Ironwood Opens in Laguna Hills, Bringing on Wine Country Style
It seems that south county is starting to gain some traction these days as more restaurants are cropping up with stellar food. The team that brought Orange County the wonders of Vine in San Clemente opened doors to Ironwood on May 9th in Laguna Hills, featuring New American cuisine with highlights on seasonality and quality. The choice in name can tell you a little bit about what the owners value as they got "Ironwood" from the tree itself which is known for hardiness and being used for many culinary tools' handles. To honor this, the restaurant have put up two ironwood trees at the entrance to welcome diners to the new space. I got a look at the place just about a month after opening which has already proved to the owners that the community really needed them in that area.
It is very apparent inside that the design is inspired by wine country establishments. The interior emphasizes natural elements and muted colors reminiscent of wood and stone. Even the positioning of seating to brings attention to the numerous wine racks in the restaurant which allow for a selection of 25 wines by the glasses and 50 by the bottle. I really appreciated the beautiful outdoor patio which has a lovely view of the Saddleback Mountain but also a casual yet intimate touch overall. Ironwood can seat 120 in its 3,000ft² space, and with a menu put together by Executive Chef/Partner Jared Cook, I don't think there will be an issue filling those tables. Those of you with a thirst for great drinks can find several drafts of craft beers available including Orange County brews. Beverage Director Gabe Whorley has also developed a signature cocktail menu which feature fresh herb and floral garnishes organically grown at sister restaurant Vine.
During a preview, I got to check out some of the offerings available at Ironwood in a variety of manners. The lightness of a Ginbo Slice (gin, maraschino, lime, citrus thyme, grapefruit, and blood orange bitters) was the first to catch my attention not only for its taste but also for its appearance. Think of an adult-oriented snowcone and you'll have the Ginbo Slice in mind. It was fun and made well with a bit of whimsy to it texturally. I also enjoyed their Don't Rye About It (vanilla-infused rye whiskey, aperol, and sweet vermouth), a cocktail that uses George Dickel Rye Whiskey as its base and a lengthy process to infuse in-house with real vanilla beans. It was lovely and smooth, a tasteful sip.
We picked at a spread of the many artisan cheeses and meats that Ironwood showcases on boards made of ironwood itself. Market fresh oysters on the half shell with a champagne tarragon mignonette showed themselves as well, meaty and quite fresh. A salad of sorts made of jumbo lump crab and sea salt roasted heirloom beets drizzled with a charred lemon shallot gastrique made its way around as well, showing off a lightness that played well in balance with the beets' sweetness and gastrique's tartness.
Many of us crowded around and enjoyed the English pea dumplings with fresh goat cheese, preserved kumquat, pistachio brown butter, and Thai basil because of how rich the flavors were without the typical heavy feeling of dumplings. Because these morsels were filled with peas, they gave off lovely sweetness that was only augmented by the unique use of pistachio brown butter. To contrast that, next came the drool-inducing mini housemade meatballs swimming in spicy Pomodoro and sprinkled generously with ricotta salata. These unctuous meatballs were filled to their edges with a delicious savoriness, and the umami-laden sauce only helped. Quickly following their lead were bites of the Ironwood American wagyu burger which included Hooks two-year aged Cheddar, cabernet bacon jam, and secret sauce. If you're a fan of American wagyu and burgers, this might turn out to be your go-to.
To finish off the look into Ironwood's features, out came desserts in simple but tantalizing fashion. A warm fromage blanc brownie topped with Nutella ice cream and smatterings of fillbert praline was decadent and satisfying. The next dessert was satisfying as well but in a different manner; it called up a feeling of comfort and the stereotypical American "home" via oatmeal raisin cookie crumble with apple strudel ice cream and bourbon caramel sauce. I loved the play in texture in this dish.
Overall, I can see geographically why the area needs a place like Ironwood but as a whole, it's not that Ironwood is "good for the area" but rather that it's just good eating. If you plan on heading that way to visit, their entrees can run from $15-35 and other menu sections to follow suit. They can be located at 25250 La Paz Rd. Suite 100 Laguna Hills, CA 92653 and are open for dinner only if this style fits your fancy!
Photography by Minerva Thai. More photos available on Facebook here.