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Feb 9, 2013 04:36 PM

Cafe Lucia, Healdsburg

Four of us had a celebration last night at Cafe Lucia in the space where Affronti was. It is a comfortable and attractive room where the noise level was moderate even with all the tables occupied.

It was a celebration so we ordered a lot of food and shared everything. Started with tasting plates, small grazing plates of Fried Sonoma Goat Cheese, Boquerones-White Anchovies, Polvinhos-Baby Octopus, Smelts in Escabeche, Pig’s Feet Terrine, Serrano Redondo-Ham, Herb Marinated Olives. All were very good, the terrine and octopus were standouts.

Followed with appetizers, two orders of sauteed veal sweet breads with leek-fennel slaw, anise scented demi-glace. they were excellent as were the chourici crusted scallops, pan seared, Japanese sweet potato puree, leek confit, molho cru. Last app was bolinhos de bacalhau, cod cakes, cilantro alioli, Moroccan black olive coulis. Didn't taste these but got a big thumbs up :).

Entrees were also very good and attractively plated. A special pan roasted branzino came with fingerling potatoes and diced peppers. bacalhau no forno, traditional baked casserole of North Atlantic salt cod, potatoes, onions and olives. Portuguese fishermans stew was a small feast of sea bass, scallops, clams, mussels, shrimp, fingerling potatoes, linguiça, lobster fumet. Last entree was traditional Brazilian Feijoada, stewed beef, pork, smoked sausage, black beans, rice. Rich and tasty..

Finished with two desserts which were plated beautifully and were delicious. Chocolate was chocolate mousse with almond tuile, chocolate soufflé with ruby port gelée and bitter chocolate sorbet with caramelized banana. Traditional was arroz doce with madeira braised figs, malassadinhas with "ovos moles," and almond ice cream sandwich with fig cake.

Nearly rolled out after all that. Had a couple of white wines, an Azur sauvignon blanc and Rochioli chard, both wines were very nice.
Service was very good, almost too good at times as the meal winded down.

Cafe Lucia is an excellent addition to Healdsburg and we plan to head back again soon. Lots to explore on that menu :)

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  1. Thanks for the report. How would you compare the Chef Azevedo’s “Cozinha Nova Portuguesa” to the type of Portuguese cooking found in New Jersey?

    It’s been interesting to observe how the flavors of the Basque lands, Catalonia, Spain, and Portugal have gained a foothold in the Bay Area. There had been a few old time places but more started trickling in about 10 years ago. Now it is quite easy to buy ingredients and wines imported from the region, and to find jamón sliced to order in restaurant settings. Just recently Duende opened in Oakland. Following behind Bravas Bar de Tapas and with much less hype, the Iberian colonization of Healdsburg continued with Café Lucia’s quiet December 5 opening.

    In any case, I had a chance to try Lucia for a solo lunch a month ago. Located off-street in an isolated arcade, some prominent signage and a menu pointed the way through this archway from Healdsburg Avenue.

    And just keep following the signs until you reach this open-air courtyard entrance and seating area.

    Inside, the bright red leather-clad bar is the centerpiece of the room.

    The complimentary warm bite was a tasty slice of linguica sausage, soft and semi-melted Sao Jorge cheese, speared with a green olive.

    The offer of this warm roll and soft butter made me very happy. I’d forgotten how good these little buns at Sonoma’s LaSalette could be.

    I went for the Tasca (tapa) tasting plate, three tastes for $16, choosing Polvinhos-Baby Octopus, Morcela-Blood Sausage, and Tripe Stew a Porto, all served hot. The board also came with some piri-piri almonds and slices of olive bread. I liked all three items very much.

    Having just tried the housemade morcilla at Bravas, I can say that Lucia’s blood sausage was less highly seasoned, softer and more blood pudding-like with an earthier tone. Here the morcela felt tuned to be served alone like this rather than as a salty flavoring agent, as used at Bravas. I enjoyed them both and am very jazzed that I can have wonderful blood sausages of this quality within a two-block radius of the plaza.

    The tripe was fantastic, made with toothsome honeycomb tripe, perked up with diced cured meats, a wine-y back note, and natural sweetness from the sweated carrots in the mirepoix. The cooked down, meaty concentrate infused the tender white beans that in turn lent their thickening power to the savory reduction saucej. Some fresh green herbs brightened what would otherwise be a heavier dish.

    As much as I adored those two samplings, if forced to pick a favorite, I’d also select the baby octopus dish as the stand-out. Marinated in balsamic vinegar, the mild sweet and sour balanced the briny flavors. These juices were great for dunking the bread as well.

    With an afternoon of way too many errands ahead of me, I’d originally declined to order any wine. But after tasting these three small dishes, I really craved some white to contrast with the robust flavors. I ordered the three-wine white flight, $14.25. The Monçao and the Douro were a study in contrasts: light and refreshing vs. full-bodied and riper flavor profiles. Both had the cleansing acidity that I craved. I did not like the Alentejo at all. My notes are here,

    With no time or room to indulge in dessert, I was pleased with the complimentary sweet presented at the end of the meal. This was a macadamia nut coated in chocolate bits.

