The Gossiping Gourmet: Delicious Alessa offers new location, fare

The amazing Alessandro Pirozzi has opened a new trattoria in Laguna Beach, Alessa, in the old Pomodoro space. You may have had the pleasure of dining in his Cucina Alessa in Newport or Huntington, but Laguna's version is unique. Although there are many old favorites, there are new and exciting additions as well; for instance, a proscuitto and mozzarella bar and specialty house-made fresh pastas. Gourmets will appreciate the crudo and the fragole while traditionalists will revel in Mama's meatballs and fettucine Bolognese.

The interior has been refreshed and somewhat Italianized with marble floors, a display of Pirozzi's family photographs and a large ceramic wall fountain on the patio. Pirozzi built the new wine rack above the bar himself. The transformation took place in five days, another testimony to his savvy and energy.

This restaurant has already generated a lot of buzz in Laguna Beach. Although they don't take reservations, you can call to place your name on the waiting list and they will tell you how long the wait is, so you can arrive accordingly. The staff, Italian or not, have all been thoroughly coached by Pirozzi in Italian charm. Every lady is addressed as "bella" and every gentleman "bello," and somehow it's quite seductive — like the food.

They offer a sashimi-grade fish of the day for the crudo (Italian sashimi), which was our favorite — yellowtail, really dolled up. Pirozzi described the luscious sweet and tart pool of goodness beneath the fish as "limoncello jello." The two overdressed little pieces of fish wore slivers of shaved fennel, candied lemon zest and a green apple slice. Completing the outfit were sprinkles of fancy black pepper and Himalayan pink salt. The ensemble was delicious, but it's difficult to taste all the subtleties.

Another newbie is the fragole salad. Fragole is the beautiful Italian word for strawberry and here they are combined with yellow beets, arugula and candied pecans, then drizzled with a Sorrento lemon infused olive oil as well as a strawberry red wine vinaigrette. The plate was finished with house-made strawberry dust (a new one on us). The interesting and surprising mélange made for some exciting tastes.

From the very refined to the very homey, "Mamma Mia" is a starter that could easily be an entrée. Three big meatballs are covered with melted burrata cheese and a wonderful, slightly spicy tomato sauce. The meatballs are some of the best; they are well seasoned, with a really meaty texture.

The Laguna menu boasts four new pizzas including one with speck (Italian bacon), burricotti (burrata cheese stuffed with ricotta), fingerlings, onions and rosemary. We devoured with relish and delight the funghi misti, which featured an earthy wild mushroom puree instead of tomato sauce, followed by a layer of creamy fontina mixed with mozzarella, then sautéed mixed mushrooms, and for even more depth of flavor, a drizzle of white truffle oil. We always like crushed red pepper on our pizza and we were brought some amazing Calabrian chili flakes. Don't miss them if you like spicy.

From the fresh pasta menu, we chose the lemon infused house-made taglierini, with two large scallops and two big prawns in a light, creamy white wine sauce. The pasta had a lovely texture and a wonderfully mellow lemon flavor that wed perfectly with the seafood.

If you are up for ravioli, the spinach and ricotta is just ordinary but the zucca with butternut squash and ricotta on the appetizer menu is fabulous.

Tiramisu is the quintessential Italian dessert and it often tastes old, boozy and laden with cocoa powder. At Alessa, it is booze-free, composed in a martini glass with a cloud-like layer of cake, bits of excellent dark chocolate and a big dollop of freshly whipped cream. It may not be classic but it certainly is delicious.

Kudos to Pirozzi! Alessa is an appetizing addition to the Laguna food scene.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

Alessa

Where: 234 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Prices:

Appetizers: $4.95 to $15.99

Pizza and Pasta: $8.99 to $23.50

Entrées: $16.95 to $26.95

Desserts: $6.75

Wine:

Bottles: $15 to $499

By the glass: $4 to $30

Corkage Fee: $15

Information: (949) 497-8222 cucinaalessa.com (Laguna menu coming soon)

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