When one thinks about the phrases "small plates" or "bar snacks", we visualize some simplistic dishes, like mixed nuts or maybe yakitori skewers. But Lucca Cafe ain't your normal tapas.
Located in a strip mall just off the 405, Lucca elevates the utilitarian Quail Hill plaza with an arsenal of cooks led by Cathy Pavlos. Her new happy hour-esque selections (they began yesterday) may include a slew of rich options, but none are quite as mesmerizing as their cured and braised crispy pork belly.
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Coddled more than any egg, its juicy layers cause us to temporarily forget about any and all other pork products. We are teased by its modest portion, gently resting on a dollop of kernel-mascarpone polenta. Finished with dried apricot chutney and a garnish of micro greens, the compounding flavors transforms any rowdy table into one where chewing and silent worship rule.
Do we move on and request a few baby lamb chops? No way.
Lucca Cafe, 6507 Quail Hill Pkwy., Irvine, (949) 725-1773; www.luccacafe.com.