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Dishes Worth the Drive: CUCINA enoteca and ARC Food & Libations

For this month’s dishes worth the drive from L.A. to Irvine, we decided to spotlight a delicious Italian restaurant and a scintillating steakhouse.

CUCINA enoteca

Urban Kitchen Group

Our first stop for this week’s dishes is Italian restaurant CUCINA enoteca, part of the Urban Kitchen Group (UKG). “Urban Kitchen Group was founded by Tracy Borkum in 1995, one of Southern California’s most influential restaurateurs. [She’s] a highly regarded trailblazer and strong female voice in a predominantly male-driven industry,” says Cesar Sarmiento, chef de cuisine of CUCINA enoteca in Newport Beach and Irvine. “Her dynamic collective is credited with helping to blaze a trail for the emerging hospitality progression in San Diego and Orange County. Today, UKG’s multi-faceted full-service restaurants double as all-in-one wine shops and retail destinations, where everything from curated design items to award-winning wine selections are available for sale.”

The Irvine location is a spin-off of UKG’s flagship restaurant, CUCINA urbana, the San Diego location that opened in 2009. The Irvine location opened its doors in 2011, followed by Del Mar in 2013 and Newport Beach in 2014. “CUCINA enoteca’s core values craft the perfect dining ‘trifecta’ to offer guests exceptional food and superior service in imaginatively designed environments,” says Sarmiento. Sarmiento described CUCINA enoteca, the Irvine location, as “a modern kitchen, which is focused on creating dishes that bring together the seasonal bounty of Southern California while serving up new interpretations of Italian fare. At CUCINA enoteca, we’re inspired by the cultures around us, from Middle Eastern to Asian and Spanish, and we infuse a bit of those flavors into our Italian cuisine.”

In terms of which dishes we’re recommending specifically, the first is the Beet & Citrus, which consists of grapefruit, pickled kumquat, mâche, chili granola and labneh. “[The] O.C. is really a melting pot of cultural influences, and our menu is inspired by that. In the Beet & Citrus you’ll find eclectic ingredients used such as a Middle Eastern cheese called labneh and a chili nut crunch influenced by Hawaii and commonly used in poke, mixed with local area citrus such as grapefruit and kumquats. Our goal is to take these regional influences and create inspired dishes that take on a familiar Italian form,” says Sarmiento. The mixture of these flavors together really makes this dish worth the drive from Los Angeles.

CUCINA enoteca

The second dish is the Squid Ink Linguini, which consists of muscles, clams, shrimp, fennel soffritto and arrabbiata. “Squid Ink Linguini showcases the fantastic abundance of seafood we have in our own backyard, tied in with a bit of Spanish influence with the aromatic fennel soffritto,” says Sarmiento. “Each week, our team visits the farmers market in Santa Monica to source as many ingredients as possible from regional area producers.”

As someone who’s not a huge seafood eater, this squid pasta makes me rethink my food preferences because of how delicious all of this seafood is when put together. “Beet & Citrus Salad and the Squid Ink Linguini are two dishes that…perfectly define the versatility of CUCINA’s menu,” says Sarmiento.

We couldn’t agree more.

ARC Food & Libations

From Italy we move onto a steakhouse with a twist. ARC Food & Libations has delicious meat and a great atmosphere that definitely makes it worth the drive from L.A. Arc is a “wood-burning American steakhouse and craft cocktail bar with on point ambiance and service,” says co-owner Marín von Blöm (Marín’s husband is the co-owner and chef, Noah von Blöm). “The restaurant is dark and sultry, with scintillating fire at every turn. The perfect first date spot, we evoke dirty, sexy happiness.”

ARC Food & Libations first opened in February 2013. Since then, Chef Noah has received many awards, including best chef and best pastry chef in Orange County from the Orange County Register. The two dishes we’re recommending are definitely great examples of the quality that has won Chef Noah these awards.

Marin von Blöm

The first is the Arc Burger. Sure, there are many places to get burgers in L.A., but what makes this burger worth the drive over you ask? “The Arc Burger is a 16-ounce patty that is ground sirloin, whipped duck fat and bacon lardon,” says Marín. “The patty is seasoned with garlic and herbs. [The burger contains a] house-made potato cornmeal crusted roll, topped with red oak tossed in roasted garlic vinaigrette, pickled Fresno chilies, shaved red onion, heirloom tomato and a choice of Roquefort bleu cheese or Hook’s 10-year aged cheddar. It is a massive burger!” Aside from the sheer size of the burger, the combination of these ingredients together really tantalizes the taste buds and makes this burger worth the drive from L.A.

The second dish is the Butcher’s Love Steak. Again, there are many places that offer delicious steaks around L.A., but Arc’s steak is fairly unique. “The Butcher’s Love is a 2 1/2 pound trussed ‘butcher’s cut’ with zero fat, just perfect marbling,” says Marín. “It is the outside loin of the ribeye, trussed and filled with herbed butter. We hard sear the outside of the steak to get the perfect crunchy crust and then the interior of the steak is butter-poached. It is served on a huge redwood burl board with our duck fat potatoes, wild mushrooms and seasonal veggies.” I’m a huge fan of steak, especially ribeye cuts, and the zero fat and perfect marbling of this steak makes it incredibly tender and definitely worth the drive from L.A.

Stay tuned next month for four new dishes that are so good they’re worth the fight in traffic from L.A. to Irvine!

CUCINA enoteca, 532 Spectrum Center Drive, Irvine; (949) 861-2222, urbankitchengroup.com/cucina-enoteca-irvine.

Arc Food & Libations3321 Hyland Ave., Suite F, Costa Mesa; (949) 500-5561, arcrestaurant.com.