Civil Service

Photo by Jeanne RiceDo you have any idea if your local representatives really serve you? You probably don't go to city council meetings, and for all you know, they're shucking oysters and watching Lucyreruns in there. But at Skosh Monahan's, there's no doubt you're being served, as former Costa Mesa mayor and current Councilman Gary Monahan rushes about, serving tables, tending bar, toting barges and lifting bales. He is one hands-on restaurant owner.

At many an Irish establishment, the fare is just bar food, a greasy afterthought to accompany the hooch. Skosh's (pronounced "Boddington's") is most certainly a bar; Monahan previously managed the tap-happy Goat Hill Tavern, and a similar liquid abundance prevails here. There may be only 22 taps, but they also pour 12 Irish whiskeys, 16 scotch and 12 American/Canadian ones; 11 specialty martinis; a midsized but respectable wine list; and a custom concoction dubbed the Irish Root Beer. That's a Guinness with a shot glass of amaretto and Kahlua submerged in it, and it is a sweet little glass of oblivion.

With all that competing for your stomach lining, they could probably serve you Crisco in the can and you'd be happy. Instead, Skosh's meals range from splendid to very good, while varying in price and style from family fare to froufrou specialties.

The prime Paddy food—the lamb stew and the corned beef and cabbage—is excellent, particularly the former. For those of us who haven't been satisfied with a lamb stew in the county since Belisle's was bulldozed, Monahan's hearty version is a minor godsend. There's a generous portion of lamb (and not the gnarly cuts some places fob off on you) lolling with carrots and such in a rich brown gravy. Though I'd rather it have potato chunks in there as well, it's some recompense that the stew is served with Skosh's bitchen roasted-garlic mashed potatoes. The soda bread is also topnotch.

Both the lamb stew and the corned beef are a good deal, at $9.50 and $9.95 respectively, and they're even better at their weekly special rate of $5.99. That price holds for fish and chips on Mondays, the lamb stew on Tuesdays, beef stroganoff on Wednesdays, and the corned beef and cabbage on Thursdays.

The Harp beer-battered fish and chips is, to my taste, too genteel; it's good, fresh fish, but in forgoing the newspaper-drenching oiliness of other versions, it perhaps also loses out on flavor. The same might be said for the chips, steak-fry cuts that seem more like baked potatoes than anything condemned to a fry vat.

There's also other solid family fare (on Sunday's "Family Night," kids under 12 eat free), while non-carnivores will find vegetable spaghetti and a very serviceable veggie rice bowl.

Skosh's also aspires to loftier things. On the appetizer front, there's a good grilled artichoke for $6.75, while entrées include seared, peppered ahi for $19.50; grilled halibut fillet for $17.95; and steaks ranging from an eight-ounce, $13 top sirloin to a 24-ounce porterhouse for $29.95.

The halibut was a sizable and perfectly cooked piece of fish, but the saffron beurre blanc sauce and the topping of charred onion strands did little to improve it. The same might be said of the ahi, sampled as an appetizer, which was better on its own than with the overly sweet soy-wasabi sauce. My resident steak expert, Kim, says the thick-cut sirloin steak was good—far better than Outback fare—but not good enough to make her stop mourning the late Barn Steakhouse.

But there is a time to mourn, and then there is a time to eat apple cobbler. Skosh's is an ice cream-topped, thick, cinnamon sauce-besotted number that's hefty enough to anchor a boat. Eat it, and you'll walk out—or be carried out—a happier person for it.

Situated in the brick-lined original location of the Newport Rib Company, Skosh's (okay, it's pronounced with a long "O," like "close") is a pleasant neighborhood place to while away an evening with friends. Though it is part sports bar, with a rasher of TV sets, the volume is kept off or low enough not to impinge. Instead, a curious mix of oldies and Irish Rovers-grade Celtic music is piped in. Monahan is celebrating the first anniversary of the restaurant on June 28 and hopes to begin hosting live music soon. It's a reassuring note for our republic that even a city councilman has to wade through the permit process.

Skosh Monahan's, located at 2000 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, is open Mon.-Sat., 4 p.m.-midnight; Sun., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (brunch till 2 p.m.). (949) 548-0099. Dinner for two, $12-$80, food only. Full bar. All major credit cards accepted.


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