The Gossiping Gourmet: Chef delights again with new restaurant Mare

Alessandro Pirozzi, of Cucina Alessa fame, has opened another restaurant in Laguna Beach, this time with the addition of a snazzy lounge area.

Mare Culinary Lounge is his fourth venture in the area. Every day he bounces up and down the coast from one venue to another with indefatigable energy and boundless Italian charm. He is also a wonderful chef with a passion for pasta. He says that he sleeps for only three or four hours and keeps a pad by his bed to jot down ideas for new dishes swirling around in his head.

Mare is in the Holiday Inn, a site that has seen many restaurants come and go. Alessandro and his wife have practically excavated the old space and transformed it into something quite lovely.

Dazzling blue lights emanate through a giant wooden wall panel in one of the dining areas and shimmer underneath the bar top as well. Beautiful elements of glass tile, intriguing fixtures and subtle shades of gray create a striking décor. A wall of French doors leads out to the pleasant patio framed by towering old palm trees.

Alessandro has moved a bit beyond his Italian roots to create a few fusion dishes on this new menu.

Shared plates are appetizers in generous portions. Notable is a taco "Mai" way, made with Vietnamese steamed bread stuffed with oxtail stew, baby sweet onions and house-made saba (like a balsamic reduction). We also loved the stuffed peppadews. These South African peppers are marinated in a sweet brine then stuffed with goat cheese and candied walnuts — a mouthful of paradise.

Another palate pleaser is the Italian green olives, stuffed with fontina cheese, coated with breadcrumbs and then flash-fried. Alessandro's beef carpaccio is served with salty capers, a peppery arugula salad, large shavings of Parmesan and a drizzle of lemony olive oil. Manilla clams and fat juicy tiger shrimp are sautéed in a zesty lobster reduction sauce accented by Meyer lemon juice and Calabrian hot chili.

When it comes to pasta, Alessandro is nothing less than an alchemist. Each and every one is transformed into something sublime. He and his uncle, like many Italian families, make their own limoncello — a liqueur made from lemons — but we've never heard of anyone infusing it into fresh pasta. The results are marvelous. The pasta itself has a lovely lemony taste. Limoncello mafaldine (a wide, flat noodle with wavy sides) is a scrumptious dish in which this pasta is combined with chopped lobster tail and shallots in a pinot grigio lemon sauce.

The delicious fresine lunghi is also an infused pasta, this time with the distinctive flavor of eggplant. The wide noodles are tossed with creamy mozzarella and stacked in a mound that is draped with thin slices of sautéed eggplant and topped with large shavings of Parmesan to create a beautiful presentation.

Pizzovale (oval-shaped) is more like a cross between pizza and flatbread. We loved the fontal pizza with salty olives and fontina cheese contrasting with sweet baby balsamic scented onions and thin slices of fresh pear. The cipolline pizza is less interesting, even though the ingredients include sweet Gorgonzola cheese, candied walnut pieces, a fried egg and cipolline onions. The crust on this one was underdone, and the ingredients were a bit skimpy.

Alessandro has a way with a chicken breast as well. The chicken Milanese was tender and juicy with a light focaccia crumb crust and a rich lemon caper sauce that adds piquancy. The buttery roasted potatoes and baby artichoke side dish is also a winner.

Lemons featured prominently in our dinner, and dessert was no exception but it was exceptional. Delicia limoncello is a cloud of lemon sponge filled and topped with an ethereal limoncello custard, the light and perfect ending to a delightful meal.

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

Mare Culinary Lounge

Information: (949) 715-9581,

Where: 696 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach

When: 7 a.m. to midnight Monday through Wednesday; 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Sunday


Shared Plates: $5 to $15

Pizza and Pasta: $9 to $24

Entrées: $17 to $26

Desserts: $7.95


Glass: $5 to $20

1/2 Bottles: $18 to $160

Bottle: $19 to $600

Corkage Fee: $15

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