The Gossiping Gourmet: No need to go to Naples

Huntington Beach now has its very own Cucina Alessa. Chef/owner Alessandro Pirozzi opened the first of these home-style Italian restaurants in Newport Beach two years ago to very good reviews. The incredibly energetic Pirozzi now works 18-hour days, riding his motorcycle back and forth between the two establishments, cooking and supervising, while still finding the time to "work the room," schmooze and charm his patrons. His caring, warm and easygoing attitude sets the tone for all of his staff, making the dining experience an extremely pleasurable one.

Open for about a year, this casual Huntington Beach ristorante is attractively furnished with dark wood tables and chairs, light mustard walls and floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, which look out onto busy Main Street. Outdoor tables line the sidewalk. There is also a bar area in the center of the room where you can sip and dine.

We were instantly put at ease by the attentive and vivacious Bettina who seemed attuned to our every want. She was full of suggestions and recommendations. There are always lots of specials and sauces can easily be substituted, while whole wheat and gluten-free pastas are also available.

A basket of ordinary focaccia was made extraordinary by the unusually flavorful garlic oil, herb dipping sauce, which, the chef told us, has 18 ingredients (and he can always tell if one of them is missing).

Our simple small house salad was neither small nor simple. It was a nice mélange of lettuces, shredded carrots, fresh sliced mushrooms, tomatoes and shaved Parmesan, all lightly but perfectly dressed in a well-seasoned vinaigrette. The chef came over to our table to chat, and then sent over a plate of delectable house-made butternut squash ravioli in sage butter, a house specialty that "he sometimes presents to first-timers," said Bettina. The luscious filling was rich and subtly complex. We could only guess as to what spices made it so delicious. The crispy, fried sage leaves and brown butter sauce added even more yummy goodness.

Fritto misto consists of deep fried shrimp, calamari and zucchini spears with a rich arrabiata (marinara sauce with chilies) dipping sauce that was tasty but surprisingly, not at all spicy. We asked for crushed red pepper for some heat. The shrimp were excellent, and the batter was thin and crunchy. The zucchini, however, was somewhat bitter.

Southern California pizza comes in many guises, different style crusts, with and without tomato sauce and with a limitless range of toppings. Chef Pirozzi offers a thin, light cracker crust with a range of toppings from classic Margherita to his own pizza Raffy with no tomato sauce but lots of mushrooms, mozzarella and imported sweet gorgonzola cheese, which doesn't have the sharp bite of the more familiar type, making it perfect for pizza.

We were anxious to taste the house-made pappardelle (a flat, wide long noodle) that is served with Bolognese sauce but they happily changed it to a vegetarian version with a delicious mélange of green beans, broccoli, mushrooms and zucchini in a rich and zesty tomato sauce. The pappardelle was a bit doughy but the tomato sauce was first rate.

Elle grew up in New York City, one block from Little Italy in the Bronx and remembers the great Neapolitan cannoli with fondness. It's hard to come by authentic house-made cannolis way out West. Chef Pirozzi generously stuffs his crunchy shells with a creamy filling punctuated with dark chocolate chunks. We much prefer this style to the candied fruit type. It was attractively presented with sliced strawberries and powdered sugar, making for a pretty and tasty plate.

Cucina Alessa is a neighborhood restaurant serving classic Neapolitan food. The warmth of the atmosphere, the staff and the engaging Pirozzi make you feel like you have been transported to Naples for a few delightful hours.

If You Go

WHAT: Cucina Alessa (714) 969-2148

WHERE: 520 Main St., Huntington Beach

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Friday; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.



Appetizers: $4.95 - $15.95

Pizza and Pasta: $11.95 - $18.50

Entrées: $16.95 - $24.95

Desserts: $6.95


Bottles: $15 - $499

By the glass: $4 - $30

Corkage Fee: $15

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