Saturday, August 2, 2014

3 Legged Pig

We were heading back from the kids' summer camp open house when we drove past a BBQ place: the 3 Legged Pig.  With our keen former Southerners' eyes, we spied everything necessary to make a great BBQ restaurant: smoker out front of what appears to be a former gas station and is now a food establishment with a logo in which a pig is encouraging you to eat him whilst drinking a Co-Cola.  Oh, yes, we're pulling over.

Turns out 3 Legged Pig is pretty good BBQ.  They have rocking deep fried pickles, which are really their own food group.  Their Cuban pork sandwich is delicious; their ribs are tender and nicely saucy; the pulled pork is moist and richly smoked.  The garlic green beans are super garlicky, but could use some salt or ham hock.  The salt potatoes--yet another food group--are soft yet firm with a good salty butter sauce.  Heaven.  The mac and cheese is a weak link: not as creamy or cheesy as it should have been.  Good fries and cornbread.

I don't know that I'd drive out to Lakeville just to eat at the 3 Legged Pig, but if I were headed to the Vintage Drive In one exit up, I might make the extra trip.  And, if I lived anywhere near, I'd eat there at least once a week, even if it were just a meal of fried pickles and salt potatoes!

Raj Mahal

A colleague at work, knowing I love Indian food, had recommended Raj Mahal.  During kids-at-camp week, we ran the car in for servicing, and since the restaurant is near the dealership, we stopped in.  It turned out, we were the only customers for most of our visit--which was an odd sensation and not at all understandable because the food was delicious!

We have a sort of standard Indian order; it expands a bit when the children are with us, but doesn't vary much: samosas, bharta, chicken tikka masala, raita, garlic naan.  Sometimes we'll add in another chicken dish: butter chicken; tandoori chicken; chicken korma.  Sometimes a soup.  That night, we tried the yogurt soup, which was a very different taste: it had a yogurt tang but also a mellowing warmth.  All of the food was perfectly seasoned: the bright top notes of tomato in the tikka grounded by the cumin-y heat; the silkiness of the eggplant matched with smoky richness of the roasting.  The meal we had at Raj Mahal was among the best Indian food we've had in Rochester.

I hope Raj Mahal draws crowds regularly and our slow night was an anomaly.  It's in a sort of odd location: across from South Towne in that kind of dead zone between Marketplace and RIT.  And, it's near another Indian restaurant.  But, just focus on the food.  It will make you forget the rest.


While the kids were away at camp for a week this summer, my husband and I had oh-so-many plans.  In the end, we basically went out to dinner and then came home and collapsed with the tired joy of the suddenly idle.  One of those nights, we went to Veneto.

We must have driven past Veneto almost a hundred times (literally), but it is cursed with on street parking--which is to me as light to a vampire.  Thus, I have never even thought to suggest it.  Being childless for a week gave me a sense of freedom to break free from my fear.  And, in the end, since my husband was driving, we were safe as sundown :)

Veneto has lovely big windows that front East Avenue and a casual East end vibe that seems removed from its crowded bar scene neighbors.  The early night we went, there were only three other tables filled, which gave us a chance to talk.  As it filled up, it was easy to see how it could get crowded, though with the warm woody atmosphere inside this might be nice as well.

The service was fast and friendly.  We ordered the arancini bolognese: fried risotto balls with meat sauce? sign us up!  As a counter point, I ordered a steak salad; my husband ordered a chicken pasta special with creamy sauce and peas.  (Side note: I am NOT a fan of peas, so rarely cook them; both my husband and daughter are always excited to order them out.)

My steak was cooked right to order and quite good over fresh greens.  His chicken was tender and creamy over al dente pasta.  And, of course, the arancini was crispy creamy goodness in small globe-form.

We both agreed it would be a great place to take the kids but also that it was wonderful to have a pleasant meal in a light filled setting that was ideal for idle conversation.

Nicely done, Veneto.  I forgive you the on street parking.

Royal Dynasty

We go to the AMC Webster almost exclusively since it switched over to recliners last year.  It's relatively close; we can upgrade our drinks and popcorn for free with the Stubb's club; and, let's be honest, it has R E C L I N E R S.  What movie isn't improved by that?

But, this created a challenge as we needed to find a new go-to movie restaurant.  We had tried a few around the theater but none were super great or consistent.  Then, one night when I was out with the kids, we decided to hang a left into Royal Dynasty.  Its neon green sign and pointy front windows just called to us.  Glad we answered.

