Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Luca's Easy to Love


 Like everyone who walked into the newly created restaurant space atop the Superior Viaduct in the closing months of 2004, I was blown away by the what I saw. Describing the breathtaking views from pretty much every seat in the house, I wrote: At night, the urban landscape sparkles in all its gritty glory. Illuminated skyscrapers, so bland by day, become a shimmering Xanadu. Big windows make these panoramas part of the decor, which also features marble-topped tables, sleek contemporary furnishings and honey-toned wood.

   All that is still true in its latest incarnation as Luca, a high-end Italian restaurant that opened in mid-July. Additional improvements have made it even prettier and more posh. There's fresh paint, textured white leather booths, and impressive collectible artworks on the walls supplied by local dealer Paul Sykes. Together, all this makes it a fantastic and inviting place to enjoy a meal.

Better yet, unlike past kitchens that never managed to be as good as the decor and staff that could not live up to the promise implied by the elegant surroundings, chef and owner Luca Sema and his wife, sommelier and general manager Lola, bring a new level of skill and commitment to the food and the service. They invited me and the husband in for a get-acquainted lunch and tasting, and my first impressions are positive. Plus, there's every reason to think this will become one Cleveland's culinary bright lights and dining destinations.

Photo by Barney Taxel
Everything I tasted was a knockout. The first dish to arrive was a plush filet mignon tartar with capers, red onions, multigrain crostini and an organic raw egg. A sumptuous bibb lettuce and endive salad featured an excellent Gorgonzola and a vinaigrette with house-made balsamic. Then we turned our attention to eggplant slices rolled around ricotta and sauced with a spicy  red arrabiata. 

The Piato Di Mare was beautifully done, a seafood stew thick with sauteed lobster, shrimp and mussels and a tomato sauce flavored with roasted garlic, wine and crushed red pepper flakes that prompted much bread dipping.

Photo by Barney Taxel
Since there were so many dishes to try, I had asked for small portions. But chef is a generous host and one of those cooks who can't do little. So we didn't finish most of the dishes we were served. But one strozzapreti (a pasta shape) in truffle and balsamic cream sauce was so incredible we did polish it off. I was not surprised when Lola mentioned it was one of her favorite dishes on the menu. Mine, too. No wonder she married this guy- who wouldn't stick with a man who can put this on your dinner table?  The food kept coming. There was rich slow roasted, fork-tender wild boar in a port wine sauce over linguini and a huge breaded veal chop Milanese plated with grilled radicchio, goat cheese and polenta.

And then a dessert tray that provided a tour di dolce of what Luca has to offer: cheesecake, a sublime panna cotta topped with a compote of grapes and berries, chocolate mousse (in darling tiny white and dark chocolate cups), biscotti, cannoli, all made in-house except for the cannoli shells.

Photo by Barney Taxel
  Between them, Luca and Lola, who are originally from Albania, have an impressive set of credentials that bodes well for their ability to deliver this kind of quality night  after night. Although the chef has worked at Osteria and Michaelangelo's, this is his first time as an owner. Lola, whose warm smile and charming personality add an extra glow to the dining room, learned the hospitality business at Morton's and is a third level sommelier. She's put together a wine list that's heavy on European labels, including champagne, plus good stuff from California and New Zealand, and stocked the bar (where I must happily note there is no TV), with top shelf cognacs and bourbons.

  I'm happy to be in a position to play matchmaker: Cleveland, meet Luca. I promise you'll have some good times together. There's a covered patio out front for eating alfresco, valet parking nightly and a happy hour Monday-Friday from 5-7 p.m. Just more reasons to get acquainted. Who knows, a lasting relationship just might be the result.

5 comments:

sharon Valentino said...

I knew it was just a matter of time before everyone would find this GEM. The food and staff are excellent...and the food???? You will have to try it for yourself,and you will be blown away!!!! What are you waiting for? You will not be disappointed!

Anonymous said...

I wish this chef the best, however, I wish there was some originality to his cuisine. It's basically a copy cat menu from Michaelangelo's. I believe he has talent but can't experience it when I've tasted everything before at his former restaurant.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful food! I have eaten ate both Michaelangelos and Luca. Chef Mike is amazing! One of Clevelands finest! Luca was lucky to have apprenticed with him! I was blown away at Luca! Bravo! Like no other place in Cleveland...im sure Chef Annandono is proud!

Anonymous said...

How can I not talk about this amazing place, staff and the wonderful food that this restaurant serves. blown away.5 star

Anonymous said...

Just another amazing evening at LUCA! Everytime i visit it just gets BETTER!