[ DINING ] BY SUSIE HUME
With budgets tighter than ever, it's unlikely that most of us will be filling our passports with too many new international stamps this year. And yet, if you've long been wanting to travel the globe to experience new cultures and -- more importantly to this writer -- new cuisines, you'll be glad to know that you can do so practically in your own backyard, without the hassles or expenses of travel.
Rochester is lucky to have myriad ethnic restaurants that offer a range of authentic or otherwise exotic dishes to suit even the most adventurous of palates. Below find a sampler of some of our more notable restaurants that specialize in foreign cuisine. Note that this is just a quick survey; the city is home to hundreds of great restaurants. To discover more of them, check out the Restaurant Guide at rochestercitynewspaper.com.
If German cuisine brings to mind deliciously fatty meats, perfectly bitter sauerkraut, and steins overflowing with beer, then you won't be disappointed when visiting Rheinblick German Restaurant (224 S Main St, Canandaigua; 905-0950). Here you will find the expected--bratwurst, sauerbraten, and schnitzel--and some of the more hard-to-find authentic dishes, like the schweinshaxe (a beer-basted roasted pork shank) or the not-to-be-missedrouladen (rolled steak stuffed with bacon, pickles, and Düsseldorfer mustard, served with spätzle and red cabbage kraut).
Also be sure to try: Rohrbach Brewing Company (3859 Buffalo Rd; 594-9800), Swan Market (231 Parsells Ave; 288-5320), and The Lamplighter Restaurant (831 Fetzner Rd; 225-2500).
Caribbean is sort of a vague term, since it can include cuisines as diverse as Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Bahaman, Jamaican, and more. Island Fresh Cuisine (382 Jefferson Rd; 424-2150) specializes in food of the Jamaican variety, including curried goat, oxtails, Jamaican beef patties (or meatloaf patties, as the menu calls them) and jerk chicken. It truly shines with the ackee and saltfish-- Jamaica's national dish, usually served for breakfast-- a dried and salted cod seasoned with peppers, tomatoes, and a variety of spices cooked with ackee, a tree-borne fruit that has a consistency somewhat akin to scrambled eggs when cooked. It may sound off-putting, but the incomparable flavors will make you feel as if you're enjoying an island vacation.
Also be sure to try: Caribbean and Mexican Grill (1485 Dewey Ave; 563-7624), El Sabor de la Isla (1019 Norton St; 266-2200), Jerkers Original Take Out (651 Jefferson Ave; 436-9766), LJ's (360 Thurston Rd; 527-0778), and Shirley's Island Cuisine (17 E. Main St; 454-0408).
For a smaller city, Rochester has quite a large number of Mediterranean and, specifically, Greek restaurants--even many of our diners offer Greek cuisine. That said, the quality and authenticity range greatly and, being half-Greek myself, I have found few places that offer much more than just gyros and souvlaki. Astoria (651 Monroe Ave; 271-4033) is one of the area's rare gems that has a huge Greek menu with both the usual suspects and rarer finds. Particularly of note are the saganaki (pan-fried kefalotiri cheese served with pita) and anything that comes with the restaurant's crisp, tangy tzatziki. And don't forget to save room for the galaktouboureko, a dessert somewhat like baklava, but much harder to find.
Also be sure to try: Aladdin's Natural Eatery (646 Monroe Ave, 442-5000; 8 Schoen Place, Pittsford, 264-9000), Gyromania (1205 Bay Rd, Webster; 671-1080), King David's Restaurant (200 Park Point Dr; 424-7482), Sinbad's Mediterranean Cuisine (719 Park Ave; 473-5655), and Olive's Greek Taverna (50 State St, Pittsford; 381-3990).
