Mar 9, 2016

Smashburger Has Arrived in Rochester





My motto after all is, "Life is not worth living without the occasional burger, fries and shake," so it would be out of character of me not to be curious about Rochester's newest burger institution coming to town. Sure, we have our local landmarks Tom Wahl's and Bill Gray's – both of which I visit frequently. And I can't leave out the national chain Five Guys, which never disappoints. It's dubbed my family's "church". True story. So do we need another fast casual restaurant focused on pressed ground beef and deep fried potatoes? Sure, why not. It is after all the all-American meal*. I was interested to see what sets Smashburger®  apart from these other successful establishments.

After brief introductions by corporate staff members and franchisees Brad and Drew DeGrazia (the brothers behind Rochester's Moe's Southwest) we were treated to a substantial tasting menu at the new Victor location in Cobblestone Court. Each burger was cut into quarters for our table of four to share.

Classic Smash™
Smashburger® uses only fresh beef "smashed" on a 400ºF flat top grill searing in the natural flavors. The Classic Smash™ is a straightforward combination of cool toppings in the form of pickles, tomato, red onion and green leaf lettuce, plus a smear of their Smash Sauce (made with dill relish, lemon juice, mustard, mayo), melted American cheese atop their seasoned beef patty all sandwiched between a soft egg bun. I picked up hints of breakfast sausage seasonings such as sage, but my table mates thought I was crazy. As far as first impressions go, this did not overly excite me since the burger itself was on the dry side and lukewarm.

BBQ, Bacon & Cheddar Burger
The BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger united sweet with salty, crispy with tender and we saw a hotter, juicy burger in this round. The barbecue sauce was subtle whereas the cured applewood bacon and crunch from the Haystack Onions played well with the melted cheddar, which was a welcome alternative to the tasteless American in the first burger.

Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger
Anyone who knows me or has read my reviews knows I'm mad about anything with mushrooms, so the Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger was right up my lane. The distinctively fragrant truffle makes an appearance in the mayonnaise spread on their effective egg bun. Thinly sliced crimini mushrooms are sautéed and blanketed by melted Swiss cheese atop their beef patty, this one even juicier than the last. It was altogether earthy, nutty and savory and my favorite of the tasting.

Regional Burger
Rochester, we need to talk about this Regional Burger. As the premiere location in town, they have yet to develop a #ROC-centric recipe, so we were treated to their New Yorker Burger served in NYC. It included NY white cheddar, sautéed onions, tomato, fresh spinach and peppercorn garlic aioli on a brioche bun. It didn't thrill me so I'm hoping that we'll be rightly represented with a future customized option. Could it be a "plate" burger with a version of Rochester's famous "hot sauce"? We'll just have to wait and see what they come up with! What type of burger do you think could rightly serve our region? 

Avocado Ranch Black Bean Burger
Beef be gone. It was now time to venture to vegetarian land. I like to consider myself a part-time vegan/vegetarian. Yes I know, ethics aside, I cannot claim to be either unless I commit myself to the humane reasonings behind these lifestyles. I do, however, know that I feel 10-times better when I do not consume meat and dairy on a regular basis. So if I could break it down and simplify my dietary behavior it would look a little like 80/20: Twenty percent of the time I am indulging in whatever my heart and stomach desires. With that said, you can imagine just how many veggie and/or burger burgers I've consumed. The Avocado Ranch Black Bean Burger is topped with pepper jack cheese and ranch dressing, omitting it from the vegan category. Ripe avocado and tomato were the stars here as the bean patty, seasoned with southwestern spices, had an off-putting mushy texture. Mixing in grains to contrast the softened beans would better this burger.

Spinach, Cucumber & Goat Cheese Smashchicken®
Our last two burger offerings of the day were of the poultry pedigree, or Smashchicken®. First came the Spinach, Cucumber and Goat Cheese Chicken revealing a thinly pounded chicken breast amongst rows of crisp cucumber and red onion, ripe tomato, crumbles of goat cheese and an indiscernible balsamic vinaigrette listed on the menu, all on a plush multigrain bun. It was explained to us that the thinness of the chicken allowed for it to be cooked within the same timeframe as the beef burgers. As far as "grilled" chicken sandwiches go, this was on par to other fast food versions.

Buffalo & Blue Cheese Crispy Smashchicken®
More enjoyable of the two, and one of the tasting's standouts, was the Buffalo and Blue Cheese Crispy Chicken. A generously sized deep-fried chicken cutlet was seasoned nicely with a crusty coating. It laid the foundation for Frank's® Red Hot Buffalo Sauce mixed with crumbs of musty (in a good way) blue cheese. Fresh tomato and green leaf lettuce on their egg bun completed the picture. 

