By Antoinette May Herndon
We have these good friends, Kathie and Charles Luke. We don’t see them often enough. How many times do I say to “my” Charles, “We’ve just GOT to get together with the Lukes?” Admittedly, I sometimes use that “got to” expression for obligations. But this about obligations all. It’s about wanting to get together with a truly “fun” couple.
Isn’t it just wonderful to spend a long leisurely evening—one where the time just flies by without your realizing— talking about something other than gossip and/or personalities? Isn’t fun to discuss ideas that go beyond day- to-day politics of life and actually move into the areas of social change or values, even—would you believe—philosophy.
Kathie and Charles are just those kind of lively, stimulating companions. She’s a drama critic, he a professional wine connoisseur. They’re both foodies who definitely know their way around a menu.
Well, with that kind of build-up, you might be wondering why we don’t see these paragons every day. Unfortunately, the problem lies in with time and distance. Charles and Kathie live somewhere east of Sonora, we live in far off Mokelumne Hill. The happy solution for us when we do get our acts together is a rendezvous, somewhere along the way.
About four years ago we found the perfect one. It is so perfect that we’ ve never looked further. Our special meeting place is Crusco’s Ristorante in down town Angels Camp. Readers who live in or around Angels Camp are so lucky. Crusco’s is a dream restaurant that never fails to live up to expectations.
The sign as you enter says it all: “THIS IS NOT FAST FOOD.” Here is a place to relax, unwind enjoy conversation as well as food. Just step in the door and you’ll immediately feel comforted and cosseted. You know you’ve come to the right place. Crusco’s is also slightly romantic and so Italian. I just know if there’s a Godfather still out there, he’ll be ensconced in a back booth. I always scan the dark interior
hopefully. Nobody quite matches Marlon Brando but often there are interesting possibilities.
The atmosphere is definitely right: rich burgundy and plum napery, dark wood chairs and tables, a mural of Venice of the wall, lots of family pictures. The background music is perfect: either Italy’s favorite son belting out “My Way”, arias from grand opera, or romantic mandolins. I love all that.
Crusco’s Ristorante is family owned. Gil Lusher is the host, his wife Celeste (Crusco) Lusher cook is out in the kitchen cooking up a storm and their daughters and sons-in-law serve. The family’s pride in, and attention to detail, whether it be food, service or ambience, is obvious. “Everything served here is from scratch,” Gil says. “If we don’t make it on the premises, it comes from one of our local organic farms or artisan vendors.”
It was a rainy Sunday night when we four met—practically at doorway of the restaurant doorway. Parking wasn’t as easy as we’d expected. We’d come from two directions, brandishing our umbrellas, splashing through puddles, trying hard to stay under overhangs. There’s lots of window shopping to be done in historic Angels Camp but it was too cold to linger long.
As we entered Crusco’s, the beguiling smell of garlic assailed us. Visions of pasta danced in my head. We were shown to a pleasant window table. We immediately felt consoled and protected , so nice to be on the inside looking out. I felt warm already.
Charles Luke—I did mention that he’s the consummate wine guy, didn’t I? brought a superb bottle of vintage red. Gil was impressed, as well as kind to us. He didn’t charge corkage. Bringing a bottle of a favorite wine to share is extra fun and added to the evening’s festivities. This was not only a mini reunion for the four of us, but a belated celebration of the year ahead. Happy New Year Ho! Ho! Ho! (It’s never too late.)
I ordered a half portion of the Caesar salad. It can—upon request—come with anchovies. Lots of anchovies. What is a Caesar
without anchovies? Something else, but not a Caesar salad. This one was crisp and just loaded with parmigiano cheese , homemade garlic, and croutons. A great Caesar for $5.
(“My”) Charles enjoyed the zupa del giorno (soup of the day). It was minestone. $4. Not too surprisingly, he loved it. Wouldn’t you expect an outstanding Italian restaurant to put out a great minestrone?
Charles and Kathie Luke shared a full Caesar for $10 and seemed equally happy to skip the anchovy. They didn’t know what they were missing.
My Charles and Kathie went for the San Lucchese, a sautéed beef tenderloin topped with apples, prunes and a sweet brandy demiglaze served with a house blend of mixed greens. ($26) each. Oft times described as taciturn, Charles volunteered that he’d never had a better steak. Kathie was equally delighted.
Charles Luke, the renegade, wanted steak too, but he chose Mare e Monte, a grilled choice New York topped with sautéed prawns in garlic butter sauce served with garlic mashed potatoes. ($26) Charles has his own bragging rights. He was very pleased.
I just had to be different. This was clearly a great Italian restaurant. I wanted pasta and was determined to have it, but which to choose? A finally went with a classic: Gamberoni alla Mediterraneo. This delicious concoction featured spaghetti with prawns, spinach, kalamata olives, tomatoes and pancetta in garlic white wine sauce. Mama Mia! It was good.
What more can I say? Nothing. It was a perfect evening with perfect friends. Try it, you’ll love it.
VITALS: Crusco’s Ristorante, 1240 South Main. Phone: 736-1400. Open Thursday through Mondays for lunch from 11:30 to 3 for dinner from 5 p.m. until 9. Reservations advised. Credit cards accepted.
A cozy wine bar sets the scene at Crusco’s
A table by the window was the best of two worlds for Charles Luck, his wife Kathie, center, and myself.
Italian décor is part of the soul at Crusco’s Ristorante
Gil Lusher serves Kathie Luke.