Restaurant Review: Luscious Lucca!

This review originally appeared in The Portland Sentinel.

Just two nights after the thaw finally descended on Portland, I was back out in search of good eats with my holiday out-of-town guests. We were originally headed to Perry’s (home of the cinnamon roll as big as your head) but they had several large parties that night (and don’t take reservations for less than six) so we were in for lengthy wait.

Across the street from Perry’s sits a restaurant called Lucca. I ran out into the drizzle to see what this wood-fired refuge was all about and more importantly, what the wait time would be. Thankfully, I was greeted by a cheery host that said he could seat us right away.

Lucca’s dining area is chic- olive colored walls, nice clean lines, light wood tables and dark wood chairs. Across the room, a slick looking bar with purposely shattered-look, mirrored glass behind an array of liquor bottles, dazzles upon entry. Specializing in wood-fired pizza, Lucca has a beautifully tiled pizza oven from which fiery flames peek.

We started with the Anti Pasti Del Giorni (or the appetizer platter of the day)it was chock full of taste tempting goodies like gorgonzola and hazelnut stuffed figs, risotto balls, olives, prosciutto, salami and fried chevre with toasted foccacia bread. We accompanied this with a crisp cesear salad topped with housemade croutons and a lemony bite. All of it was beautifully prepared and tasted amazing. Noshing on these yummy bites and sipping on a sublimely earthy Barbera d’Alba, I was transported back to Tuscany and dinner had not yet even arrived.

Interestingly enough, Lucca’s menu is so filled with luscious delights that none of us even tried the pizza. Our table ordered the Bucatini and Meatballs (a thick style spaghetti pasta topped generously with meatballs and tomato, prosciutto and porcini ragu), Strozapretta and Duck (a twisted rope pasta tossed with a light but rich white wine, duck and pecorino sauce) and the Grilled St Helens Hanger Steak (served with rosemary-parmesan roasted Yukon gold potatoes and Tuscan Kale with onion frites and garlic butter.)

All three dishes were delicious. The pasta was obviously homemade with that tender pull that one expects in well-made pasta. The meatballs were tender and juicy with no sign of overzealous seasoning and the duck in the Strozapretta was both, generous and flavorful- decadently delectable. The hanger steak was a succulent and meaty, its sides (especially the potatoes) were soft and fluffy on the inside with a crisp outer edge, just slightly caramelized – a signature flair, I will now associate with Lucca.

The meal was so tantalizing that I found myself answering, yes, when offered a second glass (the last in the house) of that heavenly Barbera D’ Alba. At the end of evening, I floated from the restaurant sated and with a warm fuzzy feeling that carried me through the rest of the crisp cool night.

Note: Lucca is extremely kid-friendly despite its definite upscale feeling. There were tables of families enjoying their meals- the kids sipping from straws in their crayon looking cups while mom and dad dined extravagantly on gourmet offerings. I was greatly impressed with this restaurant’s ability to maintain its gourmet feel while welcoming children in a warm and bustling atmosphere that was neither a chain or neighborhood pub fare. Kudos to Lucca!