Restaurant adds new tastes to St. Patrick's Day menu

Sunday, March 14, 2004

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Corned beef and cabbage, prepare to cede some space on the bill of fare.

Kells Irish Restaurant and Pub has an expanded menu of traditional dishes flavored with one of Ireland's favorite drinks, stout, the strong, bittersweet dark beer, and with Irish white cheese.

You could try a stout-enhanced shepherd's pie, topped with potatoes whipped with the slightly sweet Cheddar-style cheese or tender baby meatballs smothered in a creamy stout sauce alongside potatoes.

For dessert, you might dig into a rich chocolate stout cake, sweetened with a chocolate, sugar and stout sauce, and covered with a creamy ganache glaze made of semisweet chocolate melted in heavy whipping cream.

This is comfort food of a high order. But it's everyday fare at Kells, and the passion of executive chef Ethan Light, 33, and his sous chef, his 63-year-old mother, Carol Light.

Housed in a multistoried, 1889 National Historic Register cast-iron building in Old Town Portland, the restaurant and adjoining streets come alive St. Patrick's Day week for a six-day festival of Irish food, music and culture.

"We're told it's the biggest St. Patrick's Day celebration in the Pacific Northwest," said Lucille McAleese, who opened the restaurant with her husband, Gerard, 14 years ago, and worked as pastry chef at the outset.

The restaurant is one of three the family owns on the West Coast. All three sponsor St. Patrick's Day festivities, but the Portland celebration, with some 10,000 attendees, is the largest, said McAleese.

"Comfort food is the first thing that comes to people's minds when they think of Irish food," said McAleese.

Americans may think corned beef and cabbage is Irish but in the homeland it's not a common food, she said, adding that the Irish eat a lot of lamb and fish. Both brown and white soda bread are ever-present, she said.

Chef Light, an Illinois native thinks of Irish food as "back-route cooking, old-school cooking just like grandma used to do."

On a recent trip to Ireland, Light learned that Kells' food was right in line with the country's cuisine, from the bangers (sausage) and Ulster champ to the sausage rolls.

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