We've now been to Royal Dynasty close to a dozen times.  One month I swear we ate there three out of four Fridays (it was a good stretch for movies).  One time we ran back after the movie because my son left his suspenders on the table (don't ask) … and they had them!  Every time the food is reliably good; the service is friendly; and the restaurant is packed.

Our standard meal: pork fried dumplings (sauce is so good and dumpling dough is satisfyingly thick); pork lo mein (slurpy with a kick); broccoli chicken (mild with wonderfully firm broccoli); beef with scallions (smoky and yummy).  If my husband joins us, we'll throw in the chicken in ginger sauce (exotic!).  And, sometimes my daughter will add the chicken with rice soup if she's extra hungry.  That's it.  The comfort of our familiar meal; the time to chat about our days before we head into the dark to sit in cozy chairs, whisper requests to pass the popcorn, and lose ourselves in the wash of light, color and sound.

Oddly, we almost always get the same table at Royal Dynasty: in the outside room against the wall.  So much so that we were silly with excitement one time because we got a table in the small inner room.  My son looked at me in surprise saying, "We never get to sit in here! This is so cool," as though we had gone behind the scenes at the museum.

Nothing fancy: just family night.  But, in the hurry of our lives, this is somehow remarkable.  Royal Dynasty is now part of our family tradition: "Remember when we came here when we saw Frozen?" "Remember when I tried your lo mein and liked it?" "Remember when those people at that table ordered the same things we did?" "Remember when it was snowing so hard we could barely get in the door?" "Remember when they had my suspenders?" Yep, I do.

Thank you, Royal Dynasty!


At lunch at the Ox and Stone, one of my dining companions picked up the dish towel trendily used as a napkin and mentioned that she had recently eaten at another restaurant that did the same thing: Fiamma.  About a week later, we were in Gates as a family and in search of lunch.  I Yelped our area and … ta-dah … Fiamma came up.  Kismet, I thought, and we were off.

From the outside, Fiamma doesn't look super promising: in an unnamed strip mall on Buffalo Road.  Then, you walk inside, and it looks like a super trendy osteria in New York, and it smells like heaven: warming dough, garlic, simmering broth.  Wow!

We plunked down at a table with mismatched chairs in a rustic room lit by funky chandeliers.  Our server described the specials, which included a roasted fig salad and a creamy zucchini cheese soup.  The menu--both sides--overflowed with dishes we'd come back to eat every day: pizzas, homey baked pastas, crispy chicken cutlets.  Drool!

I ordered the zucchini soup, which was like the world's comfiest duvet in bowl form.  The zucchini floated in a creamy garlicky broth that had a great peppery hit.  And, it was just lovely: a soft buttery yellow punctuated by hints of green and decorated with parsley and parmesan.  The whole table ate it. 

The salad went to my husband: it was huge!  A mound of greens surrounded by roast figs and cherries offset with a sharper olive oil vinaigrette.  Easily shared.  Knowing each of the kids was ordering a separate pizza (oy!), he stopped with the salad.  

I ordered pasta e fagioli azzecatta, which translates to a pie plate of baked mixed pastas with creamed canellini beans, prosciutto and a bit of marinara.  What it tasted like was the meal your imaginary Italian grandma would make you if you needed a hug in pasta form.  So, so good.  And, enough to feed our entire table.  In fact, it did.  Everyone ate some (and my daughter still had some left over for breakfast the next day).

My son ordered a Diavola pizza: a perfect crust topped with spicy olive oil, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and spicy soppressata.  The server warned him it had a kick; he just smiled.  When it came, he was unstoppable.  The pizzas arrive uncut; you cut the slices as you wish.  He may as well have just cut the pizza in half and folded it.  
My daughter ordered a Caprese pizza.  It was delicious, but not what she had expected.  Which was?  Who knows.  Sometimes she just fixes on a menu item and won't be moved, even when someone else at the table knows what she would like better (ahem, that would be me).  She ate a couple pieces of her pie half heartedly.  I scooped some of my pasta on a little plate and passed it over.  Stars lit up the table and she wound up eating three plates full.  (I may not be Italian or a grandma, but I still have my ways.)

The service was outstanding: friendly, water glass always filled, warm.  Very welcoming.

