Event - Peeking at Prego Ristorante's Spring Menu

When a fire broke out in Irvine's Prego Ristorante in 2012, regular customers and dedicated restaurant staff members worried greatly about the restaurant's impending closure. The immense damage shut down the popular Italian restaurant for some time but it soon opened again, serving up its excellent cuisine prepared by Executive Chef Ugo Allesina. The flames did not dampen the spirits of anyone involved with the restaurant from the diners to the staff members, many of whom have been fiercely loyal to the business since its opening in the late 1980s. I personally did not know the restaurant prior to the fire but had visited soon after it reopened, pleasantly surprised at how such a gem of a place was not more buzzed about in the Orange County food scene. Their housemade pasta impressed, and the desserts delighted. We came back for a peek at the spring menu upon invitation and enjoyed not only the company of the vivacious chef but also of hosts and owners Tony and Ruth Bedi who purchased the restaurant in 2009 (but left the menu the same and still under the guidance of Chef Ugo).

We begun the early evening with assorted appetizers from bruschetta to cheeses to cured meats. These paired amicably with Sofia Blanc de Blancs, 2012 and were indulged in in the back patio area of the restaurant. Walled in with glass dividers from the corporate buildings that surround Prego, the patio gave a great view out to the fountains and a great view in for those who were employed in the buildings and could use a go-to for lunch or Happy Hour. There are several rooms available at Prego to be reserved for special occasions including a charming, well-lit space right in the bakery that assuredly gives diners a peek into the busy world of the pasta dough-making kitchen. It had a rustic feel to it as you would sit right at the countertop and peer into the kitchens. The restaurant itself is vast and well-serviced.

After sating early hunger pains with appetizers, we sat down to enjoy the first course - Asparagi Delizia (grilled asparagus wrapped in Parma Prosciutto finished with shaved Parmesan, organic greens, and truffle oil) paired with La Moto Pinot Grigio, Veneto 2011. The duo of green and white asparagus played a fun contrast as one was sweeter and both were crisp in their own way. The arugula worked perfectly in its bitterness with the aspargus; the saltiness of both the Parmesan and prosciutto complemented each other well. We then moved onto my favorite from the evening, the Risotto alla Sovazzese (Arborio rice, porcini mushrooms, Fontina, and fresh herbs) paired with Zorzon Pinot Grigio, Friuli Venezia Giulia 2011. The intensity of porcini carried through, and we relished in the umami of the dish. Creamy and slightly, pleasantly tacky in texture between the tongue and the roof of my mouth, this risotto could easily also be noted as one of my favorite all-time dishes. I especially enjoyed how a large and fragrant spring of rosemary stuck into the risotto upon serving was able to impart its fragrance throughout the dish despite being removed prior to the first bite.

Last of the savory dishes was a true treat that derives from Chef Ugo's very own small hometown village and is typically reserved for holidays (mainly Christmas). We had the Cotechino e Lenticchie (Allesina homemade Italian sausage with white wine served on a bed of stewed lentils and whole grain mustard sauce) paired with Elle, Primitivo, Puglia 2010 and experienced a different preparation style of Italian sausage. These particular slices had been boiled and thus were softer than expected of Italian sausage, nearly meatloaf-like. Slightly salty and flavorful from its seasonings, the sausage paired well with both the seemingly curried lentils and the tangy whole grain mustard.

The night was wrapped up in a similar fashion as our dessert with every part being delicious separately but also fantastic rolled together. The Tronco ai Cioccolati (puffed pastry filled with white and dark chocolate mousse served with creme anglaise and raspberry sauce) paired with Patron XO cafe was a symphony of flavors that maintained a light air. I did not feel stuffed after each bite though I must have been; the mousse kept the dessert airy but decadent and the sauces lent what heaviness they could. I especially loved the delicate inclusion of raspberry which sweetened the load without overtaking the tastes. What an enjoyable evening.

If you are interested in checking Prego out, the restaurant can be found at 18420 Von Karman Ave, Irvine, CA 92612.

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

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