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Buffalo’s Best Mixologists Face Off in Cocktail Showdown

Tommy Lombardo's "Bellweather" featured cucumber-infused Nolet’s Gin, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, creme de violette, lemon juice, and fresh lavender.

Tommy Lombardo’s “Bellweather” featured cucumber-infused Nolet’s Gin, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, crème de violette, lemon juice, and fresh lavender.

On Monday, INdustry Night (IN) celebrated one year of bringing together Buffalo-area culinary professionals, writers, and food enthusiasts for twice-monthly themed events with a booze-soaked, open-to-the-public party and cocktail competition showcasing some of the finest mixology talent Buffalo has to offer. My fellow party-goers and I had the pleasure of sampling each of the four drinks vying for the title of “best,” and, overall, I was very impressed.

The Ruby-Fennel Fizz from Bacchus’s Michael “Greenie” Green was the first drink served. A combination of Nolet’s Gin, fennel seed-infused simple syrup, fresh grapefruit juice, and club soda, garnished with fennel fronds and a slice of grapefruit, it was a light and refreshing way to start the night.

Tony Rials’ winning “I Dream of G&T” earned high marks for its name, technical execution, appearance, and cohesiveness.

Tony Rials of Mike A at the Hotel Lafayette followed with I Dream of G&T, another Nolet’s-based cocktail whose name, I’m guessing, is a nod to its pink hue. With green Chartreuse, strawberry-chamomile tonic, strawberry water, and Chandon rosé, the drink tasted of herbs and flowers with an undercurrent of berry and a hint of of clove. It had an understated sweetness and complex flavor profile. The judges named it the night’s winning drink, scoring it particularly well for drink name, technical execution, appearance, and cohesiveness.

My personal favorite drink of the evening (and the crowd favorite, based on popular vote) was a Don Julio Reposado number called Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The drink was created by Vera Pizzeria bar manager Kerry Quaile, who combined the golden amber tequila with cucumber syrup, grapefruit shrub, Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Bitters, and champagne. The boldly flavored drink managed to be lip-smackingly tart upfront and sweet and spicy at the finish without overpowering the floral and herbal notes of the tequila. I could have kept drinking these all night.

Barely behind Breakfast at Tiffanys in terms of deliciousness and downright craveability was the judges’ pick for second-placea cocktail called Bellweather by Ristorante Lombardo’s Tommy Lombardo. For this unique riff on the classic Aviation, Tommy mixed cucumber-infused Nolet’s Gin with Dolin Blanc Vermouth, crème de violette, lemon juice, and fresh lavender. I worried that the drink would be overwhelmingly floral, but the bright acidity of the lemon and the drink’s ice-cold presentation tempered but didn’t mask the violet and lavender. It’s a drink that should put the bar at Ristorante Lombardo on every cocktail connoisseur’s must-try list. If you’re planning on attending the Italian Festival in August, note that the restaurant will be serving specialty drinks on its patio throughout the event.

A full rundown of how the judges scored each drink is available on IN’s Facebook page, where you can also find details on the group’s August 5 event: a pie bake-off and coffee tasting.


Your Monday Just Got Better: IN Invites You to Its Second Annual Cocktail Competition

At IN's 2012 competition, Vera served the North Star, a blend of tea-infused Rittenhouse Rye, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, egg white, and absinthe, with cinnamon, Angostura bitters, and star anise garnish.

At IN’s 2012 competition, Vera served the North Star, a blend of tea-infused Rittenhouse Rye, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, egg white, and absinthe, with cinnamon, Angostura bitters, and star anise garnish.

Just because it’s Monday doesn’t mean you can’t party like it’s the weekend. Tonight at Seabar, four of Buffalo’s best mixologists—Michael Green of Bacchus, Tommy Lombardo of Ristorante Lombardo, Kerry Quaile of Vera Pizzeria, and Tony Rial of Mike A at Hotel Lafayette—will compete for the honor of best drink at INdustry Night’s One-Year Anniversary/Second-Annual Cocktail Competition, and you’re invited.

