Sunday, March 25, 2007

Franco's Pasta Cucina - Irvine

Within a block of John Wayne Airport, inside one of Irvine's many banal food courts, you'll find Franco's Pasta Cucina -- the gleaming pearl in a sea of heat-lamp and chafing-dish mediocrity.

Acting on a tip whispered to me by fellow food blogger Deb of Dinner at Six, I found the man himself dressed crisply in chef's whites, presiding in a kitchen no larger than a prison cell.

With a booth plastered with glossies of the chef in younger days -- standing beside political dignitaries like Clinton and Kissinger and his arms around Hollywood luminaries like Stallone and NYPD Blue's Dennis Franz -- Franco is otherwise an unassuming gentleman within reach of his sixties, with slicked-back salt-and-pepper hair.

Although his pedigree seems more apropos to establishments with wine-bottle candles and red-checkered tablecloths, during the office-park lunch rush that occurs every weekday, Franco performs in a one-man-show which can only be described as "magic by pasta."

Up his sleeves are unexpected things such as salmon, feta, and yellowtail, which he juggles with rigatoni, fettucine, linguine, and gnocchi. Tossed in a saute pan, and coaxed by his deft hand, these disparate ingredients coalesce into masterpieces worthy of a thousand Mario Batalis.

But at $8.00 for a pasta dish, salad, garlic bread, and soda, his creations are offered for a price that won't even cover valet parking at Mozza.

An instant favorite is the "linguine with clams in a light spicy clam sauce," where generous fistfuls of the chopped bivalve is folded into a buttery concentrate redolent of sweet garlic and dotted with freshly shorn Italian parsley. Perfectly cooked linguine is then added to the mix, tossed until every inch of the noodle is sluiced with flavors of the briny deep.

This wonderful pasta dish made me rejoice that stuck with us Irvinites in food court purgatory -- amongst gloppy orange chicken and limp pizzas -- is a world-class chef like Franco, who can magically transport us to Italy, if only just until he closes up shop at 2:00 pm.

Franco's Pasta Cucina
(949) 852-4699
2222 Michelson Dr Ste 206
Irvine, CA 92612

24 Comments:

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Deb said...

I'm so glad you went (and it sounds like you are too!). The bread and salad are not top notch, but that pasta makes you forget all about them! His linguine & clams is my favorite. Now I'm hungry!

 
At 9:16 PM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

Haha! I totally know you got "bivalve" from lunch yday when I mentioned my friend hates them. :P

 
At 12:57 AM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

Wow, that description of the clams and pasta definitely sounds like that chef will give Mario Batali a run for his money! Also, I hope he soon adds a glossy up on his wall taken with the biggest celeb food blogger I know, "Elmo" of Monster Munching!

 
At 1:03 AM, Blogger Ace N. said...

That linguine and clams looks awesome. I make a pretty good one myself, but there's something unsatisfying about cleaning all those pots and pans after cooking a dish for myself. I told my friend about your reccomendation(awesome tips on the nachos and the Hawaiian barbecue, by the way) and we're having lunch here on Tuesday. I'll report back with my thoughts.

 
At 1:42 PM, Blogger Christine D. said...

Oh no, I have a weakness for pasta and I'm trying to eat healthier for spring break after eating all these comfort foods during finals. Oh well, "I'll start tomorrow! =P"

 
At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Jane said...

I've gone there several times for lunch, since it's just across the street from where I work.

The people I work with call Mario the Pasta Nazi (a la the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld). He's a wonderful chef, but he lacks somewhat in people skills... for example, someone asked for extra salad dressing. His response: "It doesn't need any extra" and he went back to cooking. Same for when someone else asked for extra cheese for their pasta.

So for the people who have yet to eat at Franco's... when you get your food, just trust that Mario has cooked it to perfection (which he has!), don't ask for anything extra, and you won't have any problems.

 
At 7:28 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Deb,

You're right about that bread (stale) and the salad (just lettuce with vinegar). But his pasta makes everything right and my tastebuds dance.

WC,

Yup, that jogged my memory for how much I love that word. I took it to excess here.

PE,

I would be my honor to have my picture up there, but then it would break the momentum of his other photos.

New Customer: "Lesse, John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, hmm...some nerdy Asian dude...who the heck is this geek?!"

Ace,

Hope you like it. As Deb mentioned above, the bread and salad are something I just tossed aside, but the pasta, oh man.

Christine,

You deserve to have pasta this good every single day of your Spring Break! Hope you have a good week off!

