So I took my girlfriend out to Lucques last night for her 22nd birthday, 8:00 res. First impression, LOUD. All night long, LOUD. Prompt seating, brought their little plate of butter, coarse salt, olives, and marinated roasted almonds with the nice crusty bread. Here's what we had (and let me note beforehand that I cook for a living so I tend to go pretty far in details...perhaps to a fault. I try to be objective so when I say that something was improperly cooked, doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. It's nice for me to get out and see how other people cook)
Split the special app for the night, which was, as described, "French style white asparagus, truffle butter, bread crumbs, soft herbs" The aroma of the dish when it arrived was excellent, but it was a bit disappointing. The asparagus was improperly cooked, tender at the tip but too crunchy at the base, which leads me to believe it was simply sauteed. I find that pan braising gives more consistent cooking for white asparagus. Also the asparagus itself had very little distinct flavor, as it was quite young. I've had better from Whole Foods. I couldn't detect *any* white or black truffle flavor in the butter at all, the butter itself wasn't emulsified so it had a greasy quality to it, the dish was underseasoned, the soft herbs turned out to be chervil, parsley, and a bit of chive. (I would have gone the extra distance, added tarragon, and elevated "soft herbs" to "fines herbes") They also lightly garnished it with what appeared to be black onion seeds, which I enjoy and they should have showcased that in the description.
Second apps were the scallops, black rice, english peas, carrots, gingered tangerine for me, wild mushroom, dandelion greens, soft herbs, manchego, hazelnut salad for her. The scallops were cooked very well, a little light on flavor for me, the rice was overcooked, the english peas were small, I'm not sure where they got them, but I prefer the big, beefy english peas, carrots were overcooked. Would have been nice to have actual tangerine segments, all I found were two little chunks about the size of a champagne grape. Dish was swimming in butter (this would be a consistent theme all night, more on that later), but the flavors were pretty solid, *almost* there. My girlfriend's salad was good. Baby greens, mushrooms were flavorful (out of the couple bites I had, I found chanterelles and trumpets) manchego was nice, but unfortunately lost for effect because again, it was very greasy and buttery. The manchego should have been the richness in the dish, not a pool of unemulsified butter.
Mains were the suckling pig with sweet potato, baby spinach, quince jam for me, and the grilled pancetta wrapped trout, fennel, sorrel, verjus, and crushed grapes. Hers was quite quite good. Fish was perfectly cooked, very nice job on the grill marks, well seasoned, the flavors paired very well with each other, the burst of the errant grape was a welcome shot of tart sweetness to cut the richness (yes you guessed it, more freakin butter) The fennel and sorrel were very young and light in flavor. Now, my pig...was a bomb! And I do mean that in a bad way. Dry dry dry, I could tell as soon as I cut into it, it was piping hot, all the moisture just shot out in a burst of steam. Reheated far too hot. The almost candied crunchy skin on top was nice, as was the quince jam, the flavors paired well together, as did the textures. The sweet potato was very soft, and was probably reheated in a pan with the spinach and about half a stick of butter. The flavors were all there, but if they had used to some of that butter to reheat the pig, layed off the butter on the potato/spinach, pulled the pork at 140 instead of 300, then we'd be in business. The pork was so dry that I couldn't finish it (A big deal for me...big eater!), it was stringy and flavorful, probably shoulder or butt, and both of those are very possible to serve moist.
Desserts were the crema catalana "con dulces i garrapinadas" for me and the apple bread pudding for her. Incidentally we each loved the other person's desserts more than our own. Both were quite good, but I was partial to her bread pudding, very excellent texture and flavor, and the maple sugar ice cream rocks (I'm a huge maple fan). The crema catalana had a lustrous texture, I'm not quite sure how it's made but it seems like it's whole milk that's thickened *just* enough so that it doesn't collapse at room temperature. Gelatin? Arrowroot? not sure. Very delicate, tasting of oranges (with a nice candied orange peel on top). It was accompanied by a couple cookies and a date filled with frangipane. Coffee was brought out too soon and was cold by the time dessert came, and was a little weak (so hard to get good coffee in restaurants...)
I brought a bottle of '01 Alban Viognier, and at first I was bummed out because I noticed they had it and thought I wouldn't be able to open mine...but theirs was the '02. (at 65 smacks, too. I picked up the '01 for 24) I couldn't have been happier with my choice, initially wanting a full bodied dinner wine that would pair well with seafood and lighter items (we pretty much knew in advance what we wanted to order). Little did I know that the viognier was going to save the night, it was crucial for cutting through all that butter and had the apple/pear fruit notes that enhanced a lot of dishes.
My final notes are these: The service was excellent. Water and wine was continuously refilled, more bread and olive/almond/butter/salt was brought when we finished the first batch, silverware was quickly reset. The floor staff was on last night. Too much butter. It's just not necessary. The product should shine through preparation. Too much butter dulls food, and when you start to feel heavy only halfway through the meal, something is wrong. A personal annoyance of mine these days is the use of baby veg over fully mature veg. Let's see, younger veg has no flavor, requires very attentive cooking and falls appart more easily. Mature veg has more intense flavor, and is more forgiving to being overcooked. I know I know, baby arugula just looks so cute when it's sprinkled around a plate, but I want flavor! I want intense, peppery, earthy greens, beet greens, mustard greens, full grown arugula is a beautiful thing, so use it! It's all in season right now. The pig was a big flop, for a restaurant like this...
tax and tip (corkage was waived, maybe because my boss is friends with the owner...) and it came to 155, what I consider very reasonable. Despite my picky criticism I did thoroughly enjoy the night (which is all that matters right?), and after that much rich food and a nice bottle of wine, excellent friendly service, good company, the assurance of being in bed (with said company) in a couple hours, one can't help but still walk away with that happy, buzzy, sense of euphoria. I wouldn't go back, as I have too many other places to try, my standard of comparison is still Water Grill...my night there was like finding nirvana...
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