Made another quick visit to Rochester recently, not enough time to really do the kind of surveying I prefer, so I just stuck to what the circumstances dictated. Some visiting friends with kids were craving Korean, so we hit Seoul Garden
one evening, and everyone enjoyed it. One of the dining party was Korean, and all of them eat at Korean restaurants in Manhattan frequently, and they were pleased. Our (gas-powered) in-table grill didn't get quite as hot as we'd have liked, but it sufficed for some very good Kalbi and Bulgogi. I'm spoiled, we still have several places in Philly that still use charcoal, so I'm never completely satisfied with gas...
We also had a very good Hae Mul Pajun, although the seafood was more finely-chopped than I prefer. Still, if the pancake is crisp and not too greasy, I'll live with that. Nakji Bokum was very tasty, not as spicy as it looked, but the octopus was tender and tasty. The kids inhaled a Bi Bim Bap before any adults could get near it, so I can't say for sure what it was like, but they enjoyed it. We also had a couple of very good soups. I wish I'd been paying closer attention when the ordering was going on, because I'd like the get those soups again, but I've learned to just let the native-speakers do their thing and stay out of the way...
Afterward, a stop at Abbotts Frozen Custard
was required. Thankfully, there was not only one a very short distance from Seoul Garden on West Henrietta Road, but also one right near their hotel too. I suspect there might have been additional visits after I left them... That chocolate almond is crazy.
Later on that night, one friend and I dropped by Good Luck
for a quick cocktail. It was pleasantly bustling, but not so packed that we couldn't find seats at the bar. We sampled a Black Cat Tea
(Johnny Walker Black, Cointreau, Iced Earl Grey Tea, lemon, orange bitters) which tasted like...well...tea. Also had a Brass Tacks
(Mezcal, Rittenhouse Rye, Fernet Branca, Blood Orange, Lemon Bitters, Ginseng Cola) which was complex and weird, in an appealing way. My kind of drink. Their Sazerac
was a little heavy on the Peychaud's, but still worked, perhaps because they make them with a mix of cognac and bourbon and serve them on the rocks. We were also happy to see the local McKenzie Rye
on the list and enjoyed sipping a bit of that straight. It's a little pricey, but hey, there's not that much of it around, and it's tasty...
The next night, a birthday honoree requested dinner at Next Door Bar and Grill
. I'd normally be skeptical about eating at a place run by Wegmans supermarkets, but the menu looked interesting, so I was curious. We got there a little early, and were directed to the bar area to wait. We got some decent cocktails, and encountered the only significant service glitch: for some reason they claimed to be unable to transfer the bar tab to our dinner check. This isn't a huge deal, I usually prefer to settle-up at the bar anyway, but in this case, just as they alerted us that our table was ready (with one of those cheesey blinking - buzzing pager things) our server made herself scarce, so it was kind of a pain to flag her down, get a check and pay, while acknowledging to the impatient gang of hostesses that we were on our way...
The bar area is schizophrenic: part slick, modern and sleek, part romantic casbah, part disco lounge, complete with mirror ball. The bar itself was full, so we slipped into one of the draped areas with low couches and deep chairs. It felt like there ought to be a hookah on the table, and the couches seemed designed more for napping than sitting, but I suppose this could be a good thing in certain circumstances - I'm just having a hard time picturing the demographic that seemed to be populating the place getting THAT chill. I was also having a hard time getting up off of the couch, and jeeze, I'm not so
old and creaky!
The look of the main restaurant space is similarly jumbled. It's a combination of arty modern design touches, rustic wood and fixtures, curvy glass and chrome, and oversized, old-fashioned stodgy paintings. It's not bad looking, well, except for the paintings, it's just an odd juxtaposition of styles. Even the menu layout is a weird mix of sleek design and corny clip-art graphics. And I suppose you could say the same thing about food on that menu: there are two whole pages of sushi and sashimi, and a long list of skewered things cooked on a Robata grill, but also burgers, pizza and relatively conventional entrées like a roasted chicken, or a steak, or a grilled salmon.
Both the decor and the food work better than you'd think they would. Although it's a massive space, it's broken-up into smaller rooms in a way that makes each section feel relatively intimate. And while the menu seems all-over-the-place, it's actually artfully compartmentalized as well, and it's nice to have all these options. It just so happens that the various folks at our table wanted a burger, a pizza, some robata-grilled items, some braised veal cheeks and a pan-seared bass.
OK, none of what we ordered was so earth-shakingly awesome that we're racing back there immediately, but in fact everything was quite good, and interesting enough that I'd return for another dinner, and perhaps even order some of the same things again.
