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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Agatina's - Rigatoni with Fra Diavolo (Red) & Chicken Pastina Soup

Agatina's on Urbanspoon

Italian food is pretty easy to find throughout the Greater Rochester Area. However, good Italian food is somewhat harder to stumble across. Fortunately for Morgan and I, an Italian restaurant called Agatina's is located incredibly close by, and they have managed to provide quality food in huge portions time and time again. Agatina's looks small and quaint at first glance, and if you're cruising down Buffalo Road, it might be easy to miss...if it wasn't for the substantial number of people packing their parking lot to the brim regularly. After meeting the friendly wait staff, taking in the casual yet refined dining atmosphere, and (most importantly) sampling homemade Italian specialties from their rather extensive menu, it wasn't difficult to see why it's been an area favorite for over 26 years. Great for a fun dinner on date night, a family-friendly outing, or just a heaping plate of hot, Italian comfort food, Agatina's appeals to any occasion; it even boasts a fully-stocked bar, if you doubt the inevitable food coma is not going to be enough to make you a bit groggy.

I was in the mood for something with a little spice and zing, so I chose a dish I had tried before - Rigatoni with a red Fra Diavolo sauce. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with this particular dish (I was too, until about a year ago), Fra Diavolo is a sauce that can be prepared any number of ways - the two basic preparations are "white" (oil-based, with minced garlic and pepper)and "red" (tomato-based, with minced garlic and pepper). Agatina's prepares this sauce by request, as either mild, medium, or hot. Being a chilehead of sorts, I always order the "hot" variety, and this night was no exception. I had previously ordered the "white" variety of sauce, and found, while delicious, that it lacked the heat I so craved. As such, I ordered the "red" style sauce on this occasion, hoping to find a difference between the two preparations.

Despite ordering what I knew to be a kiddie pool filled with pasta as an appetizer, a soup and salad were included with my meal. I ordered ranch dressing with my salad, and chose a cup of Chicken Pastina Soup to start off with.

Chicken Pastina is one of my favorite soups from Italian cuisine - the finely chopped pieces of carrot, celery, spinach, and onion soak up all that great, salty chicken broth flavor, as does the pastina pasta, while the chunks of shredded chicken add some great texture and (obvious) chicken flavor. Morgan (who got New England Clam Chowder) and I hardly had to wait to have our soup served to us, and it came out of the kitchen fresh, hot, and went down incredibly easy (I very well may have drank mine).

The salad was typical and unsurprising (not that this was a terrible thing), consisting of fresh onions, chickpeas, tomato, lettuce, and black olives. Great nibble-worthy, rabbit food to tide us over while we waited for our main dishes (although I am quite a sucker for chickpeas - they're just plain awesome). The only thing noteworthy about this salad was that there were no croutons, which was forgivable, as Agatina's provides fresh loaves of bread as an additional starchy side.

Next came our main courses - my Rigatoni with Fra Diavolo basically was a huge, red swamp, with helpless pieces of pasta drowning in it. Fortunately, my fork was there to help fish them out.

Sorry about the awful pictures. The lighting in Agatina's is not conducive to the cellphone camera-wielding blogger.

Let me start out by saying that if you enjoy spicy food, and also enjoy Italian food, you must try this dish. The Rigatoni were cooked to perfection, while the Fra Diavolo was a perfect blend of sweet tomato, bold herbs and garlic, and peppery heat. Chunks of stewed tomatoes made their way into this sauce, adding a real heartiness to this dish that I did not expect, although enjoyed quite a bit. As far as the spiciness of the peppers (the waitress told me they were cayenne), I found the dish to put some surprising fire on my tongue, and a slight dew of sweat on my brow. It was the kind of warmth that spreads throughout the inside of your mouth, and for a heat fan like myself, it was really quite enjoyable.

***DISCLAIMER*** Now, Morgan thinks my tongue is broken, and anytime I tell her something isn't all that spicy, she insists that I simply am more desensitized to the "hot" taste sensation many other people are more sensitive to. This very well may be true, and in the interest of keeping wimpy weenies who can't handle heat from being misled and consequently having a horrible meal, I do stress that you ask for a sample of the sauce before diving headfirst into a plate of the "hot" variety. Now, back to your regularly-scheduled blog post.

Overall, a great, hearty, and much more than filling meal, Agatina's also provides a great environment in which to enjoy your Italian banquet. The price of some of the dishes might seem a little steep at first glance, but keep in mind that bread, soup, salad, and a gigantic plate of food are all provided, with the friendly and accommodating service I've gladly become accustomed to seeing at most of my favorite local eateries. If you can't decide between the 5034958 Italian food joints in the area, swing by Agatina's and grab a bite of very real and very good homemade Italian cuisine - just be sure to bring your appetite.

Score (out of 10): 9

Location: 2967 Buffalo Road, Rochester, NY 14624
Phone Number: (585) 426-0510

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Olympia - Greek Combo Platter (For 1) & New England Clam Chowder

Olympia on Urbanspoon

I've been a fan of Greek food since the first time I tasted it several years ago, thanks to a good friend, whose love for his Greek heritage is only surpassed by his zeal for sharing said heritage with all who will stop and listen. What better to bond over than a culture's food?

