Friday, October 8, 2010
Lento: "L" is for Locavore
My old stomping grounds of Rochester, New York would hardly be mistaken for a culinary mecca. Most famously known for the "garbage plate," my beloved hometown has become infested with one restaurant franchise after another. But there exists a ray of light, as a contingent of new restaurants have recently emerged, bringing with them novel styles of cooking and ingredients to a city overrun with people who dare not deviate from their prime rib and crummy red sauce. One new Turk leading this revolution is Rochester-native, Art Rogers, who in 2007 opened Lento in the Village Gate area. Most recently the chef at JoJo Bistro and Wine Bar, chef Rodgers previously worked at Primo Restaurant in Rockland, Maine honing his craft under James Beard Award winning chef Melissa Kelly and has subsequently reshaped Rochester's fine dining scene with his emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients and constantly evolving menu. Having had the chance to dine there before, I made it a point to schedule a family meal at what I consider to be Rochester's most important restaurant.
Arriving early, MW and I cozied up at the bar while we waited for my family. Greeted with a bowl of Seasoned Nuts with Rosemary, the knowledgeable bartender described some of the restaurant's cocktails. MW ordered a cocktail off the Classic menu, Herbs 'n' Gin, which contained Hendrick's Gin with Muddled Herbs, Lime and Tonic. Living up to its name, the combination of ingredients made for an intensely herbaceous drink that was quite refreshing and pleasantly lacked a cucumber. My Young Pilgrim was from the Lento Craft menu and consisted of Knob Creek Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, Muddled Peaches and Free Bros. Peach Bitters. Being more of a whiskey drinker, I enjoyed my cocktail, which despite the peaches, was not overly sweet. In addition to assisting us with our libations, the bartender also informed us that the day's oysters all hailed from New Brunswick.
My family arrived and we all shared a round of cocktails before being seated in the restaurant's spacious interior as soft jazz played in the background. Our waitress arrived shortly with menus and plates of homemade Focaccia Bread with Olive Oil.
We decided to share a number of different appetizers, which included a selection of the aforementioned Oysters as well as some Littleneck Clams which came with Horseradish and a Mignonette. While the oysters tasted briny and fresh, the clams were inedible, tasting rancid.
The Assorted Cheese Plate, a favorite on my previous trip, was devoured by my family. A nutty Red Meck (cow's milk), tangy House Goat and salty Goat Feta were all good, even more so with the accompanying Baguette and Grilled Fruit and Nut Bread.
The Tartare of Wild Coho Salmon with Beets, Pickled Zucchini, Crème Fraîche and Garden Chives sounded good but was terribly bland. While not outright foul like the clams, the disappointing tartare only reaffirmed the fact that raw seafood was Lento's Achilles heel.
Fortunately, the Duck Liver Pâté with Baguette and Sweet Pickled Onions was better. The generous portion of pâté was much lighter than other versions, but maintained the rich flavor similar to chicken liver pate. We slathered the pate onto the baguette with the pickled onions providing a complimentary touch of acidity.
Lastly, arriving in a cone were Duck Fat Frites with a Garlic Aioli. Nice and thick, the frites contained a hint of duck flavor and were well seasoned. Clearly, a favorite of the entire table, my family made quick work of these.
My youngest sister, MR, ordered a half Steamed Lobster and followed with the Homemade Tomato Cavatelli Tossed in Roasted Eggplant Sauce with Local Tomatoes, Summer Squash, Basil and Olive Oil Toasted Breadcrumbs. My sister reported that the lobster tasted fine and she enjoyed the multiple textures and flavors of the cavatelli.
My other sister, LG, decided to split the Peach and Tomato Salad with House Made Goat Cheese, Basil and Balsamic Reduction and Wild Coho Salmon, Pan Seared with Pommes Fondant, Local Romao Beans Sauteed with Applewood Smoked Bacon and Tarragon, Crab and Nasturtium Buerre Blanc with her husband. They both agreed that the peach and tomato salad with goat cheese and the salmon were light but full of flavor.
Both my mom and sister's boyfriend ordered the Bedient Farms 20 Oz. T-Bone Steak with a Summer Vegetable and Potato Gratin, Horseradish Crème Fraîche and a Locally Foraged Chantrelle Mushroom Jus. Hearty and satisfying, this dish was a winner, especially with the meat and potato loving boyfriend.
MW went with the Crispy Skin Gansz Farm Duck Breast with a Creamy Polenta of Slow Roasted Leeks, Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Pecorino Romano, Grilled Baby Squash and Blackberry Jus. While the duck was cooked perfectly and moist, the polenta was a completely different story. Served lukewarm, the polenta was gummy and reminded me of thick paste instead a creamy side that would have pulled this dish together.
My sister, ER, and I couldn't resist the Oink and Gobble Farms Brown Sugar Brined Pork Chop, Grilled with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Freswise Farms Braised Swiss Chard, Grilled Peaches and Buttermilk Onion Rings. There was little not to love about the thick tasty chop with garlicky potatoes, tender chard and crunchy onion rings.
As we were deciding on dessert, which we ultimately decided to pass on, we were each given an Apertif of homemade Limoncello, compliments of the chef.
In addition to all the food we enjoyed, perhaps the most encouraging aspect of our meal was the fact that the restaurant was full. For a city that has toiled away in gastronomic obscurity for far too long a time, Rochester appears willing and ready to embrace the forward-thinking chefs like Art Rogers who seem poised to break through the wall of stale restaurants that once dominated the city and in so doing is helping forge a new culinary identity.
274 North Goodman Street
Rochester NY, 14607
To see all our pics click the flickr link.