Mar 4, 2008

Where did all the good restaurants go?

Is it just me, or do you have a hard time naming more than one great place to eat in the Rochester area? Very few restaurants (if any) in this area solve the equation* that equals success.

I was recently asked what my all-time favorite place to have dinner is….and….there was nothing; no image of friends laughing while hovering over plates full of mouth watering food; no memories of food-induced coma just because it was too good to stop eating. I could stretch my standards and say The Social is my top choice for a “group dinner and drinks” kind of night out. But is the chef ever going to change the menu, because as much as I could feast on their Goat Cheese, Shitake and Frisée salad, eager palates would welcome small-sized specials. And I do have a liking for all of Tony Gullace's eateries. He is by far the best chef in the Rochester area. And of course Tapas 177 is predictable, consistent and fulfills its reputation.

But what about creativity? Where is that dining experienc
e so outrageous and exciting that it brings people near and far just for the short but valuable moment in their life when they sit down at a table to consume. When I have time to watch the Food Network I observe diners, hotel restaurants, mom and pop hole-in-the-walls, age old classics, and everything in between, and what I see is fun and experimental signature dishes everywhere…but here.

Take for instance a Tater Tot Pizza. I know it seems elementary and somewhat "late night" but it's fun and different (and I bet a huge seller). Or on a different menu, what about healthy but comforting meals that include tofu; and not just grilled or fried but so good you don’t want to burst out with, “where’s the beef?” But the dishes need to come from a place that’s more than just healthy and creative. It must be consistent, delicious, and fun.

Side note: I do appreciate the fact that in our particular location it is hard to get good fresh food. Our farms may be abundant in upstate New York but quality is not necessarily what these soils are known for. It’s so much easier for chefs on the West coasts of Italy or Northern coasts of California to create gastronomy with the overflow of amazingly fresh ingredients developed from the rich grounds they are blessed to have in their backyards. We can only do so much here on this part of the planet. But what we can do is think; use our minds to develop flavor combinations that maybe allow us to forget that the zucchini we pulled from our ground isn't going to taste as good if it were grown somewhere else, but God damn it, it’ll taste delicious in our moist Chocolate Speckled Zucchini Muffins with Hazelnut Cream Cheese Glaze (recipe in development) ;-) ... and it will be fun.

Seriously though, I know there have been recent efforts to broaden Rochesterian’s outlook on new-world cuisine and attempts at fusion, and not just East meets West but South meets West (in other words, Southern soul food and health-based Californian cuisine). But ultimately they fail. Why? Are people happy with the crummy Italian-American chain restaurants? Do people crave hoity stuffy oak walled rooms with meat and potato meals? Is there really a market of people that say to themselves, “I want to go out and spend $40 on a grease-laden, carb-filled, frozen fillet, fake chocolate, boxed wine meal?” Because those places have 2 hour waits on the weekends.

A movement is on the verge and I can’t be the only person who feels this way. If any of you have left this city you know there is more out there. Let it in! Burst the Rochester bubble of bad chain restaurants and predictable menus. I have to go there and just quote it, “if you build it, they will come.”

Amazing Food

+ Attentive, Friendly, Kn
owledgeable Service
+ Unique, Comfortable, Appropriate Atmosphere
= Great dining experience

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