A few things were spot-on. The Tuscan Fries were perfect: crisp, just enough garlic and rosemary and coarse sea salt to enhance, not overwhelm. The mayo-based dipping sauce was a strong compliment. The robata-grilled items were uniformly impressive as well. We sampled Asparagus, Kurobuta Pork (Belly), Scallop, Beef, and Chicken. Each was dressed with a different condiment, which were all at least good, some outstanding, like the rosemary-apple purée that lurked under the bacon-y pork. The scallops were on the small side, but perfectly cooked, subtly enhanced by the ginger, shiso and ponzu. I could see a chef setting-up the grill at the beginning of service, and there's no mistaking those glowing branches of Binchotan charcoal as he transferred them from a huge iron pot into the grilling area, and that super-hot wood imparts a distinctive flavor.
The pizzas here are odd. Our server stressed several times that they are built on a VERY
thin, crackery crust, but even those admonitions didn't prepare me for how paper-thin that crust would be. And that's not inherently a bad thing, one might argue about whether it's really even pizza, but for what it is, a crackery flatbread thing with toppings, it's pretty tasty. We tried a basic Margherita, with appropriately sparse toppings of good-quality chunky roasted tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil. It seems like a perfect bar snack, or a shared appetizer, probably not so great if you're hungry for pizza...
The "Bouley Burger," served on an English Muffin, with cucumber, lettuce, etc, in the fashion of Bouley in Manhattan, was well-liked, and looked good.
Braised veal cheeks were accompanied by spaetzle and red cabbage, in a concentrated, tangy sauce. These tasted very good, even though the sweet-and-sour notes of the sauce and of the red cabbage amplified one another and could get a little intense... The cheeks were still fairly firm, not quite as falling-apart as I've had, but that struck me as a cooking-style choice rather than a mistake. I couldn't see any circulators in the huge open kitchen, but there was something about the texture that made me wonder if they were actually cooked sous-vide rather than classically braised (not that one is better than the other.) Whatever the method, I might have let them go a little further, but that's really nitpicking.
A seared filet of sea bass was presented over gnocchi and a kind of stew of vegetables. The fish itself was decent, competently cooked, but a little bland. But the dish as a whole was rather good, the gnocchi was light and tender, the vegetable sauce flavorful.
Service was good overall. Food came out at a reasonable pace, there was a dedicated water and bread person, ready with refills. We flagged a random server a couple of times for small requests, and those requests were promptly handled by that person, not handed back to "our" server. The opening recitation of specials was a little weird, in that it included so many minute details that I was half expecting the ZIP codes for all of the ingredients and the names of each line cook who would be preparing them. The description of a crab cake special was followed by a recommended wine pairing, which included a review of the wine, right down to its relative oakiness and vanilla notes on the nose, as well as the price by glass or bottle. OK, how about if you wait and see if we order a crab cake before we worry about a wine pairing? Anyway, that was just about the only scripted sales-pitch we received, other than a helpful tip that the bread we were served is available at the store across the street. Admittedly we HAD mentioned liking it, and that was actually helpful to know, but she didn't really need to remind us that we were eating food from the supermarket!
Sitting in the main room, I could see close to 20 cooks in the open kitchen, all looking feverishly busy, which seemed almost comical until we were able to absorb how many seats this restaurant really has. To the credit of the designers, it's much larger than it seems. There were at least 4 or 5 dedicated sushi chefs, preparing platters. There is plentiful counter seating around what looks like a traditional sushi bar, but there didn't seem to be any way to interact directly with the chefs. Ordering and delivery were all done via servers, which can be fine, but there seemed to be no chance for the delicate give-and-take between a sushi chef and the diner that can make the experience so much better. The fish looked to be of high quality, but the selection was not especially exotic, and populated by too many gimmicky rolls, but I suppose that's what most people want.
Prices were in-line with what you'd see at most places of this style, which is to say, a semi-upscale, serious restaurant. But it is ironic that the very fact that it's right across the street from the mothership supermarket made us keep thinking about the prices of ingredients versus the final cost for the menu item. Really, $19 for just a duck leg
?!? $22 for just the breast?! You really can't give me a half a duck for that? $5-7 seems about right for a grilled skewer of something until you start thinking of how much product is really on those sticks... But then as you look around at the well-appointed dining rooms, the large shiny kitchen, and the swarms of employees, it's not hard to see where restaurant markup goes, that's the reality of the restaurant business. And heck, I don't want to have to buy expensive binchotan charcoal, and get it lit, it's a pain...
Overall, I'd say that the restaurant is better than one might expect from something run by a supermarket, even Wegmans. But at the same time, it's worth keeping in mind that for better and for worse, it's a large, modern corporate enterprise, not the personal vision of a driven chef, or a cultural expression of some ethnic heritage, as so many fine restaurants are. That said, one can probably safely expect consistent quality and execution, along with good service, and that's not bad.
Edited by philadining, 12 April 2010 - 09:39 PM.