Gelato to the Rescue!
Thank God for the providential opening of Café Lucca, home to soothing gelati that will relieve your summer discomfort like a Crystal Cove sea breeze. It's the latest restaurant to debut in the suddenly happening Orange Circle, though the only one to specialize in chilled goodies. And so the lines already form for the flavorful balm, everyone buying gelato by the cup, by the cone, by the gallon—anything to stave off the broiling summer sun.
I've already stopped by Café Lucca about a dozen times since it opened last week, but it's not just the gelati that draw me back. Designwise, the large room suggests a Tuscan villa. Sunlight filters through the glass wall that separates diners from the septuagenarian antique-buyers ambling down Glassell Street. Gold- and silver-plated tiles connect the mango-colored walls to the gorgeous, lamp-bedecked ceiling. There's also a small outside patio, where a bucolic mural pretties the wall. With wireless Internet available for free, you can wile away many an evening here, fortified by their mule-kick espresso and their many flavors of Italian sodas—I prefer the light sweetness of coconut.
But better than the design is the food. Salads lean toward fusion cuisine, with jumbles of soba noodles and Italian parsley heavy on toasted sesame seeds. The soups, while steaming, cool you by matching refreshing ingredients and zesty spices—the Hearty Tuscan (it's both the name and an apt description of the soup) glimmers thanks to the chunks of Italian sausage pepper, Parmesan cheese and cannelloni beans bobbing inside. A cheese and meats spread—creamy goat fromage, olive pesto, and prosciutto with ham and bacon—is like an indoor picnic.
The panini, meanwhile, are already the county's best, triangular riches of bread, cheese, meats and vegetables. The Sorrento bulges with hot sopresata and pepper-studded mortadella glued together by provolone and luscious red pepper pesto. Lighter but just as earthy is the Arezzo: onions, mushrooms, basil and peppers with a zingy lemon vinaigrette. There are even dessert panini in the form of the Piccolo, a kid-sized powerhouse of bananas, peanut butter and clover honey—a lunchtime snack for the Waldorf School set. All of the panini, though large, settle lightly on the stomach.
Lucca's food is delicious, and it will surely bring in the dinner crowd in the already-bustling and competitive Orange Circle dining scene. But Lucca ensures its success with those wondrous gelati, 16 separate flavors constructed daily with just water, sugar and fruit—no preservatives, chemicals or other artificial gunk. Each flavor not only tastes like its corresponding fruit but leaps onto the tongue: furious, refreshing, delicious.
Besides the usual gelato and sorbeto suspects of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry (all exemplary), Lucca offers some unique selections. Cantaloupe is sweet and pulpy; cinnamon reminds me of the milk-spiked cinnamon tea of my youth; the peach sorbet doesn't alter the fruit's thick sweetness at all. In honor of summer, though, grab a cone of the caramel apple gelato, a frozen take on the ultimate summertime treat, the staple of the carnivals that pass through the increasingly hot summers of our lives.
CAFÉ LUCCA, 106 N. GLASSELL ST., ORANGE, (714) 289-1255; WWW.CAFELUCCA.COM. OPEN DAILY, 6 A.M.- 9 P.M. DINNER FOR TWO, $14-$22, EXCLUDING DRINKS. NO ALCOHOL.
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