Talented Italian chef Ken Vedrinski is no longer involved with Sienna, and Daniel Island’s loss is Charleston’s gain. For the past three months, he’s owned Trattoria Lucca on a residential stretch of Charleston and his plan for the city is just beginning. In late 2009, Vedrinski plans to open a refined Italian seafood restaurant in the nearby Cigar Factory building. In the meantime, Vedrinski already has one of the best restaurants in Charleston, Italian or otherwise.
Chef Vedrinski always manages to deliver a knockout bread course. At Lucca, expect slices of warm Italian bread served with a hummus ball seasoned with Asiago, olive oil and cracked black pepper.
To start, it’s fun to mix and match Verdure, Formaggi and Salumi, available by the item, trio or half-dozen. Our overflowing platter, still under $25, included supple Grilled Artichokes seasoned with Lemon Agrumato (citrus oil), Sicilian Sea Salt and finely shaved cheese. Vedrinski’s crew drizzled thin-sliced Golden Beets with white balsamic and scattered pickled garlic chips, sweet tangerine pulp and spicy chile flakes. Perlagrigia is a firm Venetian cow’s milk cheese that contained shaved truffles. The cuts came with dried Mission figs tossed with Vin Cotto – cooked wine. Lucca doesn’t cure salumi in-house, opting to source their meat from New York. There was no fall-off. Prosciutto di Parma/Grand Riserva, air cured for 36 months, was satisfyingly silky. Coppa, flavored with garlic and red wine, had big flavor, served with Parmesan crisps.
The Verdure that didn’t fit on the platter turned out to be the most impressive. A roasted Portobello cap hosted roasted earthy oyster and trumpet mushrooms, sweet saba (grape reduction) and salty (in a good way) Gorgonzola.
My father took one bite of the feathery Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnudi ($17) with house-made Italian duck sausage and Grandma Volpe Tomato Ragù, and immediately ordered a second plate. The fresh “pasta” was definitely impressive, with a rich sauce, basil and a thin sheathe of melted Caciocavallo cheese (similar to mozzarella).
Strozzapreti ($19), known as “priest stranglers” in Italy due to Umbrian clergymen’s inability to stop eating them, were strewn with a creamy sauce involving minced arugula, preserved tomato and Scamorza Fumata (a smoked relative of mozzarella).
Crispy Ashley Farm Chicken “Mattone” ($18) was a ridiculously moist, herbaceous half-chicken plated with Dried Figs, cuts of Cipollini Onion, and Olive Oil Roasted Root Vegetables, including carrot and parsnip spears and a bed of mashed turnips.
Pesci Locali della Preparazione dei Cuochi ($19), the local fish of the day, involved luscious triggerfish fillets in a light tomato broth, a bed of olive oil potato puree and a bath of tangy marinara made with tomato, garlic, capers and olives.
Lucca was unrelentingly delicious. Dolce was highlighted by a warm polenta cake dabbed with Mascarpone, plated with sweet strawberries heightened with Chianti.
Chef Vedrinski also makes intensely flavored ice cream in-house, including Vanilla and Brown Sugar.
Sienna was probably a more ambitious Italian restaurant, occasionally featuring three preparations of an ingredient on a single plate. However, Lucca was no less satisfying, and the price point was ridiculously low given the quality level. The triggerfish and pollo al mattone were both under $20. For an Angeleno, that’s a relative bargain. Then again, it’s hard to equate Lucca with Los Angeles Italian restaurants, since there isn’t an Italian restaurant in Southern California on Trattoria Lucca’s level.