The new Oliver’s Trattoria at Quail Hill Shopping Center serves many of the dishes that its Michelin Guide-recognized sibling, Oliver’s Osteria in Laguna Beach, is known for – pastas such as chef/owner Erik De Marchi’s signature lasagna and his daily-changing risotto.
De Marchi’s cuisine at both is inspired by his native Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, but the trattoria offers more contemporary fare, such as a yellowtail-sashimi carpaccio, and adds lunch, notably wood-fired pizza. The trattoria also adds patios, catering and privateevent venues.
De Marchi lives in Irvine with his wife and two young children; both restaurants are named for his son, born the night the osteria opened.
How does your cuisine at Oliver’s Trattoria differ from that of Emilia-Romagna?
Our house-made pasta is just as I used to do with my grandma – with updates. My pappardelle coda alla vaccinara, a traditional oxtail ragu, now comes on a fondue of Taleggio cheese. Italian cuisine here has not been cutting-edge – in Italy, the cuisine has changed a lot in the last 30 years. A resident of Emilia-Romagna will recognize the flavors, and I think they would be pleased.
Is your pizza more Roman or more Neapolitan?
It is Roman and Neapolitan! My pizza is a hybrid. The edge is more Neapolitan, the center more Roman – so you get the best of both worlds. Also, if you slice the pizza in the kitchen, in the minute and a half it takes to deliver it to the table, the liquid of the mozzarella and tomato makes it wet. We cut it at the table. I believe you can have a Michelin gourmet pizza!
What pizza and pasta do you order at other restaurants?
I always go for a margherita pizza, the simplest pizza – fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil. With a margherita, you taste the dough – if you put a lot of toppings, it’s difficult. With pastas, I order a spaghetti pomodoro, a simple sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil. With spaghetti pomodoro and pizza margherita, you totally taste the sauce, you totally taste the pasta.
How would you compare the décor and presentations at your two restaurants?
The décor at the new trattoria in Irvine is more elegant, and the cuisine a bit more sophisticated – still traditional but more elaborate. The osteria in Laguna offers very traditional nonna recipes and more rustic presentations. Don’t get me wrong – we’re going to still have traditional cuisine at the trattoria, but it will be on a different level, with more sophisticated plating.
Do you have any passions other than cooking?
Hiking, reading, painting. … I used to play tennis very often. Lately, opening a second restaurant, tennis … it’s kind of a memory.