I had a little winter break to LA this weekend, and booked Lucques twice, once for dinner on Friday, and again for Sunday Supper last night. Alas, the Sunday Supper will have to wait, because I had to return to New York, but Friday's dinner was wonderful, and leaves me - as it should - wanting more.
The restaurant is on Melrose, a little bit east of La Cienega, and if you're driving there, avoid the latter at all costs, since it seems to be jammed with traffic at all times. It took me twenty minutes to get to Melrose from the 10, and since my pal was already installed at the bar, my stress levels were a little on the elevated side.
All that went away once I stepped inside the restaurant. The door-marshals instantly pointed to my pal at the bar when I mentioned my name, with the words 'you're table is ready, but if you want to have a drink first, feel free'. My kinda guys.
We opted to sit down straight away, and here was another pleasant surprise. One of the most irritating things in restaurants is the way the bar tab has to be settled separately from the food. Not here. With a wave of his hand, the barman ushered us off to the smiling charge of our Australian hostess who took care of my change-of-table request without blinking.
Our waiter turned out to be those soft-on-the-inside types who, we learned later, has worked at Lucques from the start. You could tell. When I asked his recommendation between two dishes, he gave me his opinion. What's worse than a waiter who says 'I don't really know, I never tasted either one!'? Enough to drive a hound nuts.
But not here. On to the menu. I was sorely tempted by the lamb-tartare, but I really wanted to taste the Romesco, and I'm glad I did. With flecks of Jamon, and these nutty little breadcrumbs that are famous from 'Sunday Suppers', it was a perfect, and perfectly delicious starter.
My dithering was over the fish or the duck breast. I had decided to forego the braised ribs for reasons that I have forgotten, and was focused, instead on the duck. But the crumbled potato, linked to some snapper, was turning my head (I'm Irish, after all). The waiter would have none of it. Duck it was to be.
It was fantastic. Perfectly cooked, the tiniest bit rare, it sat on a bed of braised red-cabbage, which gave it a lovely bitter-sweetness, accented by dates, no less, and chanterelles. I'm salivating as I type.
My pal chose Veal 'All latte'. There has been some activity on the Home Cooking board referring to pork and other meat cooked with milk, with mixed success. For those who doubt this method of cooking (I have never tried it meself), doubt no more. Head straight to Lucques where Suzanne Goin wrings a miracle of chemistry out of a piece of veal and a carton of milk. Being a Libran, I perennially feel that I have ordered the wrong thing when I go to a restaurant. How do women have such unerring instincts when it comes to menu choices? And so it was with this veal. As good as my duck was, the veal was in another world.
Dessert was eccentric. My pal practically broke my hand when I tried to sneak a bit of her millefeuille with some yummy looking filling and home-made icecream (she's German, which may explain the table manners). Me? Having just arrived from New York, and after three glasses of Pinot Noir, I was feeling a little heavy-lidded (and feeling a little under the cosh from across the table), so I ordered a cup of hot chocolate to perk me up. It worked, and then some. (Thinking ahead to Sunday Supper, I was hoping there would be some churros to go with it, but alas no.) Her clean plate was eloquent testimony to the yumminess of whatever was sandwiched between her mille feuilles.
Lucques is as good a restaurant as I have ever been to. None of the high reverence of a Daniel, or the noisy hipness of a Babbo. It is a cool, romantic room with cool and attentive staff. It is a place to sooth the soul, and satisfy the hunger-pains. All done with the expertise and evident applomb (or so it seems, to those of us who have read her marvellous book) of a caring, attentive, and great chef.