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Jan 17, 2001 02:16 AM

Cafe Lucy, Napa

  • m

What should I have for lunch?

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  1. Melanie,
    I'd never heard of Cafe Lucy, so I called and talked with Lucy. She's very nice. You may already know all these facts, but for general knowledge, here's the scoop.

    Food is Fr. bistro style (but a little "lighter")
    Lucy is, in her words, a "home cook" rather than being
    trained at a culinary academy.
    She has done catering and ran the Chimney Rock cafe.
    She is from Berkeley (THAT sounds good)
    They are putting an emphasis on seafood.
    They have wine and beer, and have wines from small
    wineries and European wines.
    Open for lunch 11 to 3, Tue thru Sat.
    Open for dinner 5:30 to 9:30, Thurs., Fri. and Sat.
    They do everything in house, including breads.
    Address is 1408 Clay St. between Jefferson and Franklin

    When asked what you should have for lunch she suggested
    the lamb sandwitch with a homemade curry sauce and
    flatbread, a caramelized onion tart, a tomato fennel

    This sounds like a "must". Thanks so much for mentioning it.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Ann

      Ann, you are amazing! What great service!

      This will be my first time there, and my friend is excited to share one of her "finds" with me. We're just sorry that we'll have to go back to work afterwards and probably can't partake of what I hear is a very good wine by the glass program.

      I'll report back.

      Many thanks, Melanie

      1. re: Ann

        Cafe Lucy is indeed a "must", Ann, your chowhound instincts were spot on. We were lucky to have a bright sunny day. We were able to sit outside this petit bistro in downtown Napa with our shades on and pretend that we were on vacation. No chance to explore the wine list this visit, unfortunately. But my dining companion is a wine writer and we had a field day sharing our impressions of our food.

        Lucy may be a home cook and her menu descriptions sound simple, yet there is a subtle bit of spice here, a textural interest there which set her cooking apart. Ordering was easy - we went with the suggestions you passed on from Lucy.

        The tomato fennel soup had chunks of vegetables with a topping of pesto. The housemade wholewheat bread served with it had a tender crust and a spongy texture that reminded me of the Moroccan bread that we used to get at Mamounia. It was just right for dipping and soaking up the soup. At first the soup seemed too tart, but everything came into focus and balance when the two were combined.

        The lamb sandwich was offered as a half order, which was more than enough for lunch along with a cup of soup. A chewy round of grilled flatbread was topped with thick slices of medium-rare roast leg of lamb. My only negative criticism is that while tender, the lamb would have been easier to eat if the slices were thinner. A pile of dressed winter greens, gingery pear chutney and a delicate mince of sautéed provençal vegetables on the plate offered contrasting and complementary flavor accents. What sounded like a simple sandwich was reconceived in more complex detail.

        The Stilton and onion tart was transformative too. The crust was soft with a cake-like crumb rather than flakey. The creamy filling was so well-integrated in flavor we would have been hard pressed to tell you what was in it, other than that it was absolutely delicious and beautifully balanced. A side of salad greens completed the plate.

        For dessert we tried a the polenta nut cake. This was a big wedge of dense and moist sponge cake that was barely sweet served with a compote of winter pears and whipped creme fraiche. The nuts and cornmeal gave this an interesting sandy mouthfeel. Again, perfect balance of flavor and texture.

        We decided that Lucy's signature is the seamless swathe of flavors, nothing out of place. There's such a sense of harmony in her dishes.

        We asked our server, who was very warm and helpful, about Lucy and learned that not only was she the cook but also the decorator. Lucy made the tablecloths and painted the detailed interior - this cafe is her creative expression and a labor of love. Our server talked about the emphasis on team work and pointed out the "Cafe Lucy commandments" painted on the wall in the restroom. These are reminders to the staff of the power of team work and her mission of service. More than platitudes, these values show through in the food and Cafe Lucy experience.

        Thanks a bunch for the scoop, Ann. I had printed out your post to bring to the restaurant with me, and left it behind with a note of thanks to Lucy. I received a nice e-mail from her in return.

        If I were local, this would be my regular hang-out. With its location down valley, it's a perfect stop for a light early dinner for day-trippers headed back to the Bay Area after a day of wine-tasting.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Thanks for reporting back about Cafe Lucy. I was
          wondering. Sounds so great, and I'm happy for Lucy
          since she seems so nice. I can't wait to get there!
          With your wonderful critique, I won't waste any time!
          Thanks for taking the time to describe the dishes.
          (My quality of life has improved since dicovering this
          P. S. Have I told you we share your love of Stony Hill?
          Also, have you had the '97 Mayacamas Sauvignon Blanc?

