I’ll be honest; my knowledge of Latin American/Hispanic culture has thus far been limited to articles on Frida Kahlo, BuzzFeed “Pero Like” videos, random cooking shows here and there and the occasional tendency to stalk Chef Gaston Acurio.
And while all of that is a painfully restricted representation of their respective countries, I find that these little scraps of information I’ve collected have led me to understand the differences between the drab, watered down Tex-Mex fare I ate while growing up and actual, authentic Latin American food to a much larger degree.
It is almost silly how I have come to appreciate the comfort of digging into a wholesome plate of Lomo Saltado or the anticipation of a big family meal with homemade tamales without having experienced it myself. But I guess that’s the beauty of having a deep-rooted background and vibrant social morés- even the simple act of regaling tales to a relative outsider brings about a sense of bonding; one of understanding each other despite all the otherwise evident differences.
Suffice it to say, I was happy as a clam when Luca decided to bring a slice of South America to our humble bay last month, and a glance at their lovely menu alone warranted a visit.
On taking a stroll down the long corridor of the building housing this place, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a very pleasing Frida-meets-new-generation-Chola painting, in all her nonchalant, unibrow-proud wonder.
The interiors are open and airy, with bright pops of colour and monochromatic aztec prints dispersed throughout the space by means of plush couches, comfy chairs and large fluffy accented pillows adorning every nook and cranny. I won’t go so far to say I was transported to the shores of Puerto Rico but it had me feeling suitably alegre for sure.
With items classified in separate two-page menus from each region (and some Caribbean classics to boot) , the number of dishes on offer is borderline staggering. With a permanent liquor licence underway, you can expect an extra booklet of options to mull over if/when you pay them a visit.
Riddled with choice, but determined to give some of their more authentic stuff a try, this is what we ordered:
The skin-on wings are tender, and their in-house seasoning is the right blend of sweet, spice and tang. I would suggest eschewing the cutlery and going hands in as well as giving the saccharine sweet dipping sauce a miss. A pretty solid start to the meal.
Touted to be another Caribbean special, the menu promised lump crab tossed with onions, tomatoes and herbs stuffed into china crab shells with a baked breadcrumb topping but the dish fell flat when tasted.
The crab was shredded beyond recognition, rendering a boring, almost monotone texture as opposed to the juicy chunks of crabmeat we’d expected. I couldn’t taste (or see) the onions and tomatoes tossed in and the guac and sour cream given on the side didn’t provide the necessary punch of flavour either. Quite the disappointment.
Sea Bass Ceviche
Ceviche generally has me thinking of a generous bowl of diced citrus-cured fish stirred in with fresh tomatoes, red onion and avocado but Luca’s take on it is vastly different. The thicker, slightly more fillet-esque cuts of sea bass are evenly cured and pair well with the creamy sweet potato mash. The hints of lime-chilli pickle were far too limited to add much but the slices of jalapeno topped with a habanero sauce was a lovely little jolt of spice to complement the more mellow fish. I only wish we were given some more of it!
Seared Tuna Salad
The biggest miss of the meal for me, I’m hard pressed to find a single element of the dish that merited some praise. The seared tuna was well past done for something advertised as “rare” on the menu. It didn’t taste all too fresh either. The slices of avocado were a touch raw- which meant they had an odd bite and unappealing bitterness in place of the creamy sweetness expected from a ripened Hass avocado. The bits of mango seemed vaguely out of place, the dressing was under-seasoned and didn’t bear the slightest hint of apricot and the greens were too large and messy to get through in one bite. I would generally suggest a modification or two, but truth be told, I would rather just see this off the menu.
Just as we were grumbling about the let downs on our table, redemption (or an attempt at it) came in the form of a sizeable bowl of paella. Yes, its not the golden, saffron-y version I’m acquainted with, but it was a hearty, genuinely tasty bowl of food with a liberal amount of squid, prawn, mussels and clams tossed in for good measure. If I really try to nitpick, the squid was a tad chewy for my liking, but the perfectly done rice and the flavourful, satisfying tomato-ey base more than made up for it. A definite must-order if you find yourself here.
What Luca has going for it is an extremely well curated menu and an attempt to provide food that stands out from the jumble of Pan Asian/ Indian Fusion places the Bombay dining scene has been recently packed to the brim with. But some serious effort must be put in to dish out bold, interesting plates of food to do justice to the cuisines on offer. While some aspects like spotty service could be chalked down to teething problems on the restaurant’s part, good food is expected from the first order on the pass, and that’s where Luca really stumbled during the course of our meal there.
Here’s hoping they shape up and come into their own soon.