Thursday, December 17, 2009

Luce Restaurant

Show Me The Light


Please, someone, help out with a comment and explain the apparently universal appeal of dining at Luce. We have been to Luce several times for dinner and numerous times for snacks at the bar and we have yet to discover anything to rave about. However, every time we visit, Luce is bustling with diners and every time we talk to someone about the Middletown restaurant scene, Luce is always mentioned as a favorite. This is beginning to baffle us.

The mood is warm, cozy and inviting with two gas-fired fireplaces. The exposed brick wall and carpets, the attractive wooden bar, the big picture window on Main Street leftover from the car dealership that used to trade there, the pressed tin ceiling, the floor-to-ceiling wine rack which greets you at the door –– all these things are attractive and comforting. The lighting is tastefully subdued, erasing wrinkles and “character” lines from the faces of the predominantly mature clientele.

On the night we visited the bar and dining area were populated by a high proportion of women – one table of eight singing happy birthday, another group on what may have been an office outing and an additional gathering of a single male surrounded by six females. Women might feel comfortable in such a setting, and men might like the odds at the bar.

Whatever the reason folks love to go to Luce, we are convinced that it is not for the food. The items that we have had are at best pedestrian, ponderous and ill-conceived. A portobello and eggplant tart with smoked mozzarella and tomato confit was difficult to cut on account of the very firm mushroom and doing so destroyed the desired tart-like composition. The mozzarella was too abundant and obscured rather than enhancing the texture. Crispy calamari is the upscale equivalent of nibbling on beef jerky at any bar. We passed on the oysters as an appetizer because, well, bluepoint oysters are probably the least oyster-ish of all those in the sea and the only reason to order them would be an overwhelming need to slurp – which sometimes happens. The “exotic porcini mushroom ravioli in a black truffle cream sauce” was so thick and heavy-handed, loaded with cream and cheese sauce, that it obliterated what may have been good ravioli filled with subtle porcini. Two bites were enough to know that this dish wasn’t about flavor; it was about making sure the diner went away stuffed with cream and butter. The special pasta dish of the day, a chicken and spinach creation over pappardelle was amazingly similar since it too was swimming in a viscous cheesy sea of cream sauce. Two more bites there. At this point visions of the Pillsbury Dough Boy from Ghostbusters danced in our heads. Wishing we had opted for a green salad, we consoled ourselves with dull bread and an interesting Sicilian red wine and had the considerable leftovers wrapped to go. Dessert was simply out of the question.

On another occasion we tried the sautéed tenderloin which seemed a safe choice but turned out to be an inferior cut of meat gussied up with garlicky potatoes and a thin sauce. It took two at the table to finish the unattractive platter of meat. The seafood in a tomato-cream sauce one of our tablemates chose went uneaten. The Caesar salad was downright excellent by comparison.

The wine list is modest in scope and overpriced – the mark-ups are two or three times cost (sometimes more on the less expensive bottles). Seeing that floor-to-ceiling wine rack by the door also must throw a red flag to some wine connoisseurs being asked to spend over $200 on a bottle of Gaja – is that rack really where the wine has been stored all these years? And the wine-by-the-glass program is not only overpriced but who would risk sampling from the two dozen bottles that were simply re-corked or, maybe worse, had their air and some flavor components pumped out and sit sadly oxidizing behind the bar.

There are innumerable attractions at Luce but to date we have had no evidence that the food is among them. In every instance the good ingredients and creative elements of the dishes were effectively destroyed by a failure in execution. We expect success when most entrees are priced over $20. Go to Luce if you are looking for a warm, comfortable place. Have a snack from the bar menu and one of their good draft beers. It is nice to sit in a comfortable chair, in relatively quiet surroundings, and catch the game on TV. A little like staying home, come to think of it.

The facts: The two pasta dishes were $18.95 and $19.95. Appetizer $8.00. The wine was $35. Total: 81.90
Our service was polite and professional.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

We find this to be true for most Middletown's restaurants. There really is no place for fine dining.

Anonymous said...

I do not go to this restarant due to the bizzare behavior of the owners/managers with regards to their territorial like protection of the parking lot.

Anonymous said...

