Luce: Restaurant Guide 2014

2140 E Burnside St., 236-7195, luceportland.com

[SMALL BUT BRIGHT] Little Luce, sister restaurant to nearby Navarre, has made a twee art of the domestic in its small, spotlit space. Semolina and olive oil line market shelves—all for sale, of course—and a slate of chalkboard specials are as long as the menu. The quiet humility of the checkerboard-floored room matches the simplicity of the ingredient-forward Italian menu items—broccoli polpette, a light salad of octopus and potato in vinegar sauce, a tagliatelle with beef and pork ragu—has led some commentators to claim they could make the food themselves at home. But you know what? I call bullshit. The simplicity is precisely what makes the beauty of this food so difficult to achieve. That simple ragu leaves a cook nowhere to hide even the tiniest error of balance or texture. That octopus has been tamed into deep tenderness, the potato left with its skin intact to add flavor, and the olive and vinegar perfectly chosen to play off those simple notes into remarkable complexity. A salad of fennel, celery and mint—with pine nuts pinging off the palate—is a creature of splendid poise, a sweet-bitter balancing act not easy to maintain. And a recent rabbit involontino doesn't even pretend to attainability, with prosciutto wrapped around rabbit wrapped around parmesan-fennel filling. It'll make you freak right out. So next time Luce makes you an oh-so-simple butter-sage gnudi that makes you gasp, don't reach for a recipe book; reach for the appropriate metaphor to explain just how good it was. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Pro tip:

That amazing $15 lunch deal with three antipasti and wine with the half-plate of spicy spaghetti or steak? It offers the two least-interesting entrees on the menu. Get anything else. 


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