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Alessa in Laguna Beach

By Patty Pinto

My motis operandi requires dining at a restaurant on several occasions before critiquing. I broke my own rule regarding Alessa in Laguna Beach because it is worthy of a first time food critique.  Especially since I have kvetched about having to travel outside the perimeters of Laguna Beach to eat consistently well-prepared Italian food. Therefore, I gladly share my Alessa experience with all interested foodies.

Since last November, chef-owner Alessandro Pirozzi has presided over a southern style Italian restaurant on Forest Avenue, formerly occupied by Pomodoro. Alesso’s sister locations are in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. Past the dining patio and its ceramic tile wall water fountain, diners will be drawn into the inviting main dining area by the glow of lantern light fixtures and a wall montage of family photos.  Should you yearn to witness the hustling kitchen staff in action, pull up a barstool and dine at the counter.

The prosciutto and mozzarella bar is stocked with some of the best burrata in the county. High-quality, chunks of fresh milk mozzarella cheese were plated with roasted marinated baby artichoke hearts and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkles of sea salt and spicy tendrils of arugula were blended in a delightful citrus flavored salad.

Gnocci

I expected traditional gnocchi (mini football shapes) with a rich potato flavor but instead received small gnocchi balls filled with pesto.  Alessa’s gnocchi fritti are stuffed with rich-creamy pesto, the potato dumplings gently fried and served with a small bowl of delicious pomodoro sauce for dipping. The small fried balls, sprinkled with grated cheese and parsley, taste equally good sans any sauce.

Penne Norma combines smoked and sweet flavors of al dente penne pasta tossed in a tomato basil sauce mixed with bits of sautéed eggplant and melted smoky mozzarella. The pasta dish’s well-balanced flavors were cooked to perfection. I even surprised myself and broke my “no carbs after lunch” rule.

Scallop Risotto

The salame e scamorza pizza, however, proved  bland.  I anticipated a more flavorful Napoli style pizza crust. So while I will not rush out to Alessa for pizza, I thoroughly enjoyed capesanti al limone!  Grilled, herb-marinated diver scallops were served with roasted red bell pepper puree atop a mound of Meyer lemon risotto. The scallops remained firm yet juicy and sweet.

Alessa’s risotto also fell short of perfection. Risotto is a difficult dish to prepare properly, requiring constant stirring to accomplish the intended result, al dente yet creamy smooth Arborio rice. The rice’s flavor held a gentle essence of grilled Meyer lemon, but its consistency was slightly dry.  Without a doubt, I would order this dish again in hopes of a different outcome, the perfect creamy consistency of that I sampled in the mother land.

The finishing touch was a cream filled pastry ring stuffed with chocolate chips and ricotta cheese.  One bite and the Sicilian style crunchy fried cannoli with drizzled chocolate syrup melted in my mouth.  After a meal of tasting many wonderful savory dishes, the sweet cannoli dessert was a perfect finale!

Alessa, 234 Forest Avenue, (949) 497-8222, www.cucinaalessa.com

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