- Food and Cooking
Portofino Italian Restaurant in La Habra CA - Review / Menu / Hours / INFO
If you're anything like me, on more than an infrequent, fleeting occasion, fine authentic Italian Cuisine is the only irresistible key capable of unlocking the edible partition that lies between your natural taste sensors, and a delectable palate pleasing dining experience. So if this world renown Northern Mediterranean culinary desire and preference is an inherited trait or simple "Amore Di Italia" passion we have in common, a choice that is unquestionably shared by a vast majority of the global community verses any other ethnic specific food, you are more than welcome to join me as we continue our exuberantly entertaining appetite satisfying quest to uncover, identify, explore, and accurately document the very best restaurants in Southern California and beyond. The following in depth segment revolves fortuitously around "Portofino Italian Restaurant" in La Habra, an establishment which opened its "Roman" themed double door entry to welcome its very first customers and serve its very first eagerly prepared entrée over two decades ago. "Portofino Italian Ristorante", located on West Whittier Blvd., approximately two short miles east of Beach Blvd in the City of La Habra and adjacent to the low key, affluent community of La Habra Heights, which is geographically snuggled somewhat sparsely amidst a small, scenic grouping of typical Southern Californian rolling hill formations in the mild upper elevations, is an exquisitely designed and decorated fine dining establishment that offers a moderately extensive menu consisting of several ethnic specific choices that are sure to satisfy almost all preferences and ages.
From delectable bedrock traditional favorites such as "Spaghetti & Meatballs" or other closely related marinara based and creamed tomato pasta entrees', to rustic Northern Italian mainstays like hearty "Chicken Toscana", an entirely original take on an extremely popular dish, and other common poultry, beef, and pork selections, it appears as if Portofino aims to please its customers by providing nicely portioned food at a relatively reasonable cost, (Albeit some entrees' might be considered a little pricey especially if your eye wanders away from the house "Specials"), ambitiously served up within an inviting atmosphere that simply exudes "Roman Empire" style "Romanticism" and "Touch of Class". A successfully administered delicate balance between the distinct essence of La Habra and a mini excursion to the culturally magnificent and unrivaled city of "Rome" from the very moment you step inside. A sense of true Italian spirit, appreciation for the finest of Italian cuisine, and simple passion for everyday life will engulf your very essence.
"My unabashed passion for experiencing everything and anything "Southern Californian" led me fortuitously to "Portofino Italian Ristorante" - I enthusiastically entered the front door with an insatiable appetite for mouth watering Italian Cuisine, a healthy dose of impartial, open minded, objective evaluation intent, and tempered, exuberant expectations for an established eatery I had previously dined at in the distant past, yet had not revisited in many years" -
LOCATION - Portofino Italian Restaurant is located on West Whittier Blvd. in the city of La Habra, conveniently situated at the base of the prestigious La Habra Heights residential area where high end multi million dollar homes, southwestern style haciendas, and luxurious estates majestically adorn the hillsides - A partial, somewhat obstructed distant view is possible from the parking lot - See "Virtual Driving Directions/Map" Below -
The exterior of Portofino is reasonably well maintained and typical Mediterranean influenced landscape design, which consists predominantly of Indigenous lush green date palms accompanied by a multi colored splash of impatien flowers, adds an appropriately classic accentuating touch as you approach the restaurant and are greeted viscerally by adorning Italian statues who seemingly appear to escort you without the slightest of gratuity expectations, through the wooden double door entry. The overall character of the interior design, and to a lesser degree exterior makeup, is a heart felt attempt at recreating an authentic "Roman" influenced theme coupled with "Multi Regional" Mediterranean and universal undertones. The seamless integration of the two distinct styles, combined with a subtle essence of traditional Northern Region Tuscany touches in both physical attributes and robust authentic menu choices, should be enough to satisfy even the pickiest of architectural connoisseurs.
