If you’ve been a fan of Jason Montelibano’s (formerly at Chapter One) then you will be happy to know he’s found a permanent home at the Irvine Hotel as executive chef of EATS Kitchen & Bar. Known affectionately as Chef “Chicken-Wang” Jason has created an appealing menu which delights in many ways. In general, it is a fresher, more sophisticated offering with a few hints of gastro-pub fare here and there.
Back when the restaurant was 6ix Park Grill, I was a frequent visitor, lounging outside on the patio by the firepit and enjoying happy hour with my friends. Therefore, I am delighted that this tradition carries over at EATS. In fact, I am rather impressed by the extensive hours — 3pm to 7pm Monday to Thursdays/2pm to 7pm on Fridays at Red Bar. EATS has a separate happy hour offered Mondays to Fridays between 5pm and 7pm.
Just in case you forget your server’s name, EATS has saved you the embarrassment of having to ask, or worse, call them by another name. Just take a glance at your water bottles — it’s right there!
About 75% of the lunch and dinner menus cross over including Pickle Platter ($4, $7, $9) with an array of house-pickled vegetables and beet-infused red egg. Munch on these while sipping on cocktails or a glass of wine.
Then, move on to Ceviche Shimi ($11), a marriage between ceviche and sashimi utilizing catch of the day, but infused with radish, black garlic puree, yuzu vinaigrette, extra virgin olive oil and finished with smoked Maldon salt. Deliciously refreshing, the accoutrements never overwhelm the fish, allowing its natural umami to shine through.
Once you’re done with the lighter options, it’s time to indulge in Pork Belly Buns ($4, $7, $9). These are sinfully good, and you might want to order more than one if you’re not willing to share. The pillowy buns make for a great vehicle to hold the flavor-packed pork and whatever you might wish to stuff into them. I like the accompanying Chef’s kimchi, fried jalapeno and scallions tucked within before I take a bite.
Bacon on a Stick ($6 only available on the Red Bar menu), two decadent skewers of maple glazed thick cut bacon, will satiate just as much as those pork belly buns, but without the carbs. It is one of the richest items I’ve ever eaten, but oh what joy!
It would be blasphemous not to order Sweet & Spicy Wings ($9) at Chef Chicken Wang’s restaurant! These succulent wings are coated with Backyard Bees honey and sambal. Take a few bites and then pop a spicy radish in your mouth. Next time, I’m having the entire bowl myself.
Vegetarians and carnivores alike will go nuts over Wild Foraged Mushrooms ($9). The polenta is creamy, and the addition of Soledad Farms goat cheese kicks it up a notch. But wait, that’s not all. A slow egg will run over the polenta enhancing its decadence. The result is a vegetarian mouth-gasmic delight.
Those looking for gastropub options might relish in Fried Chicken & Biscuits ($11), but this is no ordinary chicken and biscuits. Fried chicken oysters lay atop buttermilk biscuits, smothered with country gravy. The sriracha coating on the chicken gives that kick I so love. Hearty and rich, this is definitely on the heavy side so eat with caution.
Fish & Chips ($9.50) offers up two generous pieces of Alaskan ling cod enveloped with EATS craft beer batter and fried to perfection. The beer changes regularly depending on what’s on tap, so you may find there is a slight difference in flavor each time you order this.
One of the best dishes I’ve eaten so far this year is Lamb Gnocchi ($16) tossed with heirloom carrots, fried kale, gremolata, and a combination of both feta and spiced feta. The lamb is robust while the gnocchi, soft and oh so satisfying.
I’m not one to order salmon when I’m out, but Chef Jason’s Scottish Salmon ($19) absolutely wins me over. With a Beluga lentil cassoulet as accompaniment, I really enjoy the contrast in textures between the tender salmon and the bite of the lentils. Cara Cara orange beurre monte is silky and pairs well with the fish without overpowering.
What I really like here is seeing Chef Jason bring his Asian roots into the menu. Even though you might recognize and be familiar with some or all of the dishes, You might not realize there are hints of Asian flavors everywhere. The world is getting smaller and smaller and with the availability of international ingredients at our fingertips, I am always happy to see chefs stepping outside of the norm.
This post comes with a giveaway! Hotel Irvine is offering one of my readers a chance to experience the Beer Pairing dinner on March 19th where Chef Jason will pair his cuisine with beers from Bootlegger’s Brewery. Leave me a comment and tell me why you should win this opportunity to dine there with three of your friends. Winner announced Monday, March 16th.
EATS Kitchen & Bar
at Hotel Irvine
17900 Jamboree Road
Irvine, CA 92614