Friday, October 15, 2010

The Billy Goat Food Trail (2)

The Irish Inn at Glen Echo

Dish to die for: fig salad with dark chocolate sauce

City girl that I am, learning the seasonality of foods has not come easily to me. When I was doing my fieldwork in a Palestinian village, I noticed one summer evening that a lot of people were sitting outside their houses peeling cucumbers. It took me a while to figure out why everyone was having the same thing for dinner. When I lived in Massachussetts, it took a couple of years of riding around to admire the foliage for me to realize that fall was the season when apple stands would appear on country roads. Now in Washington, an October hike on the Billy Goat Trail has taught me that late summer to fall is the season for figs.

The Billy Goat Trail Section A requires concentrated rock scrambling, and by the time we were done, some post-hike refreshment was in order. Heading back to DC along MacArthur Boulevard, the Irish Inn magically appeared, just in time to fulfill this need. I say “magically” not only because an Irish pub was conjured up at just the moment we were wishing for a place to quench our thirst, but also because the Inn is right next to Glen Echo Park, arguably the strangest and most magical place in all of greater DC. I made an abrupt and impulsive turn to the right, and before we knew it, we were seated on the generous outdoor patio perusing the beer list.

The beer selection at the Irish Inn is actually less impressive than its long list of whiskies. It was too early for a shot, so we stuck with the tried and true and ordered pints of Guinness. The pub menu had some intriguing takes on traditional fare: fish and chips made with Guinness battered cod, bangers and mash with peas and whisky sauce, a Black Angus burger with Dublin cheddar. But there were also some unexpected dishes, including this one:

Figs with dark bitter chocolate sauce sounded too tantalizing to pass up. Still sated from our picnic on the trail, we ordered one to share and were pleasantly surprised when our two halves of the salad arrived separately composed on individual plates. Nice touch. Our responses were predictably separate as well: Chris loved the fact that so many of her favorite foods were all in one dish. I homed in on the figs and dark chocolate combination, feeling that too many other flavors (salty, peppery, gingery) overcrowded this unusual pairing of sweet on sweet. I wanted to savor this strange combination, focus on what made it work. Figs and dark bitter chocolate is not your everyday fruit and chocolate sauce combo. Unlike raspberries, for example, which are acidic and contrast beautifully with creamy chocolate, pairing figs and dark chocolate is a study in different degrees of sameness. Figs’ fruitiness is anchored in earth tones, taken to darker depths by the somber intensity of the bitter dark chocolate.

I wanted to know more about this dish. “Yeah, he makes something with figs every year at this time”, our waiter informed us, jerking his head back to the kitchen. “It’s fig season then?” The waiter looked at me as if I were daft, nodding confusedly. I found myself bonding with this newcomer to my tastebuds. Sure, the more uplifting fruits of summer have their sprightly place, but figs brought even further down to earth by a serious chocolate companion seem more fitting for the fall. As for all the other tempting choices on the menu…they will have to wait til winter.

Irish Inn at Glen Echo on Urbanspoon

For the Billy Goat Food Trail (3) click here
For the Billy Goat Food Trail (4) click here

1 comment:

Roy said...

Like the idea of that fig salad! The first time I had a similar dish was in a small village called Riebeeck Kasteel ..... fresh dark figs and local blue cheese with a crisp white wine.