Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lucques - Los Angeles



It's not often that this O.C. troglodyte crawls himself out from Stepford country. Yes, life behind the "Orange Curtain" can be antiseptic, safe, and some might say, dull. But with a little bit of resourcefulness and the Internet, it's quite easy to find good grub and fun things to do here, without having to drive in traffic and troll for parking spots in L.A. proper.

So there usually has to be a compelling reason for me to drag my ass out to the City of Angels. This weekend, there were two. One; my friend, who is a chef at Lucques, told me it would be her last week there before she moved on. Two; Lucques was offering a prix fixe three course lunch menu for the 4th Annual U.S.A.Dine Out.

I finally had no excuses left.

And after enduring an hour of freeway driving, and a close call on La Cienega near the Beverly Center, during which I was greeted by the traditional L.A. greeting of blaring car horns and fist-shaking, this Orange County yokel finally made it to Lucques on Melrose and La Cienega.

What happened on La Cienega you ask? I don't want to talk about it. But I just want to say sorry to y'all whom I must have p.o.'d that afternoon, in that intersection. I gotta plead ignorance...but seriously, how was I to know that wasn't supposed to be a turning lane?

Anyway, I digress. So where was I? Oh yeah. We arrived at Lucques, and to my delight, it was surprisingly easy to find a parking spot close to a nearby kindergarden.

Opening the heavy double doors of the restaurant revealed a small but sumptous dining room which was dark and deserted. The hostess informed us that the patio was open too, if we chose to dine out there. We chose the patio, since that was where everyone seemed to be.

The patio, which is actually is at the back of the restaurant, was sort of like an open air bunker, with tall white walls from the adjacent buildings enclosing the space. But the bright sunlight poured in from above, filtered by a white fabric canopy. Our table was dressed with a crisply ironed tablecloth and spotless silverware. It was a pleasant way to dine. Very European, I thought.



Sliced rustic bread, butter, sea salt, almonds and olives in oil arrived as we perused the menu. We found the S. Pellegrino Dine-out Prixe Fixe which read:

LUNCH MENU
$20.00 Three-Course Prix Fixe Meal*

First Course
Soupe au Pistou
With Amaranth and grana breadcrumbs

Fatoosh Salad
With tomato, cucumber, feta and crispy pita

Main Course
Torchio Pasta
With cherry tomatoes, chili, basil and anchovy butter

Grilled Chicken
With blue lake beans, fingerlings and tapenade

Dessert
Chocolate and Pistachio Terrine
With pistachio lace cookie

Summer Sorbets
With brown sugar shortbread

Complimentary Bottled Water
Your Choice of Sparkling S.Pellegrino or Non-Sparkling Acqua Panna


We ordered so that we got a taste of all the choices under this menu.



The Fatoosh Salad was cooling and light. The lettuce, fresh and crisp laced with a tart dressing and accented with crunchy fried pita chips. These chips were a great textural contrast to the chilled cucumber, tomato, and crumbled feta.



The rustic Soupe au Pistou was tomato based; dark adobe red, perky, and chock-full of legumes. The tender white beans were soft and the cut haricot verts, crisp. The highlight of the soup, however, was the crusty, coarse chunks of homemade croutons. These lent a welcome sweet and buttery counterpoint to the slight acidity of the soup and the licorice flavor of the amaranth leaf garnish. This was a great soup; pleasantly crude and comforting.



The main course of tender Grilled Chicken thigh meat rested on a bed of pureed potatoes (not the fingerlings in the menu I transcribed) topped with a pungent tapenade and flanked with cooked romano beans and caramelized onions. The romanos, flat and long, looked similar to snow peas in shape, but were more subtle and less grassy in taste. A liberal drizzling of olive oil pushed the Mediterranean flavors further into overdrive. I loved this dish, even the unidentifiable green leaves that were ten times more astringent than radicchio.



The Torchio Pasta dish was also perfect. Although it had more olive oil than I'm usually used to, this main course was surprisingly light. The pasta, resembling unfurled conch shells, were tender but still had bite. The cherry tomatoes and basil added a splash of bright color to make this a dazzling summer meal, while the dusting of seasoned breadcrumbs, anchovy butter and pesto gave it an unmistakable character.



The Summer Sorbets dessert had a feather's touch to the palate. Not too sweet, not too sour. If you could distill the essense of a perfect summer day into a dessert, this would be it. The brown sugar cookies were the perfect complement; buttery, crisp, just like you enjoyed in the innocence of youth.



