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New restaurants bring their own flavor to the local dining scene

Rochester Business Journal
May 31, 2013

New restaurants have sprouted up in the city of Rochester, adding even more flavor to an already diverse dining scene.
 
Whether using local produce or concentrating on a specialty to please palates, owners of these eateries are giving rein to their creativity.
 
Here is a look at three that opened this year.

Fraiche Bistro & Dessert Bar
A college search for one of her four daughters led Kathy Christa to seek her own chef's toque at the French Culinary Institute in New York City three years ago. The longtime Fairport resident spent seven months immersed in classic pastry techniques and under the tutelage of culinary luminaries, including sugar-paste master Ron Ben-Israel, star of the Food Network's "Sweet Genius."
 
After graduation, Christa returned to Rochester to work as the pastry chef at the now-defunct Henry B's on East Avenue at Scio Street. Initially, she toyed with the idea of opening a dessert bar in the vacant space next door but then began imagining how to convert the space that the Italian restaurant had occupied into a bistro.
 
Now happily up to her wrists in butter and flour while the kitchen staff handles the savory dishes, Christa says Fraiche's concept reflects her commitment to "not be so serious with food." The entrees range from $10 to $30 to encourage repeat business, she adds.
 
Field-to-fork cooking inspires much of what comes out of the restaurant's kitchen. Christa routinely visits the Rochester Public Market and has built relationships with Moonlight Creamery of Fairport, Finger Lakes Farms of Ithaca and other suppliers.
 
Options on the dinner menu include seared scallops with bacon, pea risotto and mint oil; a pork chop with apple-and-onion stuffing, braised red cabbage and a potato pancake; and shepherd's pie. Poutine with roasted garlic cheese curds has proved to be a crowd-pleaser, Christa says.
 
Making plated desserts initially intimidated Christa as a culinary student, but now she enjoys whipping them up because "the sky is the limit with different sauces and plating designs," she says.
 
To put her own spin on bread pudding, Christa relies on from-scratch croissants adorned with pears, white chocolate and house-made caramel sauce. Mason jars hold layers of blue velvet cake, while fresh fruit and orange-Champagne sabayon, or foamy custard, embody a sweet salute to time-tested bistro fare.
 
Liquor and sugar become a devilish pair in the restaurant's hard milkshakes. One option features glazed doughnuts from Rochester-based Donuts Delite that are pulverized and blended with Moonlight Creamery vanilla ice cream and caffeine-rich jolts of espresso vodka, coffee and chocolate syrup.
 
Christa says Fraiche's bustling East End location has had little trouble drawing a wide range of patrons, from 20-somethings to seniors headed to a Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert after dinner. The bar traffic heats up after 7 p.m., she adds.

Lettuce B. Frank Bistro
Before pursuing a cooking gig, David Pot-win served in the Navy as an information technology specialist. He then left the military for a civilian job in network administration, but he was laid off after eight years.
 
Using his G.I. Bill benefits, Potwin decided to enroll in the baking and pastry arts program at New England Culinary Institute even though he had never laid hands on a cake pan.
 
Earlier this year, Potwin launched Lettuce B. Frank Bistro in a small space next to the Cinema on South Clinton Avenue. The operation, which has 11 indoor seats, is an outgrowth of the mobile food cart he rolls out Tuesday through Friday in front of the University of Rochester's Saunders Research Building on Crittenden Boulevard and on Sundays at the Brighton Farmers Market.
 
Striving to serve the healthiest farm-to-foil cuisine he can dream up, Potwin excels at vegetarian and vegan fare.
 
"It's been very successful," says Potwin, who has dropped 42 pounds since cutting meat from his diet. "I like filling that void that a lot of other places don't."
 
Carnivores also have reason to visit the bistro, given that the chef sources pork and beef from Seven Bridges Farm in Lima, Livingston County.
 
"So we just try to keep everything local," Potwin says. "We try to cook it all the right way."
 
One of the newest items on the bistro's menu is the compost plate, a from-scratch vegetarian version of the garbage plate. It features sweet potato home fries seasoned with rosemary, broccoli-and-veggie bacon salad, vegan carrot-and-chickpea fritters and a Seven Bridges egg, all served on whole wheat flatbread.
 
Other options include mozzarella-stuffed pork sausage meatballs on toasted English muffin, black bean sliders with garlic mayonnaise, and cocktail cake shots in flavors such as Cosmopolitan and Irish car bomb.
 
Though the bistro's seating is quite limited, "I joke that I have 250 seats next door," says Potwin, who has struck an agreement with the Cinema's owner that all of his food may go into the theater.

La Casa
When Omar Ramos was a boy in Monterrey, Mexico, he would watch his mother and grandparents whir around the kitchen as they made slow-roasted pork and other comfort foods from south of the border.
 
Rochester Public Market customers first got a taste of those family recipes at a food counter tucked in the back of the now-defunct Rich Port Bakery, where Ramos and wife Mia Bocanegra passed tacos through a window to long queues.
 
Earlier this year, Ramos and Bocanegra became the inspiration for La Casa, a full-service Mexican restaurant on Alexander Street, near South Clinton Avenue. The restaurant is owned by real estate developer Lyjha Wilton. Ramos and Bocanegra share cooking duties, which entail roasting pork chunks for carnitas, the restaurant's signature dish, for "six to seven hours ... with a lot of seasonings," Ramos says.
 
Ramos and Bocanegra have maintained a presence at the Public Market through La Placita En Downtown, the food counter they run inside Boulder Coffee Co. Still, La Casa has given the couple the chance to cook more fork-friendly dishes such as chicken with mole sauce.
 
To celebrate the concept of dining as theater, the restaurant makes guacamole tableside. With a whole avocado, a wedge of lime and bowls of chopped onion, tomato and jalapeno, the servers put the dip together in no time. Ceviche, flautas and enchiladas round out the entree options.
 
La Casa is long on atmosphere, boasting exposed ceiling beams, curved archways and banquettes upholstered in Mexican blanket-inspired fabric. Inventive cocktails, including sparkling wine with tequila liqueur, lemon juice and sugar, flow inside and on the restaurant's expansive outdoor deck.

Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

5/31/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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