Luigi's Italian Restaurant
When I was a little kid, I lived around the corner from Luigi’s on Brambleton, and though we never went there (Mom and Dad had more of a Bonanza mentality), the place still resonates in my childhood memories. Because every time we drove by, that sign gave me a four-alarm case of the willies. Tough-looking dude with his hat pulled down over his eyes, brandishing that fork at me – he looked like the kind of Muppet who wouldn’t just shake his head sadly when Grover got his order wrong.
But I’m a little older now, and I’m usually not (very) scared of drawings or cutlery, so it’s a little easier to get me in there. And anyway, Luigi’s staff – especially the charming maître d’ (we think she’s the owner, she sure acts like it) – is so hospitable and welcoming that you don’t mind running a gauntlet to get inside.
One night not too long ago, we were greeted with warm smiles and led into a dining room filled with contented-looking diners, and took our seats, and because the room had such a classic vibe, we couldn’t resist ordering an Old Fashioned and a Dirty Martini. I felt like Don Draper, only dressed much worse.
The one thing I’m not crazy about in the front dining room is the window that looks into the bar; I found the TV to be a bit distracting. In a swell room like that, it’s a pity to get yourself in trouble for glancing up at the game a little too often.
But enough about me, you tuned in to hear about the eats. We started off by choosing the mushroom caps stuffed with crab meat. It’s nothing you haven’t had before, but they really do them right. They had hardly any filler and were served blazing hot in a bath of garlic and oil. Believe me when I say we had no complaints.
But we were really bowled over by the escargot and pearl onions.
Now pearl onions can be a bit of a throwaway ingredient. I mean, when was the last time your grandma made a pot roast and you complimented the pearl onions? But in this dish, there’s some kind of alchemy that takes place between the two main ingredients (which came plated in a buttery white wine and lemon sauce that was kinda magic in and of itself). I tried one of the onions by itself just for due diligence, and while it wasn’t without its charms, it was still just a mild little onion. But then my wife told me to try them together, and her rapturous visage overcame any skepticism I felt. And she was right, for some reason, the onion and the escargot really pop together.
I tend to be a bit of a steak purist – season it, grill it, eat it. No further action is warranted. But something about the Beef Bracciota really spoke to me. Steak wrapped around prosciutto, mozzarella and mushrooms and served with a spaghetti in a spicy tomato sauce, it was just a decadent blend of robust and subtle flavors. I’m literally salivating as I type just remembering it.
My wife’s Seafood ala Luigi’s was wonderful as well, with copious amounts of shrimp, scallops and clams in a spicy marinara, crowned with a pretty good sized lobster tail. We had a fantastic bottle of Chianti from the long-but-not-too-long wine list, and it was a nice counterpart to the strong flavors on the table.
For afters, I tried to talk her into sharing the Dreamsicle Cheesecake, but it’s funny; for a cool Southern chick with a fair bit of soul, my wife can’t stand dreamsicle. But maybe it’s for the best; it would have been a little out of character with the evening, so instead I had a cannoli (rich sweet cheese and a few chocolate chips rolled in a crispy shell). I also tried to talk her into having a little spumoni (colorful Italian ice cream with fruit and nuts), but our waitress had a little more credibility when she promised to top up a really excellent chocolate layer cake with some raspberry puree. We both had a little espresso, and they served it with a twist of lemon, which all too many restaurants forget. It was a lovely end to a meal with plenty of great service, food that was too good for my own good, and not a glimpse of any scary dudes threatening me with silverware.