Saturday, March 02, 2019

Irenia (Santa Ana, CA) [2]

Irenia Restaurant
400 N Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Sat 03/02/2019, 08:30p-11:00p

Since opening in mid-2016, Ryan Garlitos' modern Filipino spot Irenia has quickly become one of my go-to restaurants in Downtown Santa Ana, and in fact Orange County in general. I've been back here a number of times since my initial report on the place, so I figured that it might be time for another post.

Irenia Menu Irenia Cocktail, Beer & Wine List
The menu has been in pretty much continuous evolution since Irenia opened, though there are a few standby dishes that have never left. Drink-wise, we have Philippine-inspired cocktails, some beer, and an abbreviated wine list. Click for larger versions.

Buko Pandan
Buko Pandan [$12.00] | lambanog, pandan, lemon, coconut milk
We began with a vibrantly-hued cocktail ostensibly inspired by the Filipino dessert buko pandan. Though based on a potent distilled coconut spirit called lambanóg, this was easy-drinking, displaying a tropical, coconut-y sweetness married with grassy, aromatic notes of pandan.

Arroz Caldo
Arroz Caldo [$7.00] | Rice porridge, fried garlic, chicharron, chile oil, ginger
The aroskaldo was a must-try for me, and didn't disappoint. It was a super cozy sort of dish, savory and gingery at its core, but with a delightful funk (patis perhaps?) and underlying heat. The salt and crunch of the chicharrones was much appreciated too, as was the brightness provided by the veggies. A superb start.

Lumpia [$4.00] | Ground pork, carrots, daikon, sweet chile sauce
Irenia's lumpia were just about perfect, and featured a savory, satisfying, familiar filling of pork and vegetables, all encased in a thin, crisp wrapper. They were delicious alone, but even better with a dab of that sour, vinegar-based dipping sauce on the side.

Purple Drank
Purple Drank [$12.00] | gin, coconut rum, ube, pineapple
Our next cocktail conveyed the familiar sweetness of ube in concert with coconut, with the tartness of pineapple serving as a counterpoint.

Kinilaw [$17.00] | Ridgeback prawns, Hope Ranch mussels, avocado cream, winter citrus, radish, calamansi vinaigrette
The ceviche-esque kinilaw featured fresh, snappy prawns and mussels, set in an avocado cream sauce. Unfortunately, said sauce was a bit much, and tended to overwhelm the delicate flavors of the seafood. I did appreciate the zesty slivers of red onion here, as well as the juicy cuts of citrus, both of which helped lift the dish.

Nilagang Baboy
Nilagang Baboy [$7.00] | Pork bone broth, thumbelina carrots, turnips, napa cabbage
The pork stew definitely delivered, thanks to its homey, deep-yet-delicate broth, one smartly matched to the bitterness of the various veggies.

Emerald City
Emerald City [$11.00] | green guava infused vodka, lemon, basil
Taking its name from the city of Muntinlupa, this next cocktail was definitely on the refreshing side. I got loads of basil up front, along with sweet, "green" flavors cut by tart citrus.

Kamote [$14.00] | Fried Japanese sweet potato, pears, arugula, coconut cream, spicy peanuts, sorrel
Here was the most intriguing course of the evening. Coated in a rich, sticky, savory dressing, the kamote was tempered in its sweetness. It actually paired really well with the zestiness of arugula, while the pears imparted a juicy, tangy element. The coconut cream emphasized the sweeter notes in the dish, but even it wasn't domineering.

Adobo [$18.00] | Roasted pork belly, adobo jus, monggo, braised greens, spring onion
The adobo has been on the menu since pretty much day one, and for good reason. The belly arrived fork-tender, and showed off a bevy of dark, savory flavors, evened out by a touch of tartness. Bitter braised greens served as an effective foil to the meat, and I was a big fan of the moderating effect of those mung beans, too. Be sure to make use of the included rice as well.

Manila Mule
Manila Mule [$12.00] | lambanog, lime, ginger beer, bitters
This riff on a classic mule cocktail showed off the potency of lambanóg, offset by the spiciness of ginger and a bit of bitterness on the back end.

Chicken Sa Gata
Chicken Sa Gata [$17.00] | Chicken confit, coconut curry, yuchoy, pea tendrils, chile
We ended with the sa gatâ, effectively a coconut-y variation of adobo. The chicken was immensely, immensely flavorful, with a supple consistency and a wonderfully light, crispy, flavorful skin. It matched well with the included coconut curry, while the greenery imparted a necessary brightness to the mix. My only concern was that the bird was a touch dry in places.

Churron (Cut Open)
Churron [$8.00] | Brûlée banana eggroll, jackfruit, cinnamon & sugar, lemon cream
Dessert duties were handled by this churro-turon hybrid. It was a fun combination for sure, with plenty of sweet spice working hand-in-hand with the banana, all while the jackfruit provided a textural element. Great crispness on the spring roll wrapper here, too.

I enjoyed yet another strong meal at Irenia this evening--just the latest in a long line--and that's the reason why I keep coming back here. I've enjoyed seeing how Garlitos' cooking has grown since the restaurant opened, and I hope that the place sticks around for a long time so I can keep on comin' back. An essential spot for OC I'd say.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can get the same food experience at Jollibee at half the price.

Thursday, April 11, 2019 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every time

Saturday, April 13, 2019 8:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where are the ladies at?

Sunday, April 14, 2019 2:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jollibee is trash. Popeyes chicken baby.

Sunday, April 14, 2019 10:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Church's chicken is better than Popeyes or Jollibee. You can come fight me if you disagree.

Sunday, April 14, 2019 11:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best chicken - Popeyes
Best cole slaw - KFC
Best fries - McDonald's

Monday, April 15, 2019 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, Sizzler has some decent wings that are on steroids.

Monday, April 15, 2019 11:29:00 PM  

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