The Chocolate Terrine, however, was too dark and rich for me. The consistency was firm and dense like the nougat in a Three Musketeers bar. I am no choco-holic, so perhaps that's why I didn't fall head over heels for this one. After a few bites, I could feel the pangs of a chocolate headache coming on. Though the lacy cookie that came with it was delectable. It was like a cross between a waffle cone and hard caramel candy.

Yes, my trip to Lucques in L.A. may have been long overdue. But the food that I had made me realize that it's all worth the drive, and even the threat of violence from passing L.A. motorists.

Next time I won't wait so long...and I'm going to have someone else do the driving.

Lucques
(323) 655-6277
8474 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90069

13 Comments:

At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Kirk said...

Hey Elmo - Man stepping up in the world, huh? I've always wanted to dine here, but we moved away before I had a chance. I based my tapenade on a recipe from Lucques. Bon Apetit!!!!

 
At 7:40 PM, Blogger hbgrrl said...

So, I checked in, to see what was up...and saw, "LUQUES?!" I better get a glass of wine for THIS review!

Simply making the journey there would have been enough for me, but the pictures and commentary, put me over the edge (glad I had my wine to steel me for that unnerving ride into LA! lol)

It truly sounded like a amazing experience...I'm almost tempted to try the LA thing myself. You never know.

In the meantime, I can look at your blog, and enjoy the whole 'El Lay' dining experience, vicariously.

Thanks for sharing!!

 
At 8:49 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Kirk,

This was my first time tasting tapenade. I gotta say that I wasn't ready for the concentrated olive flavor, but it grew on me as I kept eating. Maybe a few more times (at another cheaper restaurant though, because my wallet can only afford so many L.A. trips), and I'll try your recipe!

hbgrrl,

You're post made my day! It makes writing that report (and enduring that L.A. ride) really worthwhile, knowing that you enjoyed reading my post with a glass of wine!

I think we share the common belief that there had better be a good reason to get out of Irvine or Huntington Beach...glad that this one was!

Thanks for reading!

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Daily Gluttony said...

elmo,

that was YOU in the intersection???? ha ha just kidding!

great review! lucques is definitely on my list of places to try.

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Pam,

Ha! I wouldn't be surprised if someone actually chimed in saying that they did see me. Although, I'm willing to guess that probably 5 other non-locals made the same mistake I did that afternoon.

Lucques is darned good! A bargain, I think, with that Prixe Fixe 3 course menu from L.A. Dine Out. And my chef friend sure can cook pasta!

 
At 8:34 AM, Blogger jami71susan said...

damn good blog, check out mine http://juicyfruiter.blogspot.com, comments always welcome!

 
At 9:55 PM, Blogger Professor Salt said...

Beautiful photos, too!

 
At 12:27 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Thanks for your compliments guys!

Means a lot!

 
At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Went to Luques last Thurs for lunch, after reading your recommendation. Quite enjoyable, but very warm on that patio -- somewhat uncomfortably so... Plus, the mild heat in the dishes (soup) added to my warmth. But we remained outside as it *was* pretty out there.
Wish I'd warmed my companion about the overly-oily pasta. For some reason, I thought you must be an olive oil wimp, or something. But it really was far too oily to enjoy. The rest was fab, and we had a nice glass of wine each as well, which always makes a meal, don't you think? Very pleasant dining experience. I was so full at the end -- I *never* order three courses!
Oh, four young and scruffy-looking 20-somethings came out to the patio wearing jeans and torn tee-shirts (a Kiss tee-shirt caught my eye) and I remember wondering why those kids were there. Later, my guy realised it was little Kate Hudson and friends.
Good taste!

 
At 1:27 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

Hey thanks for posting about your experience at Lucques...I can imagine how warm the patio would've been last week. I guess I was lucky to go when it was still rather mild. It's a lovely patio though.

So it wasn't just my sensitivity to oil on the pasta...it *was* too oily! I knew it! I guess I thought this was the way it was done and tried to enjoy it.

I, too, was stuffed after this meal.

 
At 3:35 AM, Blogger Randi said...

This is making me homesick for LA.

 
At 10:18 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Randi,

Glad to bring some feelings of longing to L.A. ex-pats!

 
At 4:56 PM, Blogger margottt said...

Hello! I just thought I'd extend an invitation to a network of Los Angeles bloggers.. It's a great way to get more readers and find new and interesting blogs: http://labloggers.ning.com/?xgi=5mcqS7g

 

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