Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Lively Evening at Brio Tuscan Grille

Brio Tuscan Grille
774 Irvine Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618

I feel kind of bad that I've neglected Brio Tuscan Grille this long. I mean they are right next door to a restaurant that we've written about twice, Del Frisco's Grille. We make at least ten trips a year to the Spectrum, where Brio is located, and have yet to dine here. It always looks so busy and inviting, but we have yet to go inside this restaurant, which has been around for a year and a half now. That was until we got a little nudge.

That nudge was in the form of an invite by the great folks at Brio, to come in and try their latest promotional items, The Tale of Two Risottos. For a limited time Brio is offering two seafood inspired versions of this classic Italian comfort food dish. We could not say no to this great opportunity, and quickly reached out to Brio to say that we could not wait to come in and try them out.

Before we left, I checked out the Brio website, and was surprised to learn that they have so many locations throughout the United States. They operate over 100 restaurants in 22 states, with two of those being in California. This Irvine location is joined by another at Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga. The focus food wise here is on Northern Italian cuisine, which they prepare with what they hope to be the freshest ingredients, in a lively Italian eatery. I was excited to see what they had in store for us this evening.

We arrived at just before 7pm, and were seated promptly in a comfortable side room, near the bustling kitchen. They nailed the lively atmosphere here. The space has a welcoming quality to it, an upscale vibe, but not in a stuffy way. I was struck by the wide array of people dining here. There were tables of businessmen talking shop, a gaggle of woman enjoying a ladies night out, friends celebrating someones birthday, and me and Katie enjoying a quiet date night, going over each others hectic days at work, which slowly melted away as the night went on at Brio.

The menu is pretty impressive here. What I noticed first and foremost were the prices. They were not as outrageous as I was expecting. No menu item is over the $30 mark, and most entrees are going to set you back less than $20. I made many mental notes of what I would be having here on my next visit to Brio. This trip was all about the risottos though, so let's see how that worked out for us on this evening.

When we were sat, they almost instantaneously sat out this bread basket filled with some crisp pieces of bread and a half a loaf of sourdough. I much preferred the sourdough. It was served warm, and had a great pliable texture. A very nice bread, which came with plenty of butter. The crisp bread was seasoned well, but I could not stop eating the sourdough.

As first timers to Brio, we were advised that trying the Bruschetta Quattro ($15.95) would be a wise move for us, and that advice proved to be correct. This is a sampling of their four most popular bruschettas, and it's easy to see why they are so well liked. Both Katie and my favorite was the sliced steak version, which also included Gorgonzola, arugula, charred tomato, and Parmesan. The steak was tender, and the big flavors played together nicely on the well toasted bread base. I also really enjoyed the version with the applewood bacon, tomato jam, ricotta cheese, Parmesan, and basil to to round it out. Not sure where it came from, but this had a good spice to it, which lingered awhile after consuming this. Other bruschetta versions included a roasted red pepper version and the chef's seasonal bruschetta, which featured shrimp and a delectable sauce. A very good start to our time at Brio.

I kind of cringed when Katie ordered this Kale Caesar Salad ($7.25). Kale and I have a very stormy relationship. To be honest, I'm really not much of a fan, and was afraid that the kale would ruin one of my favorite salads. I'm pleased to announce, that I was wrong about this. This was one kale dish I could get down with no trouble. The marinated kale was joined with a whole cavalcade of items; pancetta, chopped egg, tomatoes, tricolore lettuce, Parmesan, and drizzled with a very good Caesar dressing. First and foremost, this was a good sized salad, the produce was fresh, and the kale was not as bitter as others we have had. A good take on a Caesar salad. I'm still estranged from kale, but this dish has at least opened up a dialogue between us two.

Lobster Bisque ($6.95) is always a good option, and that was the case here at Brio as well. This velvety soup came with a sauteed shrimp garnish in the middle of the bowl. This soup was predictably rich and flavorful, and I almost found myself licking the bowl after I was done with it. I had to control myself, since we had our entrees coming up next.

Our first of the two entrees was this Sea Scallops and Ratatouille Risotto ($19.95). The ratatouille is made up of some roasted eggplant, tomatoes, red peppers, zucchini, basil, and Reggieano cheese. The risotto really picked up each of these flavors, and was topped with five good sized scallops. The scallops were fork tender, and cooked well. The risotto shines here, and is not just a vessel for the scallops and other items. Katie loved the heartiness of this meal, which was just what the doctor ordered on this chilly evening.

When this Cold Water Lobster Tail with Shrimp Risotto ($19.95) hit the table, I let out an audible gasp. I could hardly wait to dig in to the lobster, but the shrimp risotto was also worth some admiration. Along with the shrimp, this risotto contained mushrooms, asparagus, roasted red peppers, basil, and Parmesan. Big time favor explosion here, and then you add the sweet and tender lobster, and it makes this dish a winner. Who could ever imagine lobster being this affordable? I ended up only finishing half of this, as I really wanted to savor this as I ate it. It was just as good the next day for lunch, and had a lot of coworkers envious that they did not have lobster for lunch.

We definitely did not need it, but could not resist this Torta Di Cioccolata ($6.95). This kind of chocolate lave cake was like three desserts in one. You of course had the moist, chocolate cake on the outside, and inside was an almost pudding like texture of the warm cake, which is then topped with a generous serving of vanilla bean gelato. Katie was pretty full by this point, so I was lucky enough to be able to eat most of this, which I did in record time. I liked mixing the warm center with the vanilla gelato. A great way to end our meal at Brio. 

We left here full, and content on this evening. Brio really impressed me on our inaugural visit here. Not only was the food good, but the value was too great to ignore, especially for the lobster dish that I had. The feel of the restaurant was like an upgraded Macaroni Grill, and of course the food was upgraded as well. We really felt like we were dining in a fine dining restaurant, at way more reasonable prices. Even though the prices were reasonable, the food was elevated at Brio. The service we experienced on this evening also deserves some accolades. Our server Shelia has been at this location of Brio since they opened, and all of her knowledge, suggestions, and attention that she lavished upon us has made us even bigger fans of Brio.

If you would like to experience the Tale of Two Risotto promotion, you have to hurry. It will only be around until March 27th. From our experience at Brio though, even if you do not make it in to have this fantastic deal, you will definitely find something on this menu to make you and your stomach happy. A special thanks to everyone that made this visit so enjoyable. Everyone we encountered on this evening was so pleasant, and really made us feel welcome.

If you would like to keep up to date with all of the happenings at Brio, or find your nearest location, head to their website here:

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