Over a Thanksgiving weekend filled with food, we managed to fit in a great meal at yet another of Durham’s culinary bright spots, the newly opened L’Uva Enoteca. Located at the charming American Tobacco Campus, L’Uva is chef Jim Anile’s second restaurant in the Bull City, after the well-received Revolution.
The inside of the restaurant is small and narrow, almost cramped, with décor that is unforgivingly modern and sleek. One wall of the space is lined with semi-opaque glass that looks onto an adjacent lobby. If the interior dining lacks a bit of warmth, the few tables that spill over into the lobby surely enjoy even less. On the plus side, there is a nice courtyard patio that ties the restaurant into the rest of the campus, saving it from office building oblivion. It’s meant to be an expensive looking place, and it clearly achieves an upscale feel, but it’s not a romantic dining room.
As a party of six, we were seated at probably the largest table in the room, a chunky wooden table whose quasi-rustic nature tempered the modernity of the experience. In the right setting, it would have been quite a charming seating arrangement, but, within the narrow confines of the space, the table was angled into a corner such that the wait staff was almost constantly passing (squeezing) through right behind us on their way to and from the kitchen.
The menu is Italian in a modern way, and changes often, in very much the same vein as Durham’s Piedmont. One thing I found very appealing about L’Uva’s menu was the option, for many of the pasta dishes, to order a small or large portion. In the age of enormous servings, this is a great way to both eat a more appropriate amount and save a bit of money. I opted for a rigatini with sausage, rapini, and roasted pearl onions ($10 small, $15 large). Naturally when ordering I completely forgot the portion option, and ended up with the large. My wife ordered the evening’s special: beef tenderloin/spinach-goat cheese raviolo/ porcini mushroom sauce ($22), and another in our party ordered the very tempting roast chicken/white polenta/orange marsala sauce ($15).
The bread brought to our table was a first rate crusty ciabatta, served with an unremarkable olive oil/pesto dipping sauce. Entrees followed quickly, and were uniformly well received. My pasta dish featured some beautifully delicious crumbled sausage, and was perfectly seasoned. It had a subtle complexity and just of hint of spiciness. I probably could have consumed the entirety of my “large” portion; I imagine the small portions might leave a hungry patron wanting. My wife’s entrée was perhaps even better, with expertly cooked beef over a winning medley of artichoke and pancetta, with just enough sauce. The chicken dish was a bit less successful: although the meat was juicy and tender, the white polenta was unexciting in terms of both texture and flavor, and there didn’t seem to be enough sauce to tie it all together. A couple of side dishes ($3 each) were also ordered: some buttery asparagus and some outstanding roasted brussel sprouts.
It being a celebratory dinner, a round of desserts was also ordered. A chocolate crostata ($6) was like a fudgy brownie, and better than average, although my wife didn’t care for the thin pastry wrapping. Better was an almond-apple tart ($7), featuring some sugared almonds, ultra thin apple slices, and a heavy hit of almond extract. I thought the pastry in this case was a bit soggy/insubstantial, but the overall flavor was certainly delicious. The downside to both of these desserts were the extremely unripe strawberry garnishes. Best of all was some excellent coffee gelato ($6).
To sum it up, L’Uva is another feather in Durham’s cap. If it doesn’t quite fall into the uppermost echelon of Durham’s finest, it’s because the competition is very stiff. But it was an excellent meal, and L’Uva should most certainly be considered among the top upscale Italian eateries in the entire Triangle.