Bruno’s Trattoria in downtown Brea has so much going for it, with hearty-yet-refined Italian fare and house-made ingredients starting with fresh pasta and continuing on through its own limoncello liqueur. It’s the ideal of a neighborhood place—and if it were in my neighborhood, I’d be there all the time.
So I look for reasons to make the drive to Brea. A chance to sample the restaurant’s Sunday Supper polenta board at a media dinner provided the most recent opportunity. Polenta is fairly common in local Italian restaurants—Cucina Enoteca in Irvine and Newport Beach always has it on the menu, with a daily chef’s ragu, for instance. But mostly when I enjoy this cornmeal much, it’s been in my own kitchen.
On Sundays at Bruno’s, each person at the table chooses a meat and a vegetable from the supper menu before a shareably generous amount of polenta made luxe with butter and two kinds of cheese is delivered on a custom-made board. Meat-withs include the restaurant’s almost-famous meatballs, excellent braised short ribs with mushrooms, or rich boar sausage, as well as chicken puttanesca and scampi-style shrimp. Greens dominate the vegetable list, which is more than OK with me, but there’s also Bruno’s very good peperonata. The cost is $15 per person, with a glass of Chianti or Trebbiano an extra $5. With a cooperative group willing to coordinate you can try everything—or go simple and get a passel of meatballs and a pile of Brussels sprouts. I wish there was a crunchy cold insalata among the choices, but I guess I’m capable of adding that on myself.
I visited Bruno’s chef Anthony Armendariz in the kitchen as he whisked dry Golden Pheasant brand polenta from San Francisco into boiling water. Along with a certain amount of butter, he added firm, slightly aged fontina, and grana padano, a grating cheese with characteristics similar to Parmesan. The result is definitely enriched but with its deep, corny flavor retained—for me, the main thing. Golden Pheasant is a great polenta, much used in restaurants, but can be difficult to find retail. I bought a bag at Granzella’s Deli in Williams, California, a couple of weeks ago while on a road trip, and have seen it at Claro’s in Tustin. If you cook polenta at home, don’t hesitate to use the dependable and widely available Bob’s Red Mill—I like the organic variety. But why not treat yourself to chef-made polenta once in a while—along with long-braised short rib ragu and a glass of wine while we’re at it?