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Major Course: Ini Ristorante

Clockwise from left: duck ragu pappardelle, truffle cheese bread, melon and prosciutto salad, and the Gem-Ini cocktail, with bourbon, scotch, egg white, and extra. Pictures by Emily J. Davis

You’re saying it unsuitable,” says the good friend I invite to hitch me for a take a look at drive of busy, buzzy Ini Ristorante in Fountain Valley. “It rhymes with deny, not teeny.” Like me, you may study why later.

Booked strong since opening in June, Ini weaves Japanese flavors and elements into basic Italian fare. This atypical mashup was efficiently tried greater than 15 years in the past in Cypress by the enduring Cafe Hiro. However right here the menu is brief, the setting is hipper, and legit cocktails are expertly blended with the great things. Ini is the newest manufacturing from Kei (pronounced key) Ideas, the burgeoning restaurant group conquering Fountain Valley with a number of distinct, thriving ventures that embody Nep Café, Gem Eating, and Kin Izakaya. Helmed by founder and chef Viet Nguyen and associate Neo Du, the group serves all of it, from strawberry matcha lattes to Prime tomahawk steaks, brunch to dinner, consolation meals to deluxe fusion. Ini joins siblings Vox Kitchen and Kin Izakaya within the sprawling Fountain Valley City Heart.

Dishes are predominantly Italian with Japanese thrives that delight, not baffle. Assume branzino with yuzu beurre blanc or an enormous ribeye with wasabi peppercorn sauce over orzo. Nothing outlandish: In some circumstances, such because the calamari fritti, the dishes are one hundred pc Italian. And the cocktails, they’re one hundred pc glorious. Think about one to sip whilst you soak up the menu’s novelty, particularly in your first go to. 9 signature drinks have your cravings lined, although the bar is effectively stocked for something easier. Kyoto Customary stars roasted tea-infused whiskey for an assertive Previous-Customary over block ice. Vibrant however balanced, the home Negroni’s gin is steeped with figs.

Truffle cheese bread is a worthy, shareable foil for boozy drinks—a mound of toasted bread cubes mortared with fluffy truffle-scented ricotta and a veil of grated mozzarella. Drizzle the cubes with that sizzling honey served on the aspect—it boosts easy bread from sleepy to spellbinding. It is awfully messy to deconstruct. Subsequent time I am going to request chopsticks. Uncooked hamachi and beef carpaccio are worthy uncooked starters, with beef having the slight edge due to the novelty of truffle cream and onion ponzu squiggles.

rooster curry pizza

Two salads that obtain always-order standing are simply shared: melon and prosciutto, and burrata caprese. Candy, actually ripe watermelon (later, Tuscan melon or persimmon) reveals the kitchen pays consideration, exactly garnishing the luscious fruit with prosciutto ribbons, yuzu crème fraîche, and crushed hazelnuts. The caprese’s unctuous burrata is flooded with a slice of halved cherry tomatoes, honeyed yuzu, and aromatic recent basil.

Of a number of small plates, fried calamari with too-heavy breading was a letdown, however not so with the mini skillet of sentimental, piquant meatballs in wealthy marinara—nearly as good as any from my favourite Italian joints. In fact there’s pizza with a profitable crust. Among the many fusion choices, mildly spicy rooster curry was immediately likable, however the “poke” pizza with octopus, shrimp, corn, and seaweed salad was an odd marriage for this rice lover. Pasta choices embody a bacon-flecked udon carbonara thick with miso cream and a solo egg yolk for mixing in. Home-made pasta elevates two standard dishes—a lush duck ragu pappardelle and the hefty sausage cavatelli that might use successful of brightness. Two deluxe entrees can be found solely at dinner: lamb rack with candy potato puree and Prime ribeye with stir-fried greens and orzo.

Desserts are fierce. Citrus panna cotta is silky-bright. Darkish hazelnut cake is smooth and gooey in all the suitable locations. Vibrant strawberry sorbet consists of juicy macerated berries. Butter cornbread, a tricked-out heat butter cake with popcorn ice cream, will get my vote for prime final course. Every chew contrasts with the subsequent, fueling a frenzied race to the top if you happen to share, honest warning.

Lights within the tree present a stunning vibe.

Mild from expansive home windows and skylights fills the restaurant all day, and a looming tree is glowing assertion decor after darkish, lit by many fairy lights. Dinner is dependably booked lately, so do not drop in after 5 pm As soon as tables are full, the room’s noise borders on torturous. Day by day lunch is a helpful workaround—solely the three priciest dinner entrees are lacking from the menu. Or reserve for late afternoon, earlier than the kitchen switches to dinner at 5.

I classify Ini as a recipe idea—front-loaded with R&D to excellent recipes that can be exactly executed repeatedly ever after. No nightly specials. No boldface imply darlings as cooks. However heavy on reassuring consistency. Add educated servers and a welcoming, few-frills setting and, voilà, a income machine much like flourishing haunts akin to Bandera, Nick’s, and Caló Kitchen.

And the title Ini? No, not like tortellini. Ini as in Gemini, a nod to older sibling Gem Eating. I nonetheless stumble over that one, however Ini is not stumbling one bit. It is one in every of this 12 months’s strongest debuts.

16129 Brookhurst St.
fountain valley


  • Melon and prosciutto salad.
  • Truffle cheese bread
  • rooster curry pizza
  • Duck ragu pappardelle
  • Butter cornbread dessert


  • Small plates, $8 to $26
  • Massive plates, $18 to $125
  • Desserts and cocktails, $7 to $16


Solely playing cards are accepted for cost.

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