Parkerhouse rolls, baked in a cast-iron skillet, served with softened butter.
Tuna crudo sashimi-grade fish, toybox tomatoes, cucumber, fennel and avocado finished with a horseradish foam
Seared sea scallops
Rack of lamb, herbal pasta with porcini mushrooms and minted peas
Pudding of salted caramel
Deftly, the server uncorks the wine. She pours a tiny splash into the glass and swirls it by its stem, coating its inner surface with the wine. Only after each glass gets this treatment is the wine poured, the toasts made, and the meal begun.
The process is known as “avvinare,” which means “to prepare the glass for wine,” and it is repeated around the table until every diner’s glass is properly primed. Avvino, the well-appointed Brighton restaurant that borrows its name from this Italian tradition, takes the same welcoming, reverent approach when it comes to service and food. On my recent visit, I was ushered to a rich blue banquette tucked in the corner of this intimate, swanky restaurant, just as a serving of parkerhouse rolls, baked in their own cunning little cast-iron skillet, was placed on the table. A slightly salty crust and soft, sweet interior characterized these rolls, which are baked to order and served with softened butter.
It would have been easy for me to devour all of these, but luckily the next dish arrived to distract me. A tuna crudo combined sashimi-grade fish, toybox tomatoes, cucumber, fennel and avocado in a delightful melange of colors, textures and tastes. Finished with a horseradish foam which was curiously spicy but light, this starter woke up my taste buds with its inventive flavors and beautiful presentation. The tuna was meaty and firm, the fennel and cucumber crisply refreshing, and the avocado provided its signature richness.
Avvino’s seared sea scallop dish was similarly layered with harmonizing flavors. In this entree, the sweetness of the scallops was underscored by a sweet corn puree, and contrasted with salty chunks of pancetta. The result was summery, succulent and simply luscious.
The next dish, lobster brodo, came in two parts -- a dish of sweet, meaty lobster chunks atop a bed of caramelized vidalia onions, fennel and roasted tomato, and a gorgeous, savory saffron broth which is poured over the lobster tableside. This presentation certainly whetted my expectations, which were met if not exceeded by the saffron broth’s depth and the decadent flavor of the lobster. Given its sophisticated presentation and absolutely sublime taste, this dish, out of all the delicious things I tried, seemed to stand as a metaphor for the Avvino experience itself.
Although the bar was set high by the lobster brodo, my next dish of ricotta cavatelli easily cleared it. Homemade pasta, perfectly cooked, was paired with osso buco and a bright, vibrant sauce made with white wine and chicken stock. Quite possibly the most tender meat I’ve ever eaten, the veal’s richness was tempered by the piquant addition of olives and preserved lemons.
Fans of lamb will appreciate Avvino’s take on rack of lamb, wherein the meat’s earthiness is matched by a complex, herbal pasta made with porcini mushrooms. Minted peas were tender but still bright green, a traditional and fitting side dish for the tender lamb chops.
I ended my meal with a budino, or pudding, of salted caramel. This was a creamy indulgence, a classic yin-yang contrast of sweet and salt flavors. Orange biscotti crumbs, a whole biscotti, and toasted crushed hazelnuts made a fantastic addition to the sumptuous salted caramel dessert.
Avvino’s approach to fine dining, says Chef Brian Antinore, is “an amalgam of what’s happening in the world today. It’s whatever looks good at the market.” This philosophy leads to seasonal menus, so look for upcoming offerings to reflect the cooler temperatures and burgeoning harvest. Personally, I can’t wait to head back to this intimate gem of a restaurant to taste the next innovations in fine dining, and to watch the server swirl wine in my glass.
2541 Monroe Avenue | Rochester, NY 14618 | 585.270.5229
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