I like that Irvine Spectrum has been adding restaurants to its repertoire left, right, and center recently, however, not all the new eateries are right for this center. Keep in mind that this is a place where families congregate, where people bring their children, it is still surprising to me that not all the restaurants have something kid-friendly on the menu.
Not that this matters to me in any way. My child has not ordered off a kids’ menu since he was three years old, but it is just an observation for when I eat with my friends who do have young children. This is why the new BRIO Tuscan Grille may be a very attractive choice for families — and singles — alike.
A meal is definitely made better when you have a good server, and ours, Cyrena, was perfect. She was attentive without being intrusive, and if she didn’t know the answers to my myriad of questions, she found someone who could answer them for me. Absolutely delightful.
A basket of complimentary bread arrives — the crisp bread is addictive — and I suggest you do not overindulge in either because you’ll regret it when your meal arrives — portions are generous!
Since we aren’t able to decide on a bruschetta, we opt for Bruschetta Quattro ($15.45) which offers a selection of Roasted Red Pepper bruschetta, fresh mozzarella, basil, parmagiana reggiano, balsamic glaze; Roasted Tomato & Herb Pesto bruschetta, grape tomatoes, ricotta, parmigiano reggiano, fresh thyme, pistachio mint pesto; Sliced Steak bruschetta, gorgonzola, arugula, charred tomatoes, parmigiano regginao; and the Chef’s Seasonal bruschetta (bacon onion jam). Although each is tasty in its own way, my favorite is the roasted tomato with ricotta.
Our next appetizer, Spicy Shrimp & Eggplant ($11.45) of Romano crusted eggplant topped with pan seared shrimp, served in a black pepper cream sauce, sounds better on paper. The Romano crust is too thick and overwhelms the delicate eggplant — I am not able to decipher the eggplant at all. The shrimp is nicely prepared, however, the sauce is bordering on the cloying side.
There are different sections on the menu and I like “The Lighter Side of Tuscany” best. These dishes are all under 600 calories per plate but none of the many dishes I have tried suggest compromises in flavor. In fact, I prefer them over the others.
Take for instance Campanelle Carbonara ($16.85), which is nice, but not a traditional carbonara since it clearly states “creamy Alfredo sauce” on the menu. The pasta to ingredients ratio is extremely generous and offers plenty of grilled chicken slices, crisp bacon, Parmesan and my favorite, spinach.
The next selections are the ones to keep on your radar. Grilled Salmon Fresca ($18.95) sits on a bed of sweet potatoes, spinach and roasted peppers tossed in a pesto vinaigrette. Then, grilled asparagus, feta, diced tomatoes are added before it is finished off with a drizzle of balsamic glaze.
Chicken Pomodoro Classico ($15.15) might possibly be one of my favorite entrees here. The tomato sauce is fresh and the penne has soaked up its great flavor. They do not skimp on ingredients and there is as much pasta as there is grilled chicken, pine nuts, basil, parmagiano reggiano and cilantro pesto. An incredibly respectable starch/protein ratio in every bite.
Another dish is Chicken Piccata ($12.95). There really isn’t much to say except those who aren’t adventurous will really love it because it pretty much stays true to the classic. This version is served with roasted vegetables, so if you want it with mashed potatoes, order the Mezze Chicken Limone instead.
Shrimp Mediterranean ($14.95) with an orzo and farro pilaf is one I’m truly enamored with. Spicy grilled jumbo shrimp are plump with a great snap, and the use of colorful vegetables such as broccolini, asparagus, tomatoes, and spinach really brightens up the plate, and also makes it a healthier option all around.
If you’re desperate for meat, then choose the 5oz Filet Brio ($19.95). The accoutrements of sweet potatoes, spinach, roasted peppers and grilled asparagus are great, but if it is steak you want, I would really get it elsewhere. There are so many other great things on the menu for you to choose from, there is really no need to get this.
What I can definitely say about BRIO is that you will always know what to expect each visit after your initial one. The food is consistent and once you find your favorites, you’ll probably stick to them — like I have.
These days, I’ve been holding most of my giveaways on my newsletter — if you haven’t subscribed yet, please do so at the top right hand corner of this page. However, this week, I do have a giftcard courtesy of BRIO to giveaway valued at $50. Please leave a comment and tell me where your last memorable dining experience was and tell me why, for a chance to enter.
BRIO Tuscan Grille
618 Spectrum Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618