Family Planning

Anna Smith has been working on the list for Luci since 1989, when she graduated from the University of St. Thomas. First, she says, she was working mostly to please people who knew more than she did, "namely my dad--he's truly an expert; not only does he have tremendous experience, he has a natural feel for [wine]." After a decade of tasting and traveling, she's enthusiastic about the untapped possibilities of Italian wines, which make up about 65 percent of her list: "There are 150 grape varietals that no one knows anything about," she enthuses.

Indeed, the list features a couple of varieties that sent me scurrying for my reference books, like Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine grown since the 13th century near the Etruscan strongholds that top the hills southwest of Florence. Red wines from Carmignano, a wine region in Tuscany, have been made since the 1700s. Wine folk take note: I never thought I'd see those red sisters from southern Tuscany, Rosso di Montalcino and the bolder, more costly Brunello di Montalcino, in a restaurant where one can eat dinner for $8.

At the same time, the house pours are a model of smart economy: All of the dozen are cheap, easy picks (glasses from $3.25 to $5.95, bottles from $13.95 for nonalcoholic white to $27.50 for the most expensive red) and every one a good food complement. My favorite ended up being the 1995 Avignonesi Sangiovese ($4.95 glass, $24.95 bottle), because the balanced aroma worked well with food swiped from other people's plates. Unfortunately most of the servers seem unfamiliar with all but the house-pour portion of the wine list, so you might want to dork it up and pack a wine guide. Or, for the adventurous, a Ouija-board pointer? A lucky coin?

The lack of fanfare about the wine list is wholly consistent with the Smiths' tendencies away from any form of glitz. The storefront of Ristorante Luci is modest, and one enters to find a fluorescent-lit refrigerator case and a bunch of coat pegs. Are the proprietors assuming that diners will be too enraptured with their plate and glass to notice the dingy carpet, the worn church-basement chairs, or the tag-sale wall art? Perhaps--but maybe it's not just grub and tipple that keeps the diners so enamored. Lucille Smith says the family briefly considered closing the original Ristorante Luci, opened in 1989, when they opened Luci Ancora in 1996, but "there would be such an uproar, I can't even imagine. You wouldn't believe how many engagements took place in that restaurant."

After a pause, Lucille adds: "You know, this all kind of started out as a hobby. We just thought we'd see a lot of our friends." Al finishes her thought: "But it kind of turned out to be a business." I ask the two whether they planned their family the same way--whether they started with a couple of kids, and ended up with an Epicurean dynasty. They just chuckle.

 

TABLEHOPPING

SHAPELY SHEEP ALERT: Frankenstein's farmers are at it again. According to London's Daily Telegraph, English researchers last year had to give up breeding sheep for the expression of the "Callipyge gene"--it means "beautiful buttocks" in Greek--because the ovines' meat was inedibly tough. I'd have liked to see some of those sheep, since Jenny Anderson, a sheep scientist with the British Meat and Livestock Commission, was quoted as saying that "sheep with this particular gene have really impressive bottoms. In terms of muscle they look like Arnold Schwarzenegger compared with other sheep." In other news, the Edinburgh-based Roslin Institute, the research conglomerate that brought you Dolly the cloned sheep, has applied for a license to raise a flock of sheep with human genes in New Zealand; they will produce milk that contains a protein known as human alpha-1-antitrypsin, or hAAT. This human protein might be useful in treating emphysema and cystic fibrosis.

Now, aren't you pleased? I've given you all the information you need to write the camp-horror classic of 2003. Come on, people! Take any standard sheep joke, add shapely buttocks and human proteins--do you need me to connect the dots? Sheesh. Now quit gawking and get cracking.

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