Soon after Eater San Diego's announcement that a new Filipino "fast casual" concept restaurant named CARiN de RiA opened in Escondido, I had couple of folks ask me if I'd tried the place. I'd pretty much had my fill of "concepts" and fast-casual style places at that time so I just waited for a while. Recently, I found myself in the area and decided to drop by and check them out.
I liked the lay-out of the restaurant....on the small side, but very clean and simple. I especially liked the gentleman manning the counter, who I believe is the owner; very warm, but also very professional. He just seemed like someone who has a restaurant background and also really cared about his customers.
The menu is pretty tight with 5 "braised/stew" style dishes, 3 items off the grill, plus pancit (of course), and lumpia (of course...of course) and a couple of other items.
I started with some lumpia ($3).
It becomes immediately clear that you're not in a "turo-turo" ("point-point") steam table joint. First the prices....which are definitely in the "fast-casual" range. The lumpia were very small. However, they were hot, freshly made,light, and crisp. The filling also had very good flavor.....I could even make out some garlic-porkiness. This was probably the favorite item I had.
Now for most folks, the first item they's try would be either Adobo, Bistek, or Inusok.....what most places call BBQ Pork. One of my favorite dishes is Kaldereta....here it's Kaldereta Baka, basically a beef stew. Well actually, it's Caldereta ($8) on the menu and comes with two sides. I like that you have a choice of brown or white rice, but you know what I choose, right?
For my sides, I chose the "charred corn salad", which was the better of the two sides, even though it didn't have much charred color, nor the development of the sugars that a good grilling of corn would. Good salt and the tomato added a nice acidic touch to it. The eggplant and tomato salad; basically ensaladang talong. Good garlic flavor here, but it was pretty flat overall, the eggplant was too hard and chewy, and versions that I enjoy have a touch of vinegar, which was lacking here.
The rice was a tad hard for my tastes as well.
The caldereta was nice and tangy, but needed a bit more salt and lacked the complex flavors of a long braised dish. The carrots were almost raw and hard and some of the pieces of beef were really dry, like both items had been cold stored and added at the end. I also missed other ingredients I'd find in various versions of this dish; olives, red or green bell peppers, that kind of thing. It seemed like a caricature of the intended dish.
Like many other of these "fast casual" concepts; there seems to be that "soulful" component missing; though I enjoyed some of the dishes here a lot more than say, Green Shallots. As a plus, that gentleman behind the counter was very pleasant, so I'm hoping they do well. This is not the place to get your turo-turo fix; but if you want something a bit lighter you might want to give them a try. I'll probably drop by again if I'm in the area in a couple of months.
Carin de Ria
3440 Del Lago Blvd
Escondido, CA 92029
You can read Lynn's post here.