Saturday, April 6, 2013

Ristorante Lucano

Ristorante Lucano is tucked into a non-descript strip mall near a dry cleaners and a Subway, so it's easy to forget it's there--which is why it was nice when friends suggested that's where we meet for dinner.  We grabbed a table tucked away in a corner and prepared for a night of yummy Italian food and great conversation; we were not disappointed!

My husband started with crab cakes, a special that evening, ... and finished with them.  I was so caught up in chatting that I never asked for a bite and somehow he never offered.  Hmm ... So, take that as an assessment of how good they were!  His entree was the Pappardelle Alla Montanara, the traditional wide pasta tossed with sausage, mushrooms, eggplant and tomatoes in a semi-creamy sauce.  Both the pasta and the sausage are made at the restaurant, and the dish was comfort food at its finest!  The eggplant and mushrooms really soaked up the richness of the sauce, which rippled along the ribbony pasta.

I went lighter, starting with a simple green salad--bright and crisp because I wanted to go thick and heavy with my entree: Bucatini All'amatriciana.  I love bucatini, the fat and round noodles that scream "hearty" and seem to draw sauce up into them like pasta pipettes!  And, I love spicy red sauce, so throw in some pancetta and onions and I'm a very happy girl!  It had a high, bright tomato flavor balanced with a deep heat that found the perfect home in the long, tubes of bucatini.  The pancetta added just enough smoky saltiness.

It's worth noting that the pasta servings at Lucano seem to be made for two or even three!  Always plan for leftovers, which will likely bring no complaints.

Our companions ordered the Fave E Verdura--which serves the beans mashed over greens; a calamari appetizer special that was basically calamari stuffed with calamari, then deep fried, and served with red sauce; Spaghetti Allo Scoglio, which pairs the pasta with shrimp, calamari and clams; and a veal chop special.  As these descriptions suggest, the flavors at Lucano are authentic Italian--simple yet sophisticated and grown-up.

Given all that we ate, we decided to split just one dessert and have coffees: Frutti Di Bosco.  It's sort of a chantilly cream tart topped with berries and powdered sugar--a nice combination of sweet, tart, and light/fluffy.

It was one of those nights when you think--we need to eat here more often and get together with these friends more often, too.  Grazi, Ristorante Lucano!

Sakura Home

When my husband and I first started dating, we went out to a Japanese restaurant.  We may have even ridden our bikes there.  I remember that, with tip, it cost us $30, and I couldn't imagine spending that much money on a dinner for two.

I also couldn't have imagined that a quarter of a century later, we'd be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary.  So, in thinking back to that night, we thought we'd head out for Japanese.  This time, we were driving, bringing two kids, and were pretty sure we'd spend more than $30.  We decided on hibachi at Sakura Home.

It was freezing outside and slightly snowing, which made the thought of sitting next to a hot hibachi table very appealing.  Sakura Home has an updated Japanese feel, brighter and more contemporary looking than Plum Garden (which is probably its main competition).  You enter directly into the bar area, which is a bit odd, but walk to the hibachi room over a cute little bridge that overlooks a small koi pond.

The crowd and servers were sparse on a Tuesday, so we got a table all to ourselves, but it also meant that our waitstaff--who was super nice--and hibachi chef were stretched a bit thin.  This left us and other tables with a lot of time chat, which was alternately annoying (we were starving!) and nice (we rarely get to do that).

Our son ordered Chicken Teriyaki off the kids' menu, as did our daughter.  They both opted for noodles instead of rice, which was an alternative I haven't seen before at a hibachi restaurant.  My husband ordered Steak with a side of Salmon; I went for Filet.  Kids' meals come with an onion broth soup or salad (which has more of a buttermilk dressing than the traditional ginger); regular meals with both plus the obligatory shrimp.

The chicken was good with a smoky, salty, sweet teriyaki sauce, and they LOVED the noodles.  My husband thought his steak was fine but really preferred the salmon, which was a huge portion for a side--as was the side of raw ginger he requested.  My filet was fantastic, soft and tender and perfectly cooked to medium-rare.  The veggies were delicious, too, and the rice was less seasoned than I typically like--remedied with extra soy and ginger.  The final verdict was really revealed by our plates, which held no leftovers.

Our chef was fine and fun but didn't put on as much of a show as we typically experience: no tossing of rice, no egg tricks, no shooting shrimp.

After dinner, I mentioned to our server that it had been my son's birthday the day before, so he got to bang the gong and was presented with a free birthday sundae complete with candle.  A nice touch!

Having now been to both hibachi places on Monroe, we prefer Plum Garden for the show but Sakura Home for the diversity of the menu and decor.  Guess we can't have everything, so we'll "settle" for a happy, hibachi-full family any day of the week (or the quarter century) :)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pixley's Restaurant

Off to see Jurassic Park 3D in IMAX, which meant another search for a restaurant along Buffalo Road.  This time we tried Pixley's Restaurant.  Like a lot of what one sees on this stretch, it seems to have been there forever--an old school diner from the pre-Denny's era.  (It doesn't even have a website!)  Inside, it's spiffier, with a handpainted Hollywood in the 30s mural (why? who cares?), scarved overheads, and supercomfy booths next to huge windows.  Add in the fact that every server is supernice, and Pixley's starts ahead of the game on many fronts.

