Posted by: lisetta | September 3, 2008

L’Oca

OK, I admit that my very small mind has made three gigantic mistakes:

  • I dismissed Nadia’s glowing review of L’Oca last year as delusional.
  • I doubted that Luca Garutti, the talented chef, could make food that pleased me … and told him so on several occasions. 
  • I forgot to take my camera to L’Oca tonight.

 

Looking at the menu a few weeks ago intrigued me, that’s true. Speaking with Luca about food led me to believe he could talk the talk, but could he perform? I just had to find out. 

Famed Philly restaurant critic Craig LaBan, who used to be Barbara’s neighbor, wrote that Luca had some work to do, giving the place a one and then two-bell review (meaning interesting, above average food). He also gave Le Virtu, the city’s other authentic Italian place, the same ranking. Either he needs to go back again and get it right (third time’s a charm), or he needs a few tutoring sessions on how to appreciate la cucina italiana (and I say this with the highest respect for his fabulous writing). Anyone who knows what Italian food is supposed to taste like will undoubtedly enjoy L’Oca.

Here’s what we ate:

VALERIANA: Mache Salad, radicchio, tomato, red onions, shredded carrot, fennel, cucumber, olive oil & lemon juice.

CAROTE E AVOCADO: Grated carrots tossed with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil and sliced avocado. This is one of my all-time favorite salads. While travelling in Italy last June, I literally had dreams about eating grated carrots, served exactly as Luca made them tonight. The brilliance of such a simple dish on the menu is in its perfect execution: 4 ingredients, in harmonious balance. Only a seasoned hand can pull this off with the right proportions. (I frequently squirt in too much lemon, then try to recover with oil and end up with something too ‘heavy’. Che scema.)

ACCIUGHE MARINATE: Fresh anchovies, house cured in lemon juice, served with black olives and a salad of cucumbers, fennel & cherry tomatoes. Uh, where am I? Did I just fall in love? Ha ha. I’ll take anchovies over chocolate any day.

SPAGHETTI ALLE CAPESANTE: Fresh saffron spaghetti with prosciutto, scallops & wild mushrooms. Intriguing blend of flavors, with a beautiful presentation. The light saffron scent resonated only after swallowing. I really loved this dish, but now crave a deeper saffron flavor – am inspired to try and make saffron pasta at home, perhaps served with fresh tomatoes and shaved fennel?

RAVIOLI: Fresh ricotta cheese ravioli topped with parmesan, noisette butter and sage. I lost my ability to articulate at first bite. Lori gets to write this one.

CONIGLIO RIPIENO: Rabbit loin stuffed with prosciutto e spinaci — This is NOT the menu’s description, and Lori, like my mom, made a comment about the cute little bunny it once was. I made a comment about how brilliantly it was cooked … or should I say, “NOT overcooked”. Served with perfectly seasoned fried potatoes, this dish altered my consciousness … which says a lot.

TIRAMISU: Classic ladyfinger dessert — which is keeping me up late at night. Damned caffeine. Lori promises to review the tiramisu, so click on the comments. While I admit to certain failure at trying to reproduce any of Luca’s artistic creations, my very small mind believes my tiramisu is far superior. Perhaps I will make it for him one day and let him tease me about delusions of grandeur. LOL.

To be honest, I’m still in a bit of shock. Spending the evening at L’Oca drew me into an intimate space, reconnecting my deep love of Italian food with a spirit of discovery. I guess my biggest concern about returning regards how intently I’ll be able to focus on the dinner conversations when there’s so much pleasure in the food. The open kitchen doesn’t help matters any, especially now that I’m certain something special is going on in there, and that I can catch a glimpse of the handsome chef working his magic.  😉

Other than lightening the tiramisu, I’m not sure what they could be doing better: atmosphere, service, and food are outstanding. Casual contemporary corner space with open windows and outdoor seating. Friendly, multilingual waiters. Luca’s friend Carlo, also an Italian instructor and city planner, extends the gracious hospitality and sociability of a traditional trattoria, introducing us, as we were leaving, to an Italian family sitting outside celebrating a birthday. I’d like to invite my own Italian family to swing by for dinner … maybe to celebrate Chicca and Matteo’s arrival verso natale!?

Mille grazie, Luca.  Abbiamo mangiato benissimo stasera. Sure wish you were in my neighborhood!

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Responses

  1. First of all, sorry for my delinquency with this “guest review.” I’m not accustomed to this type of writing, but here goes…

    I love L’Oca’s location, being right next to Eastern State Penitentiary, and wide sidewalk for outdoor dining. We sat inside, but at a corner table between two open windows, so we got the best of both worlds. The service was wonderful–attentive but not overly so. The menu is small but intriguing (though as a vegetarian, I had only one main course option available to me).

    The ravioli was delicious (although having just had Lisa’s pumpkin ravioli, to be honest, I liked that more flavorful filling better)–a perfect bite included a small piece of sage leaf, a bit of ravioli, and some of the crushed walnuts that topped the dish. It was hearty without being too heavy.

    I’ve never tried Lisa’s tiramisu (though I hope to), so I can’t compare, but I really enjoyed L’Oca’s tiramisu. I didn’t find it needed lightening–I thought it was flavorful without being overly sweet or syrupy.

    Lisa, if I missed something you wanted me to mention, just let me know!

  2. Excellent! I just wanted you to share your honest opinion, especially because I couldn’t find any positive words to describe the tiramisu. 🙂

    I had NO idea you hadn’t tried my version, which is neither sweet nor wet, and is much lighter than L’Oca’s. Let’s create an occasion when I can make it again. Maybe a fall dinner party?

  3. Yes!!

  4. Let’s do October … when the trees are stripped bare, of all they wear. LOL. Still love early U2 songs.


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