Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Le Chéile: A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow… in Washington Heights!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

The Irish believe that at end of every rainbow there’s a Leprechaun sitting hammering a shoe, with the knowledge of where you can find a pot of gold.  Well, I’m no Leprechaun, but I know if you walk to the end of W. 181th St. and Cabrini Blvd. you’ll find an amazing Irish restaurant, called Le Chéile (pronounced Leh Kay-lah), where the food is as good as gold!

Le Chéile (which is Gaelic for together) is an Irish pub and restaurant in Washington Heights with an eclectic menu that features American, Italian, and authentic Irish cuisine. The space features a pub on the left, restaurant seating on the right and a second floor with additional restaurant seating. Each table is covered with butcher paper and a small jar of crayons is provided so you can doodle and draw as you wait for your dishes.

As I waited for my menu, I noticed the diversity of people dining at Le Chéile. I heard Southern accents talking on cell phones; families chatting in Spanish; and a set of five joyful Irish accents sitting next to me. It was good to know members of the Irish community eat at Le Chéile and enjoy the food; it gave the restaurant more “street cred.”

I overheard one of the Irish patrons ordering the Bachelor’s Irish Beans with Toast, a classic Irish pub appetizer. Suddenly, I had a brilliant idea! Being relatively ignorant about Irish cuisine, I decided to eavesdrop on their orders and if they ordered Irish entrees I would look them up in the menu, and order whatever I thought sounded interesting.  I assumed, if Irish people ate there, they would probably order Irish food.  I know this makes me sound like a nosy food stalker, but who better to teach me about Irish cuisine then Irish people?

When my server appeared with my menu, I ordered a beverage and the Bachelor’s Irish Beans with Toast.  She seemed a bit surprised that I ordered without looking at the menu, but nodded and smiled! Le Chéile’s wait staff is nice and accommodating, but the service is slow.  I found it very strange that during the height of dinnertime, there was only one server for all of us on the second floor.

As I waited for my order, I looked over the menu, but kept my ears glued to the Irish patrons’ conversations.  They mostly talked about work and their relationships; I struck gold, when one of the men asked everyone what they were going to order.

My assumption was right!  The Irish patrons ordered primarily from the traditional Irish section of the menu, which includes: The Bangers and Mash (Irish sausage with mashed potatoes and beans); the Shepherd’s Pie (spiced ground beef with vegetables topped with crispy mashed potatoes served with greens); the traditional Irish stew (fresh beef and vegetables in a hearty sauce); the Fish and Chips (beer battered fillet with fries served with their house tartar sauce); and the Dublin Chicken Curry (Irish yellow curry with chicken over seasoned rice).

Le Chéile’s menu also features appetizers such as: Fried Calamari, Chicken wings and homemade mozzarella sticks.  Their salad section features: Cobb salad, mixed greens, and Caesar salad.  Their Sammies section (Burgers and sandwiches) features: A Steak sandwich, veggie burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches.  Their entrée section includes: Grilled Steak, Chicken Parmesan, and Blackened Skate fish.  They have wonderful farmer’s side dishes as well: Beets, Broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, and green peas.

When my appetizer arrived, I placed my dinner order-the Bangers with Mash and the Shepherd’s Pie- and began eating.  The Bachelor’s Irish Beans was simple, sweet and good; it consisted of a bowl of white beans in a spiced tomato sauce with pieces of toasted hero bread. When I added a pinch of salt and pepper, the flavors opened up even more. 

A few minutes later, my server brought my dinner along with the Irish patrons’ orders.  One of the Irishmen closest to me (a white haired bearded old man with a huge head) noticed we ordered the same dinner, smiled and said, “Cheers, good dinnah ta’yah!”  I thanked him; wished them all a good meal; and started my dinner.

The Bangers with Mash was wonderful! The Irish sausage-made of finely ground pork, egg, and seasonings-was soft, flavorful, and had a wonderful char to it!  The mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery and the beans were as good as they were in the appetizer.

The Shepherd’s Pie was also delicious.  The crispy mashed potato topping was a wonderful accompaniment to the seasoned beef and vegetables underneath!  It was an excellent blend of savory flavors with rich buttery sweetness.  The mixed greens were crisp and tasty, but a bit over dressed.

I didn’t think I had room for dessert until I looked over the dessert menu and my sweet tooth took over!  The dessert menu features: Homemade Apple pie (served a la mode), Ice Cream sandwiches (2 oatmeal raisin cookies and vanilla ice cream), and Banana Foster (vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, brandy flambé, and whipped cream).

Intrigued by the Banana Foster, I ordered one and it was wonderful! The sweetness of the ice cream, whipped cream and banana slices combined with the deep richness of the brandy Flambé and cinnamon, make this an incredible dessert. Despite how heavy it may sound, it was actually light and refreshing.

With a fun atmosphere, excellent food and interesting art, Le Chéile is an Irish secret that needs to be shared!  So go to Washington heights and follow the rainbow (down W. 181st and Cabrini Blvd.) to this amazing Irish pot of gold.

Le Chéile
839 W 181st St
(between Pinehurst Ave & Cabrini Blvd)
New York, NY 10033
(212) 740-3111

HOURS:  Mon.-Fri. 11am-Midnight, Sat.-Sun. 4pm-Midnight

ATMOSPHERE: Very cool and laid back.


SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.
KID FRIENDLY: Yes, kid friendly

RECOMMENDED DISHES: See the article above.

BEVERAGES: Soda, Coffee, Tea, Irish Coffee, Iced tea, Barry’s Irish tea, Mexican Hot Chocolate ($1.50-7pm)

PRICE RANGE: Soups ($5), Starters ($4-$18), Eggs and Such (7-$15), Salads ($7-$11), Sammies ($9-$15), Plates ($12-$23), Traditional ($11-$14), Farmer’s sides ($5-$14), Desserts ($5-$6)