The event, sponsored by Empire Merchants North and KegWorks and hosted by Chef Mike Andrzejewski and Feed Your Soul’s Christa Glennie Seychew, runs from 9:30 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. and is free and open to the public. If you are at least 21 years old and enthusiastic about good food and drink, stop by for complimentary tastes of all four craft cocktails and vote for your favorite. Attendees can also expect giveaways, samples of gourmet Luxardo-brand maraschino cherries, a cash bar, and, to satiate cocktail-induced taco cravings, a special appearance by Lloyd.

Check out IN’s website for more info on the boozy, fun-filled party. For those who can’t make it, I’ll be posting an event recap later this week.


A New Contender for Buffalo’s Best Burger

Martin Cooks BurgerIf it’s wrong to fall head-over-heals in love with a burger, I don’t want to be right.

It happened last Saturday. I was at Horsefeathers Market checking out the rocking vegan offerings at Press Raw Food & Juice, with no intention of grabbing lunch, when something (fate?) lured me to the bar at neighboring vendor Martin Cooks.

I grabbed a seat at the bar, facing the open kitchen. Everything on the menu was intriguing, but the dish called simply “burger, cheese, bacon, egg” stood out. Surely, I thought, given the caliber of restaurant I am in, there must be something more to this burger than its humble description lets on.

So I placed my order, choosing blue over fontinella and agreeing to sopressata as a substitute for the 86′d bacon–but I was not without my doubts. What if the biting cheese overwhelms the dish? Without any fresh, crunchy, or acidic elements, would the whole thing be one-note texture-wise and excessively fatty?

In hindsight, it’s easy to laugh at my naivety. (This post continues; click to read more…)


The Rooster & Two Chicks Bakery to Open on Allen Street This July

Rooster and2Chicks logo5cropA two-in-one eclectic gift shop and bakery, the Rooster & Two Chicks, is set to open at 93 Allen Street, between Virginia Place and Delaware Avenue, on a to-be-determined date in July.
 
The shop is the vision turned reality of longtime friends Barbara Buchnowski, Arlene Rung, and Rick Smith, who came up with the idea to open a business that put to optimal use the talents each brought to the table. Rick, who owned a store in New York City before moving back to Buffalo, will repurpose items into unique housewares and other collectibles to sell in the gift shop; Arlene, who has years of experience baking extensively for friends, family, and co-workers, will create the inventory for the bakery; and Barbara will serve as the trio’s marketing and public relations guru.
 
In its pursuit to become Buffalo’s “sweet tooth-curbing destination between business hours,” the Rooster & Two Chicks will target downtown workers in need of a quick afternoon pick-me-up and sales representatives looking for a unique treat to bring on calls with a variety of cookies, cupcakes, individual-sized pies and sweet quick breads, and other goodies rooted in American baking traditions. Here is sneak peak at the menu (note the vegan, gluten-free, and paleo offerings): (This post continues; click to read more…)

Hot Off the Press to Roll Out Friday

Hot Off the Press Panini TruckPanini-focused food truck Hot Off the Press will hit Western New York streets Friday, June 7. On its inaugural day, the truck will be slinging sandwiches, among other fare, at Airport Commerce Park in Cheektowaga from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
 
Each day, Hot Off the Press will offer four sandwiches from its menu of tried-and-true flavor combinations like roast beef and horseradish, ham and swiss, chicken bacon ranch, cheesy chicken artichoke, spicy Buffalo chicken, and the ubiquitous Italian meat bomb–capicola, salami, and ham. The truck also has a few vegetarian sandwiches for the meat-averse (Caprese, spinach ricotta, and two kinds of pizza), but currently does not list a vegan option on its website.
 
For some though, the biggest draw might just be the tater tots, which come with a choice of ranch, spicy bleu, chipotle, or BBQ sauce for dipping. As a tot classicist, I am personally hoping ketchup will be available, too.
 
Following its stint in Cheektowaga, Hot Off the Press will make its City of Buffalo debut at First Niagara Center on Tuesday, June 11. Check out the truck’s website or Twitter page for schedule details.
 
