Tony Monaco, chef-restaurateur of such Orange County spots as the Blind Pig and the Trough, didn’t have to look far to find space for his newest restaurant. His upcoming Italian eatery, which will open late summer/early autumn, can be found in Irvine next to the Trough, the noted chef’s sandwich shop.

“I wanted to do an Italian spot and I thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute, there’s a place next door,’ which I thought would be a cool opportunity,” Monaco said.

Monaco Italian Kitchen, as it shall be christened, will be an Italian restaurant with dishes near and dear to the Italian-American chef’s heart. Pastas and Neapolitan pizzas will be featured heavily on the menu with sauces and doughs made from scratch daily.

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“I sent my chef’s out to Naples who took professional pizza-making classes to learn traditional Napoleon-style pizza,” he said.

Monaco, who, along with his team, toured Italy last year, studied regional foods and techniques from across the country, all of which he brought back home. His culinary excursion will result in a menu tied to Italy but with his own signature twists. While the menu will be strictly Italian, it won’t be one hundred percent traditional.

“We took a little bit from everywhere we went, trying to study the country as a whole,” he said. “You’ve got to know tradition before you break it.”

Highlights like fresh-baked focaccia, burrata plates, steak tartare, arancini, whole roast branzino, steak Florentine and rack of lamb will appear on the menu, which is still in its working stages.

Measuring roughly 4,000 square feet (3,100 for the interior and an ample 1,000 for the patio), the new space will invite guests to dine inside and out with pitstops to the bar area being an option for diners who want a more casual experience. Monaco says he wants his new eatery to be more jovial than your typical red-sauce joint.

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“One of the things that I really want with this restaurant is to have a lively, fun atmosphere,” he said. “A lot of times at traditional Italian restaurants the food is great fun, but it just isn’t somewhere you want to hang out and have fun. You dine over a white linen tablecloth, stuff yourself and then go home.”

The addition of an expansive patio, which will act as both bar and dining area, will help bolster a more boisterous atmosphere, as will his award-winning bar program.

Located just off the 405, Monaco Italian Kitchen will open inside Centerview’s Eighteen Main restaurant complex, which includes Izakaya Osen, the Goldfinch and the Trough. Monaco, who opened his first restaurant at the age of 25, owns restaurants in Anaheim and Rancho Santa Margarita.

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