Inventive Italian at Alessa by Chef Pirozzi

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Once in a great while, a city is lucky enough to have a restaurant that everyone loves. A restaurant whose fan base spans generations, appealing to families, couples in the throes of young love, and even those hard-to-please locals. Along Forest Ave. in downtown Laguna Beach, that place is Alessa by Chef Pirozzi.

For the last 11 years, Alessa has been the site of countless birthday and graduation dinners -- the kind of place people come to celebrate special occasions of any kind. “It feels like you’re in somebody’s house,” says owner Chef Alessandro Pirozzi, who also owns Salerno by Chef Pirozzi (which is more intimate, “like you’re in somebody’s dining room”), and Pirozzi Corona del Mar

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Alessa is action-packed, compared to the “more old-school” Salerno which is just blocks away on Beach St. 

From the moment Alessa opens for lunch to the time they close, fresh focaccia bread and dozens of Italian specialties are devoured by satisfied guests who love the array of pastas. 

“We make them everyday, seven days a week,” Pirozzi explains, noting that certain dishes, like the lamb pappardelle, are braised slowly for 16 hours. 

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For those who have never been to Alessa, Chef Pirozzi recommends the “Limoncello” pasta that he invented himself. Limoncello-infused radiatori, surrounded by pieces of calamari, shrimp, in a Pinot Grigio sauce, it’s fresh, colorful, and perfect for someone who wants a light meal.

Not a fan of seafood? Try the “Zucca,” a sharable ravioli dish, stuffed with ricotta cheese and butternut squash, topped with a brown butter sage sauce so extraordinarily delicious, you’ll definitely be asking for more bread to sop up all that’s left on the dish. Or perhaps you’ll enjoy the Olive Fritte (fried olives filled with fontina cheese) and a serving of the Venison Salami, made and imported directly from Italy. 

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Of course it wouldn’t truly be Italian without pizzas. Built for two people, Chef Pirozzi suggests the Pizza Di Parma, made with homemade mozzarella (yes, you read that correctly), ricotta, prosciutto, and topped with a nice mound of fresh arugula.

To end your amazing Italian dinner, Alessa’s desserts are a must-have. Make sure to leave room for a light and fruity ricotta cheesecake or Chef Pirozzi’s favorite: the homemade salted caramel gelato. (Honestly, you’ll probably want to just order both.)

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Victoria Kertz is a journalist and co-founder of Third Street Writers in Laguna Beach. She covers food and travel on Instagram at @orangecountess.

Photos by: Grant Puckett.