In other food truck news, Thai Me Up Food Truck has hinted it will also be launching any day now. Follow the truck on Twitter for an official launch announcement!

First Impressions: CRāVing on Hertel

Artichokes

Braised artichokes, grilled treviso, Parmigiano-Reggiano broth, and focaccia crisps

My husband and I took advantage of yesterday’s beautiful, summer-like weather with an al fresco dinner at CRāVing—the latest project by Jennifer and Adam Goetz, of Sample Restaurant fame.

Unlike Sample, which focused on small plates served tapas-style, CRāVing is more traditional in its approach to portions. The menu features regular-sized appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and pizzas, while entrees are available in full and half sizes.

Though I did not try enough of the menu to develop a fully informed opinion of the restaurant, I can report that the meal I had yesterday was underwhelming and, in general, underseasoned.

Braised artichokes with grilled treviso (a lettuce similar to radicchio), Parmigiano-Reggiano broth, and focaccia crisps had a good base of flavors but was gray and dreary on the plate and, except for the bites of deliciously bitter treviso, was flat on the palate. A sprinkling of fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon or splash of wine would have given it the punch of color, freshness, and acidity it needed to be a truly great spring dish. A brushing of olive oil and a bit more time in the oven would have helped the focaccia taste more like crostini and less like day-old bread.

chicken and grits_Craving

Buttermilk fried chicken, sautéed greens, and truffle honey over cheddar grits

A sizeable appetizer of buttermilk fried chicken, sautéed greens, and truffle honey over cheddar grits was hands-down the best dish of the evening. The grits were stone-ground and cooked to creamy, chewy perfection, and the truffle was subtle, not overwhelming. But the dish needed salt, especially the chicken, which could have also benefited in terms of flavor and texture from being fried in its skin.

The pizzas at CRāVing are cracker-thin (admittedly, not my favorite style) and came in five varieties the night we dined. We tried the version topped with steak, caramelized onions, banana peppers, and goat cheese, and found the steak to be chewy and totally void of seasoning when tasted on its own. Luckily, the strong flavors of the other ingredients masked the steak’s shortcomings, resulting in a passable pizza.

gnocchi

House-made ricotta gnocchi in a sauce of brown butter cream, kale, walnuts, and lemon gastrique

For our final dish, we opted for a small-plate portion of house-made ricotta gnocchi in a sauce of brown butter cream, kale, walnuts, and lemon gastrique. Though the premise was good, and I appreciated the savoriness the bitter kale and tannic walnuts brought to the table, the gnocchi were dense and oversauced, and the dish would have been better balanced with a little more lemon and a little less butter and cream.

Despite my criticisms, I welcome any restaurant to the local scene that is as committed as CRāVing is to using seasonal ingredients and cooking with a point of view. I  look forward to giving CRāVing another try in due time.


On Corn Cookies and Food Trucks

Corn CookiesDo yourself a favor and head over to Blackbird Sweets at Horsefeathers Market and get your hands on a freshly baked corn cookie.

I discovered this unassuming treat at the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market, where Blackbird vends on Saturdays, and I can tell you with certainty that it is my favorite cookie from a Western New York bakery to date.

It is not particularly beautiful, but don’t let its simple appearance deter you. It’s dense, moist, and chewy in the center; crunchy and caramelized around the edges; and peppered with just the right amount of corny grit to keep things interesting. It is rich and nuanced with the flavor of nutty butter and sweet corn, and it is subtly sweet, not cloying, which perfectly balances the salty finish that lingers after each bite. I ate mine plain but have since thought about using them to make homemade ice cream sandwiches or crumbling one over a bowl of chili.

Blackbird Sweets owner Andrea Amodeo tells me she is experimenting with a gluten-free corn cookie recipe and hopes to have both versions at the farmers market this Saturday. In addition to corn cookies, Blackbird Sweets carries an array of cupcakes and other baked goods, and makes custom cakes, cupcakes, and cookies by special order. Check out the bakery’s Facebook page for store hours.

