Going out for a meal can be an incredibly rewarding experience. There is a reason restaurants are a popular spot for a night out and a number of people proudly refer to themselves as “foodies.” However, it can also be a downright chore. Do I brave the downtown traffic? Where do I park my car? How do I get there? Will there be a table for me?
Lugano Wine Bar and Salumeria, newly opened in Greenwich, alleviates all of those hassles. The Italian inspired restaurant sits just off of exit 6 from I-95 on East Putnam Avenue in Riverside, far removed from the droves of people downtown. It has its own lot next to the restaurant for easy parking as well as a valet service.
Indoors, the space is approachable, yet impressive. When you walk through the front doors, you enter a spacious bar with plenty of seating and room to stand and mingle. Wine glasses elegantly line the bar’s counter, as if inviting patrons in for a drink.
Just off of the bar to the right is a large dining room with high ceilings and a dome that serves as a skylight. It is light and open, lined with large windows. Lugano even boasts a private dining room for special functions, or for guests who prefer a quiet dining experience.
The lovely space was the impetus for the restaurant.
“We found the space and thought it was great,” explains Rose Dionne, a partner in the restaurant group that also brought us Molto, Zaza, and Dolce. “Then we came up with a concept to fit it.”
They went to work making the place their own. During renovations, they knocked down some center structures and brightened the walls. They also paid tribute to their other restaurants with signature red leather on the booths, black and white pictures on the walls, and wine glasses at each place setting.
Dionne, along with other partners Nick Racanelli Sr. & Jr. chose a salumeria as the premise for the restaurant.
“It was a new idea, and not yet around here,” Dionne says.
The menu invokes Italy. It is broken down into salumeria, tapas, meatballs, insalate, primi, secondi, and contorni. The cuisine is largely Italian with items like scampi, Tuscan beans, and scarpariello. At the same time, they have broader options like truffle macaroni and cheese, Brussels sprouts, and their twist on spicy wings. Something you won’t see though is pizza, which makes this restaurant stand apart from the others in the group.
“We wanted to offer a little bit of everything,” Dionne notes with a smile.
Surprisingly, the name of the restaurant comes from a city in Switzerland- but with a large Italian population. It also pays tribute to an Italian white wine known as Lugana, a staple on the restaurant’s extensive wine list.
Lugano opened on June 24 and is currently open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. They have plans to open on Sundays in the future and recently implemented a brunch menu to be served on the weekends. You can also join them for Social Hour on weekdays from 4-7pm. Enjoy select $5 wines, $3.50 draft beers, $6.50 craft cocktails, and an array of discounted tapas.
I had the opportunity to visit them on a Saturday afternoon for a late lunch. Even though it was later in the afternoon, beautiful outside, and newly opened, the restaurant still had several tables filled. I noticed the range of people: a family, couples, and groups of friends. Dionne assured me that the restaurant is generally full and thriving, with a social vibe.
We started by ordering drinks. My friend chose to take advantage of a brunch special- bottomless mimosas (they also have bellinis and bloody marys). I perused their craft cocktail list, which was full of creative and delicious-sounding beverages. There were drinks like the Figurati, with corzo reposado tequila, grand marnier, maraschino, agave, lime and thyme, and Sound Beach, with captain coconut, coconut water, lemon and banana.
“We came up with the drinks together,” Dionne told me. “We wanted something different than other places.”
I ultimately selected the “Fig & Rosemary,” a combination of kettle one vodka, fig spread, fresh rosemary, bitters, and lemon. I loved the presentation; it came with a fresh sprig of rosemary in my glass. It was smooth and refreshing on the summer day.
Next, we set about trying the food. The cuisine is prepared by Chef Oscar Sanchez, who came from Zaza, and Chef Jaseus, who worked at Quattro Pazzi.
The waitress insisted we try the Picolla Selezione, one of their salumeria platters that came with prosciutto, a salami of our choice, and creamy mozza. She told us their platters are one of their signature items. When it arrived we understood why. The presentation was impeccable, with fresh slices of crispy bread flanked by large, colorful portions of meat. It came with a good-sized dish of mozza and pickled vegetables as well.
My friend raved about the mozza.
“This is creamy and has such a good consistency,” she said between bites. “I can taste both distinctly- the cream and the mozza. It’s not too heavy either.”
We went on to partake in the popular Tonno Toast along with the Roasted Truffle Sprouts. The Tonno toast consisted of cured italian tuna and fresh cherry tomato halves atop crispy toast. Admittedly it was not the easiest item to eat- a bit too crispy for fork and knife and a bit messy to pick up and eat- but the flavors were spot on. There was a hint of pesto that married the elements of the dish.
The Truffle Sprouts were a favorite. The salty pancetta complimented the sweeter honey truffle glaze. The glaze was not too syrupy either; it enhanced the perfectly roasted sprouts.
For an entrée, the waitress enthusiastically directed us to the Pork Chop Scarpariello. I found such a suggestion refreshing. Most restaurants emphasize their beef, poultry, and seafood, and it was a joy to hear someone praise an alternative kind of plate.
We were thrilled that we took her advice. The plump bone-in pork chop arrived amidst an assortment of colorful seasonal vegetables and roasted potatoes. Around the dish lay a balsamic glaze. As a final flourish, a single sprig of rosemary came out of the meat, like a flag comes from the ground.
The chop had a crisp outer layer with herbs and a touch of sweetness. The inside was nicely cooked with a touch of pink in the center. The dish truly came together when the pork was dipped into the glaze. The plate came with a steak knife, making it easy to slice off forkfuls. We polished off every last morsel.
Lugano is off to a great start and has plans to continue growing. In addition to extending their hours to include Sundays, they hope to build an outdoor area behind the restaurant for additional seating. They look forward to using their private room for booked events and holding some of their own as well.
Lugano is located at 1392 East Putnam Avenue in Old Greenwich, CT and can be reached at (203)990-0955.