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Luce Restaurant, Middletown, CT: What an experience eating outside!

Scargod Oct 12, 2008 08:38 PM

We went mushroom hunting today and stopped at Luce for lunch at 1PM. What a gorgeous day and what a perfect time to be outside having lunch. This is about a block away from O'Rourkes Diner (where there was a line outside), and almost on the corner of the main intersection of Middletown. Traffic was streaming by so we, literally, saw hundreds of motorcycles streaming by plus, a few classic cars and a few classic bodies.
I had a draft Dogfish 60 minute IPA and SO had a glass of Zin... then I had six raw oysters. One was a nice Mayflower, while the others were bluepoints. Very fresh! I could not bring myself to use anything but lemon, and that was only on one blue point.
SO had a (cold), roast beef wrap and I had the (hot), Italian sausage burger. I thought hers sucked compared to mine! There was nothing particularly wrong with it but it was a cold wrap and it was bland,compared to my firecracker of a burger. It had a lot of flavor and just the right amount of heat. Both came with a half-sour pickle slice and a mix of slightly thick sweet potato and regular potato fries.

When I finished my dissertation about differences in motorcycles, we had a "Bomba" dessert. This is composed of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, divided by sliced almonds and surrounded by a chocolate crust. It was beautifully plated with a sprig of mint and drops of strawberry coulis all around the plate.
Our Rosenblum V Cuvee Zin was delicious, at $7.50 a glass. They had about a dozen reds by the glass. My Dogfish was $5. There wer quite a few good beers on tap! Both sandwiches were $8 each and the oysters were $12.

When we finished we went inside to check out the restaurant. It is very classy with a bar and dining area and a slightly more formal, separate dining area that looks out onto the city and the main drag.
Service by Val was excellent. Damn near perfect. OK, it was better than that.

I think you should check this place out if you are in the area. Though we had a simple meal, and there's nothing exotic on their menu, I suspect that it will be good.

  1. noreservations Nov 22, 2009 06:24 AM

    Let's see, why is it that we hadn't yet been to Luce? La Tavola making it pleasantly difficult to not want to go elsewhere? Returning more frequently to our modest "old school" Italian fave and most wine-price friendly find Antonio's Ristorante? Discovering an amazing newcomer in Trattoria Lepri? Perhaps having added Luce to the evergrowing list of quality options to be found in Middletown(of ANY cuisine it seems)..but just somehow never making it? Probably all of the above. Well a Chowhound reminding thread later and getting a kick out of 'kattyeyes' contagious enthusiasm for one of her Top 5 Favorites in CT got us quite curious. "As good as La Tavola from start to finish" you say? That's a mighty strong Chow-clamation Ms Katty! Mighty strong indeed. :)

    We arrived quite on the early side of service as we usually do for first-time visits(or is it my increasing old age?). I was pleased to see the comfortable and attractive interior....a far cry from the drinking hole that I remember clanking a glass in many years ago(wasn't that place's food forgettable? I wouldn't even know). We were seated in the front dining room facing Main in a spacious four-seater which we would soon need for the sampling to come. A couple of glasses of Prosecco were needed while we dove into that wine list....Whew. Plenty to enjoy is an understatement. No steals like our modest "old school" stop but seemingly priced appropriately with selections in any particular pricepoint of comfort that you may/may not have. I first got sidetracked in seeing all the quality beers on tap...initially Anchor Steam, then Scar's above mentioned Dogfish 60 Minute IPA, and then that same brewery's 90 Minute IPA too? "Sure" said our server, "we'll even throw together a 75 Minute for you". "Stop playing with my emotions already" I pleaded. I was already planning my return to have those as I saw they had a good by the glass selection with several dessert wines to boot. We wouldn't be going by the bottle tonight. After the bubbles I eventually had a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and a "Baby" Amarone and my co-pilot tried and stayed with her enjoyable Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. This New Zealand sav-blanc must go for only half of what Cloudy Bay from the same region does these days. As good and perhaps more enjoyable too. A "Battle of The Kiwi Bays" might be in order.

