A mythical octopus is the inspiration for Nhan Le’s and Angus Brown’s second venture, Lusca. Their first, Octopus Bar in East Atlanta, is a late night only, industry-type restaurant with craft cocktails and wildly creative dishes with ingredients like sea urchin.
Lusca’s Buckhead location has many scratching their heads. Located in the space that housed Cafe Intermezzo for over twenty years, it’s not an area known for cutting edge cuisine.
My first visit to the critics’ favorite was a savory adventure with LC and friends TH and D. Arriving uncharacteristically early, we noted the sushi bar to the left but LC and I headed straight for the octopus mural located behind the bar where we found Maxine. Formerly a bartender at Paper Plane, she quickly improvised a spicy highball made with tequila, cassis, ginger beer, and lime.
We decided to order a plate of housemade coppa with figs, pickled red peppers and shallots while we waited. Despite the tastiness of the paper-thin slices of cured meat, the $20 price tag was hard to swallow.
Our friends arrived as we finished the charcuterie plate and were guided to a table in the center of the dining room, which had quickly transitioned from quiet to bustling as the afternoon turned to night. Original travertine floors and vintage orange formica chairs, circa 1970, made us feel nostalgic.
Once seated we ordered a second round of Maxine’s highballs and a couple of sharable appetizers. Generous chunks of rock crab were paired with creamy avocado and piled on a crispy slice of pain au levain. With the big orange octopus mural staring at us, we felt obligated to order the braised octopus simply served with white tarbais beans and parsley. Of the two starters, I preferred the rock crab. Both were $16.
Sea urchin is also on the menu at Lusca in the form of tagliatelle. Despite the press it’s received, I chose the roasted half chicken instead, while LC tried the pork chop. TH and D shared the North Carolina trout.
The pairing of tender pork with baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, and field peas created an earthy Fall dish. I rarely order fish, however, our friends’ trout may change that. Served whole, the light fish was paired with deeply flavorful, homey lentils.
Everyone tells me food writers aren’t supposed to order chicken…it’s boring. But I have a thing about crispy chicken skin and was assured I would be pleased with Lusca’s version. When my plate arrived, there were two pieces of chicken smashed flat, as if the bird had been cut in half crosswise. The skin was so crispy it was almost like chiccarones, disguising the surface, so I dove in and got a succulent bite of the breast. Of particular note was the accompanying assortment of oyster mushrooms and roasted okra with a sweet corn puree.
Three desserts were on offer the evening of our visit; horchata ice cream, apple pound cake, and fig tart. I really wanted to try the horchata ice cream, but my love of figs compelled me to order the tart even though it was served with chocolate ice cream (which I inexplicably detest). The tart itself was dense, made even richer by the creme Anglaise beneath it, but the chocolate ice cream ruined it for me.
Our friends chose the apple pound cake, cubes of moist, dense apple cake in a pool of butterscotch with vanilla ice cream. Good, but I was second-guessing our choices.
As a whole, we had a lovely meal; good food, service, and ambiance. But it didn’t quite live up to the hype, which leaves me wondering what will happen when the critics and foodies move on to the next new thing.
1829 Peachtree Rd. NE 678-705-1486