My very favorite thing to do on earth is go out to dinner. I love eating delicious food. I love sharing good conversation with good people and feeling like there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be or nowhere else I need to be. My last night on earth would without a doubt be spent having a long leisurely dinner with all my favorite people. I am warmed just thinking about it—the joy it brings me, not the prospect of dying (#lol). Of course, I love it even more while traveling or experiencing some place new, but I absolutely love and appreciate so much the culinary scene that Rochester has to offer. It has several of my go-to places, several new places at all times to try out, and a very wide range of cuisines and specialties for answering every craving, no matter how obscure.
It feels a little wrong to have never delved into this topic on The Pastiche, so I’m going to begin randomly featuring those places that I love most, both in Rochester and other cities I’m visiting. There will never be one exhaustive list—I like different places for different reasons, and I love hopefully being able to add new names. However, I can absolutely make several lists of favorites at a particular time. And I’m starting with places I love to go for dinner and drinks. This is purposely different from places I just love for drinks or just love for dinner—this category is invoking a certain kind of vibe that I’m looking for on a date night or a night out with friends.
Here are my current top recommendations for dinner and drinks out in Rochester, New York
Rocco is an experience that is all around comforting (while far surpassing the idea of “comfort food” in every sense), and food that tastes like it was made with love and with purpose, every time. This place is the closest thing to being back in Italy that I’ve ever experienced—straight-forward and cozy, and still so romantic. So although it’s not a place I’d recommend for a long and loud night out, it’s an ideal low-and-slow dinner and drinks kind of night. Nothing about this place is trying too hard, and I love that—they’re sticking to their guns, but still with the flare of any truly good chef, I think, which is to cook seasonally and purposefully. Choose a glass of wine from a list of Italian names you’ve probably never heard of—I have never, ever had a bad one at Rocco. Start with the house made ricotta and charred bread and regret not. But also get the meatballs or the grilled octopus or the tricolor salad with Gorgonzola… I could go on, and these are just starters. Rocco’s pizza dough is light and bubbled, with a good chewiness. It’s slightly charred and just salty enough. High quality cheeses, roasted garlic, good olive oil; pizza doesn’t require anything more, and yet it’s so rarely achieved so perfectly as at Rocco. And, drumroll: the linguine with peppers. Oh my goodness. The flavors in this pasta dish taste like they were developed over years and years, with so much depth and dynamism. But you’re like, “I’M EATING NOODLES WITH SAUCE AND PEPPERS.” I can’t say much more about it than that—this pasta just blows me away every time—I’d never even want to try to recreate it at home. It’s just too special. Oh and save room for the butterscotch budino. It takes salty sweet richness to a whole new level.
Go to Good Luck with people who like to experiment and share incredible food. It never ever ceases to impress or improve. The place is dimly lit and open and immediately transplants you to some other city. It’s filled with the constant buzz of people enjoying each other’s company. The menu is from scratch, seasonal, and interesting, to say the very least, pulling from all sorts of cuisine types and cooking styles, with a few old faithfuls that, thank God, never come off (I’m looking at you red lentils and Good Luck burger)—and the flavors are absolutely killer no matter what you order. Go hungry and thirsty and stay long, whether on a date or with friends. The place just oozes confident-cool and although life is about the company you’re with, this place certainly ups the ante on an equally good atmosphere. Time flies when you’re suddenly entrenched in the intangible Zen-like mood that encompasses the hustling and bustling dining room at Good Luck.
Go to Ox & Stone for a warm and lively atmosphere that is just as easily a bar as it is a restaurant. The place is laid out with great movement and different areas for hanging out, mingling, and people watching. The romantic and old-world-meets-new-world aesthetic is authentic and just “feel-good.” Ox’s bar staff is one of a kind and a true part of the experience there—and they’re serving up the classics done just right (Pisco Sour, Caipirinha, Margarita... I’m dreaming of you guys), as well as more interesting, delicious concoctions. Order the sizzling shrimp in a cast iron skillet and then wonder why shrimp is ever served any other way—and then soak up all the spicy garlic-y oil with the crusty bread served alongside of it. But don’t forget about chips and guacamole...it’s the type of thing you’ll crave at all hours of the day for weeks after. Or order the most beautiful artisan charcuterie board in the city, full of different pickles and peppers and chutneys and the best meats and cheeses. Have the perfectly executed chile relleno and be angry that you’ve lived a life without it up until this point. Have any of the tacos—but especially the Baja fish—or share the dynamite paella with hungry friends, or go rogue and order the incredible burger with Blackstrap BBQ sauce and a fried egg. Spend your entire night eating and drinking here and you won’t feel the need to wander elsewhere. There’s no other place like this oasis in the city.
There's something about a well executed (read here as not hokey or contrived) French hideaway that is unparalleled in its perfect cross between cozy and sexy. Roux looks and feels the part, but most importantly tastes the part. The decor and food both seem to effortlessly (what's more French than that?) bridge a gap between traditional/vintage and modern/cool so that no one theme or trend is overdone. The mirrored venue with bistro lights and a cool earthiness from candlelight and green plants lets you pretend, even for a night, that you're somewhere far, far away from here. Roux's food is truly divine, and its cocktail and wine lists are some of the best in the city. This is THE place for mussels in the city, and certainly, if you're down to clown around and try a snail or two, I highly, highly suggest the escargot. The name of the game for me is always the Roux burger, but the level of perfection in the rest of Roux's menu leaves me with horrendous guilt if I simply go for the (amazing) burger as opposed to my other weaknesses, the ribeye steak frites and Faroe Island salmon. But, trust me, drink first, eat second. Roux's imaginative cocktail list is well worth stepping out of your comfort zone. Or if not, wine is an equally good choice when cozying up in a dimly lit booth with friends/lovers, old/new, anxiously awaiting your dinner to arrive.
Coming soon: Dining Out: My favorite places for brunch in Rochester! You can follow along with future posts in this series by clicking on the dining out link below