On a recent jaunt to Benny and Mary’s, the new fine-dining restaurant located at Irvine Towers inside the space formerly occupied by Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, I had the pleasure of overindulging on a slew of dishes by executive chef Matthew Resler: a fall-apart short rib osso buco with its bone suggestively shooting skyward, a vegan poke that uses tomatoes in lieu of tuna and a spicy tomato bisque anointed with a fried grilled-cheese dumpling.

Reviewing the menu at the end of the feast, my eye kept returning to a singular dish I had failed to order: a peppery lemon bucatini. I took a chance and ordered the pasta, one of only three on the menu, despite my stomach lining splitting at the seams.

It was worth it.

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Arriving at the table in a wide-rim pasta bowl, the creamy lemon bucatini, as it’s officially named, comes packed with strong flavors and contrasting textures. The black pepper-forward sauce uses cream to attain its silky texture. (Despite being a tip of the hat to classic Roman pasta dishes carbonara and cacio e pepe, which, when made correctly, use starchy pasta water to achieve emulsification heaven, Benny and Mary’s bucatini uses dairy to get its creamy texture.) An Italian fontina, noted for its nutty flavor and melting prowess, and grana also help amp up the lusciousness.

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The ostensibly small portion makes sense for a dish this rich; a touch of lemon acidity and an arsenal of cracked black pepper help cut through the fullness. Toasted breadcrumbs and crisped pork belly bits lurking throughout the dish provide much-needed textural contrast. And the use of bucatini itself, which rose in popularity over the last few years after a 2020 nationwide shortage of the toothsome pasta shape made headlines, gives the entire thing a pleasantly light chew.

All of this good taste comes at a price — $28 to be exact.

Benny and Mary’s is the seventh restaurant by husband-and-wife team Cynthia Vigil and Chad Reinhardt (Julep Cast Iron Kitchen and Drink, Toast Kitchen & Bar). Opening in October, the space features eclectic decor (designed by Vigil) like textured walls, blue hues, art featuring former model Jerry Hall, and an antique library bookcase. Sometime next year, Vigil and Reinhardt plan to open a speakeasy space inside the restaurant, which will be found hidden behind the bookcase through a murphy door.

Find it: 18420 Von Karman Ave. (at Michelson Drive), Irvine

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