By ROBIN GARR
It’s hard to believe that Decca opened its doors only about three months ago. This long-awaited arrival on the NuLu scene came in with a sense of excitement, occasioned both by its setting in one of the 1870s brick buildings that long had housed Wayside Christian Mission and by the San Francisco culinary heritage of its founding team.
I’ve been consistently wowed by the lavish, lovely renovation that converted a Wayside family shelter into a classy-casual dining scene. Indoors, the dining rooms boast eye-catching cork floors and discreetly eclectic decor. An upstairs gallery offers al fresco dining under the roof. One of the city’s most beautiful outdoor dining areas winds through spacious, carefully planted gardens with a flickering fire pit and water feature, with tables well separated for privacy … and it’s all non-smoking! Last, but by no means least, the dimly lighted bar in the basement offers a relaxing venue for cocktails and music, complete with a vintage jukebox full of Decca 45s, of course.
Decca’s menu follows a farm-to-table model without getting obsessive about it, so pork comes from a regional producer but redfish comes from the Texas coast, as it should. Selections change periodically to reflect the seasons, and the kitchen, wisely, offers a relatively small selection of a half-dozen starters, three pasta courses and five mains, allowing focus on doing a considered repertoire very well.
Appetizers range in price from $10 (for a memorable wood-grilled asparagus with sabayon and Parmigiano, or a duck-liver terrine), to $13 (for a shaved-veggie salad with fior di latte cheese, or a small-plate portion of grilled Georgia quail). Pastas are $16 or $17, and the mains command $19 (for planked white shrimp with Spanish chorizo) to $24 (for hardwood-grilled skirt steak). Sides are a la carte ($7 each), sized for sharing, and uniformly outstanding.
Dipping oil or butter would be wretched excess with the light, short focaccia, rich as pastry and infused with olive oil, and this complimentary treat sets the scene for more good things. The aforementioned grilled asparagus ($10) was impeccable, fresh green springtime made luscious with lemony sabayon and tangy grated cheese. The shaved market-vegetable salad ($13) might not have been quite up to its past glory on this recent visit but remained an artful, appealing mix of mandoline-sliced root veggies, lettuce, vinaigrette and mini-clouds of fresh mozzarella.
A bowl of short cavatelli pasta ($16) hit the spot with its fresh wild-mushroom sauce scented with sage and topped with crunchy toasted bread crumbs. Tender milk-braised pork shoulder ($22) was smothered in lemon-scented collards, bread crumbs and bacon bits atop fingerling potatoes. A sample of a dish coming to the summer menu, a tender locavore pork chop with a mustard dressing and grilled peaches, also impressed. A side of charred beets ($7) with tangy graperfruit zest and olive oil added seductive character to this often-maligned root vegetable.
Desserts continued to win our affection: chocolate devil’s food cake ($9) added bites of mousse, meringues and a mini-scoop of subtle coffee ice cream. Affogato ($7), an Italian treat, dropped a scoop of cinnamon-orange gelato right into a cup of espresso.
With a lavish dinner including appetizers, mains, sides, desserts, coffee and a $10 glass of Grüner Veltliner, an excellent Austrian white wine, our share for two came to $103.35, and a 20 percent-plus tip for competent, friendly but not intrusive service.
Decca, 812 E. Market St., Louisville, 502.749.8128, www.deccarestaurant.com