Since living in Rome, Italy in 2008/2009, my husband Tim & I have found it difficult to go out for Italian meals here in Southern California. Not because the Italian food here isn’t good. But, somehow it’s just not the same. It’s hard to put into words exactly why – all I can think of is that somewhere along its trans-Atlantic, trans-continental journey, much of the Italian cuisine we’ve experienced since moving back to California has felt like it’s lost some of its ‘soul’ by the time it reaches us here on the West Coast of America. That was how we’ve felt for the past couple of years… until August 12th, when we found our senses magically transported back to our favorite Roman neighborhood restaurant by the talented, and very soulful, Chef Cathy Pavlos of Lucca Cafe in Irvine, CA.

Chef Cathy Pavlos: Executive Chef & Owner of Lucca Cafe in Irvine, CA

Dining in Italy is about so much more than just the food itself. Granted, the food is phenomenal, but it’s also about the experience. To me, it’s about gathering around a table with family & friends, relaxing, taking your time, enjoying good wine & good conversation and savoring every bite of course-after-course of fresh, seasonal food. And the food is gorgeous & not overly-complicated – ‘less is more’ – the produce & meats are allowed to shine & speak for themselves, and the flavors dance over your tongue as you feel warm, happy & alive.

I hadn’t felt this way since dining with our family at our favorite local neighborhood ristorante, ‘Sora Rosa’, around the corner from where we lived in Rome. But, that all changed at Lucca Cafe this month. Chef Cathy Pavlos & the team at Lucca host a once-a-month family-style Sunday Supper that is everything Italian dining is supposed to be & more. Long family tables, four abundant courses, large platters of beautiful, locally-sourced seasonal food, wine flowing, the chef interacting with her guests… It is truly Paradiso!

Beautiful, locally-sourced, seasonal foods are a key to what makes Lucca Cafe‘s Sunday Suppers so amazing. These are the men behind the magic! Left: A.G. Kawamura of OC Produce | Right: Dave Samuels of Ingardia Bros. Produce

August’s feast was entitled, “My Sunday Picnic with Alice: Sunday Supper inspired by Alice Waters.”  Known as ‘the mother of American Food’, Alice Waters is the owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA and is famous for her use of organic, locally-grown ingredients. Chef Cathy’s Sunday Supper Menu reflected this mentality, showcasing local produce at its finest paired with California wines.

Below, feast your eyes on a taste-through-photos of what we lucky diners at the August 12th Sunday Supper were fortunate enough to enjoy. And then be sure to follow Lucca Cafe on Facebook & Twitter, and sign up for the Lucca Cafe Newsletter, to stay on top of the latest Lucca news & to learn about upcoming Sunday Suppers. Buon appetito!

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Lucca Cafe Sunday Supper: August 12th, “My Sunday Picnic with Alice” inspired by Alice Waters | Right: Eggplant Caviar
Stuffed Cage-Free Eggs
Left: Tangent Paragon Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Edna Valley, CA | Right: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Marinated Beets & Stefano Burrata Cheese
Housemade Bacon Yorkshire Pudding Popovers served by Chef Cathy Pavlos of Lucca Cafe, Irvine
Sweet Corn Soup getting a swirl of Roasted Sweet Pepper Puree
Chef Cathy Pavlos presents her Sweet Corn Soup with puree of Roasted Sweet Peppers
Sweet Corn Soup with a puree of Roasted Sweet Peppers
Left: Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Viognier 2009 | Right: Fresh-Baked Zucchini Bread
Left: Consilience Santa Barbara Syrah 2010 | Right: New Potato Salad
Left: All-Natural Halal Chicken Cooked Under a Brick | Right: Glazed Purple Carrots
Chef Cathy Pavlos presents her All-Natural Halal Chicken Cooked Under a Brick
Left: Grilled Pork Rib Eye Steaks accompanied by Green Beans with Marjoram | Right: All-Natural Halal Chicken Cooked Under a Brick with Glazed Purple Carrots
And, for Dessert… Baked Farmers’ Market Peaches with Handmade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream & Alice’s Oatmeal Currant Cookies