    We were impressed with several of the night's additions which included the real Dover Sole and a Venison dish with Barolo sauce(which I later wished I had chosen). Of course we had to start with the heartily endorsed Polenta Dusted Scallops appetizer but temptation by the specials of lightly Marinated and Grilled Baby Squid and the Venison Carpaccio made it a threesome of apps to remember. My oh my..all three were that "Jump back wanna kiss myself" good! What? It's those great-food emotions acting up again but somehow we got it together. The buttered corn puree, sliced black truffles, preserved raisin jam and carrot oil that came with the Scallops were quite nice but were almost left a little underappreciated. Why? Because the scallops themselves were THAT good alone, so good call Ms. Katty..this was in the zone! The Venison Carpaccio was sliced in beautifully arranged "petals" that filled a large plate and was served with light truffle oil and slices of Pecorino. What a sharp idea to have this Pecorino take a swim in Chianti for flavor..lucky cheese. This special was delicate, subtle, and a first for us both. The Baby Squid was marinated in "aromatic" herbs(code word for "We're not telling you exactly which ones"?!?) and oil. Again, ample pieces(of both the mantle and arms) were grilled perfectly. Are the rest of their grilled items this tasty we wondered? What a beginning.

    Both the dish itself and Katty's description above of the Luce Combo of Veal Scallopini with Jumbo Shrimp is not to be missed as the Shiitakes and Capers in the Fresh Tomato based sauce finished with Brandy combined the two primary players wonderfully. Duck prepared Two-Ways wasn't the knockout I had hoped for as the Leg Confit's flavor was less pronounced and texturally unlike what one should expect from this type of cooking technique but the medium-rare breast meat was delivered as ordered. The breast was served with a rather nice braised and seasoned Savoy Cabbage creation, an alright Polenta Hash, but a somewhat disappointing Plum Wine reduction.

    Finishing the meal and finding their way to the table were two desserts on the plate(their own Tiramisu and house made mini-Cannolis) and two desserts in the glass(a slightly off-dry Riesling and an Ice Wine). The Ice Wine ordered was one of either two or three IWs offered(in addition to other dessert wines by the glass and bottle). This particular one was from..I sh-kid you not....Idaho! Yet another first-ever to be enjoyed this evening.

    We were fortunate to get a far better informed and enthused server than another that was stationed closeby. She and her support staff provided service that was seamless, unrushed but efficient, perfectly timed and paced, and accommodating. So while Trattoria Lepri and La Tavola still are and hopefully will stay deliciously supreme to most restaurants of its kind, it's easy to see why Luce at least belongs in the conversation...particularly if you are as close as some lucky Chowhounds whose adventures we get to read here :) . Those menu and wine options alone will definitely have us returning at some point. A toast and hope you enjoy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Z1n7F...

    4 Replies
    1. re: noreservations
      kattyeyes Nov 22, 2009 06:41 AM

      Nice job as usual, no reservations! So very glad you both enjoyed. "Jump back wanna kiss myself"--LOVE IT (not to mention your Ozzy post the other day)! Did you two make it down the street to Tschudin Chocolates after dinner? If not, please keep that in mind for your next visit.

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/651801

      By the way, did you happen to see the giant wine decanter while at Luce? I jokingly refer to it as "the wine bong"--it's a serious decanter! I will have to check out the Idaho ice wine. Who knew?

      Insert "James Brown lyric" as approval rating: "HAAAAAAA!"

      1. re: kattyeyes
        noreservations Nov 22, 2009 07:50 AM

        Ha-ha! You're too much. Is this the menacing yet even more amusing decanting device you speak of?:

        http://www.lucect.com/img/luce01_lg.jpg

        Didn't notice it on our actual visit but it's quite safe to say that aerating ANY wine will not be a problem with that bad boy. Are winos known to exhibit such signs of decanter-envy? They better watch where they go with that thing, "it's all fun and games" until someone loses their self-assurance :) .

