So my dad and I were at South Coast Plaza yesterday. And Dad was starting to grumble about his hunger. What was I to do? Luckily, Nello Cucina was nearby. And since I hadn't yet tried any of the Antonello ristorantes, I figured I might as well start now, while I'm in OC.
First off, I should make a note of the slow service we experienced today. I would usually be quite annoyed by what can be considered lack of attention, but considering this is high holiday shopping season and how PACKED (!!!) Nello was today (along with other nearby SCP restaurants), I'm just chalking it to that... And hoping next time I'm back, I'll get more attentive service.
OK then, on to the food! Thankfully, there was nothing to complain about here. The starter bread was very fresh, very soft, and very perfect for gnawing on while waiting as the frantically busy kitchen was catching up on our orders.
Eventually, our bruschetta plate arrived. And interestingly enough, the green onion actually worked! My dad commented that it reminded him of pico de gallo salsa. And yes, in a sense, the bruschetta did taste a bit like "Italianized Pico de Gallo" topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Oh, the joys of Californication!
From there, it was onto the mains. My dad ordered the "Pizza Siciliana", which meant an artisan thin crust (perfectly crispy and slightly charred outside, soft and chewy inside) topped with sliced artichoke, herbs, and mascarpone cheese. It was quite delicious! And so was my linguine con (basil) pesto, which was perfectly cooked FRESH (!!!) linguine topped with a pesto made from fresh, sweet basil and nutty parmigiano reggiano. This was fabulous, solid, delicious food that startled me.
And if that weren't wonderful enough, dessert just made me even more blissful! I ordered a crostata filled with rich dark chocolate and "built" on a buttery, flaky crust. The vanilla ice cream served alongside was a cool complement, along with the fresh strawberry.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found here. Tucked in a corner of South Coast Plaza's West Wing by the Bear Street entrance and bank of elevators, Nello Cucina may just be the best Italian restaurant I've tried so far in OC. :-)
Style: Elegant Casual
Open: Lunch & Dinner
Food: 4.8 (out of 5)
Service: 2.2 (out of 3)
Ambiance: 2.0 (out of 2)
Overall: 9.0 (out of 10)
Excellent, Worth the Detour