Although the entire establishment is self contained and contiguous with one common roof supported by brick and mortar connecting construction from front to back, one of the non inherent, artificially manufactured unique charms of Portofino's is the multi segmented interior floor plan and layout design that includes several "Sub-Rooms" or "Banquet Rooms" within the buildings overall general structure which provides guests a distinct option of choosing a smaller, more intimate setting for dining, or be escorted to the moderately more spacious main room. A choice which is of course subject to availability. Once seated, look up toward the cielo to find sky blue decor accentuated with sparse fluffy white clouds. After a hearty Italian meal, many guests venture into the charming cocktail bar, which is located just to the left of the front lobby entrance, to extend the duration of an enjoyable night out.
> MENU / PRICES / DINING
In keeping with my unbridled passion and traditionally un-tempered, insatiable appetite for Italian Cuisine, my pre-arranged intention had been to personally indulge myself in several main dishes as to acquire an accurate culinary "Feel" for the Chef's preparation style and overall quality of the cuisine (Take out containers were of course in the offing for unfinished portions). Entrees' included the "Tuscany Chicken" - Meatballs & Focaccia" - "Angel Hair Pasta & Pesto" (One of my personal favorites served with fresh chopped prosciutto, an Italian style bacon, a choice of which can occasionally be found on the "Dinner Special Menu" for a very reasonable $8.99 ) - "Pepperoni Pizza" - "Stuffed Shells" - "Penne Pasta" - And the list unfortunately for the calorie balancing diet, goes on. Several dishes are served in concert with a choice of soup (Typically lentil or minestrone) or salad, and warm Italian bread that is baked to perfection and delivered in a traditional basket. Nothing too fancy just hearty, plain, miniature loaves retrieved fresh from the oven and walked without request, to your table. Some of the specials also include a small scoop of chilled spumoni or vanilla bean ice cream, or other flavor of the day which turned out to be a nice way to cap off the meal.
The lunch and dinner specials are reasonably priced considering the quality and somewhat liberal portions served, however, the regular non discounted menu, including recommended specialty dishes, cannot be touted as inexpensive nor an incredible value by any measure, yet surely not excessively over priced for a nice night out at an Italian restaurant of this caliber. A moderately diverse menu consisting of steak, chicken, pasta, and small yet appetizing selection of seafood choices are represented and cooked to taste, and from the moment you're seated, the entire family should have a relatively easy time selecting an appetizer or two in commencement of the dining experience.
After carefully considering and weighing all essentials of which I personally find critical elements which can either make or break a premier dining experience, any or all of which may indeed differ demonstrably from your culinary criteria, I've subsequently decided Portofino provides a very desirable mainstream, ethnically themed environment conducive to a charmingly quaint night out. However, be advised, if your eyes stray away from the discounted menu specials, the overall experience can and usually does, quickly evolve into a wallet or purse draining event, especially if a class of wine or other cocktail is married to the meal.
> PARKING / ACCESS
Access to Portofino Italian Ristorante is seamless and essentially effortless via Whittier Blvd. The parking lot appears to be more than adequate to accommodate even the most robust of dining crowds on the busiest of nights. Although, if two or more private parties, wedding receptions, or corporate gatherings are scheduled simultaneously on any given Friday or Saturday evening, which is certainly not out of the question, finding a parking space in a timely fashion can be somewhat of a challenge and circling the lot multiple times to find an available slot might be in the offing. However, unless the stars precisely align to create extraordinary circumstances such as previously mentioned maximum capacity booking, which can result in an unusually potent surge in patronage and respective vehicle traffic, the spacious lot located contiguously from the side of Portofino and wrapping all the way around to the back of the building, which in my estimation would easily be measured at roughly half the size of a football field, should provide more than adequate room for safe, non-eventful maneuverability and an abundance of choice parking slots. Approximately four designated over sized disabled spaces are situated to the side of the building and immediately adjacent to the main entrance for easy parking and convenient restaurant access.