What can I say?  The only thing wrong with Fiamma is that it's all the way in Gates.  But that won't stop us!


We eat at the Charbroil a lot.  It's like going back in time--sitting in those booths, ordering foods like chicken pot pie, Swiss steak, broiled fish.  So comforting.  One night, looking across the street through the big front window of Charbroil, I realized we had never tried Avvino.  So, we set about to fix that.

It was a night when my son had a sleepover, so as the remaining three, we decided to do dinner and a movie.  My daughter loves Italian: hence, Avvino.  The two of us beat my husband there, were seated straightaway, and--being us--ordered arancini for our appetizer.  (Fried balls of risotto are always us.)

The atmosphere of the restaurant leaves something to be desired. The dining room is a clubhouse green, and 70s classic rock was playing as background music.  The artwork struck me as being a bit 70s, too: darkly jewel toned paintings of city scenes.  Having said that, the service was great and unobtrusively attentive.

My daughter ordered her special: pasta with garlic and olive oil.  It was perfectly al dente, but lacked a bit of seasoning.  Easily fixed by me at the table (she finds my ability to make olive oil salty with heat magical--let it always be so!).  I ordered roasted organic chicken over buckwheat lasagna.  The lasagna was fine, but the chicken was divine!  Moist with crispy skin and a delicious chicken-ness that is all too rare with the typical flavor free birds served at restaurants.  Yum!  My husband was running late, and I ordered him a fish special.  He enjoyed it, but liked my chicken better.

We needed to run to the movies, so skipped dessert.

Avvino was fine, but seemed to need to figure out what it wants to be.  The menu, service and food quality say "fine dining," but the atmosphere does not--which is too bad.

Ox and Stone

The Ox and Stone opened up this summer in the old Bamba Bistro location.  We went one night as a family in the first couple weeks just to give it a try and had a cool dining adventure.

I grabbed the kids and met my husband there for an early dinner.  The menu is "latin kitchen cuisine."  Since he's from Miami, we're very familiar with Cuban food; and Rochester has its share of great Puerto Rican and Dominican restaurants; and it's got a growing list of solid Mexican restaurants.  But, in choosing appetizers, we ran across one we haven't seen before: chapulines.  Yep, grasshoppers.  In case your Spanish is a bit weak, they put a little picture of a grasshopper next to the menu entry.

Oh, yes, we were in!

We had the empanadas, crispy pig ears, guacamole with ham, and chapulines for appetizers.  The empanadas were not great: too doughy and greasy.  The pig ears were good: crispy, crunchy and smoky; but the serving size was a bit large for an appetizer for four.  I don't eat guac, but they loved it.  I did eat the addictive fried tortillas that come with it.  The seasoning on these was outrageously good: salty and spicy.  I could have eaten a table full of them.  The chapulines were a new experience--seasoned wonderfully, light yet crisp, almost like salty-cuminy-chiley airy rice puffs with legs.  I don't know that we'd order them again, but they were actually pretty good.

The kids ordered the chicken tinga tacos, which included a sauce not on the menu.  It was a bit sweet (almost tasted like it had a fig base) and not to their liking, but they ate the chicken and cheese out and were happy given all the grasshoppers they had eaten already :)  My husband had enchiladas mole and enjoyed it.  I ordered the Dorado: red-rubbed mahi with creamy rice.  I expected the mahi to have some heat to it, but it was very mild.  The fish was perfectly cooked, though, and the creamy rice had a softness and slight sweetness to it that was complemented well with diced green peppers.  It was quite rich, so I shared it with everyone--who loved it!

For dessert, we shared a tres leches cake.  Yum--a billion calories in a whipped confection surrounding white cake.  Never has a dessert ever been as deceptive and so good as tres leches.  The plate was cleaned bare … almost as though it had been attacked by chapulines!

I've already been back for a business lunch.  This time got a split taco order: one al pastor and one barbacoa.  The barbacoa was good, but the al pastor was delicious.  That roasted pineapple with the pork is crazy!  Also got the oxtail croquettes.  Again good but could have been a bit more flavorful.

Even last week, they were still putting some finishing touches on the interior, which has a great arched ceiling, a cool shadowy vibe and a wonderful backing soundtrack.  Make sure to sit next to one of the shaded windows.  You'll forget you're in Rochester and be transported to a Robert Rodriguez film, albeit with fewer machine gun guitars and more fried tortillas.