Seasonal Oreo® Cookie Mint Shake; Chocolate Oreo Shake
Hand-spun shakes and malts on the menu are made with Häagen-Dazs® ice cream. Burgers, fries and shakes are a timeless trio for a reason. We sampled the Strawberry (not pictured) and Chocolate Oreo® varieties to round out the visit forming a lingering sweet note before rolling ourselves out the doors. Easy to slurp through their signature red straw, they were as creamy and indulgent as I expected.

Thank you, Smashburger®, for allowing me a sneak peek at your newest location right here in Rochester. I left with a better understanding of what new and different options you offer, and more importantly, a very full belly!

*I do not in any way condone a diet consisting of only meat, potatoes, and milkshakes. I do believe that American food culture is at an exciting turning point focusing on our agricultural roots highlighting the cultivation of produce and pure grain crops successfully pressing society to eat consciously for health and wellness.



Aug 25, 2015

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites


INGREDIENTS:

Cauliflower Bites
  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 1 Tbs Cajun seasoning
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 egg whites
  • 1 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup Buffalo wing hot sauce (I use Frank's)
  • 4 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
Bleu Cheese Dip
  • 8 oz. plain Greek yogurt
  • 4 oz. bleu cheese dressing
  • 1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese (I use buttermilk gorgonzola)
  • 2 Tbs. mayonnaise

METHOD:

Bleu Cheese Dip:
  1. Combine all ingredients and set aside in fridge until ready to serve. 

Cauliflower Bites:
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Arrange cauliflower in an even layer on sheet pan lined with cooling rack to allow heat to circulate around cauliflower.
  3. Dust with Cajun seasoning.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes.
  5. Stir together hot sauce and butter until evenly incorporated and set aside.
  6. Meanwhile, mix batter by whisking together eggs, flour and water until smooth.
  7. In a shallow fry pan preheat oil over medium heat.
  8. Remove cauliflower from oven and toss gently in batter until evenly coated.
  9. Test oil by gently dropping a bit of batter in; bubbles should form immediately.
  10. Working in batches, add cauliflower to pan and turn to cook evenly after a couple of minutes per side until golden brown.
  11. Remove from pan and let rest on the same sheet pan lined with cooling rack used before while cooking remaining florets.
  12. After all of the florets have been pan-fried, toss in butter-hot sauce mixture until evenly coated.
  13. Serve with bleu cheese dip and celery sticks.



Aug 15, 2015

Sweet-n-Salty Marshmallow Chex Bars


Ingredients:

  • 1-10 ounce bag mini marshmallow
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 8 cups Honey Nut Chex cereal
  • 3 cups thin pretzel sticks, crushed
  • 1 cup butterscotch baking chips
  • 1 cup M&Ms

Method:

  1. Melt butter on the stove or in the microwave and set aside to cool.
  2. Melt marshmallows in microwave safe bowl, about 1-2 minutes on High.
  3. Stir together butter and melted marshmallows. 
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine Chex and pretzels.
  5. Pour marshmallow and butter mixture and stir with spatula to incorporate. 
  6. Add butterscotch chips and M&Ms until everything is mixed.
  7. Pour into 9 x 13 baking dish and using plastic wrap over the top of the surface, gently press into pan until leveled. 
  8. Set aside for 1 hour before cutting into 24 individual bars.

Jul 17, 2015

ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION: ROAD TRIP TO SENECA LAKE


This July marked five years that I have been married to my best friend and partner in crime – especially when our transgression is drinking fine wine and eating good food. That's why we found ourselves planning a last minute road trip to nearby Geneva and Seneca Lake for a quick getaway.

After consulting a reliable source on all things wine, who happened to also steer us onto the right road towards a delicious meal, we booked a room for the night at the Ramada on the North end of the lake and packed our overnight bags.

In my mind, we would be relaxing on various wineries' terraces overlooking rumbling hills elevated around the water. In reality, it was drizzling and at times pouring rain. But we weren't about to let the wetness hold us back.

Did I mention we had less than 20 hours to check everything off our wishlist? That said, they're places I still want to visit – we did not complete the culinary/winery tour by any means. We did stop at places with a lasting impact, however.


First stop: Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard



Aesthetically breathtaking, the storefront and tasting room adjacent to the production site are the perfect mix of elegance and rustic – an ambiance that evokes effortless yet deliberate planning. Barrels from France line the walls and are used as pedestals beneath farm-style tables.

A friendly face greeted us as we arrived and guided us to one of the high-tops in their vast tasting room filled with mixed aromas of fresh construction lumber and aged oak. The trained staff possessed a plethora of wine knowledge and led us in the right direction with their seasonal and Rieslings flights. My palate is not trained to eloquently relay the tasting notes, but I will say however, the sparkling wine and semi-dry Riesling was impressive enough to stop in the store on our way out to purchase – a magnum of Riesling nonetheless!


