Cathy Pavlos, chef/owner of LUCCA Cafe in Irvine, opened her second concept yesterday in the Eastbluff neighborhood of Newport Beach. There's much to say about Provenance, but I got Pavlos to discuss her sophomore effort, answering all those questions you're thinking. Take it away, Cathy!
What is the inspiration for Provenance?
Our culinary inspiration comes from the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. And in a broader sense, California. The quality and variety of food available right now in California is incredible. Napa Valley cuisine takes its inspiration from Italy and France; likewise, we at Provenance also take our primary inspiration from the mother cuisines of Italy and France. In addition, the cuisine of Napa Valley, and regional cuisine in general, is strongly influenced by pan-Asian flavors as well as Latin flavors. We have the luxury at Provenance of streaming pan-Asian and Latin flavors on top of French and Italian basics.
We are not a fusion restaurant; rather, we honestly deal with flavors and flavor components, as well as the cooking methodology to produce incredible results. We express our regional, California style in a streamlined, modernized way, serving food in a simple, yet elegant setting.
How does Provenance differ from LUCCA?
LUCCA will always be a Mediterranean concept; our primary inspiration comes from Italy, France and Greece, then expands outward to include all of the countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. This includes the cuisines of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. All of these countries have strong, regional flavor profiles, and give us a tremendous amount of inspiration. We learn and adapt from tradition as well as the modernist cuisines practiced in those regions. Each season, the menu at dinner is inspired by a different region of the Mediterranean.
The focus of the menu at LUCCA rotates in a counter-clockwise fashion around the Mediterranean Sea. LUCCA will always be a R + D kitchen, where we explore and experiment constantly with flavors unique to the Mediterranean. LUCCA will always feature small and larger plates for sharing. It is a flavor food lab.
Provenance takes its initial inspiration from the mother cuisines of Italy, and France as well. And like regional California cuisine, we sometimes superimpose pan-Asian or Latin flavor concepts. Provenance will concentrate on farming and the logical culinary results of farming: canning, preserving, smoking, curing and pickling. Provenance is a coursed restaurant; LUCCA is not.
Both restaurants are food labs: One concentrating on flavor and its edges, and one concentrating on culinary methodology. In this way, they both influence and teach one another.
How did you select the neighborhood?
It selected me. Seriously, though, I've lived in Corona del Mar for 30 years, and was born and raised in Orange County, so this is my stomping grounds. LUCCA is a neighborhood restaurant, and we hope that Provenance will be well-accepted by the Eastbluff community as well.
Tell us about the design of the space.
Provenance is an adaptive reuse project. We were given the opportunity to remodel the former icon restaurant Sage. The conceptual design was a contemporary Napa Valley farmhouse, porch and garden. Together with the chef, Van Rooy Design (Christine and Jerry Van Rooy) was Provenance's principal designer. Our master gardener is Kathy Agresto; her company, Native Solis, specializes in restaurant gardens.
The wood ceiling in the dining room is reclaimed barn wood from Pennsylvania. The hostess station is the chef's grandma's 1948 stove that she kept in her kitchen until the day she died. This is the same stove that chef learned to cook on when she was four years old. The wallpaper in the hallway was imported from Belgium, and based on a design from 1930. The wood frame for the patio is California Red Cedar; the golden fence was designed as an eco-friendly solution for noise reduction, as well as a vertical garden. The vertical component of our garden will grow and expand as we evolve throughout the year. The chef's table in the kitchen was inspired by the large family dining tables found in farm kitchens from northern Italy to upstate New York. Our dishware is called "Farmhouse," and it was created by World Tableware.
We hear there's a garden.
The rumors are true. Provenance will feature a menu of fresh, flavorful ingredients that change by season, and many of which will be grown in the restaurant's own 1,300 square foot organic, raised-bed garden that is open to guests to observe from our back porch seating. We also have an 80 linear foot vertical green wall that doubles the size of our garden. We are ingredient driven, and use only fresh, seasonal and local ingredients of the highest possible quality. And those not from our garden are sourced from a network of small-scale producers.
My grandfather was a commercial farmer in Huntington Beach, so I grew up eating and cooking only my grandfather's farm-raised produce, fresh fish from the docks in San Pedro, fresh fruits from family orchards in Whittier, and often proteins butchered on the farm. I learned to cook when I was four years old, at the side of my Italian grandmother, who was known to be the best cook around. In fact, that very stove greets guests as they walk into Provenance (it's our hostess station). I also spent 10 years in the local 4-H club raising horses, goats, lambs and rabbits– and my lambs and rabbits are sold commercially. All of these experiences have shaped my deep respect for the earth, and what it produces in a way that only a kid raised rural can ever appreciate.
What did you learn from LUCCA that you plan to apply (or not apply) to Provenance?
LUCCA was my first restaurant, so needless to say, we learned a lot. I now have a PhD in Restaurant Economics! The past nine years have been a great experience there, and they have prepared us to pen Provenance with a lot more confidence. That translates to being able to be more creative.
Also, with LUCCA up and running, we were able to test out a lot of our Provenance recipes at LUCCA as specials and gauge the response.
Are there plans to serve brunch and/or happy hour?
We will be serving a Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.– and let me tell you, it's killer. As for the bar, we do plan on midday bar snacks to launch in the near future, so stay tuned.
What is your best food find?
Shiso. We just planted some in our garden. It's a Japanese culinary herb belonging to the mint family that we will be muddling in our bar. It's peppery and minty at the same time! It's lesser seen in non-Asian cuisine in Orange County, and I'm looking to incorporate many of these interesting ingredients into our menus.
You're having a cheese and charcuterie plate. What do you select, and what wines are you drinking with it?
On a fantasy plate, I would select Moliterno with truffles from Sardinia, Delices de Bourgogne from Burgundy (France), and Roquefort. I love a good Roquefort from France.
For charcuterie, the Italians enjoy Culatello. It's not importable to the US, unfortunately.
They take the best prosciutto and the heart of them, and then soak them in white wine before they're cured. Delicious. I also love Black Foot Iberico jamon serrano.
I would pair them with Hitching Post Cork Dancer Pinot, for a red. J Sparkling from Sonoma, for a white.
Provenance is located at 2531 Eastbluff Dr, Newport Beach, (949) 718-0477; www.provenanceoc.com.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.