Last week, a bunch of us media folk were invited to taste some of the new spring menu item offerings at Mare Culinary Lounge created by Chef Alessandro Pirozzi. I first encountered Chef Pirozzi’s cuisine at Cucina Alessa and was blown away by his delicious yet simple fare.
I’ve never been super fond of eating Italian out because I’ve generally been disappointed. Alessa was one of those restaurants where everything’s been pretty much perfect and where my friends always comment on my silence when dining there.
**Please note that the photos depict a sampling portion and not the a la carte prices listed**
We began with Olive Fritte ($8) something I absolutely loved. Fontina stuffed Castelvetranon olives are lightly flashed fried and topped with sea salt and Italian parsley. It goes well with any libation you might choose to enjoy these with. Beautifully salty with delicate textural balance.
I’m not a big fan of goat cheese, but these Stuffed Sweet Peppers ($9) using orange Peppadews stuffed with goat cheese, walnuts and basil are mild and the cheese doesn’t overpower.
When the Polipo Mediterranean ($14) hit my mouth, I was in heaven. This is Pirozzi style to the max. The house made braised octopus carpaccio is sliced so paper thin it simply melts in your mouth. Slivers of bell peppers add hints of sweetness while the black Sicilian lava salt and imported baby caper berries give a salty tart finish.
The Branzino was an off the cuff idea Chef threw into the mix. The branzino is sliced thin and prepared “al piatto”, or on the plate. Raw fish slices are placed onto hot plates so they are so ever slightly “cooked”. The Sorrento Lemon infused olive oil, shaved fennel, radicchio and wild arugula all work together for that perfect mouthful. The imported black lava salt flakes are never aggressive gently seasoning the delicate fish.
Ravioli di Zucca was a bit too sweet for my palate, but the housemade butternut squash raviolis were tender and the decadent brown butter sage sauce enveloped the pillowy pasta like a warm blanket.
The next item to hit the table was Mamma Mia ($12), those famous Pirozzi meatballs which shut me up at Alessa the very first time I tasted them. There are three to a serve and the light as air meatballs are covered with a delicious ragu and topped with burrata. These are simply some of the best meatballs I’ve ever tasted to date.
If you like pizza, then try the Crispy Soppresata ($11) a thin-crust topped with farmer’s goat cheese, Calabrian hot chili peppers and a light spicy house-made salame.
Next was a pasta trio, one of which was the Limoncello Radiatori ($24), Mare signature pasta with live Maine lobster tail, shallots, pinot grigio and a local lemon sauce. I’ve had a similar pasta at Alessa and it was just sublime. This is no different. The Ravioli d’Aragosta is filled with lobster, fennel in a sherry reduction and vodka cream sauce, while Veal Osso Buco Agnolotti is just insanely rich with wild mushrooms and brown butter sage sauce. Any one of these would make a wonderful shared starter or entree.
I wish I had the stomach space to finish the Filet Mignon ($26), but I only managed two bites. You will get an 8oz center cut filet with black lava salt served on a wooden board with sunflower honey, balsamic infused Italian cipollini and imported sauteed artichokes. The beef was so perfectly executed it was like butter in my mouth.
As if that wasn’t enough, we were served Delizia al Limone. This non-dessert fan polished this entire dessert off with no problem — yes I did say I was extremely full! A light spongy cake was topped with lemon cream custard and finished with zest — not too sweet but just enough with a hint of citrus to even everything out.
The location of Mare might deter you, as it is inside the Holiday Inn and parking is a bit of a drag, but you shouldn’t let it. At dinner, you can utilize the parking lot a street up at the Neighborhood Congregational Church at 340 St Ann’s Drive located a block up off Glenneyre. Chef Pirozzi’s impressive creations are not to be missed!
Mare Culinary Lounge
696 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651