Biting into OC Brunch - LUCCA Cafe

We are no strangers to the wonders that LUCCA Cafe has to offer in Irvine but we were embarrassingly unexposed to Chef Cathy Pavlos' brunch until we started this brunch series for LOCALE Magazine. While the lunchtime mimics a European bistro and dinnertime lifts to a higher, fine dining experience, the weekend brunch adopts a feeling of comfort and home. It would have been appropriate had there been stairs to pad down those slowly while rubbing the sleep from our eyes and come upon the Cathy's food. Welcoming and warm, the dishes we saw each had their own expert twist that had us craving more and more. It didn't help that the restaurant itself had a gorgeous interior accented by shelves of enviable wines and highlighted by an open kitchen. Not into stopping in for a bite to stay? There is an exquisite display of cheeses and meats to the left of the kitchen that has been carefully curated. We won't say anything if you decide meat and cheese is a perfect breakfast to you!

We've known Chef Cathy for her dedication and commitment to local and sustainable ingredients, and it was still heavily emphasized during our talk. Not only does she focus on making sure the ingredients are as organic as possible but that they are also as humane as possible. In all of LUCCA's communications, they rightfully and proudly boast their commitment to cage-free eggs, and once I heard that they go through more than 500 eggs on an average weekend, that ecological and humane impact makes so much more sense! If you're curious about finding some of those beauts yourself, Chef Cathy told us she gets them from a farmer at the Corona del Mar Farmers' Market.

Like we said, there is a strong wine list at LUCCA and during dinnertime, you'll find the knowledge of wine pairings in the staff members who deliver with charm. During brunch, there were certainly lighter libations for the morning that not only were tasty but also well-presented. These, like much of the restaurant's menu, rotate seasonally and at the time of the interview, we quite enjoyed our hibiscus sparkler. There is also a variety of teas that come with their own individual teapots and some coffee options available as well if sober is your style. I quite enjoyed the frothy cappuccino that came out while we were tasting her pastries. Because the menu is in a la carte fashion rather than a buffet, the brunch here is more relaxed and slowly paced than others.

"We’ve got big buns here. We’ve got big buns and we like it. Daisy does a fantastic job on our cinnamon roll. It’s a lacquered Danish dough and has our own little schmear that we put in the center of the cinnamon sugar. We sell out of those all the time. We only make so many because we only have so much room. They proof overnight and so we have a limited amount; we sell out by 11 o'clock! I get people that come in and buy 5 or 10 at a time! People love them." - Chef Cathy Pavlos
Hear hear! Those people's tastebuds know what they're talking about! When her impressively large Cinnamon Roll came out for the picture-taking, it was difficult to restrain myself. Warm and perfectly balanced, the roll lived up to the hype, and it is no mystery why it sells out so quickly. We also took stabs at her always beautiful Eggs in Purgatory dish, a plate inspired by her own grandmother who made a similar coddled egg meal every Sunday. Though the original version came with zucchini and without cheese or avocado, Chef Cathy took on the California and Latino influences from Orange County to make this spicy comfort food a little different. You could certainly taste the love in this one. Lastly, we fought over her Pain Perdu which is listed on the menu sometimes as French toast so guests aren't confused. If the photo is not convincing enough of why you should grab a plate of this, maybe the ingredients will be: challah bread, drizzled orange crème fraîche, toasty pecans, and Vermont maple syrup. Yeah, you try to hold yourself back from that now. The thick but slightly sweet challah bread was a smart change of pace as it is inherently soft and fluffy. I think what absolutely sold me though was the orange crème fraîche because the citrusy creaminess just brings back memories of childhood.

I always want to know how exactly chefs achieve their perfect dishes so I couldn't help but pry further and ask Chef Cathy how she makes the perfect coddled eggs. Luckily for me, she was willing to share that information!
"First you start with cage-free eggs. That helps. The yolk on cage-free eggs are almost orange because the chickens eat organic and are allowed to roam. They’re happier chickens.  The yolks are really intense. When you coddle them, you just get any liquid going in a pan and any flavor profile. Crack the raw egg into the liquid. Then you cover it, and as it’s simmering, you’re coddling it. You can cook them all the way through if you want or you could just get them to the point of runny."
If you are craving some LUCCA Cafe in your life now, find the restaurant at 6507 Quail Hill Pkwy, Irvine, CA 92603. They are spectacular at all meal times and particularly excel when it comes to ingredient choice. I love how seasonal the menus are, constantly rotating so that there are new flavors and dishes to get you coming back. If you are specifically one who celebrates major holidays with brunch, then this is also the place for you. They always run great menus for Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, etc. in buffet style with some items made to order, an enviable carving station, and counters and counters of miniature pastries. Need another perk? Kids under 12 only need to pay their age (11 year olds are $11!). 

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.

NOTE: This brunch article is a part of a series that we will be running through to April, the month when the full editorial will appear with a multitude of more articles and informational pieces in the Orange County edition of LOCALE Magazine. Make sure to check stands when the issue drops so you can get the full scoop on brunch in OC!