The building on Boston Post Road in Old Greenwich that now houses the Lugano Wine Bar & Salumeria has been home to a number of restaurants over the years.
If you ever visited when the low-slung building was occupied by those restaurants, Boxing Cat Grill, say, or Paloma or Greenwich Tavern, you are in for a surprise. Lugano, which opened in June 2015, has boldly refigured the interior, expanding the length of the bar and adding glittery lights to the skylight in the main dining room. Beyond the main room is an outdoor patio with additional seating.
Rosemere Dionne is the manager and one of four owners. In a phone interview after my visits to the restaurant, she said that Lugano was named after a city in Switzerland that was once Italian, “which explains the Italian menu.”
Lugano’s chef, Jesus Luis, worked at Quattro Pazzi restaurant in Fairfield for many years.
The menu is large, with emphasis on 12 aged and unusual salumi, including prosciutto di San Daniele (sweeter than prosciutto di Parma), parmacotto, sweet and spicy soppressata, salame Calabrese (aged pork with spicy chiles) and Tuscan finocchiona (fennel-seasoned Tuscan salami).
There are also 25 tapas or small plates, as well as four meatball dishes and a raw bar with six choices, including a gargantuan seafood platter to share at $69.50.
While you may decide to mix and match the compelling tapas, there are also 13 salads and 24 entrees to consider. Just reading and absorbing the menu takes time.
A menu as large as this one often suggests that many of the dishes have been prepared in advance. The surprise at Lugano’s is that despite the size of the menu, most of the dishes I tasted were both sparklingly fresh and very good.
At one dinner, two of us dined on assorted tapas, ending with a luscious chocolate lava cake large enough to share for dessert.
Our choices included roasted truffle sprouts (sliced brussels sprouts and pancetta in a soothing honey truffle glaze that tamed the sometimes overly strong sprout flavor) and baby lamb chops (meaty, rosemary-scented, and served with grilled corn and arugula in an olive oil balsamic dressing).
At the same meal, we also had a traditional, if uninspired, eggplant rollatini and a small plate of grilled octopus that deserved star billing. Thinly sliced, the cephalopod mollusk was incredibly tender and surrounded prettily by cannellini beans and a fennel-arugula salad.
At lunch, a friend opted for the three-course prix fixe menu, which offered many choices in each category. She began with lobster bisque (tasty, with a single shrimp floating on top, no lobster meat, but rich lobster flavor), followed by a superbly tender bistecca di manzo: grilled sirloin in a luscious Barolo red wine reduction, served with skinny herbed Tuscan fries that were terrific. Her dessert, a sizable square of tiramisù, was the best I have sampled in eons and far outshone my crème brûlée-topped cheesecake, which was merely adequate.
I ordered à la carte and savored three small plates. The first was a chunky tuna tartare, ornamented with wasabi soy, sesame seeds and avocado slivers. Then came beef carpaccio — tissue-thin slices fanned around a mound of arugula, dressed with truffle oil and Parmesan shavings. Finally, there were the crispy artichokes, crunchy nuggets piping hot with a tangy lemon-jalapeño dip.
At a later dinner I enjoyed a bowl of mussels (a bit too scrawny) in a zesty ginger-lemongrass broth, followed by a perfect risotto of the day: cheese- and wild-mushroom-riddled; firm (not soupy as so many restaurant versions seem to be today); edged with grilled shrimp and cherry tomatoes; and topped with a speckling of Parmesan flakes speckled. Dessert was a tart and tasty Key lime pie.
The miracle to me is how Lugano manages to turn out so many different dishes with such grace and consummate skill.
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