Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ask For Luigi

Ask just about anyone or read any magazine article or blog post and you are likely to hear "Ask For Luigi." What's a good new restaurant? Where is the best Italian? Where should we have dinner?
Even the name of the tiny restaurant, according to chef owner JC Poirier, is an answer. A guide to ask for a friend, knowing you will be treated well when you, essentially, know someone on the inside.
It's hard not to know people quickly at Ask for Luigi. The 34 seats are terminally full with a line waiting at the door. Seats are close and wait staff literally shimmies from table to table holding platters of fresh pasta, appetizers and wine.
Everyone feels happy and relieved by the time a table opens and it shows. The dining room is cheerful and loud and every plate is met with delight.
I'm always fascinated by places this small. The night I visited there was a man at the front of house (the manager I assume) and 4 waitresses. In the open kitchen I saw the Chef de Cuisine and 3 line cooks. A fifth cook was tucked away in a back space prepping for the next day's lunch. To make money with so few seats and so large a staff a restaurant has to be highly efficient and chose dishes wisely so food comes out quickly and tables turn over to bring in the next group of waiting diners.
Prep work is the star at Ask For Luigi. Fresh pastas are ready to boil, sauces are simple or made earlier in the service, meatballs are par-cooked and turned in tasty red sauce as they are ordered. These aren't dishes wrapped in chef's egos or elaborate technique. This is, as AFL's manager says "pasta for the people."
The food is inventive and somewhat unexpected (I had a dish of rye flour penne with guanciale, broccoli rabe and egg yolk) but in attitude Ask For Luigi may be the most authentic Italian restaurant I've dined in outside of Italy itself.
At heart, though crammed with tourists, dating couples, foodies and bloggers, this is a neighborhood trattoria. You can stop in for a quick bite (minus the waiting time) on any night. The food will be good, ingredients fresh, and the staff friendly.

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