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Nice dinner at Lucca last night (Irvine) - long review

Joy | May 18, 200610:46 AM

I haven't seen much press about Lucca Cafe and Market, except to hear some complaints about the service. I went last night with a friend, and we enjoyed excellent service: knowledgeable, friendly, and timely.

While you look over the menu, they bring out toasted bread and two kinds of tapanade, made with green and black olives. Dinner is all small plates, most of which are good for sharing (although we had to cut some things in half). They encouraged us to order like tapas -- one or two dishes at a time, then see how we felt at that point -- and that worked well.

I was not terribly impressed by the Spanish meat and cheese plate, but would like to try some of the other cheeses. We both liked the wild mushroom trifolata served in puff pastry (plenty of toothy mushrooms, with a light cream sauce) and the broccoli rabe and fennel, which was delightfully garlicky (don't hold back!).

The butternut squash ravioli with browned butter and sage perfectly satisfied my craving for this standby (which was piqued and then bitterly disappointed at a different restaurant a few nights ago), and I liked the spinach on the side too.

The star of the show was definitely the grilled pork chop with corn cake and apricot-fig compote. Excellent! The corn cake was moist and chunky with corn and other bits of vegetable, with just enough crust on the outside and a distinct grilled flavor. I am notoriously picky about my corn bread, and I *loved* this. The pork was tender and flavorful, and the compote went well with it: it was sweet but not overly so. The pork left a bit of such delicious juice on the plate that when the busser asked if we wanted the plate taken away, my friend and I both intinctively reached out to stop him -- no, we were going to sop up every last drop of liquid with our bread. The only problem with this dish is that there was not enough of it: we had to cut the single pork chop in half, and half of the corn cake was just not enough. I might go back and order two of these and hog them all to myself. (oink oink)

We shared a dessert, which was plenty big enough for the two of us: an apple pastry with ice cream on top. Very good, hit the spot, but not "wow". We should have listened to the server, who tried steering us toward the brownie.

Lucca offers a good selection of wines by the glass, with 2.5 oz as well as 6 oz pours. Our server made some good suggestions, and was gracious about offering us a small taste before pouring our full glasses.

With four glasses of wine, the total came to about $115 (plus tip). Not cheap, but commensurate with the quality. I'll definitely be going back.

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