Giorgio Rapicavoli’s New Creation on Giralda Plaza is an Instant Success
Every so often a restaurant opens that is so perfect in execution and so right for its time, that it becomes an overnight hit. That is the case for Luca Osteria, the new star on Giralda Plaza, suddenly the hippest place to hang in the neighborhood.
The brainchild of locally renowned Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli, Luca is an Italian restaurant, but not in the traditional sense of meals boisterously served, with lots of tomato sauce. Think more of a sophisticated eatery on a side street in Milan or Rome, with a simple, rotating menu based on whatever is freshly in season, customers sipping Campari on the rocks.
Rapicavoli has already earned himself a spot in the pantheon of chef-driven Gables restaurants with his Eating House. That creative take on American, Latin and Italian dishes (fried chicken and waffles with maple candied bacon, pork belly croquetas, pasta carbonara with black truffles) continues to draw a steady clientele to its location on north Ponce.
Luca Osteria displays a whole new level of sophistication, and in a far more central location. “The Eating House is what I was cooking at 26. This is what I am cooking at 35,” says Rapicavoli. “I wanted something ‘forward’ then. Now I just want a good plate of food.”
For that, says Rapicavoli – whose mother and grandmother still live in Italy – you have to follow the Italian mantra that quality ingredients mean everything. “It comes down to simple, inventive dishes that are light, zesty, adventures into what street Italian food is all about: Simple, super fresh ingredients,” he says. “If you can’t get something fresh, you change the menu.”
So far, Rapicavoli has followed his own dictates, adding a dish to the menu when he comes across a source of “incredible mushrooms,” for example, or dropping another when a source runs dry (he canceled his thick, toasted slice of bread with truffle honey and hazelnuts when the Lardo de Calonnata ingredient, pork back fat from a small Italian purveyor, ran out).
What hasn’t left the menu are a core selection of pastasand entrees that show just how light and inventive Rapicavoli’s cooking is, along with an equally inventive array of antipasti (appetizers). Among the antipasti we sampled was a Patate Fritte, a plate of small, round spring potatoes in a foam of creamy parmigiano with egg yolk and black truffle sauce. Simple yet stupendous, and visually appealing. We also tried the Lardo (it had not yet run out), with its deeply satisfying, crunchy layers of flavor. Like its sister antipasti (peasant toast with pistachio and fig balsamic), the bread comes from the Sullivan Street bakery in Little Haiti, the new rival to Zak the Baker for local, artisanal loaves.
Among the pasta dishes we tried what is already a favorite on the menu: Pasta Al Limione, a tagliatelle with creamy Parmigiano Reggiano and a “whole lemon.” Right up the alley of tasty, light and zesty. We offset that with the Mare e Monti,a bigoli pasta with spicy pork sausage from Calabria, semi-dried tomato, pecorino cheese and salted, cured fish roe from Sardinia. A nice hint of heat and saltiness, done perfectly al dente.
We tried two entrees, the grilled monkfish and the chicken “Al Mottone.” Both were fresh and juicy in their flavors, and both were balanced by a grilled green leafy vegetable (fennelfor the fish, gem lettuce for the chicken). The monkfish, which has a flavor akin to lobster, was laced with Castelvetrano olives and finished with a smoky olive oil. The organic chicken, marinated in garlic, oil and oregano, had a tasty grilled crust and came in a pool of bagnetto verde sauce (think creamy chimichurri).
No less delightful were the desserts, especially the vanilla panna cotta, which came in a light pool of Aperol caramel and dressed with slices of grapefruit and blood orange. It took the classic creamy panna cotta to another level of refined – and divine – flavor.
All of this is served by a crackerjack staff in a settingthat offers seating outside on Giralda Plaza, or inside at the bar or tables, in what feels like a friendly and popular neighborhood osteria. Which it is. We also loved, besides the reasonable prices, the selection of Italian aperitivi – prosecco, Campari and Cinzano. Now you, too, can sip a Negroni Sour like Hemmingway sitting in Harry’s Bar in Venice, circa 1947. You just might have to make a reservation first in this epitome of cool, casual elegance.
116 Giralda Avenue