I'm often asked about Cucina Alessá: “Is it still any good?” First in Newport Beach, then expanded to Huntington Beach, both spots are neighborhood darlings for Italian comfort fare. And both are now without founding chef-partner Alessandro Pirozzi, who pulled out last winter.
Original partners, sisters Theresa Nguyen and Susie Tran are backing the shops now, and the difference so far is near negligible. That’s because key veteran staff members, many on board since the openings in ’08 and ’09, remain in place. Your favorite dishes, say, the gorgeous octopus carpaccio with caper berries or the sweet-savory squash-ricotta ravioli in browned butter, remain true to the captivating flavors you recall. Nearly all the pasta is still house-made, from the minipillows of ravioletti to the tortellini filled with rosemary chicken. One night’s calamari fritti, while piping hot, is heavy with batter, and the arrabbiata sauce lacks spicy bite.
But I detect zero change in two of my pet orders: tender meatballs in rich ragu with a blanket of burrata, and pancetta-flecked roasted Brussels sprouts. And it’s also nice to be coddled by Melissa Salrin, the always-sunny waitress in Newport. Whether fans prefer Huntington’s roomy party vibe or Newport’s cramped intimacy, the snappy welcome and feel-good eats are as inviting as ever. For those expecting drama and disappointment, you won’t find it here. Loyalists should welcome this seamless, comforting transition.
Octopus carpaccio, beef carpaccio, butternut squash ravioli, meatballs
in ragu, roasted Brussels sprouts, pizza piccante.
From 2 to 5 p.m. daily, just $15 buys a three-course meal of selected dishes.
Add a glass of house vino for $3.50.
Corkage is $15 per 750-milliliter bottle
6700 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 949-645-2148;
520 Main St., Huntington Beach, 714-969-2148
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue.