Michele Simone, left, and wife Azusa Hirasawa are co-owners of ll Lucano. They’re pictured here with a plate of scaloppine gorgonzola at their Gig Harbor restaurant. Lui Kit Wong/The News Tribune
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Il Lucano Italian Restaurant
Where: 3119 Judson Street, Gig Harbor; 253-514-8945; www.illucanoristorante.comcq
Hours: Lunch served 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Dinner served 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Price range: $-$$ (Entrees under $30)
By Sue Kidd
Il Lucano in Gig Harbor is just a few months old, but the story of the restaurant started about five years ago when chef-owner Massimo Terracciano hired Michele Simone to help run the kitchen at Terracciano.
Flash forward five years: Terracciano was bustling and outgrowing its 50-seat space. At the same time, Simone was looking for his own restaurant to open.
Terracciano made Simone an offer: How about you open your restaurant here when I find my bigger place?
How could Simone refuse?
Terracciano moved his restaurant, with wife Cindy, to the building that formerly housed the Beach House at Purdy. The couple renamed it Massimo Italian Bar & Grill and opened their doors in December (stay tuned: we’ll have a restaurant report next week about Massimo).
Simone stayed put and opened his restaurant Il Lucano.
Il Lucano is named after Simone’s hometown in Italy – Oppido Lucano, Potenza. The restaurant is an homage to his town, with photos of the city on the walls and a sign above the kitchen door lauding the city.
The scene: One whiff of the garlic out the front door and you know you’ve entered a supremely Italian restaurant.
Decorated in rich tones of coffee and chocolate, Il Lucano is an upscale restaurant with a family-friendly vibe. At lunch, it’s a brightly lit place where girlfriends and office mates dine. At night, with the lights dimmed, it’s a place where couples sip montepulciano. It’s also not unusual to see families with kids eating pizza peppered among the grownups dining on veal.
Menu overview: The food here is solidly Italian, with a wine list of mostly Italian wines. The entrees are divided between classic Italian dishes, pasta, imaginative pizzas and, at lunchtime, panini sandwiches.
People in the kitchen: Simone is the top toque in the kitchen. He started his culinary career working at restaurants in Italy, and came to the United States in 2000. When asked about his cooking approach, Simone was quick to say, "I cook how I was taught in Italy: with feeling."
Dining notes: I rarely think it important to mention salads because they usually are pretty unremarkable ways to start a meal at most restaurants. At Il Lucano, the insalata di mare ($8.95), a seafood salad offered on the lunch menu, deserves praise as one of the most perfectly composed salads I’ve enjoyed in recent memory. The spinach salad is dressed in lemon juice, olive oil and pepper and loaded with plenty of fresh seafood: plump mussels and clams served in their shells, oversized prawns, bits of salmon and white fish, huge white sautéed calamari rings. For lunch, my dining partner and I split the salad as a starter and we were impressed with the hefty amount of fresh seafood for the price charged. (Note: the salad isn’t on the dinner menu, but it’s worth the special request at dinner if the kitchen staff will do it).
An insalata gamberetti salad ($8.95) on the dinner menu was delicious with hearts of romaine lettuce, a lemony Caesar dressing, blue cheese crumbles, piles of bacon and shrimp. I appreciated that it was perfectly dressed with a light lemon Caesar style dressing, rather than a more heavy, rich one.
Like the insalata di mare, the scalloppine gorgonzola ($19.95) impressed with the size of the portion for the price paid. It’s too bad the veal was overcooked and on the chewy, tough side, otherwise, the entree would have been a cheesy, rich masterpiece with its creamy mushroom gorgonzola sauce (absolutely delicious), served over pasta. I really wanted to like this dish more than I did. The cannelloni ripieni ($14.95) also suffered from a cooking blunder. The interior of beef, spinach, garlic, ricotta and parmesan was creamy and meaty, but the pasta tubes were served chewy and far too al dente– texturally unpleasant. A caveat: the kitchen of two was overworked that busy weekend night, so it’s no wonder things weren’t coming together.
But the same excuse cannot explain why a pizza came to our table soggy and underdone during a lunch visit when the dining room nearly was deserted. The toppings on the quattro stagioni ($12.95 for lunch) of kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, mushroom and prosciutto were too much for the crust to handle. The edges of the crust were chewy and nicely crisped on the exterior, but the center of the pie gummy and underdone. Lots of toppings require a sturdy pizza base.
A panino con prosciutto ($7.95) at lunch was a study in sandwich perfection: it was hot, melty and delicious with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes, basil and drizzled with olive oil. Down to the chewy Italian bread, the toasted sandwich was simple, tasty and executed perfectly. It came paired with a small salad that was lightly dressed with a drizzle of a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. Note to kitchen staff: thank you for not overdressing your salads. Of the three sampled, all were perfect in the ratio of dressing to ingredients. It is salad travesty to be served vegetables swimming in a dressing bath, yet it happens so frequently.
Service: On one visit, the restaurant was completely slammed, with a line out the door. With only three servers on the floor of a 50-seat restaurant on a busy weekend night, I wondered how they would handle the masses. The overworked servers were pleasant, mostly collected and I was impressed that they kept things moving. Wine and water glasses remained full, bread baskets loaded and status updates on when our food would arrive accurate and appreciated. They clearly are an accomplished and seasoned wait staff at Il Lucano.