Friday, March 26, 2010

Barcode: Lucca

Lucca has long been a favorite for its Northern Italian cuisine and Old World charm. But for us the prospect of getting over to the North End regularly is tough; sometimes it feels like you need a helicopter to get there. That’s why we were happy to see a second location pop up in the Back Bay last year, particularly since the cocktails are a bit more adventurous than the original location’s offerings. And for all the elegance of the North End space, this bar seems better suited for a casual, relaxing drink.

Separated from the dining room, it’s all handsome beige and deep browns, dark stained woods and tall wooden shelves stacked high to the ceiling with bottles of wine. The stone L-shaped bar wraps toward tall street-side windows overlooking Huntington. OK, so the views of the Pru and the entrance to the tunnel aren’t so captivating, but there’s enough to look at inside anyway; a balcony overlooking the bar area evokes some Tuscan villa-style romance.

Speaking of Huntington, the drink that shares its name (Maker’s Mark, pear juice, honey, $12; pictured) is a good entry point for the cocktail program here. Maker’s Mark is sweet as bourbons go, and here honey coats the inside of the glass and the pear juice tempers the bourbon’s bite. We might try shaking the honey with the liquids to incorporate it more thoroughly, but, as is, it gives enough of a light sugar. “The honey is kind of the binding agent between the pear juice and the bourbon, the middleman almost,’’ says bar manager Michael Strangfeld. Pear and bourbon crop up again in the Reverend Craig (vanilla bean and pear infused Woodford Reserve, $11) named for the Reverend Elijah Craig, who some credit with the invention of bourbon in the late 1700s. We like a bar that likes its bourbon. You could probably mix this into a cocktail, but there’s enough going on to drink it straight. “The vanilla acts like oak in wine, offering a nice balance,’’ says Strangfeld.

Balance isn’t always easy to achieve with these types of infusions, especially with hot peppers. The Aunt Rita (chili pepper infused Cabo Wabo tequila, Cointreau, fresh sour, $11) hits smoothly with heated fruit. Unfortunately our margarita was not made with fresh sour as advertised, which essentially ruined it.

“We give the tequila a little taste test every once and again to make sure it’s not over the top,’’ says Strangfeld. “I’d hope that most find it just right.’’ As for the sour? “We try to use only fresh juices. A couple of days ago during service our juicer had a slight malfunction, which we have since adjusted. Fresh ingredients make a big difference.’’ Yes, they do.

Other worthy infusions include the William of Orange (apricot infused Hendricks gin, Aperol, mint, simple syrup, lemon, soda, $11). A lighter touch of simple perhaps and this would land in the ideal bittersweet zone. The silky, tart, and not overly salty Yarmouthport (cranberry and sea salt infused Grey Goose vodkas, fresh grapefruit, $11) didn’t need any toying with, however. Neither vodka infusion is really drinkable on its own, but mixed here, it all comes together.

Lucca , 116 Huntington Ave., Boston. 617-247-2400.

Boston Globe

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