- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Once you’ve gone to Againn, you might want to go again. The city’s newest gastro-pub ex

plains that “Againn” (pronounced “ah-gwenn”) is not the familiar English, but a Gaelic term that loosely translates as: “at us,” “with us” or “are you going?” It’s a fair question.

Againn is a melange of British pub and French bistro. The atmosphere is not publike, but akin to a large informal Parisian restaurant - cheerful, friendly, welcoming. The victuals could be termed pub grub.

Againn is at the corner of 11th Street and New York Avenue Northwest, with the entrance on the 11th Street side. A circular oyster bar attracts the diner’s eye on entering; so do the fox heads on the wall and the numerous personalized whisky lockers, each holding three bottles of Scotch whisky. These lockers are not for cheap booze: Rent is $500 a year, with discounts for longer terms.

The dining room is divided by dark wooden booths running along the center of the room, with tables by the windows. White tiles on the wall add a British flair. No tablecloths, but this is a gastro-pub, not a white-tablecloth eating establishment. Waiters and waitresses are efficient and helpful, friendly without being obsequious.

The menu offers appropriate gastro-pub fare: bangers and mash; fish and chips with mushy peas and English egg sauce; Lancashire hot pot (braised lamb shanks with turnips, parsnips and red cabbage); shepherd’s pie; and pan-fried black pudding with beets and apples. Roast pork is served with bubble and squeak (mashed potatoes and cabbage).

The menu isn’t limited to pub fare, though. Braised beef short ribs, for example, are a rich and unusual dish. The meat is braised on the bone, taken off in the kitchen and served in a formed square with a fine potato puree and chopped kale sweetened with currants.

Shepherd’s pie, served in a small casserole, is an excellent, gently spiced dish of chopped lamb covered with cheesy mashed potatoes.

Mussels are well-prepared, if not out of the ordinary, small and sweet in a bath of cider. As with most dishes, the portion is large enough to be shared.

A caramelized endive salad with slices of poached pear, Stilton cheese and candied pecans sounded better than it was, perhaps because it was served too cold. The endive was curiously flavorless.

A pint of large shrimp - about a dozen - are simply boiled and served with a light “marie rose” sauce, a combination of mayonnaise and ketchup similar to thousand island dressing. The shrimp, happily, are served at room temperature; they are cooked just the right amount of time to retain tenderness.

A seldom seen appetizer is warm lamb’s tongue accompanied by arugula, fingerling potatoes and a green herb sauce.

Straightforward fish and meat dishes include rockfish, salmon, hanger steak and a prime rib steak. There’s also a roast of the day, beginning on Monday with a Cornish chicken and ending on Saturday with roast pork.

The charcuterie selections include potted pork, a pork terrine of ground pork and chicken liver, and brawn, the British word for headcheese, which isn’t cheese at all, but a sausage made of bits of meat from the head of a calf or pig. The excellent house-made grainy dark bread goes well with all the dishes.

Desserts are unusual: Eton mess is a dessert served since the 19th century at Eton College’s annual cricket game against Winchester College. It’s usually made with strawberries, cream and meringue. Againn combines huckleberries, meringue and lemon curd.

The sticky pudding is not to be missed. Neither the pudding nor the toffee sauce is overly sweet, and the accompanying stout ice cream is a lovely contrast to the warm pudding.

Againn has an extensive wine list of bottles from around the world. Wines by the glass range from $9 to $25. This is a pub, after all, and there’s an extensive list of beers, draft and bottled.

Againn offers its customers 80 varieties of whiskies, including 47 Scotches, giving special meaning to the motto at the end of the menu: “meet, eat, neat.”

RESTAURANT: Againn, 1099 New York Ave. NW, 202/639-9830.

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and pub grub until midnight Saturday; Sunday brunch and pub grub 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

PRICES: $9 to $14, entrees $14 to $40, desserts $8

PARKING: Metered street parking; valet parking $10

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Metro Center

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