Lucca Cafe: small plates, big taste

Lucca Cafe, crispy pork belly
Oh yeah! This week, and any week’s obsession, Lucca Cafe’s Own Cured and Braised Crispy Pork Belly, on a bed of corn kernel and mascarpone polenta, topped with a slather of dried apricot chutney: the sticky sweet apricot is the perfect foil for the crisped porcine richness and creamy polenta wraps each bite with a silken finish. I’m hot just describing it! My fellow food writer Anne Marie declares “compounding flavors transforms any rowdy table into one where chewing and silent worship rule”, and that, my friends, is the “occasional indulgence to drool over” that I refer to (see sidebar).

Obviously, you know from the title that said dish can be had at Lucca Cafe which, lucky for us, is located in a typical shopping center in Irvine, conveniently accessible from the 405 freeway. Lucca Cafe is redefining happy hour and bar food every day of the week from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. with their Bar Snacks menu. Small plates continue to be popular – they’re easy on the wallet and guests are able to experience many different dishes and leave full and satisfied. Enjoying them in a European-type bistro like Lucca is the perfect way to end a hectic day or set the tone for the rest of your evening.

Lucca Cafe, charcuterie, bresaola and arugula

Bresaola hand rolls | poached pears, baby arugula, balsamic reduction, lemon creme fraiche

All of owner Chef Cathy Pavlos’ menus are based on the use of healthy and high quality ingredients, such as certified Angus beef, free-range turkey, hormone-free chicken, wild salmon and locally grown organic produce. The idea behind the small plates is to let the creativity talents of chefs in the kitchen shine, so the menu changes weekly and reflects the changing seasons and the best of the local markets.

Lucca Cafe, burrata

For me, the Giao burrata in a basil pesto bath, drizzled with balsamic, accented with a single sublime roasted tomato, epitomizes the quality of their sourcing – surpassing many housemade burratas I’ve experienced.

Always important: The bar features more than 30 wines by the glass, with a choice of 2.5-ounce or 6-ounce pour of wine for $5 to $14. Lucca’s European bent carries through to the wine list where 2/3 of the wines are of European origin and 1/3 domestic. From 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. they have special wines by the glass for $6.00 and imported and microbrew beers, $4.00 – $6.00.


Other highlights of the menu on this night:

 Lucca Cafe, tempura sand dabs, fennel slaw

Tempura Sand Dabs  |  Fennel slaw

Lucca Cafe, New Zealand lamp chops, lamb lollipops,

New Zealand lamb chops  | cumin and cinnamon scented, mint/parsley yogurt

Lucca Cafe, crab stuffed shrimp, shrimp wrapped in prosciutto

Crab-stuffed wild jumbo shrimp  | wrapped in prosciutto, fiery sauce

Lucca Cafe, blue cheese tart

Blue Cheese tart  | gorgonzola, cippolini onions in agrodolce, port wine reduction

Lucca Cafe, short ribs with red wine

Angus beef short ribs |  braised in balsamic and red wine , yukon mash, horseradish creme fraiche

The entire menu is priced from $5.00 to $8.00 – an unbelievable bargain, especially considering this is not your usual simplistic bar fare. Before leaving, treat yourself with dessert from the regular dinner menu; like the Italian Affogato – one scoop of handmade vanilla bean ice cream with a double shot of Lavazza espresso, fresh whipped cream and chocolate chips:

Lucca Cafe, affrogato

or this decadent LUCCA Brownie warmed in a skillet with locally made goat’s milk ice cream and fresh berries. Can I get a second “Oh yeah” ?! 

Lucca Cafe, brownie sundae




6507 Quail Hill Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92603
Tel: 949-725-1773






11 Responses to “Lucca Cafe: small plates, big taste”

  1. sippitysup March 16 at 8:17 am #

    What a meal! GREG

  2. patty March 16 at 10:26 am #

    I’m headed south for the blue cheese tart! I actually am headed south, we have to talk because I would love to meet and dine with you;-)

    • Priscilla March 16 at 11:05 am #

      When, when?! We definitely have to get together – emailing you now :)

  3. Nami | Just One Cookbook March 16 at 10:40 am #

    I wish I knew this restaurant when I was there in January! That pork belly itself is worth the visit!

  4. Suzanne March 16 at 6:38 pm #

    The dessert always has me, but the rest of the food looks great too.

  5. Lisa March 17 at 1:20 am #

    I LOVE small plate dining, as long as there’s a lot of small plates in front me! THESE words are heaven ‘Cured and Braised Crispy Pork Belly, on a bed of corn kernel and mascarpone polenta, topped with a slather of dried apricot chutney’. I’d need at least two plates. OMG. Everythig at this place sounds amazing. Are they thinking of opening one up anywhere in the NYC metro area? 😉

  6. Lisa March 17 at 1:20 am #

    Ooops..forgot to add my URL to the above. Just wanted to make sure you knew it was me LOL

  7. Everything looks amazing! The dessert looks over the top, but the lamb chop sounds delicious too! I need to visit California!!!

  8. Jean (Lemons and Anchovies) March 17 at 8:49 am #

    I agree with Greg, what a meal! I would have enjoyed each plate here but I can’t stop looking at the pork belly. My eyes are sort of stuck there. :)

  9. Terra March 17 at 6:55 pm #

    “Oh Yeah!” I love that they used goats milk ice cream on the that decadent brownie:-) Beautiful! Hugs, Terra

  10. Magic of Spice March 20 at 10:36 am #

    Did you say Happy Hour? :) Looks like a fabulous small bites menu!

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