Sunday, May 07, 2023

Chef Alessio Franceschetti - Bacchus Recalls One of its Stewards, Back to the Great Vineyard

Happy Days - Alessio in the kitchen at
Jimmy's with Valeria Losi of Querciavalle

Sad news here, Alessio Franceschetti passed away this week. Alessio was a restaurateur in Dallas, Texas. Our lives were intertwined because of wine. Alessio made significant contributions to the furtherance of greatness of Italian food and wine, in Dallas (and America) in the 20th century and beyond. He will be sorely missed. This is his story.

Alessio came to Dallas in the early 1980’s, from the cruise boats that sailed the world. A native of Lombardy, Alessio was trained in the classic food and cooking school, and the accompanying white tablecloth restaurant service. In the early 1980’s he opened his namesake restaurant, Alessio’s, bordering one of Dallas’ most affluent neighborhoods, Highland Park. It didn’t take long for the cognoscenti to beat a path to his door.

His food was classic, but unlike anything we’d seen in these parts. He wasn’t doing southern Italian food and claiming it to be “Northern Italian,’ as so many people did. Or Tuscan. Or faux French. No, Alessio did what he knew, he stayed in his lane and put out delicious food, the kind one might find in those days in Milan or Brescia, Bergamo or Como. He loved sauces, and mushrooms, cheeses and meats, all kinds. He loved Dallas and playing the cowboy. He was a hunter and a fisherman, and he brought food to the table that, heretofore, Dallas diners had to go to NY or Italy to experience. And he did it from one of the tiniest kitchens I’d ever seen.

One of our favorite Gavi wines we enjoyed together

I sold him wine, and occasionally, fresh white truffles from Alba. He bought pre-WWII brandy from me from a recently excavated cellar in Florence. He liked wine, some might say even too much, but he wasn’t stuck on wine from his region or his sphere. He was open, which in those days was an anomaly. I sold him 1961 Chambave Rouge from Ezio Voyat and his clients lapped it up. Sassicaia? Yes, he had it starting with the 1968 vintage. Gavi? A house wine, unheard of in those days, as most restaurant operators sought the cheapest bulk wine (usually from Sicily) and called it “Chardonnay.” You think I’m kidding?
Alessio (R) with his lifelong friend Adelmo - good times!

What I loved about Alessio was that he was enthusiastic and he recognized that in others. He wasn’t quick to judge or shut down, like so many of his peers, who all thought that, because they came from Italy, it made them the experts. How many times I came across an ignorant operator who had never been out of their region except to get their ass to America as fast as they could, usually after marrying an American woman! Oh, they were quick to tell me how much more knowledgeable they were than me, and I had to bite my tongue and let their tsunami of bullshit pass over me.

But Alessio was different. He trusted. And believed. And his wine list and food menu set him apart. The First Lady, Barbara Bush, loved him. All the ladies did. He was a snappy dresser, with a twinkle in his eye. And if you happened to be a woman, preferably blonde and really tall, you were in for the royal treatment. He was a hunter and a fisherman, did I not say earlier?

Alessio was born in 1950 and taken too soon. But I know he was ready. The last time I saw him, he told me he was ready to go. Back to Bacchus.

Alessio wasn’t fortunate enough to have a resilient enough body to made it past his 73 years on earth. He worked long and hard, the restaurant business is relentless. It’s punishing, especially if you dive head in. It’s like a drug, the rush, the rewards, the notoriety. The temptations.

I remember dining with Alessio one afternoon and I’d just brought in wine from Girolamo Dorigo, a Friuli winemaker, who also passed away this week. I was showing Alessio the Montsclapade, a Bordeaux blended wine from Friuli, complete with the requisite barrique aging. The label was clean and (now) classic. The wine was rich and full flavored. The oak was there. It made the perfect accompaniment to the “Rode hard and put up wet” Dallas Cowboy mindset that gripped Dallas in those heady days.

“Let me have all you can give me,” Alessio told me. “This will go great with something new I’m about to put on the menu – a giant veal chop.” I had no idea what he was talking about.

A few weeks later, during truffle season, I took my bride to dinner, to spend money, and to give her a night out. We had the Montsclapade red with the veal chop with white truffles. It was a Rolex moment. I actually thought I might be as rich as my fellow Highland Park diners surrounding our table. I wasn’t in terms of more zeros in my bank account, but I was eating like a king. Thanks to Alessio.

One parting story about my friend. I remember distinctly him telling me, after my bride had passed tragically before she reached 50, that I had to press on. “Make dinner for yourself. Don’t just grab something. Set the table. Tablecloth and napkin. China. Crystal. And cook a multi-course meal. For yourself. Do this from time to time. Do not let yourself become passive when it comes to enjoying the finer things in life.”

Bless his heart. He will be missed by our morning coffee klatch at Jimmy’s in Old East Dallas. I’ll miss talking to him in Italian and seeing the smile on his face. Bon anima, chef. Happy trails.

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