That's Italian! 

Enjoying tradition done right at Lucchesi's.

Many cuisines are traditionally simple and direct in style and none more so than Italian. Italian cooking in its truest and simplest forms can be prepared quickly or extremely slowly, but the best are conceived of the finest ingredients, as fresh as can be found in the locality of the chef and if not fresh, then skillfully preserved.

Lucchesi's Ravioli & Pasta Co. blends "Old World" preservation techniques -- such as those found in their olive oils, cured meats, and vegetables -- with the freshest ingredients found in the Mid-South. Last year, Lucchesi's expanded its heat-at-home Italian take-out to include a small restaurant at its Germantown Plaza location. The result is a relaxing, friendly, and intimate setting. It has the feel of dinner at a close friend's house, and that friend just happens to be Italian and a great cook.

For appetizers, we ordered the toasted ravioli served with Lucchesi's classic marinara sauce and the chef's featured Italian tapas platter. Lucchesi's prides itself on fresh, homemade pasta, and the ravioli stuffed with Parmesan, ricotta, and spinach was no letdown. Served with a spicy "sailor style" tomato sauce flavored with garlic, basil, and oregano, the ravioli absorbed the sauce and we absorbed the appetizer. The tapas platter married roasted peppers and roasted garlic with onion and zucchini. The vegetables surrounded a small bowl of garlic, chopped red and green onion, red and yellow pepper, green olives, and capers combined with a blend of olive oil, lemon, pepper, and a hint of salt.

The house side salad was a large serving of romaine lettuce mingled with ripe tomatoes, kalamata and green olives, pepperoncini peppers (banana peppers), homemade croutons, and an Italian vinaigrette. The Caesar salad blended romaine with croutons and a dressing of coddled eggs and Parmesan-Reggiano cheese in an olive oil vinaigrette flavored with garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and anchovies.

Entrées and chef's specials offer something for everyone. The menu is well thought-out and carefully planned to offer diners traditional, hearty Italian fare as well as simple, fresh, and lighter selections. Entrées range from ravioli and lasagna to veal and fresh fish selections.

The meat lasagna featured large, flat ribbons of pasta about four inches wide, baked in layers with meat sauce, blended ricotta cheese, and eggs, and crowned with mozzarella cheese. Our second entrée was the Parmigiano-Reggiano baked eggplant, tomato sauce, oregano, whole-milk mozzarella, and grated Parmesan cheese in an angel-hair pasta crust. I have never seen this dish served with angel-hair pasta, but it complemented the hearty consistency of the eggplant and showed the creativity of the chef with even the most basic Italian dishes.

The veal, which was advertised as lightly sautéed, was too rare and positioned atop overly cooked angel-hair pasta smothered in a bland wild mushroom and white cream sauce. The menu claimed the veal was served over fettuccini, and we were disappointed by the substitution. This was the only dish that was really "off." Lucchesi's pesto sauce, however, is a tribute to the classic sauce of Genoa. The sautéed chicken in pesto sauce was made with fresh basil olive oil, sundried tomatoes, fresh spinach and garlic roasted chicken over ribbon linguine.

With our coffee we staked claim on the chocolate raspberry cake, the cannoli, the tiramisu, and Lucchesi's signature caramel praline cake. The layers of dense dark chocolate cake and rich raspberry made for a decadent chocolate fix. The cannoli – Italian pastry tubes filled with a mixture of ricotta cheese, confectioners' sugar, chocolate chips, and citron liqueur (citrus fruit, cultivated for its rind and pressed for its oil and used to make liqueurs, medicines, and perfumes) -- came in pairs. The word tiramisu literally means "pick me up" and the extremely generous portion did just that. Layered sponge cake soaked in brandy and espresso with mascarpone custard flavored with chocolate demonstrated the Italian art of preparing this dessert. Lucchesi's tiramisu is definitely one of the best I have tried in Memphis.

But we saved the best for last: the caramel praline cake -- layers of dreamy yellow cake, buttercream frosting, and caramel iced with more buttercream and drizzled with pralines and more caramel. Lucchesi's claims this is their most popular dessert and I know why. The cake melted in our mouths. It alone was worth the trip.

Lucchesi's Ravioli & Pasta Co. has two locations. Their retail store at Mendenhall Commons, 540 South Mendenhall Road (at Sanderlin), Suite #3, is open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Lucchesi's store and restaurant is in Germantown Plaza, 2037 Exeter Road. The store is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Saturday and for dinner on Fridays only, 5:30-8:30 p.m.

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