River Gods

An Irish pub that’s a real restaurant (with a punk sensibility)
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  May 24, 2006
2.0 2.0 Stars

Now about those French fries. We got ours with the steak-sandwich special, itself an impressive heap of tenderloin tips on an interesting soft wheat bread and served with a large salad of field greens besides. The fries are thin, browned, crisp, and a good vehicle for ketchup. I didn’t find them remarkable for potato flavor, but I have to confess that it had been only a week since I’d tasted the best fried potatoes I’ve ever had, at a seaside resort in Portugal. River Gods usually has Portuguese soup, but it has yet to perfect Portuguese French fries.

The duck entrée ($14.50) is basically a salad, with slices of duck breast and baby asparagus. A special on chicken ($16), however, included mashed potatoes, real giblet-mushroom gravy, and vegetables, as well as salad. And, of course, there is the “God salad” ($11; “lesser god salad”/$5), which is not a mélange of pagan deities for the delectation of cafeteria Celts, but rather a garden salad plus steak tips, egg, sliced beets, and more. And it’s very nicely dressed.

River Gods doesn’t offer dessert — it’s a bar, after all — but it does serve quite a variety of drinks. I didn’t see a lot of wine, but a Black and Tan ($4.25) allowed me to test not only the Guinness (clean and heady) but also the mixed-in lager (another whistle-clean tap).

Service is surprisingly good, not only because the servers have to be agile to get around the odd furniture in the crowded room, but also because the kitchen is so small. Some dishes are permutations of one another, but the staff still has to fry, grill, simmer, and assemble in a coordinated fashion, all of which it managed well on a crowded weekend night. River Gods is quite popular with several types of people, so it’s probably always crowded. A limited menu (including those French fries!) is served until 1 am.

Music starts at about 9 pm, and there is a varied line-up, from roots to electronic experiments.

My recent trip to Seville, Spain, and Southern Portugal was notable more for everyday food than for fancy food, although I did try two fancy city restaurants in Seville. It’s hard to find bad seafood anywhere in Spain, and the lamb always tastes like lamb. But the real revelation was a second-string cataplana — a copper clamshell full of stewed seafood — in Portugal. This is a dish we sometimes see around Cambridge and Provincetown. But the one I had in Salema, near the western tip of Europe, was as rich as any bouillabaisse, and it was done with seafood that can actually be found on this side of the Atlantic. The key to our stew was skate wing and monkfish for body, although the flavor was increased with real tomatoes, cilantro, a dash of red pepper, and local cockles and mussels (no better than our littlenecks or mussels, however). There were lots of potatoes, maybe a bit of cabbage, but surprisingly little herbal influence considering that I picked wild rosemary and thyme at roadside.

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