Begin with a comfortably hip ambiance, add modern interpretations of popular Italian dishes, cool cocktails, a fabulous wine list of California and Italian varietals, and a healthy dose of fun and, violá, you have the makings of a memorable time with family, friends, and/or colleagues at North Italia!
One look at the oooey gooey cheesy goodness of the White Truffle Garlic Bread ($11) swathed in melted mozzarella and grated grana padano and topped with a generous dollop of luscious house made ricotta, and you know you’re in for a special treat!
As soon as you enter North, you’ll be smitten by the open contemporary space warmed with reclaimed wood and pops of crimson along with artfully placed decorative plants and walls of windows that bring the outside in for a feeling of alfresco dining even when seated indoors. The friendly vibe and buzz of conversations peppered with laughter further assist you in settling in for a deliciously fun time.
Always thirsty, I liked how filtered water is immediately brought to the table. Service is friendly, knowledgeable, and pleasantly attentive. First things first – a refreshing cocktail to quaff while perusing the enticing men of Italian specialties. The Sicilian Margarita ($12) with Gran Centenario añejo and Solerno blood orange was calling my name and my friend decided on the Milano Mule ($11) – North’s Italian take on the classic Mule is spiked with a dash of aperol. Cocktails change with the seasons and are crafted with fresh squeezed juices and house made infusions, priced from $11 to $14.
Besides the killer White Truffle Garlic Bread that I can’t stop looking at, we selected the Grilled Cauliflower ($12) from the Small Plates for its abundance of vegetables and because it had an egg on it! The cauliflower, asparagus and romanesco had a lovely grilled smokiness with flavor further enhanced by a subtle saltiness from pancetta cream and bright acidity of lemon and, of course, that rich coating of lush egg yolk (optional, if you’re not into the runny egg thing).
Grilled Cauliflower | fried egg, baby asparagus, romanesco, toasted breadcrumb, pancetta cream, lemon
North’s wine list is divided into Whites, Old World (Italian) Reds, and New World (California and Oregon) Red varietals. Very few restaurants offer such a wide variety of wines by the glass and, especially noteworthy, is that guests have the option of ordering these particular wines (listed on the lunch and dinner menus) by the glass, a terzo which is one-third of a bottle, or by the bottle.
The menu is divided into Small Plates, Salads, Pizzas, Pastas, and Mains. With just two of us dining, we had a difficult time deciding which dishes would represent the best that North has to offer. Of course there has to be a pasta, especially knowing that all North’s pasta is made in house, and the Squid Ink Mafaldine sounded intriguing. I always look for fish on a menu for diners (like myself) seeking lower calorie, lower carb choices, so we went with the Grilled Branzino. For a third dish, we ordered one of the most popular items on the menu – the Bolognese (house specialty) with meatballs. To pair with our hearty entrees we selected two Italian reds – a full-bodied, robust Super Tuscan and a velvety, well-balanced Piedmontese Nebbiolo (the key grape in the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco). When in Rome….
The Grilled Branzino ($29) is an excellent choice if you want to keep it light or as the fish course to round out a family style meal. Served butterflied and deboned, the fish is delicate and perfectly prepared with cipollini onion, fennel, broccolini, and farro tossed in butter and lemon bringing loads of flavor and texture to what could easily be a boring dish.
The Squid Ink Mafaldine ($22) with its tangle of ruffled black ribbons of pasta is a stunner. Fresh White shrimp and calamari are tossed in acqua pazza (poaching liquid), along with mint, fennel pollen and Calabrian chile resulting in a hearty dish with layers of flavor, a bit of spicy heat, and a vibrant orange color that makes the squid ink pasta pop.
If there is one barometer of taste and authenticity among Italian restaurants, it has to be their meatballs. At North, you can enjoy the tender beef meatballs ($12) as a share plate with grilled bread to sop up all the scrumptious marinara sauce, in Spaghetti and Meatballs ($17) with a traditional tomato sauce or, for meat lovers, added to North’s specialty Bolognese ($19) for double the pleasure.
Pleasantly sated, I couldn’t imagine ordering dessert, instead preferring to enjoy a digestif in the Italian tradition. The bourbon-based Amaro d’Amici ($14) caught my eye earlier and I happily sipped on it while my friend with a higher metabolism than I satisfied his espresso, caramel, chocolate gelato craving!
My only regret is not ordering a pizza to try, but that just means I’ll have to return, and soon, because I’ve heard that their Neapolitan style pizzas are the real deal and they don’t skimp on toppings!
North Italia boasts solid, well executed Italian cuisine with everything made in-house each day using the highest quality ingredients and fresh seasonal produce. Add great cocktails, service, and ambiance and you have a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience. Located in a busy center occupied by Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Mother’s Market near UCI, parking will be your biggest challenge. Fortunately, the center offers valet services for a reasonable $4.
2957 Michelson Drive
Irvine, CA 92612