Lucio’s BYOB and Grill recently opened next to Gravitas at 905 Taft. After Fox Diner moved from this address, it has housed many restaurants that failed quickly: Café Zoro, Saltwater Grill, Mom’s Cookin’, and Annabelle’s Diner (a “bring your own dog” restaurant).
Like the previous inhabitants, Lucio’s does not fit neatly into any categories. You might call it a quirky, unconsciously retro, mid-priced café with Louisiana Creole and Italian influences. But however you classify it, Lucio’s is anti-trendy. It is not the kind of place that was created by a restaurant marketing expert. It is the kind of place you would expect was opened by an untrained cook after all his friends said, “Lucio, you cook real good. Why don’t you open a restaurant?”
And when you order correctly, the chef at Lucio’s does cook real good. My friend knew exactly what to get. He started with spinach and artichoke dip, a laughably quaint dish, like jello mold with fruit. But Lucio’s makes the best spinach dip I have ever had. They use a creamy, funky ingredient (blue cheese?) that gives it a really thick texture and powerful flavor. They serve the dip on odd fried bread triangles that resemble beignets. This “appetizer” was so heavy that even half of it would fill me up for the rest of the day. I only recommend it for parties of 8 or more, or the extremely large.
Next, my friend ordered pecan crusted chicken. This dish is a little more modern – it was popular in the late 80s. The bite I tried was crispy and had a great, nutty flavor. My friend wisely opted to substitute sautéed spinach for the usual side of fettucini alfredo.
Finally, my friend ordered bread pudding. It looked less like pudding, and more like three small pieces of French toast with butter. But the “toast” was very dense and tasted like bread pudding, and the “butter” was a sweet sauce. It was one of the best bread puddings that I have had.
Unlike my friend, I had not yet figured out Lucio’s when I tried to order something light and trendy (circa 2000), a seared tuna salad. The salad was odd, as though the chef had heard the concept of a seared tuna salad, but never actually tasted one. Instead of the usual Asian flavors, it combined ordinary ingredients from a cheap Italian dinner salad -- oily Italian dressing, romaine lettuce, red onions and canned black olives. The tuna was a dense, coarse, and meaty fish with strong flavor. It probably was albacore, which is not the best kind of tuna to sear. Searing should be reserved for creamier, higher quality tuna, like blue fin. In contrast, albacore deserves to be fully cooked and smothered in sauce, like puttanesca. Although the quantity of tuna was generous, I wished they had served half as much and used tuna twice as good.
Don’t worry about reservations. Lucio’s is off to a slow start. At noon, we were two of only four customers. I am rooting for Lucio’s to survive because it is loveable. I say “loveable” because it is so cluelessly unfashionable, and sincerely good.