If you haven't heard of a la lucie, you probably have been in Lexington for only five minutes.
For more than 20 years, this North Limestone institution has challenged the adage that "less is more," from interior décor to menu design. Not an inch of the restaurant is understated: Paintings and posters festoon walls painted the brightest shade of blue-green ever mixed, the upholstery (much in need of repair) is patterned with leopard spots, and touches of pink are everywhere. It strikes a certain aesthetic of shabby glamour.
The food has always been similarly bold. Nouvelle cuisine and small plates have never fit in here, and Southern staples like frying and rich sauces seem to remain the restaurant's strongest suits.
Lucie's, as it is known, is considered special-occasion dining by many, a valid conclusion in light of the dinner prices. But the midday tab allows the restaurant to strut its stuff while the consumer can eat upscale and save a few bucks.
The clock need not necessarily dictate whether you have wine with a meal, so order a glass of Dry Creek chenin blanc. It's bright, crisp and the perfect complement to the "oyster stack." This appetizer features plump, piping hot mollusks in a salty breading placed on excellent wilted spinach and scattered with perfectly sautéed chopped bacon and bits of blue cheese. It's filling for one but ideal for two.
During hot weather, a salad is always welcome, and the pickled beets sounded about right. The beets themselves were disappointing — they tasted watery and overboiled — and the vinaigrette was bland, but everything else on the plate worked well. There were silky slices of smoked salmon, and the deep-fried artichoke hearts stuffed with blue cheese provided great textural contrast next to the tender leaves of Bibb lettuce, one of Kentucky's great and under-acknowledged contributions to the food world.
But summer temps also mandate grilled food. A little better timing on the bourbon Tabasco pork chop would have improved the meat's juiciness, but the sweet and spicy sauce added oomph. I liked the eggy corn pudding, packed with kernels of fresh corn — it just needed salt and pepper. With farmers markets bursting with summer produce, however, the vegetable medley was oddly (and very unlike a la lucie) minimalist: just a few pieces of broccoli, yellow squash and zucchini.
As I said, the fried and the rich hit the mark most often, which brings me to dessert. I have left the best for last.
That would be Miss Lucie's Lexington bread pudding. Is it served hot from the oven? Yes, of course. Is the Kentucky bourbon hard sauce the picture of caramel decadence? Yes, it is. But what makes this dish fabulous and special is that the "bread," I was told, is locally famous and unanimously adored Spalding's doughnuts, making this final course among the best Kentucky Proud creations in town.
When all is said and done, a la lucie might shine the spotlight more on the details of ambience than those of food, but, of all Lexington's dining spots, it is this atmosphere of fun, extravagance and excess, as much as anything on the plate, that keeps everyone coming back.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.