Irish pub invades an old Belgian haunt

St. Stephen's bustles amid grub & brews aplenty

20070928_dn_g1fdin28f

THE LONG-shuttered space at 17th and Green where Cuvee Notredame once delighted is finally open for business.

Jeff Keel of Bishop's Collar and James Stephens of the Black Sheep and Dark Horse formed their own partnership to create St. Stephen's Green.

While the name may be ser-

endipity- Stephens, an owner, located on Green Street and the original St. Stephen's Green is a historic park in Dublin, Ireland - the pub needs time to work out some inconsistency in the kitchen.

Other than a few beer offerings, any physical evidence of the previous Belgian tenant has been ceded to all Irish. The chairs are an odd height, and when I commented on this to the waitress she noted that they are "authentic" and come directly from Ireland. They come from uncomfortable is where they come from, unless you like your legs bumping into the table.

Beyond the decor - even the bar was made in Ireland - this is a pub. Guinness is on tap all the time, and there is a huge assortment of microbrews and other specialty beers. The staff seems knowledgeable about the beers, and you are sure to find something for your palate.

Not so lucky if you are a wine drinker. I ordered a glass of Prosecco ($8) that was flat and wasn't helped by being served in a wine glass rather than a flute. If you don't think you can turn this product to keep it fresh, don't even try.

Other wine offerings are drinkable and affordable, such as the Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel, J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon and the Ancora Pinot Grigio.

But, I'd love to see the choices as interesting and varied as the beers and managed with the same care.

The best way to enjoy St. Stephen's is to go with a crowd and share a bunch of appetizers. Choices abound and seafood seems to be the main event.

My party particularly enjoyed the Steamed Littlenecks ($12), with a nice Asian-style broth flavored with ginger and coconut. The clams were plump and cooked to tender.

Lamb Skewers ($8.50) with mint and cucumber sauce is a nice plate to share. They are, however, heavy on the garlic, so how much you enjoy this dish depends on what you'll be sharing later in the evening!

The Caprese Salad ($8) was a disappointment. In early September you ought to be able to get vine-ripened yellow and red tomatoes that are actually ripe. These were overly refrigerated rocks that were coated in a balsamic pesto dressing that, had any existed, would have paired well with tomato flavor. The fresh mozzarella salvaged the dish.

On my fry-meter the Handcut Fries ($3) rate about a 7.5 out of 10. Cooked to a great mahogany color, they were just a tad too thick, resulting in a textural flaw in the middle.

For an extra buck you can choose to completely ruin the fries with curry. It's your call.

The Grilled Sirloin Burger ($8) included two toppings. This was a good burger - the roll had some chew to it, but not so much as to make the burger slide out the other side. Topping choices are good and enough to make you indecisive - caramelized onion, portobello mushroom, bacon, roasted peppers, cheddar, Gruyere, Gorgonzola or fresh mozzarella cheese.

A buck will buy you an additional topping if you can't narrow it down.

Sadly, the accompanying salad was ruined by a vinaigrette with far too much thyme in it.

Shepherd's Pie ($10) is one of the Irish house specialities on the menu. Now, if you purport to be an Irish Pub and name yourself after a park in Dublin, you'd better make a darn good shepherd's pie.

The mashed potato topping lacked body and flavor. I don't know about your Irish grandmother, but mine had plenty of butter and cream in her potatoes. There were some lumps of carrot floating around a gravy that was flavorless except for too much thyme. Dare we say Chef Dave Clark has too much thyme on his hands?

In short, the shepherd's pie was so bad, it put me off trying the Bangers and Mash or the Fish and Chips.

Dessert choices on my visits were singularly uninviting but, let's be honest, when you're drinking beer, a rich, heavy sweet is the last thing on your mind. The two offerings change daily and it seems the sourcing may be in flux as well.

All in all, it's nice to see this vacant corner peopled again and a little age on the kitchen should bring some consistency. Keel and Stephens want an affordable, comfortable neighborhood place you can frequent regularly, and this would seem a reasonable goal. I'd rather see fewer items on the menu and know they are going to be good every time.

I could do with less volume on the music, but the crowd here skews on the younger side and a pounding beat seems necessary. The smoking ban may have saved our lungs, but we will now age with significant hearing loss. *