        Trust me I didn't forget the love posted here for Tschudin Chocolates. I took a little time after dinner to drive up and down your restaurant row and was certain to pinpoint Tschudin's exact location for another time as we were quite content after this meal. It's GREAT that they're open late for post-dining downtown. Thanks yet again for the recs. Time to toast Middletown and hit the hot tub:

        http://www.livevideo.com/video/F67BCB...

        1. re: noreservations
          kattyeyes Nov 22, 2009 01:59 PM

          Oh, that's the one!!! Now you understand. :)

      2. re: noreservations
        kattyeyes Nov 29, 2009 02:34 PM

        A few "didjaknow" items for your consideration:

        1. Sunday lunch is a lovely, quiet time to visit Luce. We had the best table in the house today, looking out onto Main St., and as always, a terrific meal with service to match.

        2. The soup de poisson with scallops, salmon, mussels, and shrimp is a must-try in its delicious tomato-ey broth. I just had a nibble, but it was quite tasty.

        3. The pan-seared sea scallops appetizer is different at lunch--served a with mushroom sauce and celery root chips. I can honestly say I've never had a bad dish here and this is no exception--it was excellent; however, my heart belongs to the dinner version of this app. I learned today you can order the dinner version anytime of day if you prefer the polenta-dusted scallops atop the corn puree (mmmmmmmmmmmm).

        A la Toy Story, "Way to go, Idaho!" I never noticed Luce had ice wines until noreservations mentioned it. Great call! That was a nice dessert after lunch today. Thanks kindly, buddy!

      3. DonShirer Oct 26, 2009 07:10 PM

        I hadn't been to this location since before its name was Luce (too many years ago to count) but I was finally in the vicinity and stopped for a late lunch. Very quiet, only three other tables occupied. The decor in the room facing Main St. was pleasant, much better than what I dimly remembered. Sevice was prompt, attentive but not obtrusive. I had an appetizer and salad, and my reactions were similar to those of the above posters...I would come again if I got the chance. One note others did not mention...the salads are nice to look at as well as tasty.

        -----
        Luce Restaurant
        98 Washington St Ste 1, Middletown, CT 06457

        1. kattyeyes Sep 19, 2009 07:30 PM

          Another tasty meal at Luce--we shared an app and a dinner today--both specials. For starters, we had the carpaccio--beef and smoked duck with manchego cheese and truffle oil. It was our first time trying duck as carpaccio--very different and almost baconesque in flavor because of the smokiness, yet thin and tender. The beef was excellent and was served with shaved fennel. Delicious!

          TGATT (the guy across the table--his designation, not mine!) had a glass of Malbec; I very much enjoyed an Italian red wine by the glass (sadly, I forgot the name, but would recognize it on the menu if I saw it). Both wines paired very nicely with the braised short ribs over polenta. Clearly they provide you with a sharp knife just for show as it is totally unnecessary--the meat was so tender, just a fork did the trick.

          Service, as always, is perfect. We told the owner tonight this restaurant is our home away from home. His response? "Welcome home!"

          I love this restaurant so much I am updating my profile to reflect it as one of my top 5 in the state of Connecticut. Anyone who loves La Tavola in Waterbury: come to Middletown--you'll love Luce just as much--from start to finish.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kattyeyes
            s
            sherry f Oct 16, 2009 02:49 PM

            I took my son to Luce for lunch today. It was great. We shared a crab cake appetizer and I had the special beet salad with goat cheese and pecans. My son had the grilled chicken panini that came with greens and chips. The panini was really two sandwiches- very generous. He took the second one home for tomorrow. We both really enjoyed.

          2. kattyeyes Aug 30, 2009 06:41 PM

            Friday's dinner was so good, we went back for lunch today. Our waitress recognized us and said it was nice to see us again (it had been less than 48 hours, after all!).

            Some of the same appetizers and entrees are offered at lunch--others are variations on similar dinner offerings. In addition, there are plenty of creative sandwiches and wraps. Check the links above--the vast variety of options truly offers something for everyone.

