I have not visited the Cub Room since the second Rochester Cocktail Revival, and I have no excuse for such a long absence. It's a great spot for such an event: the space looks like a speakeasy with windows. Which makes sense, as it got its name from the VIP room of Manhattan's Prohibition-era speakeasy The Stork Club. Though decadent in décor, The Cub Room is subtle in design. That is a difficult task to accomplish. Or perhaps it isn't. I never went to design school. During special events, it feels like a version of a Gatsby party, but with more demographic diversity and fewer lies and murder. I felt underdressed in a two-piece suit. This is a long way to say that I'm in my natural habitat when I'm there. Co-owner Jodi Johnson did a brilliant job in her design. And worry not; two- and three-piece suits are not required.
What should be required, though, is a Thursday evening visit. Since July, The Cub Room has been presenting Paella Thursdays. They rotate in a special menu of meals and small plates that have old world character, with Paella as the centerpiece.
Paella is a Valencian signature dish that includes rice cooked in a bone stock with olive oil, meat, and a medley of vegetables, and it is usually seasoned with saffron and rosemary. Head chef and co-owner Greg Johnson includes sofrito: a mix of tomato, garlic, oil, onion, and peppers stewed to a base. All of this is cooked and served in a paella pan, and the result is fantastic.
This isn't just meat and rice. This is a trip to the Iberian Peninsula in flavor. Paella is an old school comfort food that Chef Greg has made into a meal to die for. He cooks the stock for days before to ensure its richness. You can tell that it is not just some salty, store-bought stock from a can. He tops the paella with a fresh sprig of rosemary right before he puts it in the oven.
The paella de pollo (chicken) has huge chunks of tomato-tinted chicken breast and chopped spears of asparagus. Paella de marisco (seafood) is speckled with baby octopus, mussels, calamari rings, and clams. You cannot go wrong with any of these choices.
But my favorite part of the paella is the socarrat: the crispy, extra-browned rice at the bottom of the pan. Many people enjoy it like a savory prize buried in the bottom, but my method is to scrape up and mix it with the rest of the rice. It soaks up all the oil and flavors that have seeped down from the top, including the rosemary. There's a certain skill to cooking it just right, so that you get socarrat and not just burned rice, and Chef Greg has mastered that.
The paella is a sharing plate. Even the smallest order is made for two people, and all choices come in three sizes. Whether you get the paella de marisco ($36, $54, $72) or the paella de pollo ($30, $48, $60), you are in for a fulfilling meal.
If you are not in the mood for such a large dish, there are plenty of other small plate options on the menu during Paella Thursday. Devils on Horseback ($9) are dates stuffed with bleu cheese and wrapped in bacon. The Serrano ham croquettes ($9) are served on a nutmeg-infused béchamel, and they are surprisingly light in texture and taste for a croquette. If you are not into ham or bacon, you can get boquerones ($10), a dish of lightly vinegar-soaked anchovies and tangy guindilla peppers sitting in olive oil and peppers with a side of potato chips, made to order and topped with crispy parsley.
My favorite small plate dish, however, is the gambas al ajillo ($14), fresh-cooked shrimp in olive oil, garlic, and pepper, topped with a dried chili pepper that, when spread across the shrimp, gives it a nice bite and aftertaste. This dish is served with house-made baguette, perfect for dipping in the olive oil.
All dishes are well-accented with one of The Cub Room's signature cocktails. The menu for drinks is as diverse as the food menu, and they have partnered with New York Distilling Co. to provide their own branded gin and rye whiskey.
Every day that they're open is a good day to visit The Cub Room. I feel slight guilt for waiting so long to visit and enjoy it, but I am glad I chose Paella Thursday to break my absence streak.