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Oct 2, 2008 07:03 PM

Trattoria Lucca in Charleston

Anyone been? How's the food? How are the prices?

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  1. I haven't been yet. But I'm going soon. It's only a couple blocks from my apartment and I've walked by at night. The space looks VERY cool. I've never made it out to Sienna either, but I've heard nothing but great things about that place, so I can only assume that Lucca will be a great addition to the neighborhood. This is one of the positives of the Cannonborough/Elliotborough gentrification.

    I should be reviewing Lucca for C of C's student paper sometime in the next few weeks, I'll be sure to post it here once I do. Prices are supposed to be pretty reasonable because it's supposed to be catering to the food & beverage industry crowd. I'd suspect that it'll be mostly pasta in the mid-teens and entrees bordering on $20, but that's just speculation.

    - DH - One Charleston College Student's Guide to Food and Film

    1. So I finally had the opportunity to try Lucca last week and finished my review for the paper this weekend. Here's what I had to say:

      "For as long as I've been interested in Charleston's culinary scene, I have continually heard people rave about Sienna, Chef Ken Vedrinski's Daniel Island standout. It has been on my "to-go" list for quite a while, but the 30-minute drive time and rather steep entrée prices have prevented me from ever actually making the trip.

      Needless to say, when I read in June that Chef Vedrinski was planning to open a new restaurant downtown with a more college student friendly price point, I was more than a little excited. Vedrinski told City Paper that his plan is for Trattoria Lucca to be a place where Charleston's extensive community of food and beverage workers could enjoy "a good bowl of pasta at 1:30 a.m." My anticipation built over a few months as Lucca's opening was delayed multiple times from the original goal of July, before finally opening on Sept. 23.

      Trattoria Lucca sits on the corner of Bogard St. and Ashe St., on the frontier of the peninsula's current wave of gentrification. If you walk past the establishment at night, you can't help but be instantly intrigued. Its large front windows are reminiscent of Mercato, the recent Italian addition to Hank Holliday's ever expanding empire, and they reveal a low lit romantic atmosphere that just begs you to come back with a date.

      The menu, as planned, is reasonably priced. They certainly aren't giving anything away (a $16 plate of fresh made cavatelli is still a $16 plate of pasta at the end of the day), but none of the entrées top $20 and the appetizers peak at $9 as well.

      The appetizers are divided into three sections, verdure, formaggi and salumi (vegetables, cheeses and meats). We chose to start with the golden beets with pickled garlic, tangerine, pine nuts and white balsamic vinegar ($7). Light, refreshing and bursting with flavor, this dish is a great way to start a meal. The acidity of the vinegar and citrus, pungent garlic and mild beet mingled on my tongue, forming a wonderful flavor profile that made me think of summer.

      From there we moved on to formaggi. The Robiola ($8), made from a blend of cow and sheep's milk, is smooth and creamy with a slightly sour flavor. It is accompanied by organic pear, hazlenuts and squares of crispy asiago cheese. The tangy pear and luxuriant cheese contrast in flavor but work exceptionally well together.

      Other intriguing starter options include the prosciutto di Parma, which has been cured for 36 months ($9), roasted fall mushrooms ($7) and grilled baby artichokes ($7).

      Main courses are split between primi (pasta dishes) and secondi (entrées), with four choices in each section. I went with the sheep's milk ricotta gnudi served in a tomato ragu with house made duck sausage and scamorza cheese ($17). Gnudi, which is indeed Italian for "naked," are best described as what you would be left with if you stripped the pasta exterior from ravioli, leaving only the filling; tender pieces with a soft, pillowy texture and delicate ricotta flavor. The tomato ragu was bold and flavorful, the pieces of mildly spicy pieces of duck sausage added a nice gourmet touch. Still, for the $17 price tag I was a little unimpressed, particularly in the portion department. My entrée was good, but at that cost I'd expect more of a "wow" factor from a pasta dish.

      My partner went with the Berkshire pork chop "milanese" ($18). The pork was lightly breaded and topped with heirloom tomatoes, arugula and provolone cheese. The pieces I tried of this dish were far and away the highlight of the evening. The meat was tender and juicy, and the tomatoes made an ideal compliment. Perhaps my disappointment with my entrée's size was partially because I couldn't help but compare it to this dish. The pork chop was enormous. Even after she ate what she wanted and I mooched as much as I could, we were left with enough food to make two more meals for her or one good sized meal for me (what can I say, I eat like a fat kid). If you decide to dine at Lucca, this would be my top recommendation.

      Next time I make it to Lucca, I plan on going with one of the other entrée choices, most likely the grilled Painted Hills hanger steak ($19), which is served along side fall mushrooms and an olive oil potato puree.

