It's not every day that a clothing retailer gets into the restaurant business, and gets it so right. But Lugo Menswear of Nolita is off to a very good start. Its Lugo Caffe across from Madison Square Garden offers both style and flair.
The space has the feel of a European bistro with tiled floors, leather banquettes, cafe seating and two sharing tables near the bar that are terrific for socializing. The place is already drawing a handsome crowd; from suits and stilettos to jeans and flats. But the lively bar can get a bit noisy. Reserve a spot in the adjacent dining room for a more formal experience.
As for the food, Lugo's menu marches across Italy with small plates of cheeses, dried meats and assagini (veggies) from $4 to $5 apiece. Spicy sopressata mingles with mortadella, while pecorino from Tuscany goes up against gorgonzola from Lombardy. We began with the Prosciutto Cotto; three paper thin slices arriving on a mini cutting board with some crunchy baby gerkins. Perfecto! Grilled portobellos were also plump and juicy. A $25 sharing platter that lets you mix and match, but try not to fill up too much.
You'll need room for some hot antipasti like fried artichokes, Tuscan pork ribs, gnocchi in a truffle sauce, and mussels served in a garlic and tomato broth. We sampled the seafood fritters ($12). They arrived piping hot with a delightful dill-lemon-caper dipping sauce, but could have used a bit more seafood flavor. Pizza is popular judging by the plates leaving the kitchen. Individual thin crust pies are topped with everything from clams and scallions to red peppers and ricotta ($11-$14).
For the main course, Lugo serves up a Veal Chop Milanese ($35), Seared Tuna ($28) and a Porterhouse Fiorentina for two ($72). We went for the Skirt Steak ($24) which had a nice char on the outside, while remaining tender and rare on the inside. Salsa verde providing some added zip. We loved the Tuscan fries with it; pumped up with sprigs of rosemary and sage, slivers of garlic and hot pepper flakes. You'll want to take an order home with you.
There's lots to love at Lugo. We think you'll feel it too.