Lucia's lamb loin with polenta, charred eggplant and green-garlic harissa. Five and a half years after it opened in Dallas' Bishop Arts district, David and Jennifer Uygur's Italian restaurant still thrills. 

Lucia's lamb loin with polenta, charred eggplant and green-garlic harissa. Five and a half years after it opened in Dallas' Bishop Arts district, David and Jennifer Uygur's Italian restaurant still thrills. 

G.J. McCarthy/Staff

Lucky.

That's how I always feel when I take a seat at Lucia, the tiny Italian spot David and Jennifer Uygur opened 5 1/2 years ago in Bishop Arts.

I feel lucky sipping an Orleans Borbón manzanilla sherry, with its lovely faint briny finish, as I ponder the menu and nibble warm marinated olives, having snagged a stool at the four-seat counter. I feel lucky contemplating beautiful thin slices of Berkshire pork coppa, streaked pink and white and elevated by their wash in bourbon steeped with toasted peach pits; pickled apricots and peppery cress set off the cured meat brilliantly. And I feel incredibly lucky savoring tender handmade strascinati (pea-pod shaped pasta) bathed in ramp butter and mingled with English peas on their pod- half shells, along with torn mint leaves and wisps of spring onion.

There's a reason Lucia is still one of the toughest reservations in town: It continues to be one of the city's most outstanding restaurants.

Jennifer, who manages the place and presides over the excellent two-page mostly Italian wine list, suffuses the dining room with warmth and uncommon hospitality that extends to the rest of the small staff of servers.

The inventive cooking – creations from executive chef David, executive sous-chef Justin Holt and their team – has a wonderful handcrafted feel, from the marvelous cured meats and other salumi to the sumptuous pastas and bread. Everything about Lucia feels thoughtful and personal.

I've dined there no fewer than 16 times over the years, and only once were the Uygurs absent. No matter; dinner was still wonderful. It's rare to see owners who are that passionately invested.

Let's get the difficult part out of the way: Following a remarkable five-year run as one of Dallas' very few five-star establishments, Lucia no longer holds that rarefied status. While the cooking often thrills, especially the antipasti and pastas, the secondi and sometimes other dishes do so less consistently than one would expect for a five-star experience. One night a beef dish's deconstructed bagna cauda doesn't play well with an uninspired pea-and-green-garlic purée and mess of greens; another night the fabulous flavor of a succulent Berkshire pork short rib is nearly overshadowed by spicy handmade salame. The pork-on-pork idea just missed, and more salt from olives and capers didn't help. It's a very good dish, just not a great one.

Occasionally the primis disappoint; maybe the ramp-and-ricotta tortellini's a little tough, or the risotto with asparagus and spot prawns over-salted. Over-salting happens more often than it ought to lately.

How to score a table at Lucia, probably the toughest reservation in Dallas

It seems wrong to dwell on disappointments, though, as there is still so much to celebrate here. In a city with precious few good Italian establishments, it's not only one of the best, it's one of the city's most wonderful restaurants, period.

The antipasti and primi on my most recent visit, in mid-April, were particularly impressive. Razor clams given a gently vinegary scapece treatment happily consorted with crisply fried artichokes and shaved marinated fennel. Dabs of vivid carrot-top pesto deliciously set off a raviolone filled with a duck egg and baccalà (salt cod and potato) purée on swirls of carrot butter. Ribbons of tagliatelle tossed in luscious pork ragu bianco showed how eloquent a humble pasta dish can be when cooked with heart.

On another evening, beautiful, frilly edged Puffer's Petite oysters dazzled in a pitch-perfect blood-orange mignonette. Rounds of marinated eggplant melted custardlike – with a brilliant parsley-and-oregano finish – into a rich and milky-tasting house-made ricotta on slices of crostini fashioned from crusty house-made bread. Disks of pasta called corzetti stampi lolled about in a butter sauce strewn with tender fava beans and dabs of coarsely chopped nettle-pistachio pesto. If you're looking for a delicious way to celebrate spring (or summer or fall or winter), Lucia's the place.

Lucia's marzipan gelato with shortbread and green almond

Lucia's marzipan gelato with shortbread and green almond

G.J. McCarthy/Staff 

Speaking of which, I loved a recent dessert that I'm guessing will disappear soon, if it hasn't already: marzipan gelato showered with gratings of delicately sweet green almond, a difficult-to-source ingredient whose season lasts about 20 seconds. David, who's also pastry chef, serves it with tender, buttery shortbread. It's simple and marvelous, the most striking of all Lucia's desserts I've dipped into recently.

Because the menu changes so frequently, if you fall in love with a dish – as I have recently with rosy slices of lamb loin on creamy polenta with charred eggplant and dollops of marvelous green-garlic harissa – you may never see it again. On the flip side, if you visit often, like the gentleman who can be found every Tuesday evening occupying one of the four seats that are held for walk-ins at the kitchen-facing counter, there will always be something fresh to discover.

Mr. Tuesday Night's devotion points to something undeniable: Lucia is an extraordinary restaurant, one with tremendous heart and soul. 

Truly, it's a Dallas treasure. How lucky can we get?

Lucia

Lucia (4 stars)

Price: $$$-$$$$ (Antipasti $1, for a foie-gras-stuffed prune, to $28, for a salumi misti tasting that serves four; most antipasti are $9 to $16. Pastas and risotti $15 to $16 for middle-course portions, $22 to $23 for main-course portions. Secondi $29 to $36. Desserts $9.)

Service: Warm, attentive, pitch-perfect

Ambience: A casual, tiny trattoria that would be at home in San Francisco or Brooklyn.

Noise level: The small dining room, usually very full, is often extremely noisy – perhaps because the tables are fairly deep, forcing diners to shout across them.

Location: 408 W. Eighth St., Dallas; 214-948-4998; luciadallas.com

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 5:30 to 10 p.m.

Reservations: Accepted by phone only. Bookings for each month are accepted beginning at 9 a.m. the first day of the prior month. Four seats at the display kitchen counter are available for walk-ins, first-come, first-served.

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine only. Jennifer Uygur's thoughtful, mostly Italian two-page list includes 7 seven selections by the glass, plus aperitivi. She's usually on hand to suggest something tailored to your tastes.

Ratings Legend

5 stars: Extraordinary

4 stars: Excellent

3 stars: Very good

2 stars: Good

1 star: Fair

No stars: Poor

Price Key

Average dinner per person

$ -- $14 and under

$$ -- $15 to $30

$$$ -- $31 to $50

$$$$ -- More than $50

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