> LIVE ENTERTAINMENT / VINCENZO "VINNY" - Sept 2011 thru 2012
While the restaurant has presumably hosted its fair share of entertainers in the past, the owners, according to exuberant accounts articulated by customers, several of whom I had the distinct opportunity to engage in brief yet enlightening conversations, were indeed very fortunate to have had the chance to sign an invaluable Orange County treasure like Vincenzo "Vinny". An extraordinarily gifted and accomplished Pianist who has maintained longevity as a low key, extremely humble, aficionado mainstay in the Southern California area for nearly a half century while simultaneously entertaining legions of locals and visitors alike with his beautiful gift of piano playing magic. Those of whom frequent Portofino's have been treated to the distinct pleasure of watching him grace the baby grand and in typical maestro like magical fingertip sweeps across the ivory keys, effortlessly perform a literal myriad of classical standards mixed harmoniously to near perfection with hand picked seasonal and modern selections. His natural talent, passion for his art, and desire to share this melodic gift with the world, cannot be understated and is immensely appreciated by all audience members whom he has touched, both young and old. Although presumably he would not acknowledge nor totally accept the term "Iconic" Orange County figure to describe himself, he is, according to the words of admiration from loyal fans, unquestionably the quintessential celebrity/musician well worthy of the acclaim and recognition he continues to receive.
With deep ancestral roots firmly planted in Southern Italy just Southeast of Naples, Vincenzo brings his proud heritage along with just the right touch of perfectly volumed music splendor to the restaurant bar and dining areas without subjecting customers to boisterously loud vocals or excessively amplified sound. Vincenzo, simply yet masterfully, plays all the classics that precisely fit an Italian themed ristorante without self adulation and indulgence in exceedingly high decibel levels nor overly flamboyant theatrics. Just an inherent dedication toward playing everyone's favorite ethnically influenced songs coupled with generic, universally acclaimed favorites and silver screen blockbuster soundtracks from the 1930s thru present is his forte'. Glitz, glamour, extravagance, and excessively flamboyant "showbiz" productions are not in the offing, however, a top notch, elegant, moderately paced, easily palatable, and ingeniously delivered diverse selection of arrangements specifically tailored to please all musical tastes while complimenting a romantic dining environment, is performed to near perfection each Friday and Saturday evening by "Vinny", a lifelong Pianist who has been entertaining legions of loyal fans from coast to coast for decades. The schedule is subject to change however, Vincenzo will continue to offer his unique musical ability and talent to select venues in the Southern California area.
In addition to his previous, short term, limited group of engagements at Portofino, Vincenzo augments his busy musical schedule with exclusive, intimate, 1 to 2 hour live performances at various assisted living and retirement venues situated throughout Orange County. A continuous tour stretching from Laguna Hills to Cypress California, where he continues to bring his elegant style, natural talents, and genuine love for music which is translated beautifully through his piano craft, to those of whom could use more than a little spiritual boost. Vincenzo played a series of limited Friday and Saturday evening engagements at Portofino from September 2011 thru January 2012, and I've been informed, may return in the future for additional encore appearances or extended calendar of dates if and when scheduling and other pertinent factors permit.
<> Cuisine / Menu Selections - B to B+
<> Prices - C+ to B+
<> Service - B+ to A
<> Parking / Access - A to A+
Although the regular menu pricing outside the "Specials" umbrella could realistically be considered an exercise in discretionary indulgence for the average customer, some of the entree' portions combined with complimentary sub-courses such as soup, salad, and bread basket, are reasonably sized for the price and conceivably a respectable consolation. I was pleased to find the cuisine fresh and seemingly prepared skillfully with an abundance wholesome ingredients that had not been shelved for an extended period of time prior to use, and attentively incorporated by a capable chef who is apparently not of full Italian descent according to literature easily accessible in the main lobby of Portifino. However, if I had not been drawn to this fact subsequent to reading the very informative piece which briefly summarizes the history and current offerings of the restaurant, odds were extremely favorable I would have assumed otherwise. On the contrary, when it comes to authentic Italian Cuisine and the preparation of certain traditional recipes, there is a small yet insistent demographic whom would prefer an ethnic specific dining experience in its totality when patronizing an authentic Italian Restaurant, from entrance to conclusion and right on down to intricate details such as décor and ambiance. So if a rigidly strict, non negotiable preference is your unwavering prerogative, I would suggest you still give Portofino the benefit of a doubt and give it an initial try to determine conclusively first hand, if indeed the cuisine is demonstrably distinguishable in comparison.