          1. re: Ann
            Melanie Wong

            Ann, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Cafe Lucy is casual and cozy. I wanted to describe the dishes in detail since my friend and I had dissected each one thorougly. Yet, it almost does a disservice to Lucy because her dishes have such an integrate core and harmony, they shouldn't be picked apart.

            Ah, the old Stony Hill wines. I love Mayacamas too (link below), although the Sauvignon Blanc is a rarity and i haven't had the 97 yet. The 1970 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon may be my all time pick for best California Cab --- we opened a magnum NYE '99 and it hasn't hit peak yet.


            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I enjoyed the dissection of the dishes! Sounds like you have pretty well developed taste buds, as well as skills that have probably been honed by constantly tasting wine and good food (life's greatest revenge).
              I would think Lucy would be flattered with such descriptions.

              I should have mentioned that we have not only had the
              '97 SB but it's maybe our all time fav. Ca. SB. I
              thought of it because it's so close to a Fr. style,
              in our opinion, as is the Stony Hill Chard. Especially
              compared to other Ca. SBs. (We prefer leaner whites.)
              And I thought you might have enjoyed it as much as we.

              Also, I perhaps should 'fess up that the Travers are
              friends. That, however, is not why I mentioned the wine. I think they are sold out anyway. We have lots of winemaker friends since we live in the midst of Vine Land, but do not choose our favorites for any reason other than our palates. Actually, they know we often enjoy those European competitors. Hope that keeps me free of suspicion of "shilling". I'd hate to incur the wrath of those in charge. I'm probably already on the verge with my common name. Guess I'd better be thinking of something clever to call myself.

              1. re: Ann
                Melanie Wong

                Thank you, Ann. Some meals invite more contemplation, and this was one of them, even though the surroundings are more homey and not haute cuisine. Lucy e-mailed a note of thanks for the last post, I hope she'll feel comfortable enough with time to post here.

                So you live in Napa Valley? I've been spending a lot of time over there, eating in downtown Napa more than on my side of the mountain recently.

                It would be nice if you could come up with a more distinct handle. I only know it's "you" by your e-mail address and I make a mental connection to Ann de Food! Just adding a last initial would be easy.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  We finally made it down to Cafe Lucy for dinner last
                  night and were not disappointed. My husband has been raving about it since. He was impressed with the wine
                  selection and the food. They were pretty busy so it's
                  obvious the word is out.

                  The menu was ambitious for a small cafe and the wine
                  list included some of our favorite French bargins
                  as well as California bottles like Luna Pino Grigio.

                  We asked the waiter to give us some choices of red and white to compliment our meal, and chose the Saint Veran
                  which was perfect.

                  We managed to polish off the calamari salad, the caramelized onion and Stilton tart (one of the best morsels ever tasted), the cold fresh tuna Nicoise entree, the mustard crusted salmon, AND a lovely lemon tart with a fresh berry garnish and a dollup of whipped cream on the side, obviously whipped with a whisk to just the right "Creme Chantilly" consistency. You were right about her crusts. So delicate, they melt
                  the moment they hit your tongue. She is quite a baker.

                  I had forgotten to ask that my salmon be cooked medium
                  rare, but it still came out moist...perfection, really.
                  It was served over a bed of yummy sliced potatoes which were were loaded with flavor (they must have been an heirloom variety ), creamy soft but still holding their shape. It was topped with a crust of dijon mustard
                  blended with what appared to be parley and maybe other herbs. I would have asked, but she was really busy.

                  The portions were very generous, and I noticed the same was true of the other plates being served around us, so we were beyond satisfied. I would think she could safely cut back on portion size of the entrees and still keep her customers happy.

                  We have been in a decline since losing the bar food
                  of Babette's, so Cafe Lucy will help heal the pain.
                  And it's closer to us as well. (We live just outside
                  St. Helena city limits.) Oh happy day!!

                  We'll be eternally thankful to you, Melanie for alerting us to the existence of this place. To
                  think it was so near and we didn't even know.

                  1. re: Ann
                    Melanie Wong

                    I'm so glad that you and your husband enjoyed it! Wasn't last night an incredible evening? The moon was so bright and there was a warm breeze blowing through Russian River Valley. I was over at The Farmhouse for the last dinner under the former owners (hopefully the chef, Steve Litke, will stay on - one never knows).

                    You see what I mean about simple in concept dishes with a warmth of flavors that harmonize so well. Nothing obtrusive, sharp, or that doesn't belong on the same plate.

                    I didn't even peek at the wine list at Cafe Lucy --- didn't want to be tempted. But I'd heard that there are some inexpensive values from the Rhone etc. St. Veran is a good bet - the vintners have to try harder because they don't have a fancy name among white Burgundy villages and the price is right for a restaurant wine.