    This quick hit at the large menu was solid through and through. Like you, I’m wanting to return to explore more of the menu. I saw Chef Azevedo on site during my meal instructing staff and moving furniture. He’s definitely hands on at this point.

    Café Lucia slideshow

    Cafe Lucia
    235 Healdsburg Ave.
    (707) 431-1113
    Open daily for lunch and dinner

    5 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Good question, they are very different. Not really surprising as the Portuguese cuisine of Chef Azevedo is more refined than the places in and around the urban NJ cities, especially Newark which are more "rustic" in both presentation and flavors.

      Overall, Cafe Lucia would be my choice for a relaxed dinner with excellent food but a place like Seabra's also satisfies, especially when you are with a group.

      Great report btw, really liked the photos!

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        the lunch we had at Cafe Lucia this past weekend was one of our most enjoyable meals in any wine country restaurant. the chef in charge was Jason Santos, whose family came from the Azores and gave him the foundation in the cuisine. his education continued at the Culinary Institute in St. Helena, and the French touches were apparent in a couple of our dishes.

        we had the same delicious amuse with sausage, cheese, green olive. (there's a California version of the 'St.George' cheese made by relatives of Chef Santos' family). for our sampling plate, we too had the excellent morcilla, along with smelts in escabeche, and pig's ear in a parsley salad. the fish were fried in a light breading and served cold in a very light acidic dressing -- the frying giving them a firm texture, concentrating the flavor similar to dried fish. the pig's ears were diced into little tender morsels and the dish took us back to Paris.

        after trying those rolls first at La Salette, have tried to find similar breads in many Portuguese or Azorean bakeries without success, except for a place in Vancouver. but there's a recipe for them in the lavish La Salette cookbook. should also note that the sofa-like seating in the dining room couldn't be more relaxing and comfortable for those of us with elderly or kranky joints.

        after the sampling platter we shared a bowl of cold carrot soup, a puree that was deliciously delicate and fresh.

        we had two other small plates, the tasty tripe dish and their version of salt cod cakes, bolinhos de bacalhao. reflecting the chef's French training, the cakes came as three pretty quenelles, painterly plated with cilantro aioli and Moroccan black olive coulis. the bolinhos/quenelles were the most delicately textured and flavoured version of the dish we've ever had. we enjoyed two Portuguese white wines that were ideal complements to the food, a slightly effervescing Jose Maria Fonseca (Minha) vinho verde, and Niepoort Redoma (Douro), a step up in richness and complexity, not dissimilar to a southern Rhone white.

        my wife was ecstatic with her dessert, a chocolate trio. each component (mousse, miniature souffle, mint chocolate ice cream) was ethereal and perfect complements in flavour and texture to each other. we also tried their malasadhinas (mini-malasadas). [in Chef Santos' home growing up, they used the other common name for them, filhos]. his interpretation is unique because he eschews the conventional leavened dough and makes them fresh to order with the choux pastry technique, giving them a moist, eggy centre and eliminating the usual (pleasantly) yeasty taste to the crumb. the fried pastry balls were dusted with sugar and cinnamon, stacked into a a tall, sundae style, glass dish with a small puddle of delicate and barely sweet lemon sauce in the bottom of the glass.

        we look forward to returning to try some of their main courses for dinner. judging by their deft preparation of the smelts and salt cod, Dungeness season will probably be rewarding at Cafe Lucia.

        1. re: moto

          Excellent report, and a lovely place. Is the weekend lunch business picking up? It's so hidden away and this place does not have the PR machine behind it of the other new openings in town that I fear for its survival.

          And thanks for mentioning the cushy, upholstered seats. I remember when I first walked in, I had a hard time deciding which of the well-stuffed chairs I wanted to park myself in. I think there were three or so configurations. Yes, very comfortable and such a difference from the spare, hard seating so popular now. When I take my 92 year old mother out, we bring a stadium cushion for her to sit on.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            there was only one other party of two people when we lunched around 1300 on a saturday. seemed to be an odd weekend for the start of the high tourist season considering the ideal weather and the local peaches starting to hit their stride. Mateo's Cocina (with a brilliant grilled peach salad, dressed with a confiture of carmelized peaches on the menu) was half empty the night before during prime dining hours. apparently the combination of the jazz festival (our reason for visiting) and school graduations altered both the tourists' and the locals' routines, and brand new spots without big marketing blitzes will definitely get lost in the shuffle for visitors who often stick to familiar comforts.

            we've always enjoyed La Salette in the past, but only go to Sonoma now for day trips and our familiar comfort there is El Molino Central. we enjoyed the menu and ambiance at Cafe Lucia more, in comparison. the first year of business can of course be make or break, so fingers crossed.

            1. re: moto

              I hope it can establish a foothold here.

              Someone recently asked about wine tasting bars. Cafe Lucia probably is not what he/she had in mind. But it does offer wine flights and could be a good place to compare new world and old world wine styles.