The background voices heard from our table evoked a warm feeling of nostalgia for me. The chattering sounds from a group of Italian diners conversing in their native language – at times gentle, other times loud, but always full of laughter and enjoyment of life – had me yearning for a country that forever has a piece of my heart. I did a year study abroad program in Italy during college, and that is where I was first introduced to good authentic Italian food.
For our third Costa Mesa foodie visit, we decided to try out Nello Cucina to see how good of an Italian restaurant it is. Located in the atrium of Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza, the restaurant has an open dining area, kitchen, and bar. The restaurant’s website states, “Nello Cucina has an outdoor feeling of dining in a piazza in a small town in Italy.” I agree and think the openness provides a welcoming atmosphere for guests to enjoy.
Joining me for lunch were Kim Glen of Travel Costa Mesa and Bobby Navarro of 100Eats100Days, both major foodies in their own right. After a warm welcome and introduction from the staff, we were offered some pretty and tasty drinks. Nello Cucina has an impressive wine list and bar menu, especially perfect for the 3:00 – 7:00 pm weekday happy hour crowd.
Then came the food. Hands down, my favorite dish is the Gnocchi al Piacere, which are homemade potato dumplings with prosciutto cream sauce (as pictured above). Being a vegetarian, I had some with no prosciutto, while Kim and Bobby were happy to have my share of the much revered Italian ham for themselves. I’m not a professional food critic, but I do know good gnocchi when I eat them. These were the perfect little bites that melt in the mouth, light and savory in texture and consistency. I’ve had gnocchi at many other places where they’re not done right with the pasta usually being too firm and chewy. Nello Cucina’s gnocchi dish ranks in the top five best I’ve ever eaten. Below are some other dishes we shared.
(Left) Coffee Martini made with Kahlua, Bailey's, espresso coffee, and chocolate. (Right) The bar at Nello Cucina offers an extensive list of wine and bar menu.
(Left) Blood Frankie Martini made with blood orange, triple sec, vodka, and simple syrup. (Right) Nello's Bellini made with Prosecco, Absolut Peach, blood orange and pineapple juice.
Bruschetta alla Paesana -- toasted homemade bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, and parmigiano.
Margherita Pizza with mozzarella cheese, fresh tomato sauce, basil, and oregano. Bobby really liked the crust, but we thought it was a little salty overall.
Insalata di Primavera, an arugula salad with grilled zucchini, shiitake mushroom, feta cheese, and lemon vinaigrette. This was another favorite dish, light and refreshing in taste, perfect to offset the heavy carb overload in an Italian meal.
Trittico Adriatico -- thin spaghetti, clams, mussels, shrimp, and spicy tomato sauce. Kim and Bobby loved this dish. The pasta was perfectly cooked al dente and the sauce had the right amount of kick to complement the seafood.
Torta Della Nonna, a beautiful and delicious slice of heaven.
Kim and Bobby happily tweeting and facebooking our delicious food at Nello Cucina.
Thankfully, Nello Cucina did meet my expectations of good and authentic Italian food comparable to dishes I’ve had in Italy, especially with the Gnocchi al Piacere. And I must say, hearing the Italian diners in the background chattering away affirms the goodness of this restaurant. Because certainly, the Italians know where the best places to eat Italian, right? Thank you to Franco, Diana, and the friendly servers for a wonderful lunch.
To learn more and join in the conversation, check out Nello Cucina’s Facebook page.
3333 Bear Street (map)
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Disclosure: I was an invited guest of Travel Costa Mesa, but all opinions are my own. Join the Travel Costa Mesa Facebook page to learn more about other attractions in this city.