Two and a half years. That’s how long it took me to make it to Luciano’s. Why? Because nobody wanted to freaking go with me. Every time I’d mention it to someone when trying to make dinner plans, it was invariably rejected because either the prices were higher than everyone else wanted to pay, or they were nervous about trying a new place. I actually understand that latter one, as my experiences with Italian eateries have been more miss than hit, and most often I’d rather just cook my own Italian food. Still, I’m a firm believer that people wanting cheap Italian food is what keeps abominations like Olive Garden in business, and I wasn’t about to try an Italian joint alone because…well, because it just seemed depressing. Blame all the stereotypes of big families, groups of friends, and romantic evenings at Italian restaurants. Well, eventually I decided 2.5 years was long enough spent trying to convince any of my usual suspects, so I recruited a fellow culinary enthusiast from among my Facebook friends and headed for the Bench.
The little building across the railroad tracks from the Franklin and Orchard Fred Meyer has been a few different things in its lifetime, and not all of them have been eateries. Luciano’s seems a little more likely to endure than the previous occupants, if the local “best of” polls and aggregate review sites are to believed. It doesn’t look like much from the outside and the parking situation sucks, but things get a lot better once you’re through the doors.
A polite and slightly frazzled young man (it was pretty busy for a Monday) took our drink orders (Peroni on tap!) while we set to perusing the menu. My companion suggested we order things that we both like so we could sample each other’s, which suited me just fine.
After we placed our orders, we were brought a square of hot, crusty bread and a dish of herbed olive oil with a little pool of balsamic in the middle to dip it in. I love all of these things, so I was happy with this. The balsamic might be a bit strong for some, but for yours truly it was just right.
My friend chose the Linguine Alla Vongole (Clam Linguine). Per the menu: “Clams with olive oil, fresh garlic, white wine, lemon, parsley and crushed red chilies for a little heat.” It’s kind of a staple dish, as I’m sure everyone knows. The pasta was cooked perfectly, as were the clams, but the woman across the table kept commenting about how heavy the garlic flavor was. Now myself, I like garlic, and a LOT of it. I tried her food and told her that it wasn’t too much for me, but having had a few days to reflect, I’m not sure that’s the case. I tried two or three bites of her food interspersed with my own. If I’d had to eat a plate of that stuff, I think it’s safe to say that the garlic would have been overwhelming to me after a while.
As for me, I went with the Veal Piccatta, an even simpler dish of “Veal with garlic and capers, tossed with fettuccine in our lemon-butter-caper sauce”. Even though garlic is higher on the ingredient list in the piccatta’s description, it was a lot milder than in the clam linguine. In fact, I would have liked a more pronounced garlic flavor. The dominant flavors were definitely lemon and butter, with the capers coming more to the forefront when you actually ate one. Well, and that mountain of cheese (didn’t know it was a “say when” deal), but it’s hard to have too much Italian cheese. Once again the pasta was cooked perfectly, but the veal component was a little less successful. It may have been just a touch overcooked judging by the texture, but my main complaint was the breading, which was completely soggy. Personally, I’ve never understood the point of breading and frying something if it’s not going to end up at least a little crispy.
Granted, this is a sampling of two somewhat similar dishes out of a fairly large menu, but to me both had issues and I’m not exactly raring to head back anytime soon. There is a chance that I’m just too picky when it comes to Italian food, because the only place I’ve ever had it locally that truly impressed me was Gino’s. I know I should drag myself downtown and finally check out Asiago’s and Alavita, but the more meh I encounter, the harder it is to work up the enthusiasm to do it.
You tell me. Am I missing something here? Am I too picky, or did I just order the wrong thing? Am I missing a great Italian spot somewhere in town, or should I just stick with home cooking and the occasional visit to Gino’s?
Food: I’d go back here before Louie’s, Smoky Mountain or Olive Garden any day. But not before Gino’s.
Value: Fair, in my experience.
Service: Friendly, and observant to boot. Asked me to remove an errant scrap from my garlic bread before photgraphing it.
Atmosphere: Comfy, intimate, and with lots of natural light during the daytime hours.
Final Grade: B-