Saturday, August 27, 2016

Another Lively Meal at Brio

Brio Tuscan Grille
774 Spectrum Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618

I love when restaurants try to keep things fresh by changing up their menus every so often. It's a delicate balancing act to achieve though. You often risk alienating your loyal customer base that might have loved an item that has been taken off the menu to make way for the latest thing a restaurant is trying. I have not heard any complaints about this happening at Brio, so that must mean that guests are really enjoying the new Moderno menu that launched earlier this summer.

This new menu at Brio features 13 new entrees, some tantalizing appetizers, which encourage sharing, and a new beverage program that features some stunning wine offerings, along with inspired cocktails, and craft beer options. Yes, guests favorites are still available here, but there are many more low calorie and gluten free options available, and guests are encouraged to customize plates to their discriminating tastes. Of course, low cal and gluten free don't apply to me, but I was intrigued to see all that's new at Brio, so when we were invited to try our their menu, we were all in.

Brio was founded in 1992 and has blossomed to more than 100 restaurant locations. Brio means, 'full of life," in Italian, and goes hand in hand with their credo, which is, "to eat well, is to live well." That's definitely something I can get behind. Opened just over two years ago, this Irvine Spectrum Center location is one of two in all of California and has become a favorite with shoppers who crave Italian fare at this huge shopping complex.

We got to Brio at just before 6 pm on recent Monday evening, and were a little surprised to see this restaurant and the bar area packed with people enjoying their meals, but the prime real estate here is on their wrap around patio, which has a great view of shoppers going to and from their cars, and has comfy patio furniture. It really sets up the vacation vibe. We decided to sit inside, to soak up their self-proclaimed, "upscale casual," atmosphere. We quickly made our selections and waited for our meals. Here's how everything came out for us.

Every meal at Brio starts with a bread basket, and I could have gone through a good number of these if I hadn't had a good amount of food coming my way. I was partial to the sourdough loaf, which came out warm, with softened butter. Katie enjoyed the crisp, herbed triangles of crackers more than the loaf, so it was a win for both of us.

Usually, when we dine at Brio, we always start with their bruschetta sampler, which is a great way to try their three offerings, but on this visit we had to give the Chef's Seasonal Bruschetta ($11.95) a try. This season the bruschetta was pretty traditional, with diced tomatoes, a creamy burrata, a drizzle of vinegar, a few sprigs of basil, all piled on crunchy toast points. I'm not really too excited by tomatoes, but I loved the freshness here, and they went well with the very well done burrata. Kind of like a Caprese salad on a toast point.

Talk about comfort food, look no further than this Balsamic Braised Short Rib ($22.95). This was as comforting as your mom's hug goodbye on the first day of school. This short rib had a wonderful sauce served with it, and was so tender, that just by picking up your fork, it almost shredded apart by itself. It kept the pot roast feel going with some sliced carrots and butter basted wild mushrooms. This dish was finished with a cauliflower puree, which Katie could not get enough of. It had a pleasing texture, and I presumed it was more healthy than regular mashed potatoes.

I've made it my goal to order more lamb when out to eat and made good on my promise to myself by ordering these Double Cut Lamb Chops ($29.95). These lamb chops were New Zealand raised and had tons of meat on them. I was a little worried that five lamb chops were not going to fill me up, but I was totally satisfied with these nicely seasoned chops that are part of the new Tuscan Grille portion of the menu at Brio. The Grille selections also include your choice of a side item, and they all sounded great, but after some debate between the creamed spinach and the Maple Balsamic Brussels Sprouts, I had to go with the sprouts. They won me over with the inclusion of a good amount of bacon, pecans, and Reggiano cheese. I really enjoyed this side item, which had a lot going on with it. There was a touch of sweetness from the maple glaze coating the sprouts, the smokey tinge of bacon, the crunch of the pecans, and the cheese, which brought this all together. This was even good the next day when I mixed it with a little of Katie's short rib, and had it for lunch, to the envy of all my coworkers.

Of course, I was pretty full by this point, but Brio offers petite favorite desserts, which are perfect for one person that wants to finish their meal with something sweet. I went with a classic, the Creme Brulee ($3.75). This had the traditional crunchy sugar coating topping this, and the sweet, custard-like bottom, which was silky smooth. A very nice end to my meal on this evening.

This was a completely satisfying meal this evening at Brio. All of these new items are a welcome addition to their already wonderful menu. I look forward to coming back again and maybe trying their pork chops or ribeye on subsequent visits. As per the trend when eating here, the service was professional, yet friendly. Our server was knowledgeable about the restaurant and fielded all of our questions effortlessly. Like I said before, there's always something new happening at Brio, and we can't wait to see what they come up with next.

For more information about Brio Tuscan Grille, head to their website here:

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