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Restaurants & Bars 1

Lucca Café, Irvine (or Too Late For Bread and Porridge!)

bottomlesspit | Aug 21, 200504:52 AM

Firstly, thanks to all who made en-route-to-The-Getty breakfast recommendations. Unfortunately, between our 7:45 AM actual departure time, the many Chowhounds’ and other’s warnings of the long Bread and Porridge wait after 8AM, and our dogged determination to be at The Getty by opening (10 AM), we thought we’d better not chance the long wait for breakfast. Figured we’d try a new local spot instead – Lucca Café in the Quail Hill Village Center, Irvine.

Lucca Café, according to its own press, is “a unique new restaurant and gourmet deli reminiscent of a European café” with a Mediterranean inspired menu. The interior is as you would expect a café that’s supposed to be reminiscent of a European café if it were situated in an Irvine Company center. Nicely appointed, but in a somewhat sanitized, predictable, quasi-industrial way.

Lucca IS actually unique in the Irvine area in that it is a restaurant that offers:

- Lavazza coffee
- An interesting assortment of imported French and Italian cheeses
- Imported French croissants
- Certain imported Italian tomato and dry pasta products for retail
- An assortment of imported cured meats

The lunch and dinner menu, which has “contemporary and traditional influences from the Mediterranean”, comes across just the slightest bit schizophrenic with the Dolmades, Pate and Terrine Sampler, Seafood Crepes and Quiche, especially given the establishment’s certainly Italian name and imported Italian foods displayed out front. (I tend to be more forgiving of breakfast schizophrenia because widely palatable breakfast offerings can be quite limited within a cuisine.) And with a menu that’s primarily Italian-inspired, rather than truly pan-Mediterranean, it just seems like they should stick with the Italian and ditch the handful of non-Italian offerings. Also, a quick read of the descriptions shows a preponderance of what I’ll call “heavier” dishes (as in seasoning or flavor combinations), but the actual execution remains to be tasted.

Moving along to today’s breakfast experience…

The growing trend of 80% full service at what appears to be an otherwise full-service restaurant as evidenced by menu, décor and price point, has been adopted here, with ordering, paying AND TIPPING (something I find a bit disconcerting as I’m one of the apparently naïve and/or obsolete people who still believes in tipping as recognition for service AFTER it’s been rendered) taking place at the counter before you even select your table.

As for the food, I know breakfast isn’t always the most accurate measure of a kitchen, but on the other hand, I figure if they get the simple stuff right, they’re halfway there.

1) Eggs Lucca – 2 poached eggs served with goat cheese and pepperonata on toasted baguette with fresh seasonal fruit. Eggs were poached just fine with the pepperonata a bit undersalted (which is a better problem to have than oversalted) but otherwise flavorful, if a little overwhelmingly tomato-ey for the eggs. The toast, however, was just not – it was actually a fairly thick slab of sourdough with grillmarks, but mere grillmarks do not toast or crostini make. It was simply not toasted, and IMO, when eggs meet bread for breakfast, the bread oughta be actually toasted unless it’s the French kind. Oh, and another gripe – the side fruit salad was cut into what I like to call fruit kibbles. Sure, I know I get more fruit if they cut it smaller, but when fruit is cut trail-mix size, all the juices start to blend together and it just doesn’t look all that appetizing. They’d actually save themselves some time and money by cutting their fruit into larger pieces anyway.

2) Buttermilk pancakes with Apple Smoked Bacon and Spicy Chicken Sausage – The buttermilk pancakes were good –just light and fluffy enough . As to the bacon, for the overall feel and price point of this place, I expected a little more in the execution department, i.e., perfect crispness, rather than bacon bits for salad crispness, but the product itself was fine.

3) Scrambled eggs – Were perfectly fluffy and slightly creamy and very well executed, which indicated that someone in the back of the house has a better grip on subtlety than the Eggs Lucca would have suggested.

4) Coffee – Aaaaahhh. Lavazza. I’m a plain joe kinda gal, and this was the best cup o’ local joe I’ve had in a long time.

The service was attentive, if a bit confused. A middle aged, very Mediterranean-looking gentleman, whom I assume is one of the owners, greeted all the patrons. To his credit, he was very present in the front of the house and obviously concerned that all his guests’ needs were attended to. He did, however, appear frazzled - so much so that I don’t think he cracked one smile in the hour or so that we were there. The runner who brought our food also seemed a little disoriented, perhaps inexperienced, and brought someone else’s food to our table, but she, too, was earnest in her efforts. Of course, there are many kinks to be ironed out in a new place, and I suspect a little more time will bring much more ease in the hosting department.

Another positive note on the service – I ordered the tri-tip sandwich because it was on the weekend breakfast menu, only to find that it wouldn’t be ready for another hour. One of the chefs came out of the kitchen to explain and apologize for the inconvenience and further remembered to offer me several slices to sample as I was leaving an hour later. The tri-tip, by the way, was succulent and perfectly done.

Sampling of the cheeses and cured meats is also heartily encouraged, and I did sample a lovely, nutty, ripe, Buche D’Affinois while I was there. I was warmly welcomed by a charming and knowledgeable counter person to return to sample any of their offerings, anytime.

All tolled, while the price tag was a tad high for the breakfast that was had this morning, I walked out wanting this place to work. They appear to be trying to carve out something unique in our neck of the woods – a sophisticated but friendly neighborhood cafe with a decent wine selection and a taste of the Mediterranean using local and organic ingredients, overseen by caring, conscientious staff in front and back. Though my initial impression is that they could take a pointer from Francoli on focus, I’ll be wishing them the best so I can return another morning for a cup of that great Lavazza and then another evening for a true test of their kitchen – the pasta, of course.

Oh, I hope they learn to make toast between now and then, too.

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