Hagan's Four Courts

2 Rockville Metro Place



Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily, brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Most dinner entrees $10 to $16.

Credit Cards: American Express, Diner's Club, MasterCard, Visa.

Hagan's is one of the most handsome restaurants around, somewhat pricey but not exorbitant. The food is good too -- all of the dishes show solid competence, and a few are outstanding.

The theme is Irish, not the phony Irish with green beer and leprechauns, but the real thing: live Irish music Thursday through Saturday, Guinness and Harp on tap, house-made soda and brown breads (you have to ask for them) and a half-dozen or so traditional Irish dishes.

This is a big place, beautifully paneled in dark wood, sumptuously lighted and cleverly divided. The front area is a cozy pub with tables for drinking, snacking or dining. At the rear are a series of tranquil dining rooms, including several charming little alcoves just big enough for one table and perfect for privacy.

The appetizer champ here is the baked wild mushrooms, fragrant with minced garlic, heady with a touch of brandy and smoothed out with just a little mozzarella. The soups, including potato-leek and seafood chowder, have been top-notch, creamy but not over-rich and vividly flavored. The fried zucchini patties are actually very good fritters of pureed vegetables, crisply battered and served with a zippy buttermilk-style dip. The traditional Irish egg-mayonnaise appetizer is nice but dull, as are the prawns.

Among the entrees, the shrimp dijon is outstanding, five big, fresh-tasting beauties in a sauce of mustard and brandy.

Four Courts chicken is another winner, a nicely succulent grilled breast topped with a thin layer of mozzarella, a tart fresh tomato relish and a healthy zap of garlic.

The salmon is impressive too, a thick slab, nicely grilled, admirably moist. The fish and chips are well prepared, but don't expect tempura lightness -- this is good, chunky cod, firm and juicy, with a crisp, hearty batter. The Irish stew is a near-winner, with lean, tender beef and firm potatoes and carrots, but it's too timidly flavored.

It's worth a visit to Hagan's just to sit in the pub and have one of the house-made desserts. There's an intense chocolate mousse made with Bailey's Irish Cream; a lovely apple pie with big, firm apple chunks; and a sherry trifle layered with excellent cake and custard and loaded with real whipped cream. Tea is served every afternoon from 3 to 4:30.

Parking is convenient here, but only if you know where to go. Drive two levels up in the garage and look for a restaurant sign in one corner.