Trying to highlight just one Italian restaurant in Rochester is a serious challenge -- we are quite lucky to have such a huge assortment of them. Yet fairly new addition Rocco (165 Monroe Ave; 454-3510) is certainly worth mentioning. Offering something for everyone, from pizzas (the mushroom, fontina, and white truffle oil version is highly recommended) to pastas (the artisinal pasta and meatballs will make you forget the version mom used to make) to salads (while the Caesar salad is not technically Italian, Rocco's version has the perfect ratio of leaf to dressing and a richness that will defy you to think of salad as a health food ever again).
Also be sure to try: Too many to name, but a few standouts include Bacco'sRistorante (263 Park Ave; 442-5090), Dentico's Italian Villa (2270 Culver Rd; 266-2120), La Bella Vita (1759 Empire Blvd; 671-7220), Mama Rosa (1733 Norton St; 544-4300), Mario's (2740 Monroe Ave; 271-1111), and Pane Vino (175 N Water St; 232-6090).
When it comes to Indian food, Rochesterians passionately disagree on which eatery makes it best, possibly more than with any other cuisine. Part of the subjectivity may derive from the fact that Indian food is such a broad-sweeping term that includes cuisines as diverse as Punjabi, Bengali, and Saraswat, to name a few. Thali of India (3259 Winton Rd; 427-8030) is of the Punjabi variety, and offers an array of choices as well as both a lunch and dinner buffet that is almost always packed. It also offers many vegetarian options -- the paneerakbari (cubed cheese cooked in a blend of tomato curry and spices) is particularly flavorsome.
Also be sure to try: Bombay Chaat House (1475 E Henrietta Rd; 292-0099), India House (998 S Clinton Ave; 461-0880), Mysore Woodlands (1900 S Clinton Ave; 271-2100), Tandoor Flame (1855 Empire Blvd; 670-0009), and Taste of India (3047 W Henrietta Rd; 475 -1111).
To those who haven't tasted it, pho may seem like an ordinary bowl of soup. But to those in the know, a good bowl of pho can often be hard to find. The one served up at SEA Restaurant (741 Monroe Ave; 473-8031) is one of those rare discoveries, featuring a simple, yet flavorful broth with tender rare beef and flawlessly cooked noodles, all served in a bowl large enough for two. It also has extraordinary fried squid if you want to nosh on an appetizer before your soup arrives.
Also be sure to try: DacHoa (230 Monroe Ave; 232-6038), Pho Duong Dong (182 Otis St; 254-8120), and Vinh-HaoBanh Mi Café (985 S Clinton Ave; 271-7250).
If you're the type who has trouble ordering off a large menu, you may have a problem at The King and I (1455 E Henrietta Rd; 427-8090). Offering Thai food to suit every desire, it is a favorite of Rochesterians, frequently selected in City Newspaper's "Best of Rochester" readers' poll. Of note are the basil dishes, which feature the ideal amount of anise, and the pad Thai, which some may dispute is not the most authentic version of the dish, but it is still arguably one of the tastiest.
Also be sure to try: Esan (696 Park Ave; 271-2271), Ginger Cove (3193 Chili Ave; 889-8448), Mamasan's (2800 Monroe Ave; 461-3290), Pattaya Thai (1843 Penfield Rd; 383-6088), Sak's Thai Cuisine (7374 Pittsford-Palmyra Rd; 421-9010), and Thai Taste (1675 Mount Hope Ave; 461-4154).
You can always spot a good Mexican restaurant by the quality of the margaritas-- they are perhaps even harder to perfect than the cuisine itself. Blue Cactus Mexican Grille (5 LiftbridgeLn, Fairport; 377-9590) offers a delicious and authentic margarita, as well as a diverse menu of Mexican favorites and house specialties. Bold diners should try the mole negro de Oaxaca, chicken poached in a sauce made up of a laundry list of ingredients, including six types of chili peppers, nuts, seeds, spices, and even chocolate; it is considered the most difficult mole to prepare. The restaurant also occasionally offers all-you-can-eat tacos on Tuesday nights -- a special worth watching for.
