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New Davio’s Delivers Superb Italian Experience

After three decades at its location on Von Karman Avenue in Irvine, Prego Ristorante closed in February 2017 and moved to The District at Tustin Legacy late last year.

Now a new Italian restaurant has opened in to the old Prego space: Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, a popular East Coast Italian steakhouse created by chef and restaurateur Steve DiFillippo.

It’s the brand’s first West Coast location, and probably not the last.

The 10,000-square-foot restaurant boasts 257 seats and offers private dining spaces and an outdoor patio. The space is elegant, with high ceilings and two distinct sides—a bar area with comfortable booths, and a formal dining room with white tablecloths and an 11-seat chef’s table.

I visited Davio’s for lunch two weeks after it opened and sat on the bar side. There’s a regular lunch menu, and a three-course Power Lunch menu offered weekdays for $25 per person. I opted for the Power Lunch, which includes soup or salad, choice of three entrees, and dessert.

I’m normally not a fan of starter salads, as they can be rather bland, but this one sounded good: watercress, roasted squash, wild mushroom, goat cheese and herb vinaigrette. Much to my surprise, the salad was a fantastic mix heavy on the mushroom and squash. A sprinkling of pine nuts added texture.

Entree options included pasta with butternut squash and sage brown butter; Scottish salmon with creamy spinach; and prime filet medallions and broccoli rabe. When in Rome, eat pasta. And the pasta was heavenly, the sage brown butter and squash coating it and pleasing my palate.

Dessert was a triple chocolate cake with fresh fruit, a decadent end to a rather decadent midday meal. The Power Lunch, which changes from week to week, is a terrific value and guaranteed to get you in and out in under an hour.

I returned to Davio’s several days later to try the dinner menu, which lists a variety of pastas, steaks and seafood dishes. However, an unusual selection caught my eye. Tucked between the antipasti and the insalate options, five flavors of spring rolls are listed: Philly cheese steak, chicken, buffalo chicken, shrimp cotija, and Reuben.

My server, Thomas, explained that the chef at the Philadelphia Davio’s made spring rolls for the staff meal, and that they were such a hit, he added them to the bar menu. They proved equally popular with diners, so they were added to the regular menu at all locations.

I ordered the sampler platter—two of each—and quickly discovered why they’re so popular. The tasty treats came planted in individual pools of sauce to match each flavor. A fun and different way to begin a meal.

Then it was on to the entree. Again, I stuck with pasta, but this time went for something a little more exotic. Whenever I see squid ink pasta listed on a menu, I have to try it. This version was squid ink conchiglie with Maine lobster, garlic chives and lemon butter.

The pasta made with squid ink was a perfect match for the lobster and lemon butter. I savored the generous pieces of the shellfish and the pasta, making sure that each forkful was drenched in the lemon butter.

A dessert cart was then wheeled to my table. Seven choices were presented along with a bottle of limoncello. I went with a glass of limoncello and the panna cotta, a lovely conclusion to a lovely dinner.

Kudos to the Davio’s staff. The service is attentive without being overbearing, and my server was knowledgeable on every dish. I observed the choreography when nearby tables were served, and marveled at the professionalism. But then maybe it’s not so surprising, since DiFillippo—whom I met during lunch—wrote the book “It’s All About the Guest.”

At Davio’s, it’s indeed all about the guest.

In addition to lunch and dinner, it offers grab-and-go options 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

18420 Von Karman Ave., Irvine 92612, (949) 477-4810, Davios.com/irv

Fishin’ for Food

What’s in your tackle box? For Chef Brian Huskey of “Top Chef” fame, there’s plenty. Tackle Box is the beachside restaurant in Corona del Mar he opened three years ago, and he recently parlayed its popularity into a second restaurant, Tackle Box at The OC Mix in Costa Mesa, in the space formerly occupied by Iron Press.

Huskey has an impressive pedigree. He was chef de cuisine of LA Prime at Westin Bonaventure Hotel and executive chef of roomforty, and was part of the opening team at Fig and Olive in West Hollywood. He spent three years with the Patina Restaurant Group’s Cafe Pinot and helped open Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts as sous chef.

I met up with Huskey last month at Tackle Box’s Costa Mesa location to try several dishes and find out what he’s doing and why.

