Located smack dab in the middle of downtown Louisville, Zucca Italian Ristorante boasts an inviting ambience balancing the rustic with a subtle but unmistakable European flair. The same can also be said of the menu, which ranges from old standbys like comforting spaghetti and meatballs to more elevated selections like seafood cannelloni and rack of lamb.
Besides the three Ps of panini (available at lunch), pasta and pizza, Zucca also boasts an entrée selection that includes grilled steak, vegetarian polenta with Parmesan-crusted zucchini and grilled trout. For salads, there’s the de rigueur green and Caesar versions, as well as main course preparations showcasing beef and gorgonzola or walnut-crusted trout.
Pal Ann and I made the most of a sunny lunch opportunity, opting for al fresco dining that would hopefully accompany al dente pasta. When our hospitable server brought out our $7 fried calamari starter, we were struck by this dish’s unexpected eye appeal. Bits of tomato, pickled peppers and a sprinkling of white balsamic made for a more compelling garnish than tired marinara sauce. Additionally, the seafood’s cooking time was optimal, making for a not-at-all rubbery, tender consistency.
A mouthful of spring (but not the “Spring Surprise” from Monty Python’s Crunchy Frog Chocolate skit) best describes the $9 arugula salad, which also featured radicchio, hazelnuts, Fuji apple and gorgonzola. This harmonious dish allowed for each ingredient’s strong suits to shine. For example, the arugula’s earthy pepper tones made for an intriguing contrast against the sweet/tart qualities of the thinly sliced and crisp fruit.
Ann swapped out the Cavatappi corkscrew pasta in her $11 sausage, mushroom and mozzarella entrée in favor of glutenfree corn penne noodle. The golden color of the pasta, contrasting against the bright tones of a tomato cream sauce, made for a food photographer’s dream. These noodles carried a pleasing al dente texture that nearly equaled its wheat counterpart, and it’s to Zucca’s credit there was not an upcharge for this change. Hearty flavor reminiscent of an accomplished homemade preparation characterized the sauce. This dish was a solid choice, although the simple addition of more fresh herbs or crushed red pepper would make the flavors pop even more.
A tender $13 helping of delicately flavored pancetta-wrapped chicken breast arrived atop rice-like orzo pasta cooked perfectly al dente. A combination of ricotta and gorgonzola left an overall creamy impression that was balanced out by the mild earthiness of ten der local pea shoots from the owners’ Three Leaf farms. As was the case with Ann’s pasta, I could sense that the cooks knew what they were doing; I just wanted a little something more in terms of unique seasonings to elevate the dish from well-executed to memorable.
The preparations at Zucca are all more than competent, although a bolder hand with the seasonings in some of the dishes would easily take things to the next level. The surprisingly peppy calamari began with a foundation of good technique, and took things further with vibrant presentation and unexpected but effective flavors. A similar approach to the other dishes would make this eatery a true standout — I suspect ingredients from the farm will help. That said, if you’re looking for Italian fare with an emphasis on fresh flavors that’s more sophisticated than a red-sauce-and-checkered-tablecloth joint, this eatery will satisfy.
Zucca Italian Ristorante 808 Main St., Louisville, 303-666-6499