            We started with the fresh fig appetizer we had heard of as a special on Friday night--figs stuffed with dolce gorgonzola, wrapped in prosciutto di Parma served in a port wine reduction. EXQUISITE!

            For my lunch, I chose the beef carpaccio with hummus (it's an appetizer). The beef was paper-thin and fabulous, served with shaved parm. Now picture a cajun shrimp caesar salad encased in a wrap--that's what my guy chose and it was terrific. It came with tasty hand-cut fries--half regular potato, half sweet potato. I first asked for ketchup, forgetting that my preference would be for mayo or aioli. Our server asked which one I'd prefer, so I had a little side cup of spicy chipotle aioli. God, it was great. If you like fries with aioli (and what's not to like about that?!), definitely ask for some to accompany your fries. Yum!

            At Luce, the whole crew--from the kitchen to the front of the house staff--aims to please and succeeds beautifully! I have not one word of criticism from me or my dining companion. In fact, we talked about how great the meal was most of the way home--and how we are so glad that a restaurant this fantastic is right in our own ZIP code. Let's hear it for the fab food in 06457!

            1. kattyeyes Aug 28, 2009 07:39 PM

              I hadn't been to Luce in about three years and was overdue for a return visit. Tonight we went for dinner. I've had dinner here at least three or more times in the past. Tonight's meal was exceptional from beginning to end and right up there with La Tavola (in Waterbury) in my book.

              We had a reservation for 6:30 and the restaurant was already busy! The tables are fairly close together and we were in the greenhouse-y room, to the left of the entrance, with glass ceiling overhead and brick wall behind us...so it wasn't a quiet dinner, but I'm really not complaining. So we had to get a little closer to talk--this isn't a bad thing. ;) I have certainly been to restaurants where the volume was off-putting and this was NOT one of them.

              I don't know about Scargod's "nothing exotic on their menu" statement above. Maybe not exotic, but certainly not ordinary. In addition to their extensive menu, our server recited at least four other specials (I'm sure I'm forgetting one or two) including veal osso bucco, linguine with fresh clams and pancetta and a fish I'd never heard of (orata).

              I had the scallops appetizer--I've had it before and it was just as excellent as I remember. It is this particular appetizer that inspired us to try to recreate this dish at home. I have to say--theirs is superior! The scallops have a fine crispy coating, then are delicate and sweet inside, served atop a corn puree with a squiggle of carrot oil and shaved truffles alongside. These are among the very best scallops I've ever had anywhere. I'm adding these to the "Best dishes in NE" thread along with my entree!

              My partner started with clams casino and we shared our apps. They were delicious as well and served atop a thick piece of crispy toast. I kept taking little pieces of toast to sop up all the "casino goodness!" Our meal was off to a great start...and they have not a wine LIST, but really a wine BOOKLET...there are many selections from which to choose, both by the glass and by the bottle. We kept it simple--I had a glass of Clos du Bois chardonnay; he had Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc (that particular wine is on his latest list of favorite things).

              For our entrees, I chose the exotic porcini mushroom ravioli in an black truffle cream sauce with fresh herbs. They were, in fact, the tastiest mushroom ravioli I've ever had...and it wasn't just the ravioli, but the mushrooms and the sauce itself--so rich! I ate half and now have half the meal to enjoy tomorrow. When the owner (I believe it's the owner, anyway--it not, he must be the maitre d') came to wrap my plate, he said he would add some cream to my dish so I would have enough sauce when I reheated it. Very nice touch! As I've said in other threads, for me, good service often happens so seamlessly, you don't even notice it, you just get it and enjoy it. Every element of our meal fell perfectly into place, pacing of the meal, refilled water, etc. We wanted for nothing--and were pleased to report that everything was excellent/wonderful/delicious and needed nothing more.

              My partner ate his entire plate (OK, he missed lunch, but still) of Luce combo--veal scallopini and jumbo shrimp with shitake mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, capers (and orecchiette, though it didn't say so on the menu--nice addition!) in a sauce finished with brandy. I didn't try the shrimp, but he said they were very tender. The veal was tender as well and the dish was very flavorful. Both our dishes were garnished with sprigs of fresh thyme and were beautifully presented.

