“For us, the table was a really special place,” said Lucia Azevedo, owner of Café Lucia. With those words, I knew we were in for a treat.
Seated on the outdoor patio, the March chill abated by heaters and generous helpings of wine, I sat with six others and enjoyed course after course of mouthwatering, surprising, comforting Portuguese dishes, all while listening to Lucia talk about her family history and dream of opening a restaurant. Her passion radiated through every word, and shone in the look of pride on her face as we savored each dish.
Lucia opened Café Lucia with her brother, Executive Chef Manuel Azevedo, as a tribute to the varied and complex flavors of their Portuguese heritage. Their parents immigrated to the United States in 1968, and their father worked as a dairyman. Though life in the US was not always easy, Lucia says her family never lacked fresh food. They grew their own vegetables, made fresh cheese and bread each week, and the dairy provided an abundance of fresh milk and beef. Lucia and her siblings grew up on Portuguese food, and eventually introduced their parents to American dishes.
Café Lucia offers Cozinha Nova Portuguesa, or “new Portuguese cuisine,” that celebrates the flavors of Portugal with adaptations to include Sonoma County ingredients. “It’s my way to celebrate my culture and my cuisine,” says Ms. Azevedo.
Though Lucia’s brothers have always worked in the restaurant industry (the other well-known Portuguese restaurant in Sonoma County, LaSalette, happens to be Manuel Azevedo’s first restaurant), she maintained an office job. Still, the idea of a restaurant was always in the back of her mind. “Then I started really thinking about my father, and how he moved to America for the American Dream,” she says. “This idea that you could do anything. And I thought, you know, am I really living my best life?” With that, Café Lucia took off, and she hasn’t looked back since.
We started our meal with a Tasca Tasting Plate, choosing pig’s ear, fried Sonoma goat cheese, white anchovies, baby octopus, blood sausage, herb-marinated olives, and almonds. Moving on, we had the Chouriço Crusted Day Boat Scallops, cooked perfectly and accompanied by a Raza Vinho Verde.
For my main course, I chose the Bacalhau no Forno, a traditional baked casserole of North Atlantic salt cod, potatoes, onions, and olives. It was incredible—surprisingly light for a casserole, packed with flavor and drizzled with fragrant olive oil from Dry Creek. Fisherman’s Stew and Pork Tenderloin Recheado were other favorites at the table.
For dessert, we couldn’t decide, so naturally we tried one of everything. It’s impossible to pick a favorite, but the chocolate soufflé and sorbets were high on my list. Of course, dessert is best with port and coffee, and we had both. Jason Santos, Chef de Cuisine and our food and wine guide for the evening, assured me he served “the best port this side of the Mississippi,” and after sampling his favorites it’s hard to disagree. (For ruby, he chose the Quinta do Crasto, and for tawny the Ramos Pinto).
The best part of the meal though was the opportunity to dine with Lucia, who despite the long days and numerous tasks that come with opening your first restaurant, took the time to sit with us, talk us through each dish, help us decide as we agonized over entrée options, indulged our dessert fantasies, talked with us about wine, and shared her story and her passion.
Her favorite part of her job, she confided, aside from meeting her customers, is the quiet hum of the restaurant in the mornings, as everyone prepares for the rush to come. “It’s like my own private Disney World,” she said with a smile. And with that, we smiled too, happy that her happiest place on earth took us in for the evening, and with high hopes to return on another visit.
235 Healdsburg Avenue, Suite 105
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Open Daily, Lunch & Dinner
Tel (707) 431-1113