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The Gossiping Gourmet: After the fire, Prego still hot

January 22, 2013|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Fresh pasta hangs drying in the colors of the Italian flag at Prego Ristorante in Irvine.
Fresh pasta hangs drying in the colors of the Italian flag… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

Like the phoenix, Prego Ristorante has risen from the ashes eight months after a devastating kitchen fire closed the restaurant. Chef Ugo Allesina and his staff seem very happy to be back, and so were we.

The lovely main dining area appears to be unchanged. The large high-ceilinged space is divided into four rooms separated by tall glass partitions that make each room more cozy while keeping the noise level down. Soft lighting and white linens create a pleasant ambience. Dramatic arched columns give the space a modern Italianate feel. There is also a large outdoor dining area.

The newly renovated open kitchen features a beautiful copper hood and ductwork above it. To one side is a rack covered with long strands of house-made pasta in blocks of red, white and green, representing the Italian flag. Right next to that is a display case of tempting-looking desserts.

The menu here is classic Italian, no fusion to be found. You can begin with antipasto crudo (cured meats and pickled vegetables) or bruschetta, carpaccio or burrata. If you can't make up your mind, try the antipasto misto to sample an extensive variety of tasty items, including prosciutto, cold cuts, shrimp, bruschetta, eggplant, zucchini and caprese (tomato and mozzarella salad). Warm appetizers include one of our favorites, octopus (polipo) salad with potatoes in a lemon dressing.

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We seem to have tasted a lot of pizzas lately but haven't run across one in the Genovese style until Prego. We were torn between a cheesy veggie-stuffed calzone or this pizza, which features thinly sliced potatoes, pesto and mozzarella. There is no tomato or tomato sauce, but if you must, there is tomato sauce on the table that comes with the bread service. We loved the combination of garlicky house-made pesto smeared on the crust, the excellent creamy mozzarella and the potatoes that were saturated with flavor as the ingredients melted together in the wood-fired oven. We asked for the crust to be extra-crispy and recommend that you do also.

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