              I had been saving room for this meal all day and, of course, was pleased to hear all the desserts are made in-house. Our server recommended creme brulee, but because I make that at home, I wanted to go for something I don't make. I had the tiramisu. It did not disappoint--nor did the cappucino that accompanied it. Thank you, Luce, for recognizing that having a delicious dessert deserves an equally delicious coffee/cappucino/latte/espresso. It was great and worth every calorie.

              I don't mind a drive in the car for good food, but this place is DOWNTOWN right in my hometown. Two and a half Louis Prima songs in the car, and we were home with my leftovers in tow. "In the meantime, let me tell you that I love youuuuuu. Buona sera, signorina, kiss me goodnight!" I won't wait three years to go back--that's for sure!

              http://www.lucect.com/main.html

              3 Replies
              1. re: kattyeyes
                Scargod Aug 29, 2009 04:39 AM

                Oh, you're good and getting better.... What no negatives? You need to go to Scargod's School of the Half Empty Glass! You're obviously wearing rose colored glasses and in love. Work must have let out early, too. Did eating all those mushrooms addle your Chow radar?
                Seriously, I'm impressed with your review, except I miss the pretty pictures...
                I was there last summer. I'm sure they became more exotic based on my comments. And, we were just having lunch there. I might have only seen a lunch menu.

                1. re: Scargod
                  kattyeyes Aug 29, 2009 05:04 AM

                  Awww, thanks--we commented about the missed photo opportunities at dinner. The tables are close enough together that it might be awkward/weird to take photos inconspicuously at Luce, at least during a busy dinner.

                  As to the menu's more exotic offerings, honestly, I know they served those delicious scallops three years ago. I suspect, because you ate outside, you were offered the bar menu with more limited options. Note the differences here:
                  http://www.lucect.com/menu_bar.html
                  http://www.lucect.com/menu_lunch.html

                  Sincerely, I would love to go back for lunch sometime as they have plenty of interesting choices there, too.

                  ALSO, one of the people at the table next to us had what looked to be a mojito and they were sampling it among their friends. I inqiured and learned it was not "just" a mojito, but a pineapple one, made with pineapple rum. I *will* attempt this at home...maybe this weekend!

                  As to negatives, I can't think of any knock on our experience at Luce last night except that I have had better bread, but that's true of many places I've eaten....and it certainly wasn't bad bread at all, just not superlative. So there, just like corporate America, I've now given this lovely restaurant a "development opportunity." HA HA!

                  1. re: kattyeyes
                    Scargod Aug 29, 2009 05:58 AM

                    That's often a knock of mine. "If they only had some good bread", or "all this meal lacks is some good French (or Italian), bread". Crave was that way and then the bread improved significantly. I'd go back there in a heartbeat if the did something about the noisy interior.

              2. s
                sherry f Oct 13, 2008 05:34 AM

                I had the pleasure of eating at Luce when I moved my son into Wesleyan this past August. While he was at an orientation dinner, I was eating by myself and felt welcomed. The complimentary parking lot adjacent to the restaurant was a bonus.

                I had the Luce salad (it came with fabulous polenta croutons and goat cheese) and the scallops appetizer, which were extremely fresh. I also had a great mojito, which I think was only $8.00. I ate indoors and it was lovely. The prices are reasonable and the menu would appeal to anyone. I was sorry that my son wasn't with me as he would have loved the shrimp or steak on the menu.

                For those of you going to Wesleyan Family weekend this week, I highly recommend Luce.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sherry f
                  r
                  rosieg Oct 13, 2008 05:15 PM

                  Sherrry-we did the same thing at the same time and placed the same order. All fresh and delicious. The service was excellent, as Scargod reports. (I think the waitstaff has a good eye for somewhat bereft parents, but don't overdo it.) We've since been back for a lunch with our daughter and had a similar experience. That visit included a very nice chowder.
                  I saw a fireplace in the front dining room, which I imagine would be nice in the winter.

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