A shot of chilled vodka, Russian style, with a pickle and pumpernickel bread.
/ Andrea Melendez/
The Register FIND IT: 2301 Rocklyn Drive, Urbandale HOURS: 3 p.m.-close.
INFO: 515-331-0399; www.irinasrestaurantandbar.com
Irina’s is an unusual place. For starters, it’s the only restaurant I’ve ever been to where a waiter suggested I start dinner with a shot of vodka.But as he explained, it’s customary in Russia. Irina’s is a Russian-American restaurant in Urbandale, popular by many accounts, and it’s the only Russian restaurant in the area that I know of. Embracing the spirit of the evening, I said yes to the shot. The waiter guided me through the Ruskie version of salt-tequila-lime — except at Irina’s it’s pumpernickel-vodka-pickle. I proclaimed “nostrovia!” (“to your health” in Russian), and it was on to the appetizer. The food at Irina’s is good. The menu includes both Russian and American dishes, so much of the food will seem familiar. For instance, I started with a heaping plate of battered-and-fried onion rings with a garlic dipping sauce ($7). Other appetizers include fried chicken wings, calamari, cioppino and shrimp. There is also a decent selection of salads, including a tasty Caesar salad with options for grilled shrimp, chicken or salmon for $14. These are sufficient for an entree. Main courses seem more traditional. There is the beef dish called Moscow filet ($22), which is stuffed with mushrooms and spinach, and another entree that consists of a salmon fillet wrapped in puff pastry called salmon Wellington ($18). A companion ordered the generously portioned plate of beef Stroganoff ($17) with seared beef tips in a mushroom Alfredo sauce and al dente penne pasta. It proved a hit, as did the days of leftovers. Meanwhile, I relished the pork shashlik ($18), a Fred Flintsone-sized pork loin kabob fit for a Cossack, or a bear. It included hunks of baseball-sized pork interspersed with yellow squash and red bell peppers and was served with a spicy tomato dip that I drizzled over the food after divesting the metal skewer of its contents. On the side, there was a mound of perfectly whipped potatoes. I was also impressed with the wait staff, which was efficient, attentive and quick to correct mistakes to a fault. When a dessert was tardy, our server provided it compliments of the house.
But while the food and service get good marks, I just couldn’t get past one pointless feature of the dining room — the bizarre inclusion of projectors, which display a running slideshow of trite and sometimes inappropriate pictures on the walls. Images include landscapes, cartoons and every once in a while, a nude or semi-nude model. This and the occasional profanity-laden song from the jukebox should make you think twice about bringing children here.