss cheese, and the bread, a nice rye, complements the filling perfectly.

If you’ve saved room for dessert, McFadden’s does a rich, crusty apple pie that you can have topped with vanilla ice cream, or a forgettable brownie à la mode, a too-cakey pastry that, when I got it, had been mildly scorched in the baking pan.

At least no one offered me flourless chocolate cake. Clancy’d lower the boom on you if you even thought about ordering that puppy in a self-styled Irish pub.

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