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Tiny Lucia Dallas is a rustic charmer

Lucia Dallas

408 W. Eighth St.




Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Signature dish: Salumi misti

Entree cost: $26

Essentials: Major credit cards; beer and wine; smoke-free; wheelchair-accessible

Good to know: Dishes come in two sizes.

Recommended for: Refined gourmands

Posted 8:30am on Friday, Jan. 21, 2011

Since its opening in December, Lucia Dallas has become the hottest reservation in the area, with a monthlong wait for tables on weekend nights. Word of mouth is overwhelmingly positive, capped by a recent proclamation in The New York Times that Lucia is "the best restaurant in Texas right now."

One reason it is hard to get a table is because there are only about 36 seats. This is a tiny place, and that is part of its charm. But small or not, Lucia is deserving of the attention. Chef David Uygur and his wife, Jennifer, have created a special, highly personal destination with a warm atmosphere and excellent Italian food. In the kitchen, nearly everything is made from scratch, from bread to pastas to cured meats.

Uygur developed a following at Lola, the Uptown Dallas restaurant that closed in 2009, where he offered stupendous multicourse dinners in the Chef's Tasting Room. That's a little how Lucia feels -- like a tasting room -- in that the menu changes based on what is in season and what Uygur is in the mood to cook.

The menu is broken into four courses, Italian style: starters, pasta, entrees and dessert. The dish that everyone orders is the salumi misti appetizer ($12 small, $21 large), a tasting of the house-cured meats. Presentation was lovely, with meats and pickled vegetables arranged neatly on a rustic wooden board. You get a couple of nubby sausages flavored with ingredients such as black pepper and orange peel; paper-thin slices of coppa, like prosciutto; and the favorite, nduja -- a brick-red, spicy-hot spreadable sausage served on Lucia's crusty house-made bread.

The other dish drawing raves is seared beef tongue ($9) with roasted onions and salsa verde. Beef tongue can be tough if you overcook it, but this was melt-in-your-mouth tender with the edges seared until dark. While the execution was wonderful, it was a lot of beef tongue, and it might be best shared.

Pastas, or "primi," all made by hand, were incredible with their rough-hewn texture and firm bite. Tagliatelle ($12 small, $18 large) came topped with an earthy, almost sweet ragu. There is always a stuffed pasta, be it ravioli filled with butternut squash ($12 small, $18 large) or raviolone ($11 small, $17 large) with escarole, mascarpone cheese and a runny egg yolk for richness.

Entrees, or "secondi," consist of slow-roasted meats such as pork belly with beans ($20) or lamb shoulder with olives ($23). There is always a fish given an interesting flavor profile like fluke with Brussels sprout leaves ($24). The current menu fully reflects the winter season with cabbage and dark greens, and root vegetables of all kinds: parsnips, sunchokes, beets. As the season changes, Uygur will steer the menu toward tomatoes, corn and other fruits and vegetables of the summer.

Desserts such as bittersweet chocolate budino ($7) -- i.e., pudding -- and house-made gelato ($7) had a homey quality, served in little glass bowls that could have come straight from a granny's cupboard. The wine list, culled by Jennifer, is mostly Italian but also includes wines from Oregon, France and elsewhere -- whatever pairs best with the food.

Many of the servers worked with Uygur at Lola, so you get that sense of family. Jennifer oversees the dining room, which has walls filled with the couple's books and mementos; you feel like you are in their home.

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