With that said, and my personal Portofino dining experience in the rear view mirror, I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself all the way through despite a small list of minor issues which had been previously addressed, and or, will be in the coming paragraphs. From the diverse selection of basic pasta and marinara oriented entrees', to the small scoop of spumoni ice cream spooned and cradled in glass cup for desert, right up to the brisk, efficient, timely service topped off exquisitely by the soothingly delightful, beautifully orchestrated and performed candlelight entertainment provided by Pianist extraordinaire "Vincenzo (Vinny)", which added an exceedingly rich and savory touch of musical elegance to the overall experience. A memorable highlight of the evening for me.
Although a more extensive fresh seafood selection would presumably be welcomed with opened arms and respective palate by patrons whom prefer an Italian twist on deep salt water delectables such as Wild Halibut, Sea Bass, Ipswich Clams, New England Lobster, and possibly even sweet, savory Alaskan Snow or King Crab, many of which are standard mainstays of many genuine Italian restaurants, the Tilapia, Salmon, and Scallop Pasta dishes should sooth all but the most demanding of ocean fare appetites. After walking through the interior, north to south and east to west, I noticed the entire restaurant is very compartmentalized and in my opinion somewhat overly partitioned in physical appearance which creates the distinct reality and or visually noticeable illusion of a somewhat cluttered, closed in, and possibly even for some customers who are sensitive and or susceptible, a slightly claustrophobic sensation. A personal observation which in translation essentially means, if you prefer a segmented, quasi private, non crowded feeling, or even sheltered experience, any number of rooms within Portofino, each of which display a uniquely individual character and or feel, would presumably be a precise fit with your ideal or envisioned visual scheme of a comfortable experience. However, even though the restaurant is relatively large in terms of square footage, and the ceiling in several areas is raised above the normal height, a wide open, single room, spacious and airy atmosphere is not in the offing so be prepared for the minor adjustment if this is an important consideration.
I had arrived with somewhat elevated expectations and fortunately the majority of elements which are critical aspects that must be either met or exceeded for me to render a positive recommendation, were met without exception, and I can say with a modest degree of confidence and conviction, despite minor issues and or concerns I had uncovered as a result of my information gathering journalistic induced dining experience, Portofino Italian Restaurant in La Habra, which straddles two county borders, is indeed one of the very best Italian Restaurants in North Orange County/Los Angeles County California.The food is good, the portions are reasonable, the overall ambiance is elegant and authentic appearing but realistically calls for comfortable, informal, casual dress while the interior design exudes a moderate degree of sophistication accentuated with sporadic "Roman" period pieces, synthetic marble edifices, and exquisitely crafted Italian décor and flare. In my opinion, if you are anxiously anticipating a casual or romantic candlelight evening engagement or luncheon affair rich with fine food, charm, and charisma, despite slightly higher than average costs, I'm reasonably confident you will find Portofino Italian Restaurant to be more than satisfactory with its passionate delivery in all crucially important fine dining defining categories.
Portofino Driving Directions:
- 651 West Whittier Blvd.
- La Habra Ca 90631
- (562) 690-1765
- Lunch: Mon - Fri 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM
- Dinner: Sun - Sat 5:00 PM - Closing
* Additional Portofino Offerings - Wine Tasting Wednesdays - Banquets - Catering *
T H A N K S * F O R * V I S I T I N G <> I Sincerely Hope You've Enjoyed The Experience <>
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