I lucked out and was able to have an impromptu girls lunch with my niece Liane during my time in North Carolina. She’s a very busy woman with a three-month old baby and a very active toddler. That isn’t even mentioning her full-time career as a nurse and her writing an amazing lifestyle blog The Triangle Review with her husband. She makes me tired just thinking about all she does. Anyway, her sweet husband took the kids and the two of us snuck out for a quiet lunch. When I asked where to go, she of course knew just the right place.
We went to the very hip and trendy Lucia in downtown Durham on West Main. It was a little strange entering the building as the restaurant space is up some stairs but once you get there, the climb is so worth it. Decorated in warm woods and rich blues and touches of yellow and grey and cream, I would call this restaurant contemporary elegant. I loved the huge booths on one side of the restaurant and the nice open tables in the center.
As we were the only people in the place, we were waited on like royalty. It was a little after the lunch rush so we had a chance to sit and eat and enjoy the beautiful place and each other. I am sure my niece doesn’t get much time to do those luxury things very often these days. She had been here before, and knew both the restaurant and the menu. I was happy to allow her to guide me on what to get.
When she suggested that we order the Brussels sprouts to share I paused. I eat this dish often and honestly I couldn’t really see how they could improve on the examples I have had previously. Boy, was I wrong. This dish not only had the roasted sprouts, but it also had pork belly and red peppers roasted in it too. The combination of textures and flavors was outstanding. The chef completely knocked it out of the park, not to mention that it was a feast for the eyes.
When it came to our main courses, she ordered a white pizza with mushrooms and she asked that the chef “put meat on it”. When the waiter asked what kind she would like, my niece just shrugged and told him to leave it up to the chef. I thought that was really brave of her. This is something I would never think to do. When her pizza came, it was absolutely gorgeous; rustic and covered with toppings. The chef had added short rib to the pizza and there were many mmms and maybe even some nom noms coming from her side of the table as she ate.
When it came to my main meal, I ordered the grilled pork belly panini. This just sounded amazing to me: roasted red peppers, smoked provolone cheese and horseradish aoili. It was served on a ciabatta roll and grilled until the cheese oozed out perfectly. They served it with smashed fingerling potatoes that were fried and salted with course salt for almost a french fry feel, but far better. I didn’t expect that they would put lettuce on my sandwich. I have to say, I liked it, but didn’t love it. I felt like there was an element missing there to give it zip and zing. The roasted red peppers weren’t quite enough. Maybe if they had done it with a red pepper pesto? The pork belly on the sandwich was juicy and succulent; all the other things were there to make this a great plate. Sadly, it just missed the mark of outstanding.
When we asked for our check, the waiter told us that the chef would not let us leave without having some ice cream on him and he brought out us each a bowl of three different scoops. The flavors were vanilla bean, candied mandarin, and pistachio. They were outstanding. The pistachio was chock full of nuts. The mandarin at first taste was only OK, until you got a bite of the beautiful fruit; then you had the world. I would have liked some dark chocolate shavings in that one to really round it out. The last, but best, was the vanilla bean; beautiful vanilla flavor, rich, and creamy; everything a great ice cream should be.
I was impressed with everything about this restaurant; the food, the atmosphere, and the service. I would highly recommend eating here for a night with friends, or for an intimate date night. This is a special place. I am looking forward to revisiting soon.