Editors' pick

Casa Luca

Italian
$$$$ ($25-$34)
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Editorial Review

2013 Fall Dining Guide

2013 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
October 10, 2013

Casa Luca is a response to patrons of the chic Fiola who told Fabio Trabocchi they were hungry for something more relaxed. "We love Fiola, but we want to come with our kids," the chef recalls his customers telling him. Introduced in July, Casa Luca takes its name from Trabocchi's young son and places diners in a large and light-filled osteria, its walls made personal with family photographs.

Trabocchi comes from a four-star background -- the late, great Maestro in Tysons Corner -- evinced here by the way he approaches even basic food. Tender meatballs arrive in a copper pan with a glossy tuft of parsley and lemon zest; risotto comes packed with lobster, prawns and fine fish; and grilled lamb shoulder rack, crusty and succulent, is lightened up with wild fennel dipping sauce. Monkfish Milanese may be my favorite main course; its topping of bread crumbs, sunny with lemon zest, is a trick the chef's father used to get his children to eat fish.

Nice touch: Nearly 20 wines are offered by the bottle for $28. The kitchen can occasionally kill a dish with richness, and some meals are so leisurely paced, you fear lunch is becoming dinner.

But there's no denying the warmth and hospitality of the team led by the hostess with the mostest, Maria Trabocchi. Even if you don't order dessert, sweets appear. With luck, they'll be Maria's favorite almond chews.

Early look

First Bite: Casa Luca, a thoughtful spinoff
By Tom Sietsema
July 30, 2013

Seemingly every dish at Casa Luca, the casual spinoff of the modish Fiola, comes with a bite-size story.

Take "Maria's" gazpacho, named for the Spanish wife of chef-owner Fabio Trabocchi and based on her mother's high standards. The pale orange soup is mostly heirloom tomatoes, pureed to a creamy state with cucumber, bell peppers, olive oil and a hint of garlic: the perfect foil to wilting weather.

"I like the purity of this one," the chef says of the gazpacho. The liquid salad is as beautiful as it is luscious, served in a tumbler cut from the base of a water bottle and set on a vintage china saucer.

Consider, too, the restaurant's sunny monkfish Milanese. Trabocchi remembers the dish, generous with lemon zest in the bread crumbs, as his father's way of getting his children to eat fish.

The chef's family in Le Marche, Italy, is recalled in outsize black-and-white photographs on the walls of the breezy osteria, which gets its name from Trabocchi's 9-year-old son. When Luca's not in school or playing soccer, he likes to help out in the kitchen, plating desserts or, better yet, assisting the dishwashers. (His father thinks the attraction is "the power of water and hoses" rather than actual cleaning.)

The chip off the block makes occasional appearances in the dining room; look for the guy in the mini chef's jacket.

Casa Luca is a thoughtful place to eat. Pastas of rice and corn are offered for those who can't enjoy the house-made wheat shapes.

Although there's much to admire about Casa Luca, warm in shades of orange and illuminated with handsome drum-shaped lights, not every dish is one I want to revisit. Fritto misto is a mixed landscape of seasonal vegetables that looks better than it tastes, and despite a generous application of gremolata, the grilled pork chop is a snooze.

Any meal is better with some grilled-to-order bread, however. The flat, saucer-size crescia sfogliata looks plain yet tastes sublime. (Lard in its many layers helps.)

I have no qualms about dessert, either. Pastry lead Tom Wellings churns out true-tasting ice creams, sometimes pairing them with seductive summer fruit, and a hazelnut coffee cake that encourages you to linger at the table. The latter confection comes with a tiny pitcher of syrupy vincotto for drizzling on the cake and a rich scoop of caramel gelato. The dessert also should include a warning: Beware of flying forks.