Meant to be

It would seem there was always a restaurant critic locked inside me, waiting to come out.

I had to laugh when I recently came across my handwritten notes from a dinner I enjoyed, back in 1993, at Luchento’s Ristorante, on Route 33 in Milllstone. The place (under different ownership now), was legendary for its huge portions of “Country Italian” food and huge crowds waiting to get in. Not usually my cup of tea, but in this case I was clearly impressed.

I went late on a Sunday afternoon, with a date, and was so impressed with the, well, scope, of the place, that I took the time to write down notes afterwards – and this was years before I ever wrote about food for the Packet!

Eventually the place changed hands a couple times, reopening in 2010 with Tom Luchento back in the kitchen. A large renovation created a much sleeker – and slicker – space. It was reviewed by Karla Cook for The New York Times in 2011, and while they have maybe not regained their former rustic glory, it does seem they’ve found a new, also devoted, clientele, if one reads Yelp.

Here are my notes from a memorable dinner:

Dinner at Luchento’s 10/3/93

Country Italian

Appetizers –

Bread – warmed, soft, not chewy but satisfying and perfect for mopping up extra dressing

Scungilli Salad – tender chunks of conch w/celery, black olives and vinaigrette dressing, lemon wedges

Wheel of homemade cheese & parsley sausage on a bed of broccoli rabe, in natural juices.

Salad plate – served family style, mostly (if not all) iceberg – but nice & crisp – no brown edges – olives, cherry tomatoes, lots of dressing – pepperoncini.

Entrées

Calamari Fra Diavolo, on a huge glass plate, over linguini, tender, lots of rings, spicy but not too.

Pasta Julia – huge platter of ziti in good tomato sauce (not over-cooked sauce), with tender strips of baby eggplant and Fontina cheese.

Also spied going by: a huge, thick (2″?) steak circled by crispy slices of potatoes.

Overall

Attractive presentation. Large, noisy, varied clientele. At 5:00pm on a Sunday, already crowded.

Service friendly and attentive.

Menu – full page of daily specials, but without prices.

Ditch the plastic flowers.

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