Casual Italian in Berkeley

You can’t spend your entire life watching the Olympics, you have to eat sooner or later.  Monday night we met the young Master and went to eat at Luca Cucina Italiana, on San Pablo just south of University.

This is not a fancy place by any means, but the food is good.

The menu board is simply but complete

The menu board is simply but complete


The small restaurant not fancy–plenty of light, no tablecloths, seat yourself.  The open kitchen in the back is designed with bright tile walls and is much more attractive than the usual industrial food production facility.


The nice looking open kitchen.

The nice looking open kitchen.

It wasn’t a particularly cold evening, but there doesn’t seem to be much heat in Luca:

Gail wearing Toby's down jacket.

Gail wearing Toby’s down jacket.

The tables aren’t set, they keep things simple:


You are supposed to be able to work it out for yourself.

You are supposed to be able to work it out for yourself.


The menu is large, with a variety of sauces and types of pasta in a mix and match style, so you can get what you want. You order from the cashier, then she brings you the food. There were a few things I hadn’t seen before, and I had to have the first of them—polenta soup.

Not your mother's corn meal mush.

Not your mother’s corn meal mush.

This is a thin polenta mixed with tomato sauce and topped with a slice of cheese.  I thought it was interesting and something different to do with just a bit of sauce.

I followed the soup with one of my favorite dishes–pasta Carbonara.

Pasta Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara

Carbonara is a dish with eggs, cream and pancetta (Italian cured bacon).  Or just plain bacon, if you’re saving money, but the good news is that Luca doesn’t overcook it–I don’t much care for bacon cooked to a cinder, hard, burned and tasteless.

I ordered my dish with the optional sausage, which was a mistake. Their sausage is just small, hard balls of ground beef and pork that doesn’t have much taste.

Gail had the spaghetti Alfredo, and also made the error with the sausage.  The pasta was fine, though.

This place is really, really, not fancy.  My spumoni dessert:

The doily doesn't really dress it up that much.

The doily doesn’t really dress it up that much.


Just a packaged portion, not even taken out of the packaging.  The ice cream is good, though.  Gail tasted mine and ordered on for herself.  For some inexplicable reason, it took an eternity for them to fish it out of the freezer and plunk it on a plate.

Toby had the cannoli.  American men are incapable of ordering this without saying “Leave the gun, take the cannoli”, so we all did.

Probably not house made, but good

Probably not house made, but good

You know your life is changing when the only one who orders wine with dinner is the son.

The tab for the four of us was about $100, we were all full and the food was good, so I can’t hardly complain about the prices.  I don’t have any idea what is the appropriate tip for the partial service we received, so I probably left too much, but it’s not enough to worry about.

I liked Luca, but it’s decidedly not fancy or upscale.  Don’t go here for Valentines day, you will win no brownie points.   Try the polenta soup and avoid the sausage and you’ll have a decent meal at a fair price.

Luca Cucina Italiana on Urbanspoon


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