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Reviewed by: Christopher Luu
Fans of fresh Italian cuisine have been lauding San Diego's Cucina Urbana since they've opened their doors, but the distance to the resto has kept many OC natives heading down just for special occasions (or unbearable withdrawal). With the opening of Cucina Enoteca, Urbana's sister resto right here in Irvine, you'll be able to enjoy their signature Cal-Italian cuisine without a trek to SD.
Known for using fresh and local ingredients and adding a California spin to classic Italian dishes, Chef Joe Magnanelli has made a name for taking Italian away from huge portions and heavy dishes. Instead, the menu at Cucina Enoteca (which will be headed by Chef de Cuisine Lauren "Lulu" de Roun) will focus on Italian flavors and the light, fresh aspects of classic California cooking. The menu features "vasi," mason jars filled with spreadable concoctions like chicken paté and gorgonzola mousse meant to be enjoyed on the resto's Tuscan toast and specialty polenta served in copper pots with the day's ragu specialty. Italian staples like stuffed squash blossoms, veal piccata and more are on the menu, too, so don't think you've strayed into some new-American resto. Rustic and modern, the resto's interior mirrors Urbana down in San Diego, but adds two patios for sunny OC al fresco dining and a full bar.
What really sets Cucina Enoteca apart? It's one of OC's only spots with a wine shop within the restaurant. You can grab a bottle from their selection to sip with your meal or grab whatever want to take home. The bar's got specialty cocktails and if you're feeling extra friendly (and who wouldn't after a few house-infused tequila cocktails?) try settling in at the community table, where you can mingle and mange with a few newfound friends. -Christopher Luu