By Kevin Leap and Steven Persitza
A fabulous find on a stretch of road mostly occupied by residential dwellings, Iris Food & Spirits stands out.
Nestled on the Torrey Pines lagoon, the space presents many pleasures - on the patio, remarkable sunsets. Inside, the dining area features artwork depicting the namesake flower of the restaurant and several Erte bronzes.
Music ebbs and flows in the background. Who can resist having both Janis Joplin and Natalie Cole serenade you throughout your dinner?
The "surfer dude" server was a friendly kind of guy - not necessarily the most polished, but made for a good natured, enjoyable exchange. (Hey, you're near the beach so roll with it.)
The moderately priced evening started out with subtle wines from the respectable list accompanied by lovely bread, so fresh with thyme and rosemary you can almost hear Simon & Garfunkel cooing their ode to herbs.
Appetizers featured bold flavors and interesting variations on some old favorites. Fanciful dishes of Asian BBQ Baby Back Lamb Ribs (grilled lamb riblets w/sweet and spicy Asian bbq sauce) and Crispy Sweet Potato Spring Rolls (sweet potato, pancetta and Serrano spring roll with gingered local ruby beet sauce) astonished the palette.
The riblets, were magnificently tender in one bite, and a tad overcooked and stringy in another, yet embodied a rich flavor - very nice dipped in the slightly piquant sauce. The spring rolls are a remarkable dish. A melding of crisp exterior and creamy filling that satisfies with a sweet, savory yet fiery and robust taste all at the same time.
Entrees continued with engaging dishes of Pan Seared Sea Bass (lemon and extra virgin olive oil, crispy herbed potatoes, leeks and grilled green beans) and the Iris Cassoulet (chicken breast and sweet Italian sausage stewed with Tuscan beans, pancetta, pepperocini, roma tomato and sage).
The sea bass was nicely cooked and created a hearty, delicious dish. The green beans were a vegetarian extravaganza, so crisp, plentiful and robust. The Cassoulet delights beyond all expectation - brilliant flavor and amazing texture of chicken, sausage and beans with a spicy kick.
Dessert originally wasn't in the cards, but after perusing the menu, the White Chocolate Banana Egg Roll (w/vanilla ice cream, macadamia nuts and caramel) struck a chord.
Every flavor was on pitch and, overall, the dessert was absolutely sinful.
Iris Food & Spirits
-2334 Carmel Valley Road, Del Mar
Can't say enough about the Cassoulet.
While clean, the bathroom was reminiscent of a service station. And keep an eye out for the "by the glass" wine prices. They are high and add up quickly.