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DINING REVIEW: Pomodoro Grill and Wine Bar

Away from the tracks



On the surface, Pomodoro Grill and Wine Bar in Pittsford appears to have little in common with its older sister establishment in Rochester. The original Pomodoro, which opened in 1994, occupies the rear of a former sawmill factory on an otherwise restaurant-free stretch of University Avenue. Freight and passenger trains rumble by occasionally on the nearby CSX tracks, but as something of a railroad buff, I consider that a plus.

Contrast that with its younger sibling in Pittsford Colony Plaza, at the southeastern end of the bustling Monroe Avenue retail corridor, with its specialty shops, movie theaters, and restaurants. Lots of restaurants, from burger joints to steakhouses, most of which have that attractive, if somewhat boring look that's endemic to much of suburbia. And the nearest railroad track is a good mile away.

In terms of its overall appearance, the Pittsford Pomodoro has more in common with its neighbors than with its city namesake. Eschewing the rustic-industrial look of the University Avenue location, the Monroe Avenue Pomodoro affects a vaguely Mediterranean ambience, with a muted, earth-tone color scheme, dark wood trim, and soft, warm lighting.

To an extent, of course, these differences are due to the two establishments' very different physical settings. But there's another explanation as well. Pomodoro owner Sami Mina opened the Pittsford restaurant in 2002 under the name Brio, which billed itself as a Mediterranean bistro. A trademark issue with an Ohio-based restaurant chain led to a name change in 2011, and Brio was rechristened as the area's second Pomodoro.

In addition to the name change, the menus at the two establishments went from merely similar to identical. But the Pittsford location retains the overall look and feel of Brio. As before, a large rectangular bar takes up much of the center of the space, though it's well enough separated from the dining areas to allow patrons to enjoy a meal in relative peace, if not always quiet. The open kitchen at the far end of the room is dominated by Pomodoro's wood-fired oven, a feature you'll also find at the University Avenue location.

Foodwise, Pomodoro aims higher than basic Italian-American fare of the spaghetti-and-meatballs variety, but it's not out to dazzle or to break new culinary ground. Think higher-end, Italian chain restaurant food, and you'll get the general idea. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. On lunch and dinner visits, all the food was well prepared and served, with only a few minor shortcomings.

For lunch, I chose Pomodoro's zuppa di pesce. A bowlful of jumbo shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, and chunks of salmon swam in a saffron-colored broth marked by a hint of lemon and a peppery bite. It arrived hot, but not overcooked, allowing the varied textures of the components to come through. My only complaint is that this soup clearly called for a thick slice or two of crusty Italian bread, which was neither served nor offered at lunch (though it was served at dinner, and was rather good, which only made me wish all the more that I'd asked for some at lunch).

One of my two lunchtime companions reported being well pleased with his chicken sandwich. The grilled chicken breast was cooked through but still juicy, topped with barbeque sauce and cheddar cheese, and served between slices of crusty French bread, cut lengthwise.

My other companion had one of that day's specials, a white pizza with sausage, roasted red peppers, asiago cheese, and fresh basil. The cracker-thin crust was crisp and well charred, with a slightly nutty flavor owing to her selection of a whole-wheat crust. The only disappointment here was the crumbled sausage, which was remarkably bland; it tasted more like unseasoned ground beef than Italian sausage.

Pizza was also on the table during dinner, when I was accompanied by my wife and daughter. My wife selected the frutti di mare pizza, which was topped with an olive oil-garlic spread, mozzarella and feta cheeses, shrimp, and scallops. Though I would've liked to try Pomodoro's white crust, she too opted for whole wheat, which this time seemed to have a smoky aroma that I hadn't noticed at lunch. I could've done without the feta, which tended to compete with, rather than enhance, the flavors of the seafood. But the toppings otherwise complemented each other well.

My daughter, whose tastes generally run toward hot dogs and grilled cheese, surprised me by forgoing the kids' menu and instead ordering the cioppino. Pomodoro's take on this San Francisco classic comes with shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, and fish, tossed in a saffron-tomato sauce, and served over spaghetti. The sauce's tomatoey base and the addition of pasta distinguished this from the soup I'd had at lunch, but they were close cousins.

Not wanting to neglect Pomodoro's red-meat offerings, I ordered another one of that day's specials, lamb T-bones, which I asked for medium rare. The two chops, well-trimmed and each roughly the size of a baseball, were blackened and crusty outside, but tender and appropriately pink inside. A spoonful of pan sauce, dotted with pine nuts and golden raisins, added extra flavor and textural contrast. Sides of sauteed vegetables and saffron rice with peas rounded out the dish.

Service on both visits was generally good. After delivering our menus, our server at lunch was slow in returning, but once our orders had been placed, our food came out quickly. Other than that, our servers at both lunch and dinner were efficient and friendly but unobtrusive.

Prices at Pomodoro run toward the high end, by local standards. At $21 a bowl, my zuppa di pesce may have been the most expensive soup I've eaten, but it was well stocked with seafood, and — with bread — would make a satisfying dinner entree. Pasta dishes are generally priced in the teens, and most meat-based entrees are in the $20-$30 range.

With so many choices in the area, including several in the larger Pittsford Plaza shopping center across the street, Pomodoro might not be the first place that comes to mind for those looking to grab a post-shopping or pre-movie meal. But it fills a certain niche, reasonably well. It may lack the funky charm of the original, but the Monroe Avenue Pomodoro provides a dependably pleasant dining experience. If only it were a little closer to the tracks.

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