Monday, May 19, 2014

A Pleasing Summer Menu at Prego Ristorante

Prego Ristorante
18420 Von Karman
Irvine, CA 92612

I love this time of year. Restaurants are rolling out their new menus for summer. Showing off lighter items, so people don't feel guilty when they go to the beach, and have to show off their beach bodies. Of course we live in Southern California, home of 47 weeks of summer, so rolling out these menus is pretty much the only way to tell that the seasons are changing.

We were recently invited to try the, "Spring Into Summer" menu at Prego Ristorante in Irvine. In all truthfulness, this restaurant had not been on my radar until I heard of the fire that broke out here nearly two years ago now. That fire caused them to be closed for five months, but they are back, and doing a thriving business.

Sandwiched between two high rise office buildings, Prego has the feel of an upscale, executive lunch restaurant, but it also exudes a family restaurant, mainly because it is. Owners Tony and Ruth Bedi are very active mingling with guests and making sure things are running smoothly, their son is a manager here, and even their daughter works here doing the books. Also not blood related, but we could sense that they have taken Executive Chef Ugo Allesina into their family, which is a good thing since he has been at Prego for 14 years now. Italian born, and with 25 years of experience cooking, Chef Ugo makes a habit of getting out of the kitchen from time to time, getting comments for customers, and finding out how they enjoyed their meals. This instant feedback helps Chef Ugo gauge what they are doing right, and wrong. From what we have heard about Prego, they are doing very little wrong.

We were given a quick little tour of Prego before drinks and appetizers out on the patio. The first shot is of the private room where we would be having our dinner. Bordered by glass almost all the way around, it fit thirty plus members of the media comfortably, while conveying an openness. I really liked the open kitchen you pass to get to your table here. Open kitchens are the best, as it gives diners a rare view of all the hard work it takes to get meals out to their table. I quickly took a shot of the bar area, which I am happy to report was showing hockey on their three TVs. Our tour concluded with a trip to their panetteria, which not only is a prep area for their fantastic desserts, but can be used for early morning meetings, or the setting for a unique dinner experience. The aroma in here was enough for me to want to find a reason to host a party in this room.

Back out to the patio for some hors d'oeuvres. The tray passed appetizers were a very well done Bruschetta Toscana and an Antipasto Crudo. I am pretty picky about bruschetta, because I'm not a real big fan of thick cuts of tomato, but this one was great. The tomatoes were diced finely enough, big burst of flavor on this, and the toasted bread was a great vessel for this bruschetta. Very well done. The star of the appetizer round for me were the meats here. I did not actually catch the specific names of these meats, but they were all first class. The salami was some of the best I have had, while the proscuitto was pretty epic as well. Very high quality stuff at Prego.

After chatting with other food bloggers and food media people that we have become great friends with, it was time to get down to what I love the best about these events, the eating. Starting things off for us on this night was this Asparagi Delizia. When I had looked at the menu and saw this asparagus salad, I was not too excited, but once I saw it and tried it, I was very happy with this. The grilled asparagus is wrapped in a wonderful parma prosciutto, with shaved Parmesan, and placed on a bed of organic greens with a light truffle oil. I was worried that the truffle would overpower, but it added just enough pop of flavor here. I liked the slightly crisp prosciutto, and the asparagus was done perfectly. A very good salad, and one I look forward to trying again soon.

Risotto alla Sovazzese was up next for us. A delicate arborio rice is mixed with porcini mushrooms, fontina cheese, and fresh herbs. This dish really had the mushroom vibe going on. They provided an earthiness, with a touch of creaminess from the cheese. I liked this dish, but felt that the arborio was a touch over done. This was our friend Daniele's favorite dish of the night.

Main course time, and something I was not expecting was up next. This Cotechino e Lenticchie had more of a German vibe going on here, rather than an Italian feel. It was real good nonetheless. Allesina homemade sausage was placed above a bed of lentils, and paired nicely with a whole grain mustard sauce. Not as heavy as I would have expected, the mustard sauce went nicely with the well made sausage. The lentils added an almost stew like taste here. Very hearty, but light. My only minor complaint was that there was not enough sausage on this, as I could have eaten another ten slices of this great sausage. I was real happy that Chef Ugo opened my eyes to the fact that there is more to Italian cooking than just pasta and sauce.

When most people think of desserts in an Italian restaurant they almost always think of tiramisu, but Chef Ugo and the folks at Prego threw us for a loop by presenting us with this Tronco ai Cioccolati. When I came home I learned that this translates to Trunk with Chocolates, which perplexed me a bit, because the chocolate was not really what caught my attention here. This puff pastry was filled with white and dark chocolate mousse, with creme englaise and a raspberry sauce drizzled on the side. This dessert reminded me kind of a cinnamon roll, but not as sweet. The mousse was pretty thick, and almost resembled cream cheese frosting. Everyone at our table really enjoyed this dessert, but a few of us had hoped for a little more raspberry sauce included with this. Still a good dessert though.

For a restaurant that was not on our radar when we walked in, Prego definitely made a great impression on us. I really liked this summer menu because it was unique, and had a different spin on traditional Italian cuisine. Both Katie and I left Prego fully content, and looking forward to our next visit. Hopefully we can make it back before this limited time summer menu is gone.

We would like to first thank our hosts for this wonderful evening, Tony and Ruth Bedi. You were both as charming as your restaurant. We also would like to thank the entire staff at Prego for everything they did for us on this night. You guys were all really great. We of course would be remiss without thanking the man of the evening, Chef Ugo Allesina, who came up with this great summer menu that we really enjoyed a lot. Lastly, we would like to thank one of our favorite PR people we have run across during our time doing this blog, the great Mona Shah-Anderson, who not only invited us to be part of these festivities, but is also expecting twins very soon. Hopefully she gets some rest before the arrive. We can't wait to meet them Mona.

For more information about Prego Ristorante, click here:

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