Monday, February 9, 2009

Luca's Pasta

Luca's Pasta has quickly become one of my go-to dinner spots. It happens to be on my way home from work, so it's a great choice if Alex and I don't feel like cooking but still want a homey, satisfying meal. Luca's Pasta is speedy create-your-own pasta served in containers similar to chinese take-out.


Most of Luca's business probably comes from take-out customers, although they do have plenty of seating and a mod decor.


Amazing. Really. Alex and I still haven't figured it out, but they get your pasta to you in about 5 minutes. The amazing part is the pasta still tastes fresh! It doesn't seem like it's been sitting around. They must par cook it somehow, but it results in al dente pasta that doesn't clump. You walk up to the counter to order and can serve yourself Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes that they keep up there, which is very thoughtful since most of their customers are taking the pasta home and may not have parm for it. No parm for your pasta is a tragedy.


Luca's Pasta is create-your-own. Choose a sauce, choose a pasta, and choose a topping if you like. They'll put it all together. This isn't just red sauce or Alfredo here, either. Some sauce choices include Creamy Ginger, Olive Oil and Herbs, Sun Dried Tomato Pesto, or Curry and Roasted Red Pepper. The sauces rotate, so you'll have to stop by to see what they've got. You can add toppings to your pasta for an extra fee, including chicken, Italian sausage, and broccoli.


Great! As I said, the pasta comes out fast, but it's not clumpy or sticky and perfectly al dente. My favorite is the cheese tortellini with sun dried tomato pesto or spicy marinara. I only got the toppings once, but I didn't think it was worth it. The pasta is good enough on its own and ordering a topping only gets you 4-5 pieces of it. If you get a pasta other than the tortellini, you might want to consider a topping or a strong sauce so you don't get bored.


The sauces and toppings have different prices, but expect to pay about $6-$9. It doesn't look like a lot of pasta in that to-go container, but it fills you up quick. They also have different sized containers to fit your appetite.


8/10. Great for a quick bite when walking by or when you just don't have the energy to cook.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Reggae Shack

Reggae Shack is a surprising gem hiding among all the restaurants along the University Avenue strip. They serve traditional Caribbean dishes in a small but comfortable setting. They are just off 6th street on University, between Luca's Pasta and Otter & Trout Trading Company (both new favorites of mine as well).


Casual. It's a white room with a big kitchen. The other walls have interesting memorabilia and posters from Reggae musicians. Green, red, and yellow are the theme colors, of course. It seems to be family owned, and that's what really makes the atmosphere for me. The same woman always takes your order, with her amazingly cute baby in a fabric sling on her hip. Her apparent husband is the cook. The woman is kind and completely willing to describe every single dish to you if you like. She'll even warn you if a particular dish is too spicy or too odd for most patrons. I have to say, I have tremendous respect for any woman that can run a restaurant (including cashiering, serving and busing) with a baby on her hip and a smile on her face. Props to the baby as well, it seems to have the most calm temperament in the world. Ordering is nice and fast, and you'll get your drinks immediately. The food takes a bit longer since they seem to make it all from scratch when you order. It takes about 15-20 minutes.


Interesting. They have plenty of side dishes/snacks, entrees, vegetarian options, wings, and salads. And you probably have never heard of at least 75% of them. There are lots of non-alcoholic drink options. It seems they have wine and beer, but I didn't notice their selection. I was all about the guava-aloe juice, which is quite possibly the most refreshing drink since water.


This is why you come to Reggae Shack. The food is delicious, well-seasoned, and different. My first time there I tried the Calalloo and Salt Fish. Mrs. Reggae Shack made sure to ask if I liked greens. Who doesn't like greens? Calalloo is a collard green-like vegetable. The salt fish was most likely salted cod, which I mainly know by its Spanish name, Bacalao. This dish was seasoned perfectly, which is tough to do with greens. It was a traditional dish that you don't typically see here, but I'm glad I ordered it. Alex had the brown stew chicken, which was tender and flavorful. He has said he would definitely order it again. The festivals were a light, sweet end to my meal. Festivals are fried dough pieces, similar to a cakey doughnut.

On another occasion, I had the Curry Goat. I have recently decided that more people should try eating goat. It has a very interesting, earthy flavor. The curry sauce was a thicker, sweeter version that what I was used to, but it complimented the goat meat perfectly. Alex had the jerk tofu. He got MANY warnings for this from Mrs. Reggae. He assured her that he liked spicy food. Let me tell you now, unless you can handle hotter than Steamer's medium spice (if you haven't gone to Steamers, you should), don't order the jerk anything. It was delicious and Alex loved it, but he was definitely teared up by the end and had trouble finishing. The spice doesn't hit you in the first few bites. It builds up gradually until there is a fire dancing on your tongue with 6 of its buddies.

Warning: Reggae Shack cooks bone-in. Be watchful when eating something covered in sauce. The bones are pretty big chunks, so it's easy to pick them out. Just pay attention. Bone-in cooking is worth it. You get much stronger flavors out of the meat when the marrow comes into play.

The patties. Oh, the patties. I would eat those breakfast, lunch and dinner. Especially at only $2-$3 for a giant one.


Expect to spend $7-$12 per dish. The meals feed me twice. Alex could probably finish a dish in one sitting if he pushed himself, but why do that when you're plenty full already?


10/10. Go to Reggae Shack, especially if you're craving something different. Oh, and get the aloe juice.