Trendy tapas restaurants are sure bets for hot dates or wine-soaked nights on the town. But Barrio, the much-buzzed-about new Downtown restaurant, also translates to a leisurely lunch setting.
You can order the salmon, pork or chicken entrees any time of the year at Luce, but that doesn't mean you know what you're going to get.
Talented chef Alex Rodriguez, who owns the Powell restaurant with his wife, Kelly, switches up his sauces, sides and toppings every season, creating an entire menu of fresh flavors.
During the fall, you might find roasted root vegetables, eggplant caponata and Thanksgiving-favorite accents like cranberries and pumpkin. In warmer months, you'll get bright citrus flavors and farm-fresh veggies-arugula, broccolini and heirloom cherry tomatoes.
Luce sits a couple miles outside of the charming, boutique-filled downtown Powell. Inside, stuccoed walls, curved doorways, and dark wood details echo the decor of an Italian villa. A huge stone fireplace runs down the center of the space, separating two dining areas and creating a cozy, warm feeling no matter what the weather's like outside.
Luce bills itself as an Italian restaurant and wine bar (well, it actually calls itself an Enoteca, which is Italian for "wine shop"). And yes, you'll find Italian standbys like lasagna and eggplant parmesan on the menu. But you'll also find some outstanding seafood dishes, seasonal salads and vegetarian creations.
Meals are best begun with a few selections from the cold and hot small plates menus. A standout is the meaty crab cakes ($12.50), served atop a salad of arugula, fennel and tomato, with tangerine chunks and lemon-basil aioli adding a citrusy-sweet twist.
A concise entrees section features steak, chicken and pork dishes as well as a few seafood choices.
The Risotto with Lobster Tail ($26) is a perfect example of a seafood classic given an upscale Italian makeover. A buttery six-ounce Maine lobster tail is nestled inside its beautiful red shell and accompanied by a heaping bowl of traditional Italian risotto, creamy and full of pancetta, peas and cherry tomatoes. A sharp and clean champagne citrus sauce cuts straight through the richness.
It's also a perfect example of the striking presentation found across the board at Luce. Each dish is lovingly arranged to make an impression-with towering piles of food, eye-catching garnishes and artsy sauce drizzles-but the fancy presentation doesn't take away from the great flavors.
Take the hefty grilled salmon fillet ($21.50). On my visit, it was slathered in a rich quince barbecue glaze and skewered dramatically with a sugar cane shard. It's served on a mound of smoky paella, studded with chorizo, shrimp and peas. Delightful and also delicious.
This is also a place that prides itself on its wine, and the list is indeed extensive. Helpfully, they offer Wine Flights, which let you try two-ounce pours from three different bottles of the same varietal. You can go for whites (three rieslings, three viogniers) or reds (three merlots, three chiantis), or you can pick Italian or Spanish flights, a mix of selected whites and reds from each country.
I tried the riesling flight ($8)-Dr. Thanisch Classic, Max Ferd Richter "Zeppelin" and Selbach "Auslese"-and it made for a great progression from appetizers through dessert.
Those dessert choices range from the ubiquitous chocolate cake (though this one is a flourless Gran Marnier chocolate cake) to Italian specialties like semifreddo and panna cotta.
But my favorite Italy-inspired dessert dish was the Raspberry Almond Cake ($7). A slice of flourless almond cake became tart, tangy and tasty after it was soaked with Meyer lemon curd, topped with raspberries and drizzled in Vin Santo Sabayon, a pudding-like sauce made from a Tuscan dessert wine.
From start to finish, a meal at Luce is a celebration of seasonal bounty.Luce Enoteca
3499 Market St., Powell