Downtown diners are no strangers to high-end experiences. From clubby steakhouses to Hugo Ortega’s master turn over at Xochi, the food landscape in the city core is forever one-upping itself to bring guests experiences that transport and transform.
Newcomer Lucienne enters the scene as the centerpiece restaurant in the elegantly swish Hotel Alessandra. The GreenStreet anchor brings sophistication and stunning service to its corner of Dallas Street. Valencia Group conceived the hotel to embody the personality of a glamorous, refined and well-traveled woman with an unmistakable sensuality and sense of style. Lucienne lives up to the image.
An open space that effortlessly blends Art Deco touches with 1960s Mod character, the restaurant is a mesmerizing blend of Viennese vaulted café and NASA space shuttle. Its long, narrow room with rib-cage ceiling, walls of banquettes and herringbone pattern floor feels weightless above the green roofs of the mixed-use development below. The shades of sage and charcoal in the décor enhance the feeling of stepping into another world, and the windows’ ivory curtains with sketches of the Eiffel Tower and café culture serve as a reminder that Lucienne looks to Europe for its sophistication.
The menu is continental with Mediterranean touches. Executive Chef Jose Hernandez cut his teeth making pastry when he was just 14 and has spent the last two decades in some of the world’s great culinary capitals, including Mexico City and Manhattan. Houston diners will remember him from his winning turn at the Alessandra’s sister property Hotel Sorella, CityCentre’s Radio Milano restaurant, as well as Triniti, Philippe Restaurant + Lounge and Bistro Moderne.
“I crafted the menu to be able to give everyone a bit of what they’re looking for,” he said. “I want people to be able to interact with it, with their server and table companions. They can try new things and create their own experience.”
Set up as a tasting experience, diners can choose four, five or six courses, with or without wine pairings. While the Italian touches that were so influential to Hernandez at Radio Milano are clearly on display, it’s obvious he’s nodding directly toward the Mediterranean. There’s an octopus paired with plump, tender gnocchi and Parmesean cheese. The faro risotto offers a heartier taste than traditional arborio, and for a little rustic flair, it’s topped with a quail egg. Cut-with-a-fork tender veal cheeks arrive over polenta, laced with rich hazelnut.
But Hernandez’s flavors reach further afield from the Italian Mediterranean. That French classic, foie gras, velvety and buttery rich, gets a zingy citrus punch from accompanying kumquats. The tuna appetizer gets a savory bang from teriyaki sauce, augmented by a tart dash of pickled onions. And the pheasant presents as an English countryside meets Provence mashup, the game bird served seasoned with lavender and accompanied by earthy turnips.
The inventive menu is adventurous enough for ever-curious foodies, but still provides comfort-food touches for those less prone to exploration. The New York strip is superb, with a decadent mushroom mousse; the halibut simply grilled and served atop a pile of couscous laced with zucchini.
“I started with the flavors of France and Italy,” said Hernandez, “and expanded to Spain and its African influences. I think there’s a lot here that people might never have tried before – like the frog legs – where they can say ‘what’s that?’ and then there’s still a lot of favorites. The octopus I brought with me from another restaurant; people have always loved it.”
Diners will also find the international influences from the wine and cocktail menu to be excellent partners to Hernandez’s fare. The Bardot Lounge, adjacent to the restaurant, is all cosmopolitan glamour and its cocktails are available in Lucienne
Lucienne’s arrival on the Downtown dining scene is a welcome addition to an already global experience.