My motis operandi - dine at a restaurant on several occasions before critiquing the place. I broke my own rule regarding Alessa in Laguna Beach…it is worthy of a first time food critique. Besides, I have kvetched long enough about having to travel outside the perimeters of Laguna Beach to get consistent, well prepared Italian food - therefore, I gladly share my Alessa experience with all interested foodies.
Chef/Owner Alessandro Pirozzi commands a southern style Italian restaurant on Forest Avenue in the heart of downtown Laguna Beach (formerly the Pomodoro site). With locations in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, the restaurant has been in operation since November last year. Walk past the dining patio with a pretty ceramic tile wall water fountain and you will find the warm glow of lantern light fixtures hanging from the ceiling and a wall montage of Pirozzi family photos creating an inviting environment. Should you decide to take in busy energy and witness the hustle-bustle of kitchen staff in action, belly up to the full bar, pull up a barstool and dine at the counter.
The prosciutto and mozzarella bar is stocked with some of the best burrata in the OC. High quality, pillowy chunks of Italian 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!
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 are gently fried and served with a small bowl of delicious pomodoro sauce for your dipping pleasure. The small fried balls, sprinkled with grated cheese and parsley, taste equally good sans the side of pomodoro.
Penne Norma combines smokey/sweet flavors of penne pasta cooked al dente then tossed in a tomato basil sauce with small pieces of sautéed eggplant and melted smoky mozzarella. I surprised myself for breaking my “no carbs after lunch” rule – the pasta dish was a mixture of well balanced flavors and cooked to perfection.
As for pizza, the Salame E Scamorza pizza was rather bland. I anticipated a more flavorful Napoli style pizza crust and have had better. Albeit, I will not rush out to Alessa for the pizza, I thoroughly enjoyed my Capesanti al Limone! Grilled herb-marinated huge diver scallops were served with roasted red bell pepper puree atop a mound of Meyer lemon risotto. The scallops were grilled and remained firm yet juicy and sweet.
Risotto is a difficult dish to prepare properly involving constant stirring to accomplish the end result – an al dente yet creamy smooth Arborio rice dish. Alessa’s risotto fell short of a perfect risotto. The flavor of the rice, although very good with a gentle essence of grilled Meyer lemon, was a slightly dry. Without a doubt, I would order this dish again in hopes of a different outcome - a perfect creamy consistency. Surely there are folks out there who would beg to differ with my culinary criticism of risotto – I merely base my opinion on a trip to Italy and my many experiences of eating my way through risotto dish after risotto dish prepared 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!