Datebook Diner: Food at Irina’s good, dining room features a bit odd

Pork Shashlik The Russian pork shashlik from Irina’s. / Andrea Melendez/The Register Written by C. ACEVEDO Datebook  Vodka shot

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.