The energetic and charming Alessandro Pirozzi has opened yet another excellent restaurant, this one in Corona del Mar.
This is the fourth restaurant of his that I have reviewed, and by now he knows who I am. It has always been my policy to remain anonymous, if possible, when doing a review, but I must confess that he greeted me and gave me lots of wonderful food to taste. He pointed out all the new items on the menu, and every one was a hit.
The restaurant, Pirozzi, occupies the space that was recently a Kentucky Fried Chicken. What a difference. The place is charming and attractive, with a heated outdoor patio, and the main room has a wall of windows that open to let in the breezes.
The 900-degree wood-burning oven (only olive wood is used), which was manufactured in Italy, dominates the kitchen, while hams and garlic garlands hang from the rafters. One wall is all mirrored, two walls are brick and a fresh rose garnishes each table.
My dining companion and I began our extensive meal with a salad of large wild Caladonian blue prawns that had been seasoned with white wine and lemon. The prawns were baked in the wood-burning oven and had a nice char. For contrast, they were served with a peppery arugula salad that included thin slices of crunchy fennel and sautéed cherry tomatoes as well as baby sweet and spicy Calabrian red peppers that were fabulous.
Our waiter said that Alessondro insisted we try the pizza Margherita. This simple pizza is the acid test. When done properly it is wonderful, and it was done properly here. The thin, blistered crust had a slight char from the oven, and there was just a thin amount of excellent tomato sauce, a slathering of house-made melted mozzarella and a charred basil leaf on the top for color. This perfect pizza bought back the real taste of Italy.
Another new menu item that our waiter recommended was the quaglia. This is speck wrapped quail stuffed with ground wild boar sausage — salty garlicky and tender — and served on a bed of mushrooms. The perfectly cooked quail, with a nice brown skin, had a wrapping of crisp speck. The bird rested on a mound of sautéed wild Southern mixed mushrooms that were indescribably good. My dining partner and I agreed that this dish would be on our top 10 list come our look back on the year in December.
On to the pasta course. We tried two new ones. The first was gemelli Ugo. The pasta was infused with Calabrian chili and served with braised Mediterranean octopus that was tender as butter and enriched with bone marrow, organic baby kale and a Barolo reduction sauce. Molto bene.
Equally delicious was the cinghiale gnocchi. House-made gnocchi, just the right texture, was combined with boar sausage and finished with wild mushrooms and a spicy arrabbiata sauce.
We had never tasted elk before, but it arrived as a beautiful plate of two New Zealand chops indistinguishable from good beefsteak. The tender meat was seared in the oven and served with wonderful amarena cherry port reduction and whole cooked cherries. The sweetness was the ideal foil for the elk. On the side were sweet cipolline onions and rainbow cauliflower.
Although we were more than sated, we were given two kinds of gelato to taste, excellent Oreo cookie and house-made fiordilatte. The latter is creamy gelato drizzled with olive oil and finished with sea salt, in this case flakes of black sea salt that I found too salty.
Although I love the combination of salty and sweet, it was too assertive here. This is my only criticism of what was otherwise a superb meal — Pirozzi's finest hour.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in sthe gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Where: 2929 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar
When: 4 to 11 p.m. daily (will open for lunch soon)
Appetizers: $9 to $25
Entrées: $14 to $32
Desserts: $8 to $10
Bottles: $28 to $275
By the glass: $7.50 to $33
Corkage fee: $20 (waived with purchase of bottle of wine)
Information: (949) 675-2932 or pirozzicdm.com