Brio Tuscan Grill, an Upscale Macaroni Grill?
The Irvine Spectrum has gone through some major changes by expanding their footprint into former parking lots; one of these new restaurants is Brio Tuscan Grille.
If you are thinking that this a second location of Brio Tuscany Grill, in Dana Point, you are wrong. The only similarity is in the name. If you think this is fine dining, you are also wrong. Brio Tuscan Grille is a restaurant chain with 103 locations across 32 states. Brio Bravo’s website calls their concept “upscale affordable restaurant.”
The Brio Tuscan Grille occupies a brand new building at the Irvine Spectrum Center. It was built on the former valet station by Yard House. The interior is fancy with high ceilings, stonework, faux finish and marble chandeliers. The interior reminded me of The Cheesecake Factory, with an Italian flare.
Service was standard chain restaurant efficient, friendly but slightly impersonal. The premium is around the efficiency of delivering food with the standard waiter and expediter combo. The menu format is Italian, although it is more than just pasta.
There is an emphasis on grilled meat and traditional dishes like Milanese and bruschetta. My overall impression is that Brio Tuscan Grille is a slightly fancier and more expensive version of Macaroni Grill.
What we ordered at Brio Tuscan Grille
Roasted Garlic, Spinach & Artichoke Dip
The dip is made with a combination of garlic, spinach, artichokes and topped with broiled parmesan cheese. I personally thought that this dip was a little sub-par, as it was thin, oily, and the flavor fell flat.
I would not recommend this appetizer, go with the calamari or bruschetta instead. The biggest issue that I had with this dish is that the parmesan crisp flat bread tasted stale, as if it was made a couple days ahead. We discovered that the complimentary table bread was more suited for the dip as it could soak up the oily texture. $11.45
Pasta Fra Diavolo
The Pasta Fra Diavolo was perhaps when of the best dishes that we tasted that night. Campanelle pasta is tossed with a spicy tomato cream sauce, creating a nice balance of spicy and acidic. Our friend Peggy, added shrimp to the dish. The shrimp added some sweet umami flavor layers and broke up the constant spicy tomato sauce flavor. $18.95 (with shrimp).
Compart Farms Duroc Pork Porterhouse
A porterhouse cut is just fancy speak for pork chop. The porkchop was cooked to medium, per the Chef’s recommendation. The pork chop was tender and had decent flavoring, although it did not rank on my top ten pork chops that I have tasted.
This pork chop tasted similar to the Macaroni Grill preparation. When I took my first bite from the center, I was thinking that it could be juicier. This dish is served with mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes and topped with arugula. $20.95
The Chicken Milanese is essentially their version of chicken parmesan. Two small chicken breasts are coated with bread crumbs and baked until crispy. The chicken is topped with melted mozzarella cheese. The chicken is served atop pasta and pomodoro herb sauce. We all agreed that this was a good chicken parmesan preparation, although for $20.35, it was a little expensive.
Desserts were the truly exceptional part of our meal. We tried the dessert trio, which offers a sampler sized portion of three of their desserts. The sampler includes:
Creme Brulee made with Tahitian vanilla beans and a nice caramelized sugar crunchy top.
Carmel Mascarpone Cheesecake made with a nice does of mascarpone, giving the cheesecake a nice creamy texture, topped with anglaise sauce and whipped cream.
Butterscotch Pecan Bread Pudding was soft and sticky, perhaps my favorite of the three. It was topped with vanilla bean gelato and anglaise sauce.
My Final Thoughts About Brio Tuscan Grille
Brio Tuscan Grille could be a good experience, just expect a “Upscale Affordable” chain restaurant experience. Except for the artichoke dip, there was nothing technically wrong with Brio Tusan Grille’s food. The food was good, but not exceptional. Expect mass production food that has been analyzed to death in order to shave 10 cents per portion. Some restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory have mastered this art, but Brio Tuscan Grille has not.
Expect the pasta dishes to cost on average $17, specialty meat dish averages $21, and steaks run in the high $20’s. The food quality is just slightly higher in than Macaroni Grill, although you can expect about a 20% price increase for that difference. The difference that you are paying for is the fancy building at the Irvine Spectrum. I recommend my readers give it a try if you are looking for a family style Italian restaurant that feels a little higher end.
Brio Tuscan Grill Location
618 Spectrum Ctr Dr, Irvine Ca
Phone: (949) 341-0380