After Fiola‘s glowing success, the Trabocchi family aimed to create a less formal dining experience with their second DC restaurant, named after their son Luca. A side effect of the share-friendly menu, which features flatbreads, cheeses, and small bites, is that vegetarians have more options right off the bat. Also, unlike Fiola, at least two of the changing pasta selections are usually meat-free (this week there are three!). Although Fiola will prepare vegetarian pastas and risottos on request, it’s nice when a chef puts effort into creating these items for the regular menu.
We walked in on a quiet Sunday and started with a couple of glasses of wine on tap (cups, rather – no fancy glassware here) and appetizers. Bruschetta topped with a sweet and savory caponata of golden raisins, pine nuts and red peppers was served with fresh pesto. It was simple, well-prepared, and taste bud-awakening:
I’m a sucker for Fiola salads and was glad to find that Casa Luca’s have the same magic. Candy-sweet grapes, grapefruit, hazelnuts, and crunchy slices of cucumber were served atop perfectly dressed baby greens.
Butternut squash agnolotti with brown butter was another example of How Things Should Be. Nothing crazy, just the right flavors and textures in the right mix. The filling was just sweet enough to be balanced by salt, herbs, cheese, and slivered artichokes in the sauce. All the other squash and brown butter wannabes should take note.
Ravioli San Leo with ricotta, greens, lemon, and almonds was also well done – we especially loved the lemon sauce – but the herb mixture included something medicinal which overwhelmed the delicate citrus and ricotta combination.
Dessert was the ultimate in simple perfection. At first glance our hazelnut coffee cake with caramel gelato and vin cotto didn’t look particularly exciting:
One bite of warm cake with melting gelato and that fantastic wine reduction and we were racing each other while trying to savor each mouthful. Tart, syrupy vin cotto might be my new favorite sauce – imagine if port and caramel got jiggy with each other.
A number of Italian restaurants around town could take lessons from Fabio Trabocchi’s focus on quality ingredients and no-fuss, yet sophisticated, compositions. And while nothing beats Fiola’s elegance for a special occasion, Casa Luca’s lower prices, quieter atmosphere, and bigger vegetarian menu make it perfect for a spontaneous night out. If this is what it means to stay at Luca’s house for dinner, he must be one popular kid.
1099 New York Ave NW