Food Truck Tuesdays Kicks Off at Larkinville

While you’re downtown grabbing a corn cookie, stop by Larkin Square today from 5 to 8 p.m. for a veritable food truck smorgasbord. Lloyd Taco Truck, R&R BBQ, Roaming Buffalo, Sweet Hearth, and the Whole Hog Truck will be there selling grub to the public as part of the summer event series Food Truck Tuesdays. Regular Larkin Square vendors Square 1 Sandwiches and the Larkin Ice Cream Cart will also be open, and beer and wine will be available for purchase, so grab some friends and seize the opportunity to sample the cuisine of some of the area’s finest mobile kitchens.


Spring and Summer Sips Worth Savoring

summer wineIf you are looking for a great warm-weather wine for your Memorial Day barbeque, look no further than downtown Buffalo’s own City Wine Merchant. This locally-owned boutique wine shop just got in a great selection of refreshing white and reds perfect for washing down your favorite grilled fare or just sipping outside as you soak up the sun. What’s better, many of them are under $20, and all of them are hand-selected by proprietor Eric Geneau, who takes pride in stocking high-quality, often small-production, wines

City Wine Merchant holds free tastings every Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. (as well as special tasting events throughout the year), so I had the pleasure of trying two of the spring/summer selections: a lip-smacking, lemony white Bordeaux and a delicious merlot- based blend that is light enough to enjoy when temperatures run high but not so light that it couldn’t stand up to food. It even comes in a convenient half-bottle for you solo imbibers out there.

Among the other spring/summer offerings, I was particularly excited to find a Txakolina. This effervescent white is consumed in mass quantities across Spain’s Basque Region but is much harder to find in the United States, and I spent too much time last summer trying to hunt down a bottle locally. I am happy to report I can now pick some up anytime I want (or until stock runs out) just a few blocks from my workplace.

Eric calls this Txakolina complex and really interesting, and I am wondering if that has something to do with its 11% potency (many Txakolina are young and lower in alcohol). I can’t wait to find out this weekend.

Salud, Buffalo!


AFFORDABLE DINING OPTIONS (Coming this Fall…)

   If you’re looking forward to Fall Harvest and searching for affordable dining options, mark these dates on your calendar…

Hand to Heart Yoga will host “Date Night Yoga” on Friday, September 24th from 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. (Hand to Heart Yoga, 425 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo NY). Class will cost $25 per couple and each couple will receive a 15% off Coupon to Merge or Betty’s if they choose dine at one of those restaurants that evening! Pre-registration for Yoga is required as space is limited. For more information, call (716) 507-8422 or visit handtoheartyoga.com.

WNY Local Restaurant Week is also returning this fall and will take place October 4-10, 2010. Independently owned and operated Restaurants, Wineries, & Breweries will feature special $20.10 fixed price menus during the week-long event (the $20.10 menus exclude tax & gratuity). For information on participating venues, menus, and newcomers to Restaurant Week’s scene, visit  westernnewyork.localrestaurantweek.com


Betta Bakery’s Signature Cupcakes

   If you’ve demoted cupcakes to kids b-day parties, bridal showers, and Food Network junkies, Betta Bakery has managed to find a balance of tradition & trendy within their signature cupcakes.

Betta’s flavors, frosting combos, and decorations are simple yet gourmet and definitely pleasing to the human eye and palate. 

If you dig bold flavors (and want to feel masculine while holding your dainty cake), try Betta’s Drunkin Chocolate Banana; a dark chocolate cupcake infused with old-fashioned Stout &  topped off with banana cream frosting. 

Caffeine addicts can perk up their coffee breaks with Betta’s French Toast; a cinnamon swirl cupcake that tastes exactly like french toast omitting the fact that it’s adorned with Maple Brown Sugar frosting sporting slivers of smoked bacon in it. Lighter varieties are also available like CassataOrangecicle as are traditional American favorites like Nana’s Pumpkin & Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

If you’re interested in special ordering Signature Cupcakes from Betta Bakery, call (716) 553-5039 or e-mail heather@bettabkery.com. For more info on Betta Bakery, visit www.bettbakery.com




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