Restaurant Review: In Dublin, Tucci's continues to grow and improve

Shelley Mann, Columbus Alive
Spaghetti Bolognese

Up in Dublin, Tucci's has pulled off an impressive feat: Over the years its convenient location and spacious patio have consistently drawn crowds, and yet the restaurant opted not to fade into comfortable irrelevance.

The place recently underwent a makeover, including extensive dining room renovations and a complete concept overhaul, evolving from a '90s-chic California bistro with lots of wood-fired pizzas to a more straightforward steak-and-seafood spot.

It's refreshing to see a restaurant break free from an outdated concept and embrace a simpler approach. Rather than feeling like it's pandering to the masses, the menu is more focused than ever before.

Inside, the dining room has been carved up and booths added to make

for a more intimate, fine-dining feel. Two-seater booths, perfect for happy hour dates, now line the bar area. Outside, the patio is as inviting as ever, with umbrella tables positioned around

a stage hosting a rotating selection of

live music six nights a week May through September.

Refreshingly, in defiance of an increasingly cocktail-centric bar program movement, Tucci's keeps the focus decidedly on wine. The dedication to vino is obvious from the moment customers walk through the doors. Just inside the front entrance is an opulent private-events room, designed with bottle-lined walls to resemble a wine cellar.

A novel of a wine list is organized by varietal, with about 20 by-the-glass offerings, 250 bottles and an additional 16 featured selections from an Enomatic wine dispenser, letting diners sample wines that aren't typically available by the glass.

Likewise, I'm glad Tucci's didn't try for a trendy gastropub makeover of the food menu. Instead, executive chef Wil Novak created a collection of solidly executed, crowd-pleasing dishes with enough risk-taking tweaks to please more adventurous diners.

Novak started his career researching and developing menus for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. More recently, he headed up High Street Grill at the Westin Downtown before taking the reins as executive chef for Tucci's owner CLB Restaurants, which also runs three Matt the Miller's Tavern locations.

The focus at Tucci's is on steak and seafood, and that's apt-those are the strongest areas of the menu. Steaks are served a la carte, with traditional steakhouse toppings priced separately (Hollandaise and gorgonzola are traditional favorites, and a cipollini onion confit is a nice break from the standards). My filet mignon (10 ounces, $32) was superb, velvety inside and boasting a perfectly charred exterior. On another visit a 20-ounce porterhouse ($40) cooked to medium-rare was enjoyable, if a bit too tough and salty.

On the subject of beef, Tucci's house-cured bresaola starter ($10) is excellent. The dish is presented similarly to carpaccio, but the bresaola technique involves salt-curing and air-drying a tender cut of beef until it just starts taking on the leathery quality of a good jerky. Here, the peppercorn-crusted beef is served with a creamy mustard sauce and an antipasto assortment of thin breadsticks and retro pickle relish.

On the seafood side, plenty of unexpected approaches await. Ignore the high sticker price and start any meal with a Lobster Cocktail appetizer ($20). I've never seen anything quite like this "cocktail," which is nothing like the standard shrimp version its name might imply. This is half a steamed lobster-complete with giant claw-served with an assortment of Asian-flavored salads. Much of the sweet, tender meat has been extracted from the shell, and in its place is a briny, sesame-flecked seaweed salad. Pickled carrots and daikon are scattered around the plate in pools of shrimp-infused oil, while a handful of prawn crackers, a popular Asian snack, add texture and crunch.

Entree picks include an interesting Caribbean take on walleye ($25). Fillets are crusted in sesame seeds, pan-seared until golden brown and served with a rich citrus-soy butter sauce. On top, bright shrimp ceviche is accompanied by deconstructed guacamole-avocado slices, diced tomato, lime wedges-and crispy plantain chips.

Grouper ($28), on the other hand, gets an Italian-style treatment. A thick fillet is topped with a few gooey rounds of broiled fresh mozzarella. The fish is served atop caprese raviolis (stuffed with that same fresh mozzarella) in a fragrant lemon garlic broth, and under a little salad of peppery mizuna greens, baby heirloom tomatoes and artichoke hearts.

The only disappointments were menu carryovers like Spaghetti Bolognese ($18), a heavy pasta dish made with nutty whole-wheat pasta that overpowers a forgettable meat sauce of ground veal and pork. The dish could've been amplified with some fresh herbs or a hit of spice.

Overall, though, the misses are few. Let's hope Tucci's continues to age with this much grace.


35 N. High St., Dublin

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon-Thu, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun

Price Range: $50-$70 per person. Entrees range from a $16 chicken pasta dish to a $40 porterhouse.

Reservations: Accepted

In Short: A Dublin standby gets a welcome shake-up in the form of dining room renovations and a menu revamp.

Rating: 4-stars