      Beyond the food, the service was solid. The staff seemed very knowledgeable, an accomplishment for a restaurant this new. One thing I did have a problem with is the layout of the dining room. It really seemed a bit overcrowded. We were seated near the corner of the restaurant in an area where servers continually had to get past me to get to two other tables. I'm not a huge person-I'm only 5'11" and about 160 lbs-but once the restaurant got busy it seemed like I was always in someones way. I had to scoot my chair in and out about 10 times and had servers bump into me on multiple occasions. I also found the dining area to be a little excessively loud when most of the tables were filled. My partner and I had a very difficult time hearing each other across the table while speaking at a conversational level.

      Other than that, however, my first meal at Trattoria Lucca was a very enjoyable experience. The food ranged from good to excellent, and the prices are sure to make Lucca a favorite among students and residents looking for an affordable option for a date. Lucca is a welcome addition to what is a rapidly growing area of downtown's culinary scene and I encourage everyone to check it out. "

      Hope this helps!
      - DH - One Charleston College Student's Guide to Food and Film

      6 Replies
      1. re: DavidHeiser

        nice review, thanks.

        do you think this would be a good spot to take a group of about 10 girls on a Friday night pre-Kiawah marathon? Did it look like they could accomodate tables that big? Could a person get a significant amount of pasta without a tremendous amount of fat? I would not choose Sienna because of the richness of offerings, even if the price didn't deter me.

        We've gone to Al Di La the last 2 years. I can't decide if that needs to be a tradition, or if we should branch out.

        1. re: danna

          Al Di La is so freaking good. We only visit Charleston twice a year, and Al Di La is a must-visit every time. Lordy, we love that place.

          1. re: uptown jimmy

            yes, Al di La is responsible for me not trying lots of places in Charleston that I really should. Just keep going back.

          2. re: danna

            David's review pretty much sums up my experience as well, though I had the painted hills hanger steak instead of the pork chop. It was excellent. My companion and I shared an antipasta plate (you can choose all the cheeses, all the veggies, or all the meats for $17-20 or order each individually) of cheeses. All were excellent though one was too strong for my companion. We also shared a first and second plate and a bottle of wine. It was plenty of food for two men. The total bill was $100. It is a perfect place for a big group because the food is meant to be shared. It can be a lot of fun passing plates and trying different things. Call well in advance, though. It can be very difficult to get a reservation, especially for a group that size. I did see a group of about 15 in there, so they could handle you.

            1. re: danna

              If tennreb says he saw a group of 15 in there then I guess they must be able to accommodate large parties once they move the tables around. I think it would be a pretty good pick. You could have some fun passing the different dishes around. I didn't really look at the wine list because I've got a tight budget, but one of the women at the PR firm I intern for commented to me that there wasn't much in the way of budget wine (read under $40 a bottle).

              Their appetizer selections would be especially great for a group. There were definitely plenty of choices.

              If anyone is particularly interested in seeing a menu, shoot me an email (address is on my blog), their manager sent me one to help with my review because they don't have a web site yet.

              - DH
     - One Charleston College Student's Guide to Food and Film

            2. re: DavidHeiser

              Excellent review DH! Really appreciate the detail. Went there over the weekend and concur 100%. This place has outstanding food at very reasonable prices -- meaning 2 can get a wonderful meal here plus wine for a little over $120. We would give it an A on creativity, an A on freshness and overall quality of ingredients, an A on price, an A on presentation, an A on service, a B on wine list (more under $45 options would be nice) and a B on atmosphere (due only to the noise factor).

              For starters, we were impressed with the amount of thought they put into the cheese presentations -- creatively pairing each with a fruit or other compliment to enhance and balance the flavor. On the salad front, the roasted fall mushroom salad was wonderful -- large slices of earthy mushrooms perfectly balanced against a sweet balsamic vinagarette and very fresh bitter greens. We concur wholeheartedly on the pork chop -- extremely tender and the heirloom tomatoes were an inspired addition -- making it among the best chops we've ever had. We actually enjoyed the ricotta gnudi with tomato ragu and house made duck sausage as well -- a bit more subtle, but beautiful blend of rich, savory and spicy.

              On the wine front, the Barbera was pretty decent at around $40. They had a pinot nero and another Italian light red in that price range as well, but it would be nice to have a bit more to chose from in the under $45 category.

              The service was fine and the atmosphere appealing (small but large windows, rich dark woods and soothing earth tones on the walls). Our only, very minor, disapointments were the noise level being too high and the relatively few dessert options (although the polenta cake was a winner!). Overall, this was an outstanding meal for the price. Actually, it was an outstanding meal, period. We will definitely return!