Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Restaurant Week Comes to Irvine

Cucina Enoteca
31 Fortune Dr.
Irvine, CA 92618

I love the month of January for a few reasons. One reason of course is because the month of January signifies the end of the holiday season. Everyone gets back to their normal routine, and there are no presents to buy. Another reason to love the first month of the year is because it features the football playoffs, culminating in one of my favorite sporting events, the Super Bowl. Another January event that resembles the Super Bowl, for food bloggers at least, is that this is the month that many cities hold their Restaurant Weeks.

On this particular January night it was the city of Irvine's turn to showcase some of their best restaurants with Restaurant Week menus. When I heard that Irvine would be hosting a restaurant week, I immediately went to the web site to look for a restaurant to try. As soon as I saw the list of restaurants, I knew where we would be eating, a restaurant I have wanted to try for a long time, Cucina Enoteca.

Cucina Enoteca comes to the Irvine Spectrum by way of San Diego. Their sister restaurant down south goes by the name Cucina Urbana, while there is another Cucina Enoteca being planned for the Del Mar area. This location of Cucina Enoteca has been around the Spectrum for a little over a year now, and I have heard some really good things, so I was pretty excited to try them out for Irvine Restaurant Week.

We got here at about six on a Wednesday night. They had about a forty-five minute wait, which was a good sign, because as we walked around the Spectrum waiting for our table almost all of the restaurants were half full, with no wait for dinner. Cucina Enoteca has a large retail wine shop in the front of their restaurant, which offers a very affordable $8 corkage fee, or you can purchase wine to go at close to a retail price. The rest of the restaurant is decorated rustically. On the verge of having a hipster type feel to it, Cucina Enoteca does not cross that line, but creates a very comfortable atmosphere in which to dine. We were really looking forward to trying their Californian inspired Italian cuisine, so without further ado, this is what came out of the kitchen for us during our Irvine Restaurant Week visit.

Both Laura and I started with an appetizer to start our meals. She ordered one of the most talked about dishes on-line, the Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms ($9.75 for the non-restaurant week menu price). These squash blossoms are stuffed with a herb ricotta, then topped with a purple basil pesto and a light cured lemon aioli. I really enjoyed this appetizer. The squash blossom itself was fried well, with little grease, and a very light breading. I thought that the aioli and pesto would overpower the squash, but that was not the case.  Instead they complimented it wonderfully, enhancing the earthiness of the squash blossom. Very well made appetizer. I selected the Ricotta Gnudi ($10.50) to start my Cucina Enoteca experience. This dumpling like item is made with ricotta cheese, then rolled in sage brown butter, and topped with parmigiano. I liked the first few bites of this, but then the cheese inside became too much. It was very dry, and while the flavor of this was pretty good, the dryness that resulted from eating this could not be overcome. Not awful, but not my kind of appetizer.

Katie felt like having a salad to start her meal, so she went with the Farmer's Chopped Salad ($9.50). This salad had a little bit of everything in it. Radicchio, artichoke, pepperoncini, Gorgonzola, borlotti bean, and a black olive crouton was joined in the bowl with the fresh greens. This salad was dressed with a garlic oregano vinaigrette. Katie felt the white beans took this salad to another level. She liked the freshness of the produce, and felt this was a very good start to her meal.

Our friend Laura is not into eating beef or chicken, so it was no surprise that she ordered fish as her Irvine week entree. She seemed pretty pleased with her choice of Pan Seared Ocean Trout ($20). This fish was paired with Umbrian lentils, spinach, and a rarely used root vegetable, salsify. She was very happy with the large serving size of this plate, and felt that the fish was cooked perfectly. The prosecco butter sauce went very well with trout.

Rob was being difficult and did not want to take advantage of the great value that was Irvine Restaurant Week. Okay, maybe that was not true, he really just wanted to eat a steak, so he got the Brandt Farms Ribeye ($25) off of the regular menu. We were a little confused because this steak came in the form of a filet, but we were assured this was the ribeye. Adding to our confusion was the fact that this did not have the usual fat that a ribeye has. Even with all of this confusion, Rob still managed to enjoy this steak. The meat was topped with some spinach and a smoked tomato vinaigrette. The two side items, the Gorgonzola potato croquette and the baked shallot added some big time flavor to this plate. In the end, Rob said he would get this again.

Back to the Irvine Restaurant Week items that we had, and probably the tables favorite meal of the night, the  Short Rib Pappardelle ($19.50). This was Katie's pick, and she could not have been happier. Along with the short rib and pasta, this came with cremini mushroom and parmigiano. This dish had a real comforting feel to it. The short rib was of course very tender and the pasta was cooked very well. The sauce held to the noodle well, and helped round out this dish. Katie would have a hard time deviating from this plate on future visits here.

I usually shy away from getting chicken dishes in restaurants, because most places tend to over cook chicken, but I decided to tempt fate at Cucina Enoteca. I am sure glad that I did. This Roasted Jidori Chicken ($19.50) was superb. This well rounded chicken dish started with a very moist and flavorful chicken. It was made even better with a well made fontina polenta, a pistachio pesto, and a poached hen egg. These items added plenty to this dish, along with some asparagus and Swiss chard to round out the meal. Like Katie, it would be hard for me to not order this again. I almost ordered another one to take with me for lunch the next day.

To complete our three course restaurant week meals, the three of us each selected a different dessert to try. Katie was feeling like chocolate, so she had the Bittersweet Chocolate Budino ($8.50). This dessert was very rich and smooth, but the richness was cut a little bit by a salted chocolate cookie. Laura went with the Panettone Bread Pudding ($8). This bread pudding had a lot going on with it. It had a very nice spiced streudel on top of it, along with some candied orange bits, and then for good measure it was topped off with some rum raisin gelato. I am usually not a big fan of bread pudding, but this one was pretty moist, with some good bursts of flavor. I have never met a doughnut I didn't like, (okay maybe those awful maple bars), and the same holds true after having the Zeppole ($8) at Cucina Enoteca. These Italian style doughnut holes came filled with a chocolate and Nutella mixture. How can that ever be bad? They were then rolled in sugar and served with a cappuccino crema. I am not too big of a fan of cappuccino, but even my distaste for coffee flavoring could not dampen my love for these zeppole. They were served warm, and they did not last too long on my plate. A very good end to this meal.

Our trip to Cucina Enoteca really lived up to the hype. I really enjoyed this new take on Italian food. There were no heavy sauces, or lots of cheese here. Not that I mind traditional Italian food at all, but this was a nice change of pace. Leaving here I did not have the overly stuffed feeling that you normally get after eating a big, heavy Italian dinner. Everything that came out of the kitchen on this night really had a great freshness to it. The service we had on this night was very solid. Our waiter really kept things moving along at a nice pace. Participating in Irvine Restaurant Week really worked for Cucina Enoteca. It got us in the door, and really piqued our interest in the food that they serve here. We really look forward to exploring more of their menu on future visits.

Out of five corks, (because wine plays such an important aspect at this restaurant, and because I learned while writing this review that enoteca means wine in Italian), five being best to zero being worst, Cucina Enoteca gets 3.5 corks.

For more information about Cucina Enoteca, click here:

Cucina Enoteca on Urbanspoon


  1. I was there last weekend. I got the Short Rib Pappardelle too, it is so good.

    Was pretty shocked that draft beer was only $5. Really good deal there.

  2. Taylor - You have great taste. I do not think I will be able to deviate from getting the short rib pappardelle on future visits. Really tasty dish. I did not know about the beer prices, so thanks for passing that along.