I think the restaurants in Middletown are very good. We have had many, many a good meal at Luce. And, Sammy, the host/owner is always very gracious.

Doctor Grymm said...

It's the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man, Not the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

And try Esca. A totally different menu for middletown!

Anonymous said...

Service is great, drinks are reasonably priced, appetizers are good, and staff is wonderful when you get to know them on a one-on-one basis.

Anonymous said...

Can "Weakly Eater" please post their real name(s)?

fishmuscle (Stephen H. Devoto) said...

This is just too delicious: an anonymous request (12:19PM) for "Weekly Eater" to use their real name(s).

I LOVE these reviews, even (in one case) when I do not agree with them. They are well researched, informative, thoughtful, and clearly based on an extensive knowledge of food and cooking. They are fair, they are constructive, and most of all they are well written and fun to read.

I do not want to know who "Weekly Eater" is. If restaurants do not know who this great reviewer is, it makes the reviews more authentic and impartial. My enjoyment of the reviews is also enhanced by the thrill of the mystery.

Jane said...

I think the misspelling ("weakly") is even more delicious! I'd be anonymous too if I spelled that badly.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

As with all good food critics, the Weekly Eaters will remain anonymous so as not to have their identities influence service when they dine.

Anonymous said...

Jane,
I think Anonymous may have spelled it that way on purpose, meaning that they are weak at the job they are doing. If not, nice coincidence.

While I don't agree with Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous, it was pretty punny. (BTW, I can spell funny, it is referring to a "pun.")

I did also find the hilarity in an anonymous poster asking for another anonymous posters outing. Reminds me of a saying about a pot calling a kettle names...

Becky Carroll

Anonymous said...

With all due respect I totally disagree with the review. Luce's has outstanding specials, especially the Sea Bass when on menu. The rosotto is perfectly cooked and even some of the more "bizzare" specials like the roasted pig have literally melted in your mouth. The scallops are another favorite - simple and not over powered with flavors. We love the atmosphere and the waitstaff who is always pleasant and friendly. They also have an excellent Martini menu. We frequent Luce's at least twice per month and have honestly never had a bad mean or experience.

Anonymous said...

I eat at Luce once a week. Mostly the bar food. Their burgers are great, as are their salmon and chicken salads. The occasional entree we order is always nice. The bartenders are friendly and this is the only place in town that serves Dogfish Head 90 Minute Ale, which even at $7 a pint is worth it. The only odd part, which may have changed, was a couple years ago we ate at a formal table and had nice pasta-based meals, but were offered neither fresh ground pepper nor ground cheese, something we expected to be a staple at most European restaurants (bear in mind Luce is NOT Italian). This may have been rectified.

If I were taking a date out for dinner I would go to Amici, much more formal and $$$ but worth it. My partner doesn't drink so we've never wandered into Esca.

Our favorite restaurants in the area are two small hole-in-the-walls, Pho Mai (Vietnamese soup and other foods) at 570 Main Street, and Iguanas Ranas, a great authentic Mexican restaurant, at 574 Main Street.

Ridge Road Resident said...

On the few occasions I have eaten at Luce the food has been good, the wait staff polite and friendly, but the highlight has been the flowers! Just gorgeous this past summer--I wish other Main Street businesses would follow Luce's lead.

Judy said...

Interesting that as bad as the food was, they had it packed up to go....hee hee hee.

Anonymous said...

Ho, Ho, Ho...High praise indeed, Judy. The food at Luce was too good to throw out.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fish & Eye, Did you notice 15 comments in 24 hours on this post? People are really engaged! Maybe we should give up writing about town meetings and focus on restaurants....

-JA

Anonymous said...

That or town-gown relations. Or Miss Patsy's.

vp

MrBungle said...

Ugh....don't like Luce at all. The food is average at best and we decided to stop giving the place "one more chance" after we found chunks of a wooden spoon in the frosting of our carrot cake. The waitress offered to bring us another piece...uh...no thanks. Forbidden City, the tables near the fireplace at the Armory, or Esca are all better options.

Anonymous said...

Foodies reviews can be found at www.chowhound.chow.com and search for Luce in the New England section.