3499 Market St. Powell, OH 43065 (740) 881-4600
Bo Diddly once implied that there are things well worth inconveniencing yourself for. He asserted that he would walk fourteen miles over barbed wire with a rattlesnake for a necktie, and that was all to get to a woman. She must have been really worth it. The same aesthetic applies to anything truly great. Arduous and obstacle-laden treks are often undertaken with the promise of spectacular rewards, like love, money, cars and, of course, a great meal.
Now, after these mentions of rattlesnakes and barbed wire, a drive to Powell probably doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. That’s good, because at the end of that drive will be one of those meals that would have been worth any of the preceding. At Luce, chef Alex Rodriguez is presenting fascinating and familiar dishes that by any measure are truly worth the drive. I, personally, would crawl on my hands and knees (which would be skinned) over shards of red-hot broken glass just to lick a fork that sat on the same table as some of Alex’s dishes. I’m not suggesting that anyone should do that, since it is so much easier to just drive, but Luce really is a great experience and we should get there however we can.
The room itself is earthen-toned and sparsely decorated, giving it an old-world modern kind of feel. The arched doorways and rustic wooden tables suggest Italian farmhouse and the aromas emanating from the kitchen back up this assertion. Diners get the feeling there has to be lasagna and caprese on this menu just by strolling from the host’s stand to the table. The eclectic collection of photographs on the walls and the bendy and curly glass light fixtures don’t exactly fit into that box. However, they are quite attractive and an appropriate complement to the more traditional Italian elements of Luce’s décor. The room becomes perfect as soon as Alex’s food starts coming to the table. The same dichotomy of old and new world is at work on every plate, and it works deliciously.
The starters go great with some of Luce’s ambitious and unusual by-the-glass selections, especially the sparkling ones. San Guiseppe’s “Vignadora” Prosecco absolutely slays with shrimp, especially when the shrimp are wrapped in prosciutto and served with spiced cocktail sauce. Luce’s cocktail sauce has hints of sweet spices and the Vignadora’s dominant notes of ripe red apple blend seamlessly with it, the slight brine of the shrimp and the bold salty ham. Unlike most places, Luce offers a Champagne Rose by the glass. Even more unlike the others, the Rose at Luce isn’t a Veuve or Moet or Roderer or any of those uber popular labels. Luce pours a non-vintage Henriot for their Champagne Rose. It’s musty yeast and crabapple scream for a slightly sweet and aggressively tart food companion. The Watermelon Caprese is just the thing for that. The sweet, juicy melon and ripe heirloom tomatoes provide exactly what the wine was wanting, and then the fresh mozzarella abates the juices and acids and coats the palate with fresh milky-ness, which allows the must and yeast to the foreground once again. What a ride!
As long as the topic is milky-ness, consider a Spanish Piquillo stuffed with smooth whipped gorgonzola. It is a small appetizer that seems like it was made to accompany the Henriot, but upon further examination of the wine list, it turns out that this dish was most likely conceived to go with any rose. That is likely why it pairs so well with the Bastianich Rosato Rose. Of course, there would be nothing wrong with pairing the little stuffed peppers with a crispy white, like an Albarino or Arneis, and the strong cheese inside could really bring out the complexity in something like Teruzzi and Puthod’s ‘Terre di Tuffi’. The Chardonnay in that blend does tend to make it scream for a giant, seared scallop, so it is well worth trying it with Luce’s scallop. Chef rests the tender bivalve atop a dollop of basil pesto risotto and tangles a spaghetti squash on top.
When it comes to the traditional, Italian dishes, there is probably none more tried and true than lasagna. It has proven itself for centuries as a bulwark of the Italian food paradigm. This is where Luce’s old-world narrative culminates in the pinnacle of deliciousness. The layers of noodles are all done to the perfect al dente. The sauce saturates without making anything soggy. Then there are the cheeses… It is like everything anyone ever learned about lasagna throughout its entire history is being applied to this particular representation of it. Whites will get lost with the robust seasonings, so a medium to full-bodied red should be called upon. Something like a Super Tuscan blend would do great. So would a Nebbiolo or even a little raisin juice, like Amarone.
The red-friendly food at Luce abounds, so it is a good idea to order a bottle with the pasta course and continue to drink it all the way through the meat course. The middle column of the wine list contains a whole bunch of interesting prospects, any of which could hold their own with Luce’s lamb chops or beef tenderloin. If you ask nicely, Alex might even make his signature Lamb Lollipops. Those are carefully-Frenched individual bones of baby lamb, grilled to an exact medium rare and arranged above a chilled salad of fingerling potatoes, artichokes and shaved fennel. The whole thing is complemented by a drizzle of roasted garlic and whole grain mustard vinaigrette and would complement any of the red wines previously discussed. As a pair, though, the lollipops and Feudi Maccari’s “Renoto” reign supreme, and Luce just happens to have that particular red blend by the glass.
Again, you may have to ask nicely, but if you can convince Alex to make you a fig and balsamic crème brulee, you will end your meal stupendously. Really, it does sound a little strange to put figs and balsamic in a cream custard, but it works, especially when there is a glass of Vin Santo sitting next to it. The only thing left is the drive home, but that’s no big deal, in light of the experience you just had.