“Most restaurants, you have to be there for an hour, the way the food is coursed out,” he told me. “Here, the idea is you can be out of here in 20 minutes if you need to. The Tackle Box brand is something for everyone. We are more than fast-casual. The execution and quality consistency is equivalent to going to ARC or Pueblo,” two other offerings at SOCO Collection and The OC Mix.

I asked Huskey what he tells first timers to try, and he pointed me to the buffalo cauliflower, a delicious alternative to chicken wings. However, I was intrigued with the Cali cheesesteak with ribeye, crispy onion, jalapeno and white American cheese. It’s a riff on the classic Philadelphia version. Huskey takes thinly sliced ribeye and cooks it with yellow onions melted in butter. He emulsifies the cheese to create a pan sauce, so there are ribbons of cheesy goodness in the beef. The beef concoction is placed in a potato roll toasted with clarified butter and garnished with crispy jalapenos and onions.

One bite of the cheesesteak, and my eyes glazed over. It was a “wow” moment that catapulted my taste buds into orbit. The house-made chips that accompanied the sandwich were warm and crisp.

Tackle Box offers an array of salads, snacks, sandwiches and burgers. I’ll be back soon to try more dishes, including the Korean BBQ burger, which he said has become his most popular item after the cauliflower and cheesesteak; it’s available only at the new location.

3321 Hyland Ave., Ste. E, Costa Mesa 92626, (714) 486-3301, Tackleboxoc.com

Holiday Wines

Thanksgiving is coming, and Christmas isn’t far behind. For me, that means it’s time to think about which wines to bring to the holiday dinner table. As the unofficial wine expert in my family, I’m counted on to bring good ones.

But which go well with which holiday foods?

For the answer, I consulted one of the most knowledgeable wine guys I know: William Lewis, partner, general manager and sommelier of The Winery restaurants in Tustin and Newport Beach.

For Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, he told me he likes the basics—a medium-dry Riesling or pinot noir, which can stand up to savory stuffing. He suggests starting with champagne, which gets your palate ready for what’s to come.

Dining at The Winery for Thanksgiving? Lewis has a 2015 Babcock Santa Rita Hills pinot noir on his list for $55, which I think is a steal. Or up the ante and splurge on a Twomey Russian River pinot for $140.

One wine I usually bring to holiday dinners is Beaujolais nouveau, a French wine released annually on the third Thursday of November. It’s made from Gamay grapes picked in the Beaujolais province of France, bottled just weeks after harvest, and meant to be consumed young. It has a bright, juicy, fruit-forward mouthfeel and goes well at a Thanksgiving celebration.

My favorite French bistro, Moulin in Newport Beach, imports cases of Beaujolais nouveau—usually the classic Georges Duboeuf brand—and sells it for $12.95 per bottle.

Bistango in Irvine is also celebrating the arrival of Beaujolais nouveau from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 16. The French-themed celebration includes special menu items to pair with the 2018 vintages, plus live entertainment.

Bistango will pour three Henry Fessy Beaujolais for the evening: Beaujolais Nouveau La Goulue, Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 3 Visages, and Beaujolais Villages Nouveau Vieilles Vignes.

The Beaujolais nouveau will also be available for retail purchase.

Moulin: 1000 Bristol St. N., Newport Beach 92660, (949) 474-0920, Moulin.com

Bistango: 19100 Von Karman Ave., Irvine 92612, (949) 752-5222, Bistango.com

Lobster for Turkey Day

And finally, no Thanksgiving would be complete without lobster. At least that’s what Bluewater Grill in Newport Beach believes, which is why it’s bringing back its traditional holiday celebration, “Stuff the Lobster Instead of the Bird.”

The festivities kick off on Nov. 13 with a tasting event featuring a whole Maine lobster filled with shrimp and buttery panko-crumb stuffing and served with choice of New England or Manhattan clam chowder; two sides; warm sourdough bread; and a Bluewater bib for just $40. That includes glasses of Sauvignon blanc by Oyster Bay and St. Supery.

Can’t make it on Nov. 13? The stuffed main lobster dinner, minus the complimentary wines, is available the rest of the month and all of December.

I go to the special Tuesday stuffed lobster tasting every year, so maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the one in the bib.

630 Lido Park Drive, Newport Beach 92663, (949) 675-3474, Bluewatergrill.com

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