Jane,

I got a sense of that when I was there (for the first time). He didn't crack a smile once! But he was kind enough to wrap up my leftovers in plastic wrap.

But a question if you don't mind. Is his name Mario? Or is it Franco? If it's Mario, then who's Franco? And who is the guy in those pictures? I am sure it's definitely the same man who was cooking, but now I'm curious.

 
At 11:52 AM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

I'm so there!

Seriously. Cat's visiting her parents for the second half of the week. I'm gonna be eating out a lot. =b

 
At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Jane said...

Actually, I don't know why I refered to him as Mario. Franco makes more sense! My brain just tuned out when it came to typing his name.

 
At 5:47 PM, Blogger Ace N. said...

My friend and I split a linguine w/ clams(she wasn't very hungry at first, though I noticed she ate her fair share once the food arrived) and it was the best clam linguine I've had. Granted, I haven't had a whole lot but it was very, very good.

 
At 10:35 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

CP,

I think the food court's only open on weekdays, so be sure to call 'em up before you try it for dinner or the weekend. Too far to drive from HB though.

Jane,

So he *IS* Franco! Oh good. Also rumor has it that he moonlights at this Santa Monica restaurant at night.

Ace,

So glad you reported back! And even happier that you enjoyed it!

 
At 3:21 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

oh man, i just paid $5 for a mediocre falafel here in claremont, you're $8 deal makes me look like a chump! ;)
...if only my flight home from the John Wayne airport wasn't at 8am, I would have to stop by! :)

 
At 4:55 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

My mouth is watering. HIgh class pasta for a price just about anyone can manage? I'll take it!

 
At 8:43 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Kathy,

In fact, the pasta can be had for lot cheaper. Without all the unnecessary extras like the drink, the salad, and the bread, a pasta dish goes for aroun $5 to $6.

Juliet,

I think this will be the only place I'll go to for pasta from now on -- paying more now just seems silly considering that in our area, to have Italian means to surrender to Romano's Macaroni or Olive Garden.

 
At 10:22 AM, Blogger Just the Sous Chef said...

I recently found your Blog and I love it. I live in Irvine too and my husband and I are always on the look-out for new restaurants. I have added your blog to my faves. I especially appreciate the wonderful pics(I am an Amatuer photographer myself, haha). Keep up the good work. I am newly pregnant and your pictures make my mouth water. Your site is doing wonders for my pregnancy cravings. :)

 
At 10:39 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

just the sous chef,

Thanks for leaving a comment! I'm glad you found me. And I'm glad I'm able to stir up the good cravings, but hope that nothing I have yet to write will make you nauseous.

 
At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Franco's is extremely popular and has been for at least a few years to those of us that work around the airport.

Fanco is a little angry at times, but it's of no consequence once you taste the pasta.

 
At 8:55 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

And to think I've only just discovered him! I'll take his abuse so long as the pasta stays as delicious as they are.

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger Graziella said...

Great review of Franco's Pasta Cucina. It's my favorite pasta place here in OC. My favorite would be the linguini with scallops eventhough he doesn't make it as much anymore and I would say his pasta with meatballs is classic!

 
At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was it just Franco doing the cooking, or was there there a female cook there as well?

Cause when I went recently for lunch, I didn't get the hype at all. It wasn't bad, but there was like way too much sauce for the linguine with clams- it was basically a soup. And, I didn't get any fresh parsley flavor at all. I wasn't a big fan of the linguine itself either.

 
At 3:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i haven't seen franco cook there in awhile...

 
At 3:50 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Graziella,

Bummer. I would've liked to try what he does to scallops. Yeah, his meatballs are the bomb! Meat bombs!

Anon1 and Anon2,

You guys are right. I saw him train a woman to cook. Now I rarely see him there. Perhaps he's close to retiring. Once he came from vacation all tanned and happy...strange to see Franco so chipper...maybe he wants to be like that more often!

 
At 2:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FUCK YOU HATERZZZZ,
That have no life and sit on there lazy ass at work all day. HAHAHA. Francos pasta is probably the highlight of their week.
Whoever said the bread is, "stale" must have some mental problems. ITS TOATED, you know, with a TOASTER OVEN. hahahaha. people are so stupid these days.


Francos food is AMAZING. End of story.

:)

 
At 1:01 PM, Anonymous LovePasta said...

Visit the new website at www.francospasta.com! The food here really is amazing. They work very hard for the customer and strive for perfection. Which is what you get with every bite!

 

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