Second stop: Stonecat Café

Crepe [back] | Gravlox [front]
We had some time before our dinner reservation so we stopped at the highly acclaimed casual eatery. Procuring mostly organic products and using locally sourced ingredients is not only a testament to the quality of their offerings but to the commitment of supporting nearby farmers. Not to mention, it's more wholesome and I personally feel good when I consume food made with such integrity.

Their menu is a playful mix of seasonal, continental dishes from which we chose just a couple of appetizers to keep our appetites at bay before "the big dinner". There were many other plates I was eager to try and look forward to a repeat visit in the near future.

Our picks: toasted corn and scallion crêpe and whiskey-cured gravlox.

A very warm crêpe, perfectly thin, was rolled around a combination of summer corn, caramel-y aged gouda, ricotta and scallions. Roasted pepper cream sauced the plate for contrast, while lightly dressed organic greens gave a healthful bite.

Wild sockeye salmon was cured with McKenzie Rye whiskey and spices. It was served with herbed cream cheese, red onions, bourbon pickles, capers, and fresh baked bread – all of which played so well together. One forkful at a time I dreamed of recreating this for a brunch.

Perhaps channeling said brunch I opted for their Smoked Tomato Bloody Mary. New Amsterdam vodka, tomato juice that was house-smoked, classic bloody seasoning, pickled green beans and a green olive sat over rocks and was quickly consumed.


Third stop: Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine

We made it, believe it or not, bellies rumbling. Suzanne's in the quintessential special occasion destination. Our printed menu was customized with our name and the timed service was on par with any high-end restaurant. The progressive tasting dinner was seasonally-driven and approachable. I would absolutely visit again out of pure curiosity as to how they consistently connect our regions bounty with creative, culinary expertise.

Here's what we had:

AMUSE-BOUCHE
House-made rigatoni with micro basil, green bean, tomato, zucchini and pine nuts.
This was the ultimate summer-bite and an ideal start to the meal.
CHEESE PLATE
As an a la carte option, the cheeses varied from a creamy, buttery camembert to a semi-soft bleu.
The house-made fig jam was a tart pairing that played beautifully with the camembert.
A dim sum spoonful of mixed nuts evoked the most pleasant notes of rosemary.
SPRING PEA CHILLED SOUP
Peekytoe Crab, Pea Shoots, Red Pepper and Brioche Croutons
The high: A pronounced sweetness from the peas and crab was countered by the croutons – the prime element of salt – also adding a welcome crunch.
The low: As you can see from the color, it was not as appetizing to look at as one might hope.
It's possible the peas were cooked a bit too long and ended up oxidizing. 
BABY GREEN
Beets, Radish, Walnut, Bleu, Sherry
The highs: A wonderful change of pace to the typical goat cheese pairing, the crumbles of creamy, sharp bleu classically balanced the sweetness of the candied walnuts.
The lows: The beets lacked notable flavor marking missed opportunities here to elevate this root vegetable's earthy qualities.
MAINE LOBSTER
Mascarpone, Carrot, Ginger, Pea Shoots, Lemon
Encased in a paper-thin crepe, lumps of the lobster blended with creamy mascarpone and minced chives effortlessly.
A carrot emulsion amplified the crustacean's natural sweetness and a dusting of carrot powder furthered its elegance.
Me, after polishing off the ROASTED CHICKEN
Parmesan Pudding, Spring Onion, Sugar Snap Peas, Pancetta, Riesling
(I wish I had a photo of this dish. I guess I was too excited to dig in and forgot to take a snap!)
The highs: The chicken's skin was crisp and well seasoned, along with the meat itself that was impressively juicy.
The cheesy pudding was intensely nutty in the best way and melded quite well with the poultry.
The low: The peas were still bright green and crunchy to the bite, but contained the fibrous string attached lengthwise that should have been removed prior to cooking and took away from the pod's full potential.


CHOCOLATE
Cherry, Cinnamon, Cream, Almond
The highs: I always forget how much love cinnamon ice cream and their version was very lovable. The warm spice lends just the right distinction within the rich frozen custard. Glazed tart cherries spoke to the season with every plump bite.
The low: We were a bit disappointed in the "chocolate" element. On the one hand, the brownie was very rich and garnered both fudgey and cakey attributes, but we expected a more uncommon pastry for the dessert course.
MIGNARDISES
Lemon Pot de Creme, Cream, Ginger Shortbread
Just when you think you don't have any more room to fit in another bite, this appears on the table in front of you.
This tiny, bite-sized dessert was a complimentary final treat of the evening.
I would have eaten 10 of these if given the opportunity.

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