"We worked really hard to make sure that when somebody walks in, they're like, 'Wow,'" Cameron Phelps said, perhaps unnecessarily, as I swooned over The Daily Refresher. The new entry into Alexander Street's Restaurant Row is utterly unrecognizable from its former incarnation as The Blue Room. Phelps co-owns The Daily Refresher with Dorado's Jonathan Swan and CiBon's Robin Swan, the latter having chosen the stylishly mismatched furnishings that make the cozy second floor feel like you've stumbled into a secret Victorian parlor, even when a glance out the window at the modern Rochester skyline suggests otherwise.
The retro surroundings meld nicely with the fare and libations offered by The Daily Refresher, its old-timey newspaper theme echoed on the menu. (As well as, incidentally, the faux-newsprint food wrappers, which I couldn't help but pocket, crumbs and all, in order to get a better look at the recipes on them.) Robin Swan also designed the menu, centered around toasted-cheese sandwiches such as the Chronicle ($5.99), made from smoked gouda, roasted tomato, and arugula. You'll also find other sandwiches like the poor man's lobster roll ($7.99), here starring jumbo shrimp, along with salads, soups, and snackier things like a charcuterie plate ($6.99/$9.99) as well as a yummy mortadella pâté ($7.99).
The wine and beer selections are both carefully selected and nicely priced, but Scotch lovers, take note: there's a whole wall dedicated to the stuff, and a couple of them pop up as ingredients in The Daily Refresher's craft cocktails, which range from classics like an absinthe-kissed Corpse Reviver ($8) to seasonal originals like the Autumn Sweater ($8), containing Maker's Mark bourbon, hard cider, maple syrup, clove, and bitters.
Once the warm weather hits, both the upstairs and downstairs decks will be in play (though there's talk of an outdoor fire pit for winter), and lunch hours are imminent. But the master plan is simple: "We want to keep the customer-service level high," Phelps says. "And we want people to feel at home."
The Daily Refresher is located at 293 Alexander St. It is open Tuesday-Thursday 4 p.m.-midnight, and Friday-Saturday 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Food prices range from $3.99 to $9.99. For more information, call 360-4627 or visit thedailyrefresher.com.
Dreams of sushi
Well, the bad news is that Duck Soupe, the casual link in the Max Rochester chain, has closed. The good news? Max owner Tony Gullace has teamed with executive chef Ching Imperial Bolima to revamp the East Main Street space as Max Sushi & Noodles, bringing to Rochester's sushi scene an eatery devoted to the notion of organic ingredients and sustainable seafood.
Even the water is given special attention at Max Sushi & Noodles, put through a filtration process that sounded complicated but resulted in particularly delicious hydration. The dishes that emerge from the kitchen of Chef Bolima (you may remember his sushi artistry from Nikko) are exquisitely plated, the specialty rolls almost too pretty to eat, and the bento lunches resembling still-lifes. Brown and multigrain rices are often an option, and the vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free choices are helpfully noted on the menu. And speaking from personal experience, there's not much better on a chilly day than the Japanese Udon noodles ($14), a generous bowl of proteins, veggies, and fat, slurpable noodles in an umami-rich broth.
Max Sushi & Noodles is located at 350 E. Main St. Lunch served Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-4 p.m., dinner served Tuesday-Thursday 4-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday until 11 p.m. Food prices range from $2 to $42. For more information, call 713-1470 or visit maxsushiandnoodles.com.
Wines by the glasnost
Celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas in the Finger Lakes, as Hector, NY's Standing Stone Vineyards pairs traditional favorites like pierogi, golubtsy, kolachki, and gribnoy ikra with wine tastings 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, January 5, and Sunday, January 6. Registration is required; call (607) 582-6051 or visit standingstonewines.com.
Bistro Han, the sleek suburban offshoot of Monroe Avenue's excellent Han Noodle, is open at 687 Moseley Road in Fairport. The website is not yet live, so check Bistro Han's Facebook page for a look at the menu.
Maybe you noticed that massive Texas Roadhouse emerging from the ground at 3150 W. Henrietta Road? It's now open. So if you've been hankering for a lot of meat, go do a little advance work at texasroadhouse.com.
The first Rochester location of CiCi's Pizza, a chain of buffets specializing in pasta, salads, and, you know, pizza, has opened at 1100 Jefferson Road. Visit cicispizza.com for more information.
Lucca Wood-Fire Bistro on West Main Street in Victor will be closed during the month of January for renovations, including new floors, new equipment, and more seating. Reopening should happen sometime in February; follow the progress at luccawfpizza.com.
Paola's Burrito Place is no longer a restaurant on Culver Road, but you can still get your fill of Paola's popular Mexican fare on Saturdays at the Public Market.
The Greece outpost of Zebb's Deluxe Grill & Bar is closed; the other local location, at 1890 South Clinton Avenue in Brighton's Tops Plaza, is still open.
After 76 years in business at 249 Saratoga Avenue, the Rochester institution known as Al's Stand has closed its doors.
Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.