Sheffield told me he and his partners wanted a place where people could “come get a beer and a snack and see a band play, or come and have a three-course meal.” While I can’t speak to the beer and bands (my visits were limited to early dinners), I can say my own error was ordering a side of grilled broccoli ($7) with anchovies and almonds. Be warned: Individually, the sharable side dish was quite good, the broccoli nicely charred under a mound of toasted almonds, but the powerful anchovy flavor overwhelmed the rest of my main dish. The hardwood-grilled skirt steak ($24) showed the kitchen’s skill in handling hot surfaces. The steak’s sear was picture-perfect, and a glazing of bone-marrow butter added a bit of oleaginous goodness to the lean meat. After several sips of wine and water chased the anchovy taste from my palate, I also enjoyed some perfectly creamy polenta with goat cheese ($7), graced with a bracing bite of celery leaf.
I particularly liked the upstairs, with sunlight falling through the tall old windows onto the parquet floor. On a (rare) cool summer evening, be sure to dine on Decca’s upper deck, one of downtown’s special treats, with views toward the Ohio River over the old storefronts and down into a spacious and sinuous landscaped patio. Hanging out above NuLu is a great way to get a sense of how vibrant the area has become.
On the upper deck, I enjoyed some Georgia quail ($13), the juicy little bird sporting a dark crust on top of a smooth pool of fennel purée, with a refreshing salad of citrus and shaved fennel on the side. I thought the season’s asparagus had been grilled well, like the broccoli, but found the buttery sabayon and Parmesan shavings a bit too rich for the tender spears. Although I spied what looked to be a gigantic bowl of house-made cavatelli ($16), I found the portions at Decca to be pleasantly appropriate, including a fist-sized mound of fresh pappardelle ($17). It was lightly yet meatily caressed by a lemony lamb sugo (sauce) spiced with mint and coriander. Tarragon and cilantro brightened white shrimp a la plancha ($19).
My meals ended with a not-too-sweet buttermilk panna cotta ($9) and a devil’s food cake ($9), which pitted a light and sweet chocolate mousse against the dark forces of rich chocolate cake and cocoa meringue puffs.
Decca has more than I described, including two dining rooms, cocktails, a cellar, an outdoor stage, an art gallery and other things I haven’t fully explored. “We wanted a creative place,” Sheffield says, “a place that was a little different, that would encompass great music, great food — a space that people liked being in without knowing why.”
Photo: courtesy of Jolea Brown