Luca Wine Bar and Italian Seafood
7 Main St., Redding, (203) 286-5617, lucawinebar.com
When there's an Italian restaurant on every corner, how does one distinguish itself? Luca Wine Bar & Italian Seafood in Georgetown focuses on seafood and an extensive wine list covering all the regions of Italy. Brothers Fabio and Gianluca Morrone, originally from Puglia, the heel of the boot of Italy, opened it about a year ago. Luca and his wife Sandra also own the high-end, highly rated Luca Ristorante Italiano in Wilton.
I'd heard the food at Luca Wine Bar & Italian Seafood is great and they have a two course and dessert weekday lunch special for $14.99, with $5 house wine ("unlike those places with the $12 lunch and the $12 glass of wine," my friend said). The lunch special menu sounded good, starting with a choice of two soups, carrot-ginger gazpacho or stracciatella di pollo (egg-drop) or salad (tri color or grilled romaine). And entrees like grilled octopus, a fish of the day, or mussels in saffron wine sauce.
Then I started looking at the regular menu, the same served at dinner and lunch, and I started getting intrigued. So many things sounded so very good, that I had to scrap the $14.99 lunch. The budget lunch became a let's-enjoy-life lunch.
Our server said yes, we could share each course. We started with carpaccio of octopus ($9), the tentacles sliced into thin rounds, covering the plate like a mosaic. It was drizzled with olive-oil and chili oil and scattered with baby cilantro. We squeezed the wedge of lemon over the purple-pink-edged white circles. What a wonderful, light, summer dish, the octopus tender, gently sea-flavored, lemony and piquant. A bundle of micro greens added a lively, earthy touch.
Sandra's homemade pasta is featured at both Luca restaurants. The black linguine, made with squid ink, is served heaped with cockles, the little shells revealing plump and sweet meat. An adorable bivalve if ever there was one. And the sauce was everything clam sauce should be — pale, paper-thin ovals of briefly sautéed garlic, finely minced flecks of bright green parsley, the long, twirled dark strands of pasta glistening in that magic mix of olive oil, clam sauce and white wine. It coated and had been absorbed into the pasta. "This dish is making me very happy," I told my friend, like five times. When my bowl held only a slick of sauce at the bottom, I wiped it clean with a slice of baguette.
On to the secondi. We needed a fish dish. My friend's eye was caught by stuffed trout, the crabmeat flavored with pancetta and fennel ($24). There was something retro about the dish, topped with a roasted slice of lemon and draped in a rich lemony sauce. It was excellently executed. The trout was cooked whole, head and tail on, and filleted. The skin was crisp, the flesh tender. The lump crabmeat was plentiful, spiked with little cubes of pancetta and fronds of licorice-flavored fennel. A roasted Yukon potato, thick slices of seared yellow squash and boiled broccoli rabe shared the plate, making a hearty dish, which we all but finished, leaving just a forkful of trout.
As full as we were, when we read the dessert menu we wanted dessert. They're baked in-house. Alas, the apple cake is off the menu, but the flavors of the gelato sounded delicious — salted caramel, hazelnut, and chocolate and hazelnut. The gelato is from Volta in Stamford, and we had to try it. It was creamy, deeply flavored, a sweet ending to the meal.
The entry hall separates Luca Wine Bar & Italian Seafood into two distinct spaces, a white-table-clothed, carpeted dining room, and the livelier bar, where the floors are tile and wood, the tables bare. We ate in the bar area, which saw a steady stream of women on a recent afternoon. Luca was on site, dressed in a casually elegant, pale blue button-down shirt. He greeted guests warmly, offered his hearty approval of the dishes they ordered and kept a discreet eye on the tables, quietly telling the waitress to remove empty plates.
Luca told us that the Italian restaurant down the street, Fresca Trattoria (22 Main St., Redding, (203) 493-7591, frescotrattoriact.com) makes very good pizza, baked in a wood-fired brick oven.
Afterwards, my friend and I strolled Georgetown's quiet, one-way Main Street. The Georgetown Saloon shut its doors in March, but there's signs of new life in town. Across the street, Fender's Café, an automotive-themed American restaurant, has most of its design elements in place, but the back room is still being finished. We peeked in the open window and noticed a shiny motocross bike decorating the back bar. Fender's will serve simple food, and drinks with names like "Anti-freeze" and "Chevy." No exact opening date yet.
Swirl Ice Cream and Treats (19 Main St., Redding, (203) 544-7057 ), under new ownership, remains a cute and whimsical destination, selling Longford's Ice Cream, a brand made in Port Chester. And at the end of the Main street, a new place, the Black Cat Grill, awaits a liquor license and is finishing up construction.