IMAGE: STEPHEN VOSS
In Portland, this devotion to mieux cuisine is strong along Northwest 21st Avenue, where Lucy's Table beckons modestly beneath black awnings. Inside, bamboo accents, abstract paintings and modern glass lighting fixtures lend the place a sleek, I-could-dress-up-if-I-wanted-to feel, while chatty but knowledgeable black-clad servers keep the atmosphere from feeling too stiff. The restaurant's dark and chic decor--a contrast to the Sunday-dinner-with-the-parents atmosphere of some of its neighbors--offers few hints of the tradition that runs this kitchen.
Owner Peter Kost's Italian grandparents owned a farm near Seattle. His grandmother Lucy cooked for the farm crews, and the table where they ate now anchors Kost's candlelit dining room. Chef Dylyn Coolidge has been at the restaurant for almost two years and was recently promoted to executive chef. He's from the east side--way east, as in Vermont--and he's got food roots, too, as his grandfather was a chef.
Kost describes the restaurant's mission as "putting new twists on old things" and offering "creative Northwest cuisine with a European accent." Right. Who isn't, local diners might ask, but Lucy's Table offers proof with its excellent appetizers. There's a cucumber, melon and grape gazpacho ($8), its taste reminiscent of running through a sprinkler on a hot summer day. The caprese salad ($9) features house-made mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and grilled eggplant that combine perfectly on the palate. Two great choices are the goat-cheese ravioli in brown butter with bits of pancetta ($9) and the baby spinach and ricotta salad with pancetta dressing ($8), a perfect blend of salty, sweet, crunchy and creamy.
For entrees, the menu is filled with gamy selections, including wild boar ($16), rabbit ($17) and not one but two duck dishes ($16 and $21). Wild boar stars in a tagliatelle dish--think stroganoff and then add more richness, with flavor and texture somewhere between beef and pork.
The adobo pork loin ($15) is another favorite, with a subtle smokiness that rounds out the full-flavored fattiness of the meat. For seafood, there's pan-roasted Pacific halibut and prawns ($23) and coriander-crusted Chinook salmon ($20), the latter of which on a recent night featured delectable pickled cucumbers and red onions that added a spicy backdrop to the savory fish.
Coolidge's efforts are well displayed in the accompanying side dishes, as the broccoli raab served with the rabbit is excellent, and usually bland polenta is made more flavorful with fried edges. A battered, browned and baked risotto roulade keeps the seared duck breast's presentation interesting while providing a crunchy contrast to the softness of the cherry, pear and apricot chutney.
Without a pastry chef, Coolidge relies on Glen Miller, formerly of Caffe Mingo, but in-house help might curb the inconsistency. One night the chocolate and opal basil mousse ($7) was lumpy and a few nights later divinely smooth, the basil reminding the taste buds of chocolate mint. Ditto the house-made vanilla ice cream accompanying the marionberry and blueberry crisp ($7) that, while delicious, was served crystallized.
Successful flights of fancy are always appreciated, but a grilled-pineapple and raspberry tart with chipotle crema ($7) misses the mark--smoky isn't how the palate wants to be kissed goodnight. Stick with the Boca Negra ($7), a warm, flourless chocolate cake that looks like Darth Vader's helmet on the plate but has a delicious brownie flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
While "local, seasonal and fresh" can sound like an empty mantra these days, Lucy's Table serves food that tastefully reminds you why you live--and eat--here.
Lucy's Table706 NW 21st Ave., 226-6126.5-10 pm Monday-Saturday (closed Sundays). Credit cards accepted. Moderate-Expensive $$-$$$
Picks: Caprese; goat-cheese ravioli; cucumber, melon and grape gazpacho; wild-boar tagliatelle; adobo pork; fresh berry crisp.
Monthly prix fixe wine dinners feature four- to six-course meals, with local vintners and wine experts as dinner companions. $60-$90 per person. Reservations required.