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Restaurants & Bars 3

REVIEW: Cucina Alessa, Huntington Beach

Das Ubergeek | Aug 2, 200909:56 PM

520 Main Street in Huntington Beach is not quite a cursed location, but it's hosted its share of restaurants. The problem is that it's "past the Electric Chair" (where the elite meet to pierce their feet, and for aeons and aeons the "end" of downtown HB). It's around a bend, not in that part of Main Street visible from the pier, and the signage is not so easy to see. Most recently it was the Shore House Cafe. That's gone and Cucina Alessá has moved in -- and this is definitely an improvement. (I don't understand the diacritic either -- they pronounce it "ah-LESS-sah".)

We went last night for my birthday and had a very pleasant meal.

Insalata della casa: it's a house salad, as you might guess. Not bad -- yuppie weed... er... mesclun, sliced button mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, a couple slices of cucumber, and vinaigrette. I forget how much this was -- $4? $5? Cheap.

Ravioli leggeri: homemade spinach and ricotta ravioli in a very, very good red sauce. A huge portion for $12 -- I have the leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.

Linguine livornese: excellent linguine with mixed seafood: whitefish, shrimp, and the largest diver scallop on which I personally have ever laid eyes, in an olive oily red sauce with basil. Excellent, slightly "springy" pasta; perfectly cooked fish; even more perfectly cooked scallop. The shrimp were very well cooked as well but honestly I felt they could have been left out in favour of another of those scallops. This was a daily special and was $24, which is very expensive compared to the rest of the menu.

Bistecca alla fiorentina: a thin (3/4") steak cooked to order with fried potato cubes and sautéed spinach. The steak was excellent -- succulent, medium-rare as ordered, though I did add salt to it and I did not taste much rosemary. The rosemary was in the potatoes, which were insanely good and disappeared because I made the mistake of letting Mrs Ubergeek taste them. The spinach was fine, garlicky, not bland, not insipid, and (best of all) not watery. $20 and well worth it.

I don't normally remark on wine lists, but Alessa have a huge wine list, at least a third of which is available by the glass, and with some really surprisingly reasonable (< $35) bottles. Since Mrs Ubergeek does not like wine, I tend to drink mine by the glass -- ordering a bottle for oneself is a little too close to alcoholism for my taste (though it didn't stop the drunken woman having desperate pay-attention-to-me loud cell phone conversations behind me -- when asked at the end of the meal if we needed anything else, I suggested a gag). Back to the wine, glasses run $5-$16 and in point of fact what came out is what Mr Batali would call a "quartino" -- a little mini-carafe of my Barbera (what can I say, I like "rough" wine sometimes) that was something like a glass and a third.

We punted on dessert, though it was all made in-house -- tiramisu, cannoli, chocolate cake and ricotta cheesecake. Price out the door was $88, and we ate like champions. You could EASILY split one of the large salads, have a homemade-pasta entree, and a glass of wine each, and come out for $50-$60.

Service is quite good. Friendly, attentive, not overbearing, knowledgeable. The poor servers last night had two meat specials, two fish specials and two pasta specials to recite. That I remember five of the six (I forget the second pasta one) means our server was good at his job. Decor is very Tuscan-wine-bar but they've managed to avoid Orange Coast Magazine syndrome (you know, where the picture is down past the interesting hanging light fixtures onto this jewel-like collection of silver and crystal and offensively wealthy taste). Crowd was a mix -- there were some Real Housewives-types, some surfers in board shorts, some families, some tourists.

This was as close as I've come in Orange County to the New York Italian sit-down restaurants I grew up with. You could move it to 66th and Broadway, or 28th and 3rd, and it would fit in great. I'm looking forward to eating there more often, particularly once it cools down and I can face a plate of pappardelle Bolognese of an evening.

A couple of housekeeping notes: this is the second location -- the original is on PCH in Newport Beach, but only has a beer-and-wine license. The HB location has a full bar. Both locations serve breakfast at the weekend, both are open for lunch. We debated reserving (but never got round to it), and it was not a problem -- immediate seating in HB at 8 PM on a Saturday.

This place is well worth the extra couple of blocks' walk up Main Street from the usual downtown drag. And at the risk of imperiling my own chance of a table, it ought to have people lined up outside waiting. Good Italian, unpretentious, good service, casual, not stuck up about takeout -- finally.

Since the Link to a Place is still broken, here is the information:

520 Main St.
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Res.: (714) 969-2148
To go: (714) 969-2147

6700 West PCH
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Res. or To go: (949) 680-8010

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