The Polenta Party was held in the upstairs dining room, a clean brick walled space with painted ceilings where a large central table is flanked by smaller ones dressed in white linens. The Sangiovese flowed from the moment we sat down, I appreciated that the professional waitstaff were sure to top off our glasses frequently. Prefacing the polenta were antipasto plates layered with thinly sliced proscuitto and sopressato, thick squares of Auricchio provolone, roasted red peppers and spicy marinated eggplant. I adore a good antipasto to kick off an Italian meal, and this one was exceptional. So were the bruschettas that followed, where large slices of rustic country bread were grilled and brushed with olive oil, topped with truffle oil laced funghi and bitter broccoli rabe which had been sauteed with fresh garlic. This is incredibly simple food; the chef, owner and manager who dined with us were sure to point out. Modest as they were, I thought it was some of the most delicious and flavorful that I've tasted in the North End. Then it was time for overflowing plates of creamy golden yellow polenta, the first came topped with gamey rabbit meat still on the bone that had a sweet almost nutty flavor to it. While eating rabbit might seem unusual or exotic, it is a staple cuisine where Donato (the owner) comes from in Italy (Abruzzo) and there is nothing strange about it! The second plate was piled with a hearty pork chop and homemade sausage and the final plate (my favorite) a braised shortrib smothered in a smooth tomato sauce and sprinkled with fresh parsley and parmesan cheese. Dessert saw fresh brewed coffee, hazelnut cake that we drizzled in creme anglaise, and a duo of brisk, refreshing lemon and coconut sorbettos.
I liked that they offered us something entirely different than the typical tiramisu and cannoli! I had never had hazelnut cake, it was excellent. The presentation of the sorbetto was charming. By keeping it simple and allowing the high quality ingredients to shine, Lucia succeeds in impressing the majority of us, just as they have their regulars and newcomers alike for 35 years. I was so impressed in fact, that I plan to return this weekend with friends! An equally honest review as a paying customer is sure to follow. In the meantime, thanks to all who were instrumental in organizing this memorable dinner party. Besides the food and wine, I especially loved hearing about what my beloved neighborhood was like back-in-the-day from folks who have lived and worked here since the beginning. The North End has come so far since 1977 and nights like this make me incredibly proud to call it home. Updated 3/11/12 to add: I didn't photograph my meal this past Saturday night, instead relishing the company of my college roommates and friends. We were a party of 12 and our meals and service were nearly flawless. (I am always especially impressed when restaurants succeed at accommodating a large group.) Our waitress was not only knowledgeable and efficient, she was wonderful at her job and consistently on the ball. The food was comforting, traditional and reasonably priced. Definitely consider Lucia for your next North End meal!