Managed to make it in to The Chief tonight, beating the snow and the odds, and arriving in the Nick O'Time. Sat at the bar and "enjoyed" the thinly disguised homoerotic choreography otherwise known as "Ultimate Fighting" playing on the big screen TV. Eventually, the bartender and I switched it over to Letterman, improving the night tenfold.
Started with a very nice bowl of New England Clam Chowder. Excellent flavor, tasting slightly of the sea with a rich creamy texture and appetizing color, not a pure milky white, but a more earthy and rustic tone. Highly recommended for all you Chowder lovers out there.
On to the main event: "County Cork Peat Smoked Lake Superior Whitefish (served chilled) with Old Fashioned Potato Salad, Cucumber-Dill Creme Fraiche, Pickled Onion-Tomato Relish and Shallot Hay", served as an app, but eaten, by me, as an entree.
First off, the dish gets a big thumbs up. I need to say that up front, so any less than sterling comments I make down the line will not be misconstrued as overly critical. I made sure to try the fish plain before slathering it with the Cucumber-Dill Creme Fraiche and Pickled Onion-Tomato Relish. While I am very familiar with the smell of peat and its effect on baked brown bread, I was not prepared for how it would taste when used as a smoking base for fish. Peat smoke imparts a very different flavor than any hardwood used in American Barbecue. It's more "herby" (I suppose the fact that peat is actually dried, decayed vegetable matter might have something to do with that); kind of like when you smoke duck using dried tea leaves. A lovely flavor, but wholly unexpected. I could have eaten the whole (generous) piece of fish as is, but Chef Lake clearly spent time preparing the Creme Fraiche and Relish; I had to honor his efforts and indulge all elements of the dish. I'm awfully glad I did, because it all came together perfectly: Dense earthy smoked fish, rich creamy notes from the creme fraiche, a bit of tang from the relish, and finally a splash of lime to brighten the whole thing.
I think this dish will be even better in the late summertime when the tomato adds not just color to the relish, but significant flavor as well. The relish wasn't without flavor, but the current crop of flavorless, pale pink winter fruit added little and didn't do justice to the rest of the dish.
It was so good, I ordered a second one to take home to Mrs. Roadhouse. And that is where I discovered--too late--my dissatisfaction. Upon opening the carry out version of the dish I had just enjoyed, I realized I'd been cheated: Dere was no feckin' Shallot Hay on the plate I consumed at the restaurant! I didn't realize it at the time. It was only when I noticed those beautiful crispy fried rings that I understood what I had missed. I grabbed the fork out the wife's hand and put together a single, perfect bite of fish, creme, relish, AND SHALLOT HAY so I could fully appreciate what I'd missed out on. Sweet merciful monkey pants it was good. So good, in fact, I got pissed off. So pissed off that now I am forced to go back to Chief O'Neill's the next time they offer this special, order it again, and make sure the feckin' Shallot Hay is included this time.
The Old Fashioned Potato Salad was quite good; an excellent compliment to the fish. Good firm texture on the spuds, without being underdone. Personally, I would have liked some more assertive flavors, but just a dash of salt and all was well.
Overall, the experience was as close to the way we ate on the west coast of Ireland as I can remember. Oh yeah, the music--back to the traditional Irish fare I remember from the early days of The Chief. A welcome change that rounded out an excellent dining experience.
Thank you Chef Lake. Be sure to let me know when this special is offered again so I can satisfy my Shallot Hay Jones.