Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Luigi's Italian Cuisine

Recently returned from Italy, I've been rather leery of visiting any of the local Italian-American eateries. However, one restaurant in particular kept coming up in conversation from a variety of folks: Luigi's in Denbigh. It had been over three years since the last review, and my curiosity was piqued.
Dave and I strolled in to the open, domed dining room. An enormous live Christmas tree sparkled in the center, and all around tables buzzed with the chatter of families and couples. The hostess took us to a somewhat quieter corner table and left us to peruse the menu.

A smiling black-clad waitress came to the table for our drink orders. Dave chose a bottle of the Sterling Reserve Pinot Noir ($23.99). While pouring the wine, she reviewed the night's specials-- I went with the scallops and shrimp. Dave, after much consideration, elected for a veal-eggplant dish. The entrees come with your choice of pastas, and the waitress gave us her recommendation for the most suitable pairings.

She whisked the menus away, made the rounds at a few other tables, then returned with a piping hot basket of garlic knots and rolls. Dave pulled a roll, while I dived on past into the bottom of the basket. The little doughy balls were drenched with garlic, butter, more garlic and more butter. Each one was a short, sweet bite of pure buttery bliss. When the waitress cruised back by to refill our glasses, she warned against over-indulgence: "Too many people eat these, then can't eat their meals! Be careful." We heeded her advice with some degree of difficulty.

Both entrees came with house salads. I opted for a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing, while Dave went with a chunky blue cheese. They were fresh enough, although I once again encountered the dreaded refrigerated-tomato syndrome.

Our meals arrived just as we finished up with the greens.

Dave's vitello con melanzane ($17.99) was a massive plate topped high with breaded cutlets of veal and eggplant. Baked in a mild marinara, topped with mozzarella and served with a helping of spaghetti, this wasn't for the meek of appetite. The veal was perfectly tender, as was the eggplant. Both pieces were a little heavily breaded, so when stacked and baked, the crumb crust became a little too dominant.

My shrimp and scallops arrabiata-style ($21.99) came with the suggested linguini. A plentiful, pleasantly spicy tomato sauce coated fat shrimp and halved scallops, making for a lively, filling dish.

Our waitress returned to pack up the remnants, and offered dessert or coffee. "Can you make a REAL macchiato?" I asked hopefully. She'd been to Italy, too, and understood the distinction.
She returned in about ten minutes with our boxes and two steaming cups. Served in small portions, two shots of a perfectly pulled espresso were stained with a dash of hot cream. Dave and I sipped, paused, laughed, then sipped again. It tasted just like Italy.
Of course, I can't resist the thought of pizza, so ordered a Neopolitan-style ($8.50) to go.
This thin crust pizza was topped with my choice of onions, mushrooms and anchovies. While the amount of mozzarella was rather heavier than I anticipated, the flavor was well-balanced. Salty rich anchovy melded in gently with the rest of the pie. This ain't no Domino's, and trust me- that's a good thing.

I'm new to the world of Luigi's, but certainly see why they've won so many fans. The staff was very personable and friendly-- I saw chef making the rounds to each table, wait-staff hugging regulars and warmly greeting newbies. The food is solid and appealing, and most interestingly, not bound by the menu: "if there is something you would like, and don't see it on the menu, please ask and we will try our best to make it for you!" It sounds like somebody is having fun back in the kitchen!

Luigi's Italian Cuisine
15400 Warwick Boulevard, Denbigh
Phone: 887-0005
Specialties: Italian
Price range: appetizers: $5.50-$6.99; soups & salads: $3.50-$6.99; pizza: $7.50-$12.00; entrees: $7.99-$21.99; dessert: $1.50-$5
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday: 11a.m.-10p.m.; Friday: 11 a.m.-midnight; Saturday: 4 p.m- midnight; Sunday: 4-10 p.m.
Alcohol: beer, wine, mixed drinks
Smoking: no
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit cards
Noise level: conversational to noisy
Atmosphere: casual, family-friendly
Additional Information: open for lunch, lunch buffet, daily specials, carryout, catering
Star rating: food 4, atmosphere 3 1/2, service 4
(out of five stars)

from The Daily Press



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