Monday, December 20, 2010
Warfield's at High Point in Rochester: Location, Location, Location
During my last visit home, I recently left a dinner feeling particularly torn. There I was, having just enjoyed a well thought and executed six-course tasting menu with my family... in the middle of a conference room. Never have I felt a meal's enjoyment so compromised by its surroundings, but that's precisely what happened at Warfield's at High Point. Overlooking Eastview Mall on the partially hidden High Point Drive, Warfield's lies hidden on the first floor of the Constellations Brand office building. But within its corporate facade, unbeknownst to all but a few, is perhaps Rochester's best fine dining establishment.
Opening in the summer of 2010, Warfield's at High Point is the Rochester outpost of the original, located in Clifton Springs. Having previously worked at The Lodge at Woodcliff, Rio Bamba and Max at Eastman Place, Culinary Institute of America graduate, Brent Williams combines formal training with modern techniques, bringing a fresh, but sophisticated approach to fine dining. Although the restaurant's website only mentioned a la carte options, I was told a tasting menu was available and requested Chef Williams to create a six course meal for my family and I.
As great as our meal eventually was, things started off on the wrong foot. After being greeted by the hostess, I immediately noticed the restaurant's abysmal surroundings. While we waited for the rest of our party to arrive, we headed to a rather poor excuse for a bar. Minimally stocked and no cocktail menu (strange considering their website promotes cocktails), we each began with a glass of Cava. As we were seated, it slowly dawned on us that the space the restaurant was touting as a dining room was in fact, nothing more than a former conference room, complete with the fluorescent lights and abstract art indicative of any office. The fact that the restaurant had about as much ambiance as my law firm prompted concern over the rest of the evening. Fortunately for us, the food was anything but the same rubbish served at our office cafeteria!
Our server recited a copy of the evening's menu before offering both still and house sparkling water for the table. The menu being seafood heavy, we started with a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough, New Zealand (2009).
Bread service consisted of what Warfield's calls, "Pizza Bianco," which was served with an unsalted cow's milk butter and was outstanding. Our servers informed us that the bread was freshly baked each day at the Clifton Springs location and brought directly to Rochester. The bread had a crusty exterior and wonderfully chewy middle which was perfect for sopping remaining sauces or just eaten alone.
Served on a spoon, the amuse bouche for the evening was a Smoked Salmon Mousse with Compressed Melon and Micro Cilantro. Literally the smallest amuse I've ever seen, the smooth mousse contained a faint smokiness, contrasting nicely with the crunchy melon.
The first course, simply called Oysters, featured two preparations of Duxbury Pearl Oysters from Massachusetts. The raw preparation was an Oyster on the Halfshell with a Pickled Onion Salsa, Crème Fraîche and Kaffir Lime. The briny oyster tasted exceptional, but oysters this fresh hardly needed any accoutrements. The cooked preparation contained an Oyster Tempura over a Chipotle-Onion Purée. The tempura batter was nice and light, not detracting from any of the oyster's natural flavor, and was enhanced by the smokey sweet purée.
Being allergic to oysters, my sister received an alternate dish called Beets, etc. A beet terrine layered with Goat Cheese, Pistachio, Olive Crumble and a Burnt Orange Vinaigrette, my sister took to this dish like a fish to water. Although I found the ingredients to be quite cliché, my sister thought, and I agreed, that the the olive crumble lent the dish a unique and added dimension of texture.
The next course was a Sea Scallop with Toasted Barley, Honey Glazed Pork Belly, Salsify, Brussels Sprout Leaves and a Harvest Ale Sauce. We loved the sweetness of the perfectly seared scallop paired with the unctuous pork belly, making for an wonderful twist on a classic "surf 'n' turf." I particularly enjoyed the barley, which in this case, acted almost as a risotto as the salsify and brussels sprout leaves provided some additional sweetness.
The next course, King Ivory Salmon in a Potato Crust with Braised Cardoons, Spinach and Truffled Celery Root, was good but not great. Until that course, the only other time I've encountered King Ivory Salmon had been at Sushi Yasuda, and it had always been served raw. Cooked, the fish was sweeter than your typical salmon, but definitely lacked the same intensity of the pieces we enjoyed at Yasuda. The dish's only flaw, a technical one, was that the potato crust wasn't quite crisp, but was otherwise cooked perfectly, and was spot on flavorwise.
Foie gras is always a treat, and at Warfield's it was no different. Rarely seen in restaurants in Rochester, I specifically asked the Chef to include this course into our meal. More than happy to honor my request, Chef Williams pan seared the Foie Gras, and paired it with Persimmon and Cranberry. Everything about this dish was outstanding. The foie was well seasoned, marrying perfectly with the seasonal persimmon, while the tartness of the cranberries provided the perfect balance to these sweet and rich components.
At this point of the meal we had finished two bottles of wine and were ready to transition over to a Diseño Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina (2007).
Our final savory course, Grilled Wagyu Beef Sirloin with Sweet Potato Purée, Braised Swiss Chard and a Veal Reduction, was the only real miss of the entire evening. Having heard me wax poetically about the Wagyu beef I experienced in Japan, my family was especially excited for this course. Sadly, the quality of the beef was undone by the fact that it had been overcooked and appeared a tad dry, suggesting that it had sat on the pass for too long. Ultimately the most anticipated dish of the evening ended up being the most disappointing.
Not to be outdone by Chef Williams on the savory side, Pastry Chef David Baran managed to more than hold his own with a wonderful Date and Marscarpone Torte with Cardamom Sauce and Toasted Almond Ice Cream. The torte was moist and dense as the sweetness of the dates were kept in check by the creamy marscarpone and fragrant cardamin sauce. The almond ice cream was intense, perhaps a bit too intense for some, but was silky smooth and especially good when combined with the torte.
To finish the meal we were treated to petits fours: 72% Dark Chocolate Truffles, filled with Caramel and topped with Hawaiian Sea Salt. Instructed to eat the truffle upside down so that you'd initially taste the salt before reaching the bittersweet chocolate and rich caramel, these were the perfect ending to an incredible meal.
From the opening amuse, to the petits fours, and almost everything in-between, our meal at Warfield's was one of the best meals I've ever experienced in Rochester. Chefs Williams and Baran are creating some absolutely spectacular food that not only looks good, but more importantly, tastes great. With the exception of having to eat in such a sterile environment and one misfire, there was little to complain about the experience as a whole.
At the end of the meal we were all in agreement, had Warfield's been located in a different space near East Avenue or Alexander Street, instead of an office building out in Victor, it may very well be Rochester's premier restaurant. Instead, despite some good reviews, Warfield's remains relatively unknown (for now), even to Rochesterians. Simply put, food of this caliber deserves to be eaten in a space worthy of its presence, until then, I'll just have to warm up to the idea of eating my meals at my desk.
Warfield's at High Point
207 High Point Drive
Victor, NY 14564
To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.