A trattoria, cafe and bar that gets lively at lunchtime but has space enough for a mellow meal. By Lien Hoang. Photos by Fred Wissink.
The day we visit Lucca, a party of 30 has walked from the upstairs bar, over to an extended table for a wine-food pairing event. The rest of us carry on.
That’s the thing about this months-old trattoria. Despite the narrow cafe at the entrance, the upstairs is spacious enough that the owners could partition it four ways, easily accommodating special events along with regular diners.
Settling into the comfortable, red leather booth that forms one of these partitions, we begin with organic greens dressed with deglased chicken liver and parboiled quail eggs (VND 120,000). The liver is slightly bitter, making it more resemble a pork rather than chicken product, and its sauce creates a unique dressing with the red wine vinaigrette.
For pepper lovers, the roughly ground seed makes pleasant, surprise cameos throughout the salad, as it does with a number of Lucca’s mains, including the baked rabbit, sea bass, tuna steak and cured-salmon sandwich. Like all the sandwiches at VND 110,000, this comes with a small side of greens and roasted potatoes, and a great selection of breads, such as rye, ciabatta and focaccia.
Though well-crusted, the sea bass (VND 250,000) is the plainest of the fish entrees, so the sauce, artichokes, garlic flowers and black olives bring welcome company. For a more sweetly pungent option, choose the tuna (VND 260,000) but ask that the spinach be cooked lightly.
If you’ve never tried rabbit (VND 260,000), start at Lucca, which serves it in a sauce of mushrooms, potatoes and bell peppers. As with frog, you’ll find that the dish tastes surprisingly like chicken, rather than more traditional game.
Wherever your palate takes you come dessert time, bring mint. There’s no fresh fruit on the menu but it plays a starring role at meal’s end. The mango gelato (VND 20,000) tastes as close to biting into real mango as any frozen dessert ever has, while the apple slices poached in red wine add an acerbic twist next to the warm apple strudel with vanilla sauce and cinnamon (VND 80,000). If you order the passion fruit panna cotta (VND 80,000) or tiramisu (VND 80,000), the strongest impression will come from the intensely fragrant strawberry on top.
Besides a meal, Lucca’s central location near the Bitexco tower and its textured setup makes for an ideal place to meet colleagues or host a mixer. Or go alone, enjoy the covers of Ella Fitzgerald and James Taylor, and take in the view from the windows looking down on Ho Tung Mau Street.