It’s taken me a year to visit a restaurant that is not far from my home. North Italia occupies a spot in the same plaza which houses Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Mother’s Market off Michelson Drive. The plaza is very busy making it difficult to find parking on most nights of the week. Luckily, there is valet for a mere $4, which is a steal when you consider most in the area run upwards of $8.
The restaurant is bustling, but we are seated swiftly at a table with a view of the kitchen. Since it is my first visit, I take a little longer to peruse the menu and have many questions for our server.
We start with an array of craft cocktails including Rosemary & Lime ($12), Amaro D’Amici ($14) and Julietta ($12).
I am intrigued by Zucca Chips ($7) which I initially thought were zucchini fries. These are even better! They are thinly sliced zucchini fried crisp like potato chips. You won’t be able to stop until there is nothing left in the bowl.
Who goes to an Italian restaurant and doesn’t order Italian Meatballs ($11), definitely not me. These delectable balls of tender beef are bathed in an exquisite marinara sauce and topped with an ample handful of pecorino cheese. Use the accompanying grilled bread to sop up all the sauce in the skillet.
Prosciutto Bruschetta ($12) is a perfect shareable item for the table. Crusty bread is topped with the bold flavors of prosciutto, Crescenza cheese and grilled asparagus. There is shredded grana Padano on top, as well as truffle oil, although there is a tad too much of the latter which overpowers the overall taste of the bruschetta.
We are always looking for a good pizza and The Pig ($17) is an ideal selection for those who love meat on their pizzas. The crust is nice and chewy topped with spicy pepperoni, soppresata, and Italian sausage. I’m glad they’re generous with the toppings unlike most Neapolitan style pizzas. I find I’m usually fighting to compromise – American-style pizza with lots of toppings, or Italian-style pizza with the bare minimum. At North Italia, you get the best of both.
Squid Ink Mafaldine ($22) is an interesting pasta. These strips of ribbon-like wide noodles are frayed on the edges giving them a really unique mouth-feel on the palate. The white shrimp and calamari are tossed in a little acqua pazza (poaching liquid), along with mint, fennel pollen, and Calabrian chile. The result is a robust dish with layers of flavors, yet so simple you revel in the freshness of every ingredient in the dish.
Everywhere you go these days, you see branzino on the menu. So how does one differentiate oneself from the others? Well, at North Italia, the Grilled Branzino ($29) is served butterflied, de-boned and topped with cipollini onion, fennel, broccolini, and farro, in a lemon and butter sauce. It is delicate, with the melt-in-your-mouth texture, of a perfectly executed fish.
If you’re looking for a solid Italian restaurant, North Italia will undoubtedly fit the bill, plus more. Great service, creative cocktails, and most importantly, food well executed. I can’t wait to return!
2957 Michelson Drive
Irvine, CA 92612