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For those who’ve had the pleasure of admiring the Tuscan city of Lucca from the crest of its medieval walls, the enchantment of the experience remains long after the visit ends. The same could be said of Trattoria Lucca, where chef and owner Ken Vedrinski masters the art of the Italian plate. A beacon of activity anchoring the corner of Bogard and Ashe streets, the restaurant offers some 50 seats amidst a cozy interior with handsome minimalist style. The small space has a versatile spirit brought by expansive windows and doors, antiqued mirrors reflecting the surrounding streetscape, and custom tables that adapt to both intimate corners and open spaces. Parties of all sizes are unobtrusively accommodated in close familial fashion,frequently inspiring both kinship and healthy decibel levels.
Having established his reputation as an accomplished master of cuisine at landmark properties Sienna and the Woodlands, Vedrinski has crafted a different menu at Lucca that celebrates family-style dining in tribute to his Italian heritage and beloved Grandma Volpe, who grew up in the village of Introdacqua in the Abruzzo region. Refreshingly straightforward, this menu is nonetheless authentically intricate in offerings, satiating all appetites without overwhelming diners. With items changing daily, categories include assaggini—a selection of small plates to begin the meal—as well as fresh housemade pasta and piatti, or main courses.
During a recent visit, we sampled an assaggini platter that included an inviting collection of vegetables, cheeses, and meats, taking advantage of the option to select either one, three, or six items. Soon arriving in magnificent color and arrangement, the beautiful antipasti inspired visions of many an Italian occasion beginning in similar fashion. Eggplant involtini (superbly rolled eggplant with caponata filling and baby arugula garnish) and grilled artichokes (tender, smoky, and sublime to the last charred leaf) were accompanied by refreshing Agrumato (a lemon-pressed extra-virgin olive oil from Abruzzo), Sicilian sea salt, and wisps of pecorino. Aged Parmigiano-Reggiano from small producer Vacche Rosse and shaved fennel were paired with parmesan crisps, while truffled Perlagrigia—a cow cheese produced just outside Venice—celebrated the season with black figs and heady vincotto (literally cooked wine). Cured mortadella sausage with pistachios and fresh salumi—a cured meat not to be confused with salami—with fennel seeds warmed the palate.
Transitioning to pasta, we wisely opted to try the sheep’s milk ricotta gnudi, tender cousin to gnocchi made with ricotta instead of flour. These were swathed in Grandma Volpe’s classic tomato ragù with housemade duck sausage and mild, slightly salty caciocavallo cheese for an ethereal finish. Had I the option for such an indulgence, these exceptional little dumplings would be enjoyed every single day.
We received our final courses, including the fresh fish of the day prepared dei Cuiochi—“in the chef’s choice”—along with the Berkshire pork chop Milanese. Blissfully fresh triggerfish arrived atop flavorful olive oil potato purée with a finish of chef’s delicious five-minute marinara, spicy Gaeta olives, and capers. The generous chop had been pounded for added tenderness and prepared with a traditional Parmesan breadcrumb crust, bringing ultimate comfort with warm heirloom Owl’s Nest Farm tomatoes dried in the oven and preserved in seasoned olive oil. Wilted arugula salad was accompanied by a halo
We ended the meal on an indulgent note with slightly sweet polenta cake served in a heavenly cloud of mascarpone cream with fresh berry compote and brown sugar gelato. And, of course, we couldn’t pass on the requisite Italian coffee.
The bar area provides additional seating with a large community table in the center of the room that doesn’t require reservations. A notable wine list features obscure, esoteric Italian varietals carefully chosen to complement the menu. True to its Italian roots, Trattoria Lucca also serves fixed-price family suppers on Sundays.