OC Italian Restaurants
For the most part, Orange County is a gastronomical wasteland in terms of authentic Italian restaurants. In my household it is a general rule of thumb to avoid any restaurant that has a name ending in o's (IE Maggiano's, Romano's, Peppino's et al) Also, any restaurant that has anything on the menu resembling fettucine alfredo or spaghetti and meatballs is to be avoided at all cost. These places are as far removed from the essence of Italian cuisine as is humanly possible. Italian food is not about trough-sized portions, garlic ad nauseam, and prefabricated sauces. Authentic Italian cuisine is fresh and uncomplicated. It is about taking the highest quality ingredients and showcasing the unique flavor of each one. Fortunately, it is possible for southern Californians to eat amazing Italian food out. Il Fornaio and Canaletto are by far the best Italian restaurants we have found in the Orange County area. Although they are part of a chain, we have been to many Il Fornaio restaurants and have never been disappointed. The head chef is Maurizio Mazzon, born and raised near Venice, Italy. He is absolutely the real deal, not only does he have the palate of a trained Italian chef, but he remains true to it. All the meals we have eaten at Il Fornaio or Canaletto are as good as any restaurant we have been to in Italy. While Il Fornaio has great regional menus that are served each month, highlighting the cuisine of a specific Italian region, Canaletto also offers special menus spotlighting unique dishes from the Veneto region. There is no need to make a specific menu recommendation, I am convinced that it is impossible to be disappointed in any meal in either of these two restaurants. Both have the menu online, so the best thing to do is check them out, and enjoy a wonderful dining experience. Both restaurants have a relaxed, contemporary feel. Even the music played in the background is current and fresh, no stale pop-opera. If one likes Olive Garden etc. that is a personal preference, but if one truly appreciates Italian food done the way it's intended the choice is clear. Buon Appetito!