Eat This Now: Spicy Wontons at Ren Asian Bistro
Ren Asian Bistro isn't really a bistro. It's a neighborhood Chinese take-out joint that does exactly what it needs to do: provide a deserted part of Irvine that butts up against the wilderness its solitary Chinese food option. The menu reads like this: you pick a protein (shrimp, chicken, fish, beef, tofu or pork), then decide how you want it made. Will it be as a kung pao? A sweet & sour? Something with orange peel?
Whatever you choose will be cooked to order, served with rice and, as an added incentive, fresh fruit (usually an apple) for dessert. Also on the menu: Thai yellow curry and pad Thai. And for dessert, they've got a big bowl filled with fortune cookies.
But beneath the "Asian" catch-all title that allows it to do Thai dishes along with shaved ice and boba milk tea, beats the heart of a real, authentic Northern Chinese restaurant. They offer xiao long bao, those freshly steamed dumplings with curly-cue tops, served with slivers of ginger and bottles of black vinegar to eat it with. If you're using Din Tai Fung as a benchmark (who doesn't?) you should know that the dough is thicker here, and the soup won't gush as plentifully, but it's a decent and worthy rendition, even considering all the other places in Irvine that serve it.
The thing to get is actually the spicy wontons, a bowl of boiled pork-filled noodle-dough purses doused in a spicy and sweet chile-oil sauce that has the tang of salsa coupled with the complexity of Indonesian sambal. There's vinegar, and possibly soy sauce in it, but for sure bits of pulverized dried chile flakes that look and feel like coffee grounds. It's the kind of brew that's able to make anything delicious. Soon after you've finished off the last wonton, you're spooning every last drop of that sauce, licking the bowl as a last resort.
3935 Portola Pkwy, Irvine, CA 92602, (714) 832-1688
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