I'm happy to say the food is good in an old school diner way.  The menu is huge and supplemented with a long list of nightly specials.  I got there with the kids.  My husband was held up at work, so I initially planned just to order him a sandwich to go that he could sneak into the theatre.

So, we set in.  My son ordered the Cheeseburger and Fries off the kids menu.  My pasta queen ordered the Fettucine Alfredo with Grilled Chicken and Broccoli.  I got a bowl of the soup du jour, Lemon Chicken, and a bowl of Greens and Beans off the appetizer menu.

He loved the classic diner-style cheeseburger and the light, crispy, salty fries on the side.  It came with pickle slices, tomato, onions, and a cute decorative slice of orange.

She went nuts for the massive plate of pasta.  The Alfredo sauce was mild, which she likes, and the fettucine was a great pairing with the well-seasoned grilled chicken strips that combined a golden, garlicky, crispy exterior with a moist interior.  She was not a fan of the broccoli, though.  The entree was probably big enough for two, but it still came with two sides.  She declined both, even after told she could get a cup of soup and prompted to do so by her mother.  Which was a mistake because ...

My Lemon Chicken soup was delicious!  The creamy broth had a natural and not overpowering lemon taste with good chunks of chicken, peas, and carrots plus a nice portion of white rice.  Once she tried my soup, my daughter regretted her decision :)  I had never, ever had Greens and Beans before moving to Rochester--which is some kind of culinary crime.  Pixley's seemed to include a full can of cannelini beans!  The accompanying escarole still had a great firmness but had stewed long enough in the rich, garlic-heavy broth to pick up the full flavor.  So good!

While we were eating, my MIA husband texted, so we ordered him something off the specials menu: Chicken Carmelo (after Anthony? ah 'Cuse).  Two chicken breasts sauteed in a garlicky, creamy wine mushroom and bacon sauce and topped with mozzarella cheese--served with a side of rice pilaf and a salad.  How good is the service?  I asked them to serve it in to-go boxes just in case he didn't make it--and they did it without blinking!  But, all was well.  He made it, ate half of his, some of hers, and a bite of the boy's burger to boot.

Pixley's is from another time is all the right ways: generous homestyle diner cooking served by generous spirits.  As we finished our dinner and ran off to the movies, the place was filling with intergenerational families--grandparents with walkers, kids bouncing in booths, young people grabbing a quick bite.  Perfect!

Next Door Bar and Grill

We were at an event at the Wegman's Test Kitchen, which is a very cool space at the back of the Next Door Bar and Grill, but spent all of our time chatting and not eating.  So, when that wrapped up around 8, we thought, "Heck, we've already got great parking spaces and it's snowing, so let's just grab a quick dinner here."

If you haven't been to Next Door, it's worth a trip just for the ambience, which always strikes me as fun-loud, active and social.  Plus, we've always found the service to be above par and the menu to be full of stuff we'd never typically put together--sometimes it works, sometimes not so much, but it's inventive!

Given it was already after 8 when we sat down, we decided to split everything.  We started with Watercress Salad.  I love watercress for the same reason I love microgreens ... it's adorable and delicately crunchy.  The salad topped a lovely nest of watercress with perfectly roasted pears, added a side of blue cheese, a goodly portion of yummy seasoned pecans, and finished it with a delicious port wine vinaigrette.  It really was big enough to split and be perfectly content.  I should mention that we shared our intent to split the salad and our entree with our server, thinking we'd just plunk everything in the middle of the table and dig in.  We're not proud!  Instead, she brought out both the salad and our entree split and perfectly plated separately--loved it!!

After a night of networking, what we really wanted was a good steak.  So, we picked the Dry Aged Prime Strip Steak, medium rare.  It was served pre-sliced and drizzled with the red beet bordelaise.  See what I mean about the unexpected, would I have made a red beet bordelaise reduction?  No, I hate beets. Was it good, oh yes! Sweetly rich without being overpowering of the yummy steak.  The sides included a delicious, woody melange of roasted mushrooms, including my favs--chanterelles; a lovely potato gratin served like a mini-napolean; crispy haricot vert, love them; and a thick pat of truffle butter--which I immediately moved to the side.  Not that I wouldn't have loved to eat it, but I had my eye on a tempting dessert and deferred my gratification.  Again, as my husband observed, though we split the dinner, it seemed the exact right portion size.

Which left us with plenty of room to split the Bananas Foster Creme Brulee.  Seriously, could anything sound better for dessert around 9:30 at night :)  The bananas were crispy, brown sugar heaven; the custard was creamy and delicate with a hint of rum; and there was also nutella and crisp chocolate cookies just in case.  Add a wonderful cup of coffee and what more could one ask for?

The vibe at Next Door is hip but welcoming, on the culinary edge without being too pretentious, and there's not a time I've been there when I don't run into someone I know--which makes me think, "It really is the Next Door Bar and Grill!"