August 20, 2014 was the official opening of Cucina Enoteca's Newport Beach location at Fashion Island and I was quick to make reservations weeks in advance when I heard/saw that they were opening a new location. I love Cucina Enoteca at Irvine Spectrum so I was really excited to see what they had to offer. Luckily they have a few specialty dishes that are unique to the new spot, so it didn't feel like I was going for the same experience.
The interior is more modernized to accommodate the crowd I assume. Lots of earthy tones with floral accents, it was a lot more feminine and smaller in size than their Irvine location, which has more of a rustic Tuscan tone to accommodate families & big parties. However, the new location felt like I was transported into a secret garden with the floral accents, candle lit ambiance and floor-to-ceiling wrought iron fences.
With a group of 5 for dinner, we started off with drinks to lighten the mood. Most of my friends had wine, but my brother and I relished in their cocktail list.
Dark n Stormy + Lush Roquette (Tree Bark Bourbon, pine nut honey h2o, pineapple and arugula). The Lush Roquette was quite interesting - sweet with fruity and citrus notes at the forefront and a slight bitter aftertaste from the arugula. The bourbon was barely noticeable and I thought it would be great introduction cocktail to bourbon for those who are curious. As for me, I would have preferred something a little more alcohol forward for that taste haha.
Even though I have to been to their other locations often, they had some new ones on the menu that piqued my interest, as well as my food buddies. So we ordered a few appetizers to share.
Gnocchi Neri - Maine lobster, peas and a chili mint emulsion. The dish had a plethora of textures - creamy and buttery sauce, firm lobster (which was cooked to absolute perfection!), slight pops of crunch from the peas and a soft, chewy squid ink gnocchi. It was a bit small to share among the 5 of us, but perfect as a starter for one or two people.
Crispy Hampshire Pork Belly with mandarin oranges, caramelized onions (pearl onions, shallots) and crispy onion rings. Whenever I see crispy + pork belly on the menu, I JUST HAVE TO GET IT. I honestly don't remember if it was crispy because the caramelized onions were completely reduced to a sweet mush that complemented the sweet mandarin oranges and fatty pork belly!
I almost always order the polenta board + ragu of the day, but I saw this and wanted to try something new. Potato & Polenta Croquette + Tomato Sugo. The croquette reminds me of arancinis, which are fried balls of risotto sitting in a pool of tangy tomato sauce. The tomato sauce was phenomenal though. Chunky, fresh, tangy, sweet - I ate the last scoopful by itself cause it was just that good.
For our mains, we had a medley of items for ourselves, as in everyone wanted a dish to themselves haha.
Farmer's Chopped Salad with Belgian endives, sliced almonds, yellow & green beans, red grapes, bleu cheese and a tarragon vinaigrette.
Fava Bean Agnolotti - lamb brasata, pearl onion, fresno chili, meyer lemon and ricotta salata. I was actually indecisive about another option, but took our server's recommendation instead. So glad I did! At first I thought the portion was tiny, but it was actually really fulfilling. The lamb was so flavorful and tender while the raviolis were stuffed with a creamy fava bean filling. I want to eat this again. Yes.
And this is what my friends got:
Bucatini - guanciale, burnt cabbage leaf, tomato, chili and hen egg generously topped with pecorino cheese.
Sausage Crusted Veal with creamy polenta, rapini and hen of the woods sage.
Mushroom Bolognese + Spinach Creste with bloomsdale spinach and goat cheese fonduta.
With the new opening, I didn't want to leave without getting dessert (even though I'm pretty sure I'll return soon anyways), so we decided to share a few things.
We were hesitant to get the tiramisu because last time we got it, it was deconstructed with all the ingredients served separately. It was good, but not satisfying. Luckily, our server cleared up our concerns and said that they had reverted back to the original mason jar because they didn't receive positive feedback about the new change. YES!! (Note: This is only at the Newport Beach location. Went to the Irvine location this past weekend and was deeply saddened that it wasn't effective at all locations.)
And the new, Olive Oil Semifreddo served with pluots (plum + apricot) in four different ways. How intriguing. Fresh pluots, roasted pluot, pluot sorbet and I don't remember the fourth. I don't think I've ever had a pluots before and I didn't even know what it is until my friend had to explain it to me. haha. The dessert was a lot more tart than I had expected, but the combination of the olive oil gelato helped mellow out the tartness of the fruit and sorbet.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the new location, maybe a little too much. Would I come back? I think you guys already know the answer to this! Although I find Newport Beach's location to be a bit more intimate, I thought it would be perfect spot for a peaceful night out with great conversation and great food among friends or with a significant other. If you've been, what did you think? Share your thoughts below. Happy eating!
Cucina Enoteca Newport Beach
951 Newport Coat Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660