We haven’t heard much about Jose Hernandez since he took up his post at Lucienne at the Hotel Alessandra in downtown. A big part of that is because Houstonians don’t frequent hotel restaurants like locals do in cities like San Francisco and New York. And that’s a downright shame, because Hernandez, whose resume in Houston began at the Hotel Derek’s Bistro Moderne 2004, and includes notable stints at restaurants like Triniti, La Balance in Katy, and Radio Milano, makes the type of cuisine that foodies would flock to regularly. And last night, he showed that to great effect when he hosted boutique winery Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta of Piedmont at the restaurant’s first wine dinner.
An event that general manager Ludovic Poirier is hoping to offer once a quarter, the dinner kicked off with a cocktail hour. As guests sipped glasses of bubbly Prosecco, mingling with representatives from the night’s featured winery — Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta — a procession of wonderful and whimsically crafted canapes circulated. Crispy fish skin squares topped with ceviche came out first. Then came these delightful foie gras lollipops enrobed in a caramel-colored savory ganache. A beautiful beef carpaccio over fried potato souffle came out last, a dish which immediately reminded me of José Andrés’ popular Philly Cheesesteak at The Bazaar in Los Angeles.
As guests sat down to dinner, Enrico Incisa Della Rocchetta of Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Winery introduced the first wine, a 2017 Futurosa Rosato. Made of 50 percent Barbera and 50 percent Merlot, the wine was simply beautiful, structured and balanced and super smooth, with this lovely rich pink color. Hernandez paired it with a lobster salad served over grilled white asparagus and topped with caviar, which complemented the wine perfectly.
The second course, a pork belly with chorizo puree and radishes, was paired to another 50 percent Barbera, 50 percent Merlot blend, this one a deep red 2011 Monferrato Colpo d’Ala Rosso. In Italian, when someone experiences a "Colpo d'Ala Rosso," (translation: flapping of the wings), it's supposed to represent an uplifting moment in ones life. It follows that the wine, a small production vino made from very old vines sourced from their Sant 'Emiliano vineyard, was quite wonderful. Even so, it was Hernandez’ third course that stole the show.
“I would really like to have another one,” one of my dinner companions — an Italian who grew up in Rome — said quietly as he took a bite of our third course. A large duck ravioli topped with morel mushrooms, Pecorino Romano and shaved truffles served over a rich demi-glace, Hernandez had chosen to pair it with the house’s 2017 Roero Arneis, a white grape varietal specific to the Piedmont wine region.
“It was a quite a daring pairing,” Incisa Della Rocchetta proclaimed even as he showered compliments on the chef for how the pairing worked out. The richness of the sauce was offset by the bright freshness of the wine, every sip and bite just a joy to savor. It was a wow.
The fourth dish, a roasted venison served with a velvety Valrhona chocolate sauce, showed off Hernandez’ deft touch with pastry. Paired with a 2013 Dallalto Barolo, the chocolate sauce reminded me of Mexican mole in its lusciousness, and was a nice foil for the rich, full-bodied tannins in the Barolo.
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Our final course was a “Zuppa Inglesa,” an Italian dessert of vanilla sponge cake topped with pastry cream and fresh raspberries, served and eaten like a soup. It was paired with an extraordinarily refined, delicately sweet Moscato d’Asti called “Felice,” which means “Happy,” and seriously, we couldn’t have been happier at that point.
The best wine dinners are ones that leave you feeling like you’ve just enjoyed a culinary journey, and Hernandez’ menu, along with the exceptional quality wines by Marchesi Incisa Della Rochetta - one of the oldest and well-respected winemakers in Piedmont, accomplished that in spades.
To sign up for future wine dinners or for more information about Lucienne, visit hotelalessandra-houston.com/lucienne.htm