There’s an innovative bar and grill in Benicia with excellent food. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.
We had dinner at Lucca Bar & Grill, smack “downtown” on First Street. It’s a modern looking joint, all brick and glass inside, with tables on the sidewalk for more clement afternoons and evenings. The semi-exposed kitchen in the rear produces awfully good food while letting you see the production process. It’s too damned loud, but that’s the way they do things these days, deliberately making design and structural choices to intensify the sound level and make the place seem busy and exciting. The French Laundry doesn’t seem to need this.
We started with an appetizer:
Nothing fancy, just a plate of various olives, warmed with a few spices. It’s amazing how different the varieties are, and how much more than simple black circles olives can be.
Then I had the soup, which tonight turned out to be chicken congee. My only previous experience with congee was 25 years ago in China, where the thin rice based gruel is used as a breakfast cereal. This was a thicker porridge-type dish, flavored with roast chicken. The flavor is subtle (some would just say ‘bland”) yet rich. I was sorry I had the cup instead of the bowl.
Gail had the beet salad. She grew up with the same dreadful canned beets that I did, but has managed to grow past that experience. Me, not so much.
Of course, the salad isn’t only beets, it’s your basic greenery, some apples, some walnuts, a sprinkle of cheese and then some roasted beets, all napped in a spicy, vinegary dressing. I guess it wasn’t so awful, he woefully admitted.
Reed (the architect of our house, and a good friend of Gail’s) ordered the black cod special:
Certainly a beautiful presentation, the cod was perfectly cooked. For some reason, they decided to deliver this dish while Reed was still enjoying her salad, so it was fairly cold by the time she was ready to eat it. It sure looked good sitting on the table, waiting.
Which brings us to my only complaint about Lucca–erratic timing of the meal. The servers were accurate and attentive, but dishes seemed to come out of the kitchen almost randomly, at the convenience of the chef not the diner. Reeds meal was early, Gail’s was late. Entrees should all come to the table at once, and not until the salads have been finished and the plates cleared. This isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t a new concept, either.
My entree was orzo with rock shrimp, and a complete success in how to make comfort food out of semi-exotic ingredients like rock shrimp. Like the congee, it was rich and soul-satisfying, even though there were no sparkling or spectacular flavors, nothing exploding with joy over my tastebuds.
Gail then had a well done classic, fish and chips.
The fish was superb, the asparagus was crisp and fresh, the chips were chips. The presentation, on an extraordinarily wide plate, was exceptional. Sure beats the hell out of crowding it all in a cone of newspaper and sloshing malt vinegar over everything the old fashioned way.
The food at Lucca is good, very good. The service is also good, but a trifle eccentric. Or maybe they don’t know what they are doing, but the place has been open for over 4 years, so I’m sticking with eccentric. Is the chef running the front of the house? Or just running all over it? Whatever the reason, i don’t like it, but not enough to keep me from returning. Reed recommends Wednesday nights, when there is a fried chicken special with housemade cheese and corn biscuits that are reputedly excellent. We may have to back tomorrow night…………….