Small Plates to Big Platters—Bar Snacks and Sunday Suppers at Lucca Cafe in Irvine

Chef Cathy Pavlos of Irvine’s Lucca Cafe has been busy—not only demo-ing for doctors (read about that, and get her quick-and-good pasta recipes here), but also rolling out a new menu of small-plate bar snacks, which I guess can be called snacks if your understanding of that word includes succulent cured and braised pork belly landed on a pillowy mound of corn kernel- and mascarpone-enriched polenta, or a they-ain’t-kidding “intense blue cheese tartlet” with sweet-sour agrodulce cipolline.

To go on: Salmon crudo with homemade potato chips, a dish so good that any thoughts of the fish tartare concept being sort of overexposed didn’t even burble up to consciousness, and a delicious bite of Pacific sand dab with “killer” tartar sauce and accompanied by fennel slaw that was like a miniature still-life of the kind of California coastal cuisine you find in San Francisco. Tri-tip, another California classic, appears in a slider, a cheeky reference to the husky Santa Maria sandwich perhaps inspiring it. The slider was accompanied by the best, zingiest pickles I’ve had in ages—house made, of course—and are nearly worth the price of admission all on their own, for those who feel as I do about pickles. (Chef Pavlos agreed to give me the recipe to share with Taste of Orange County readers… stay tuned!)

The second Sunday of the month continues chef Pavlos’ themed Sunday Suppers—which include an invitation for guests to join Pavlos as she provisions at the Saturday Irvine Farmers Market the day before. Last weekend’s was “A Sunday Supper My Grandmother Might Have Made,” and March 11 opens a “Great Chefs” series, with Julia Child first up. This “WWJD”—What Would Julia Do?—supper includes a cooking class. After farmers marketing with the chef, guests can come to the restaurant, sip a glass of wine, and learn to prepare some of the dishes to be served at supper the next day.

Lucca’s Sunday Suppers and bar snacks, like everything else at the restaurant, rely on free-range, hormone-free meats and local produce (often organic). The suppers are $55 per person, include wine pairings by co-owner Elliott Pavlos, and are served family-style on the restaurant patio starting at 3 p.m.—reserve at least 48 hours ahead. The bar-snack menu is served every day from 4 to 6 p.m. Items range from $3 to $8, and wine and beer happy-hour specials accompany. (Subscribe to the Lucca Café newsletter to keep up with supper themes and other news.)

Lucca Café, 6507 Quail Hill Pkwy., Irvine, 949-725-1773,

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