July 17, 2010
Oh my, how I do love Restaurant Week. I love the opportunity to try out new restaurants with interesting menus items that chefs are often trying out for the first time, and at a great price to boot. I also love how dessert is usually part of the menu, a treat I rarely indulge in when dining a la carte. And luckily our choice for this summer's Restaurant Week did not disappoint. After pouring through the menus of our choices, debating locations, and Erik wanting the discussion to end approximately 2 hours earlier than it actually did; we picked Luce. We were intrigued by the menu options of lamb lollipops and watermelon capresse.
We called ahead for reservations and had no problem getting them for later on a Saturday evening. When we drove up I didn't expect the restaurant to be quite as large as it was. At first I was afraid it would have too much of a big chain restaurant feel, but my worries were quickly assuaged. The building and indoor decor gave a Tuscan feel with warm colors and woods. It was really quite welcoming on the inside, despite the grandeur on the outside. We sat at a higher table close to the bar area and I was soon ready to relax and indulge.
Our drink and appetizer orders were taken and then bread was brought out. The bread tasted light and airy on the inside with a crusty and chewy crust. The oil for dipping was olive oil based with a puree of tomato in the middle. The tomato flavor was a nice, fresh accent to the oil.
(I must apologize for my pictures for this restaurant. The lighting was just not great for food pictures, so they're a bit blurry. But you'll still get the general idea.)
Our drinks came out next and I immensely enjoyed my glass of 2007 Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo's are, by far, one of my favorite wines. Erik went with a draft beer. They were out of his first choice and we can't recall what he ended up with.
For our first course I went with the grilled romaine salad wrapped in prosciutto. Wow, this was a good salad (and huge)! I had never tried a grilled salad before because I always thought the greens would take on a bitter or too wilted of a flavor on the outside, but I was wrong! And this is another reason I love restaurant week. I will often try things I wouldn't if I had the whole menu to choose from.
Erik went with the watermelon caprese salad which was composed of fresh watermelon, yellow tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and capicola topped with microgreens, sea salt, and balsamic vinegar. I would have never expected watermelon to work so wonderfully with tomato, but it did. This salad was so fresh tasting and a great balance of sweet and salty flavors and crunchy and smooth textures. Yum!
Next up were our entrees. I went with the guava barbecued beef short ribs that were paired with black bean ravioli, roasted corn cabbage, and a salsa verde. I have to admit when I read the menu options for both this entree and the lamb (listed below) I wondered if there would be too many different flavors going on that would take away from the dishes as a whole, but I was wrong. Luce's chef definitely knows what he's doing with flavor combinations. The black bean ravioli had a wonderful spiciness that melded perfectly with the fall off the bone tender short ribs. Then the guava BBQ sauce added just the right amount of sweetness while the fresh corn, carrots, and salsa verde added a bit of crunch, freshness, and salt. Bravo! The presentation was a little busy, but taste will always trump presentation one hundredth fold.
Erik had the lamb lollipops that were paired with purple chevre mashed potatoes, a fennel mustard seed saute, and a dolcetto (wine) blackberry demi sauce. The lamb was so flavorful and cooked expertly. There was no greasiness to it at all. The purple mashed potatoes added a great color to the plate, but tasted a little bland. I would have preferred more chevre to add more creaminess and flavor. The blackberry sauce was okay when paired with the lamb. Then the mustard seed saute gave a nice bite of sour to the dish. Again, I wouldn't have put all these different flavors together, but they worked well and were balanced. Admittedly, my cooking is much more simplistic and I could learn a lot in the world of flavor pairings!
Onto dessert! I picked the s'mores bread pudding. Who doesn't love the idea of a homey campfire dessert that screams of lazy summer evenings repurposed as a rich bread pudding? I thought the idea was brilliant. This dessert was composed of warm, thick, and heavy bread topped with a light and almost fluffy marshmallow ice cream. It was then drizzled with a dark chocolate sauce and sprinkled with crushed graham crackers. The marshmallow ice cream made this dish. The marshmallow added a great sweetness and lightness to the ice cream that was just wonderful. When it was served it was just melting on the edges due to the warmth of the bread pudding. I have always loved the contrast of a warm dessert topped with cold ice cream. Then crunch of the crushed graham crackers were a nice accent! I loved this dessert.
Erik went with the lavender honey cheesecake topped with a strawberry rhubarb compote. This was made individually in a ramekin rather than a slice of a cheesecake and was an interesting change. The cheesecake was creamy and rich and the strawberry rhubarb compote tasted fresh and had great flavor. The lavender and honey flavors were hard to pick up on individually. Overall, though, this was a great tasting dessert.
Overall, this was an excellent meal and we would not hesitate to come back. The chef was masterful at putting unusual flavors together to create a harmoniess and balanced dish. I will say service was on the slow side, but for us that just added to an authentic Tuscan feel and helped us make our meal more of an event to savor. However, I could see that if you were just stopping in to eat and wanted to go elsewhere afterwards this could be a turn off.
Price: 2 restaurant week specials, 2 beers, 1 glass of wine, and tip: $72
Overall Rating: 4 1/2 buckeyes
P.S. This summer's restaurant week starts today and Luce is part of it. Click here to see this week's menu. Notice the s'mores bread pudding is still included!