Also be sure to try: Casa Azteca (6720 Pittsford-Palmyra Rd; 425-0393), Chilango's (42 Nichols St, Spencerport; 349-3030), Dorado (690 Park Ave; 244-8560), John's Tex-Mex Eatery (489 South Ave; 232-5830), Mex (295 Alexander St; 262-3060), Monte Alban Mexican Grill (845 E Ridge Rd, 697-0615; 2245 Empire Blvd, 787-4700), Rio Tomatlan (5 Beeman St in Canandaigua; 394-9380) and Salena's Mexican Restaurant (274 N Goodman St; 256-5980).
When it comes to making great sushi and sashimi, freshness is of the utmost importance. Edoya(2131 Buffalo Rd; 247-4866), a family-run sushi restaurant in Gates, serves one of the largest sushi/sashimi assortments in the area, sure to tempt even those too cowardly to dream of eating raw fish. The spider roll (fried soft-shelled crab) is especially tasty, as is the Edoya roll, which features crab and crispy flakes in a spicy sauce, topped with shrimp. You can also pick up bento at Edoya, boxed meals of either California rolls or tuna rolls with either miso soup or rice ready to take for lunch or dinner.
Also be sure to try: Arigato Steak House (2720 W Henrietta Rd; 292-1111), California Rollin' (274 N Goodman St, 271-8990; 1000 N River St, 271-8920), Piranha Sushi Bar (682 Park Ave; 360-2754), Plum Garden (3349 Monroe Ave; 381-8730), Sakura Home (2775 Monroe Ave; 288-8130), and Shiki (1054 S Clinton Ave; 271-2090).
When most people think of Irish cuisine, they probably imagine a bar decked in green serving up a variety of pub food. And while that's not far off for many places, Mulconry's Irish Pub (17 LiftbridgeLn, Fairport; 678-4516) aims to offer more upscale Irish cuisine in more of a restaurant setting. The inclusion of shepherd's pie, corned beef and cabbage, and Guinness stew won't shock many, but the addition of toasties (the equivalent of a grilled cheese in Ireland) and boxties (stuffed Irish potato pancakes), both in several varieties, sets Mulconry's apart from other restaurants.
Also be sure to try: McGinnity's Restaurant (534 W Ridge Rd; 663-5810), Murphy's Law (370 East Ave; 697-9001), and TP's Irish Restaurant (916 Panorama Trail S; 385-4160).
Dim sum is a light dish typically served with tea, and traditionally served from the morning until noon except in specialty restaurants. Cantonese House (3159 S Winton Rd; 272-9126) is akin to a traditional dim-sum specialty restaurant, where the dim sum is served all day and, on weekends, is brought around on carts that diners can pull appealing dishes from. First-time "dim summers" can stick to safe choices like the pork buns and potstickers, but those looking to be somewhat daring should try the phoenix talons, or steamed chicken feet, which are of an acquired taste and texture.
Also be sure to try: Too many to name, but a few worth noting are Chen Garden (1750 Monroe Ave; 241-3070), Golden Port (105 East Ave; 256-1780), Hong Wah Chinese Restaurant (1802 Penfield Rd; 385-2808), Ming's Noodles (1038 S Clinton Ave; 244-0985), and Wok With You (300 Park Point Dr; 427-8383).
Since much American food has its roots in British food, British cuisine can be an uncommon discovery other than of "fish and chips" variety. Tap and Mallet (381 Gregory St; 473-0503) may seem to be of the pub variety, but the food is quite the contrary. While it boasts one of Rochester's most diverse beer lists, it also offers a variety of traditional British dishes alongside fusion options. Most noteworthy is the sausage and mash (often referred to as bangers and mash in the UK), which combines veal sausage with mashed potatoes, which is smothered in ale gravy (instead of the traditional onion gravy) and served with stout mustard.
Also be sure to try: The Old Toad (277 Alexander St; 232-2626) or for English-style tea try La-Tea-Da Tea Room and Parlour (258 Alexander St; 262-4450) or Hicks and McCarthy (23 S Main St, Pittsford; 586-0938).