Stephen Rees opened the doors of Relish on 651 South Avenue in the spring of 2017 as a catering business and has recently turned it into a quaint, Parisian dinner restaurant. "I try to keep everything approachable and not stuffy" Rees says, adding that the difference between the dinner setting and the grab-and-go catered food is in the sentiment that, "Here's three hours of your day where you can forget about everything. We can really take care of you, really nurture you, whereas catering was more: 'See you! Have a nice day!'"
The menu (which opens like a present and bestows a subtle, clever reveal) says, "Relish: More than just a tangy condiment"-- an open-ended prompt for the guest to savor every bite, every sip, and perhaps the feat of successfully evading life worries. The sole server Darby is the literal host at the party who keeps glasses full and asks, "How are the first bites?" before she floats off to do the same for another table.
Guests would be wise to ask what Rees recommends, because the menu is seasonally-based. Rees says that in the fall the food is more slowly cooked, braised, and often cooked with wine. Right now, the sous vide turbot (a fish dish featuring the classic, regional Bercy sauce that Rees spends the entirety of a day making), is on the menu. For the novice, it's among the less-familiar-sounding entrees and is worth exploring for the sake of this tangy sauce and the accent of sweet corn. And for those who truly appreciate a multi-dimensional consistency, the crunch of the corn along with a sliver of pickled zucchini and trout roe puts the dish in a league of its own.
The Parisian gnocchi, a more recognizable item, is a lighter variation of the traditional dish. Because it is nestled in a rich mushroom demi (a faux demi-glace, sans meat) and complemented with smoked, local mushrooms, each bite has an equal ratio of pasta, mushrooms, cheese, and egg -- the dish is both light and satisfying.
Aesthetically, the decor is minimalistic and the ambiance is inspired by the hospitality itself. Guests feel at home at Relish and Rees says that it's not uncommon to see a couple making out at a seat in the corner of the room. But even if you don't have a sweetheart, you'll still want to bring company you can enjoy for the better part of an evening. A two top might easily spend two-and-a-half hours of their night full of conversation and decadent dishes that appear in smooth and fluid timing. Of course, Relish is also an ideal spot for the misanthrope to treat herself to dinner for one and the preferred company of a good book like a true, stoic Parisian. Relish is where one goes to slow time; the guest never feels rushed by a server trying to turn tables.
What makes the dining experience at Relish particularly refreshing in the city of Rochester is that Rees does not rely on hip DJs, overbearing themes and eccentric decor, or trendy cocktails to bring in customers. There are no gimmicks; it's food first. Guests do not go to the quaint location to be seen in town, they go to slow time, to enjoy a meal they otherwise wouldn't make themselves (because who has the time to prepare the Bercy sauce?).
Relish is open Wednesday and Thursday, 5:30 to 9 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. For a seamlessly French-themed evening, pair the Parisian dinner with "À bout de soufflé" by Jean-Luc Godard, or simply to temper the existential "La Nausée" of Jean-Paul Sartre. 454-2767; relishdelivers.com.