Flavor gushes out of the pores at restaurant Lux

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Lux moves with the times. I don’t mean the umpteenth innovation in this appendix, I’m talking about the Rotterdam restaurant. Lux has been an Italian restaurant for nearly three decades, and it still is. But five years ago chef Milan Gataric took over as owner. He now cooks old-fashioned Italian there. That’s simple and rough. And that is modern again. The restaurant is sleek, not much fuss, modest number of tables, neatly in white linen. There is a pickup next to the bar, the service occasionally puts on a picture.

On the map

The menu is clear: four starters (10 euros), three pastas (13.50 – 15 euros), three main courses (17.50 euros) and a number of desserts (6.50 euros). Another option is a seven-course menu for 45 euros (also vegetarian on the level). It is certainly not expensive.

Many restaurants pride themselves on ‘keeping it simple’. However, very few succeed. If you put three ingredients on a plate, all three must be of impeccable quality and perfectly balanced. That listens closely. Two drops of oil make exactly the difference in the fior di latte – a dish of delicious mozzarella, fresh basil and just too little olive oil.

Still, Gataric has it under control. An apparently trite classic such as vitello tonato still manages to surprise because it is simply done right: a perfectly juicy veal mouse with a thin layer of running tuna mayo, tasty heavy on the anchovies

If the formula is really right, it goes deep. Bringing out the intrinsic beauty of a product by doing very little with it is much more difficult than performing artful antics with it. It works twice. First with a thin sourdough toast with chanterelles. The toast is just a bit soggy because of the slightly greasy justje, the chanterelles on it pristine. They are cooked, but have not lost their fleshy texture. They are overflowing with flavor, as if gushing out through every pore. Where it is met by a breath of rosemary, a small breath, just enough for a soft landing.

Photo Rien Zilvold

The second direct hit is a slender piece of cod, cooked to the tenth after the decimal point, bouncing in slow motion on an earthy brown castle in the air of pointed cabbage cream, while being bombarded with tiny stings of raw grated horseradish – like very fine snow with a lot of headwind on the bike your face irritates on the border between pleasant and annoying. A nice balance.

Unfortunately, there are also significant slips in between. The pasta dough of the tortelloni is overcooked, slightly sweet and wonton-like in texture. Going for the essentials means with the buttocks exposed. If an Italian ruins your pasta, oh wow… Between the porcini are potatoes, exactly two of which are completely undercooked. Very weird.

Totally out of character, a third plate with kimchi of rettich and pear is inserted into the main courses. The rettich turned out well (the pear is hard), but so spicy that we no longer taste the wine or the food. Do they always do that? No, if they feel that they are dealing with adventurous eaters, they sometimes want to go the extra mile. In this case it completely misses the point, but it does make sense for them to value each table separately (admittedly, I had specifically asked for the chicken hearts).

The wines are tantalizing yet elegant, and should be drunk by the glass with two courses. That drinks so peacefully. Also charming: chic Gueuze beers as an aperitif.

Final verdict

Lux clearly goes for ‘perfection in simplicity’. Brave, ambitious, risky. When things go wrong, things go wrong – that’s inherent. But when it goes well, it’s heavenly. Lux has a bit of both. But even though he sometimes goes wrong, Gataric has it in him. That is intriguing. And for this price you can easily come back next month.

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