My love for Greek food led me to Olympia, located on nearby Lyell Ave. Olympia has another venue out in Greece on Flynn Road, but I have yet to make my way out to try it. Morgan and I have now been happy customers of the Lyell location for about two years, and each time we go we're greeted with hospitable staff, quick service, and reasonable prices. Compared to the bill, the portions provided are more than exceptional. The menu includes a wide variety of Greek, Italian, French, and American diner-inspired dishes, comprising a fairly standard, family-friendly selection; Olympia is the perfect place to stop for some warm, familiar, comfort food.

A restaurant named "Olympia" seemed like a pretty good place to get some authentic Greek fare, but picking to eat there proved to be the easy part - choosing between Spanakopita, the Gyros Platter, and the Olympia Pasta ended up being a much more daunting task. In the end, I decided to go with a little bit of everything by ordering the Greek Combo Platter. Normally served to feed two, the cooks at Olympia are kind enough to offer this in a single-serving portion. The Greek Combo Platter consists of a slice of spanakopita, beef kebabs, chicken kebabs, pita bread, tzatziki sauce, and a Greek salad with house dressing, all served over a gargantuan mound of Greek-style rice pilaf. A side of soup is also included, in case you're not content with eating only a small city. The platter was also supposed to include stuffed grape leaves (which I have had served with the platter in the past), but for some reason they forgot this particular evening (not that my waistband was complaining much). Regardless, this heaping landslide of food serves as a veritable Greek sampler for Olympia, and is well worth the 12ish dollar menu price.

To start, I chose New England Clam Chowder for my side of soup.

Most New England Clam Chowders I've had have been quite thick, cream-based soups, that tend to be almost too substantial of an appetizer, due to the heavy broth and massive quantities of starchy potatoes within. However, Olympia's chowder was thinner in consistency, which allowed me to enjoy a full cup, without filling up too much on it. The broth itself still maintained a rich, milky flavor, while clams added that perfect seafood tang to balance out the sweetness of the cream. The potatoes were firm enough to add great texture to the soup, but soft enough to soak up the amazing flavor of the broth. Overall, a great start to the meal.

After literally scraping my bowl clean with my spoon, the main course was served.

I wish I could write that I had finished the entire platter, like a competitive eating champion, but I barely managed to finish off three-quarters of the massive avalanche of Greek cuisine in front of me; still, in the interest of this blog (and my own curiosity), I tried a little bit of everything.

The rice pilaf was a perfect, buttery (king-size) bed of starchy goodness, and helped break up the overtly meaty flavors of the kebabs. Each kebab came with grilled peppers and onions, along with seared chunks of beef and chicken, which proved to be a great combination when eaten together. I enjoyed the chicken both by itself, and combined with other ingredients on my plate, but the beef actually was cooked a little too long, and had lost a bit too much moisture (and therefore flavor) during the grilling process. Unfortunately, this also made it a little tough, but I compensated for these issues by wrapping some of the beef, some lettuce from my salad, a few pieces of grilled onion, and some tzatziki sauce in a piece of pita bread, to make a mini gyro of sorts; the tzatziki sauce helped take away some of the beef's dryness, and all of the ingredients added excellent flavor to the meat and bread. The pita bread alone was soft, light, and (much like the rice pilaf) a great way to break up the meal's strong individual flavors.

The Greek salad included delicious, crisp iceberg lettuce, fresh black olives, tomatoes, cucumber slices, sliced red onion, and a liberal helping of feta cheese. I chose not to use the house dressing, since it would have soaked into my rice pilaf, but I did sample it, and found it to be smooth, rich, and both sweet and tangy (possibly due to dill). The only complaint I had with the salad was the excessive feta cheese; now, I absolutely love feta cheese almost as much as the next Greek cuisine enthusiast, but in this quantity in proportion to the rest of the salad, the flavor was a bit overpowering, and I found myself pushing some of it off of my greens.

My favorite part of the entire platter was the spanakopita; the pie itself was soft, light, flaky, and buttery, and was well-balanced with the spinach's mild bitterness. While I'm not entirely sure of which spices were baked into the pie, I can say that they were not overwhelming, and added subtle peppery and earthy undertones. My mouth is actually watering as I write this.

While not the greatest meal I've had at Olympia in recent history, the great service, comfortable atmosphere, excellent variety, and affordable price tag will, without a doubt, have Morgan and I coming back again. If you're in the neighborhood and want a generous helping of warm comfort food, or just need somewhere to grab a quick coffee and piece of pie, Olympia is definitely worth checking out. Who knows? We may even end up bumping into each other there.


Score (out of 10): 8

Location: 2380 Lyell Ave, Rochester, NY 14606
Phone Number: (585) 429-6231
Website: N/A

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jine's Restaurant - Hash Benedict & Turkey Sausage

Jines on Urbanspoon
As is expected of me by this point, I have once again disappeared from the blogging scene for ages, only to return with a plethora of random food reviews and mindless musings. I apologize to those of you who have actually been reading and waiting for new entries of this nonsense to be posted, but I assure you that the wait is now over. While I can't promise complete diligence towards maintaining this blog, I can at least offer you the occasional post regarding my random journeyings around the area (and sometimes beyond) in my endless quest to shovel delicious food into my ever-growing stomach. I truly appreciate those of you who continue to read, and thank you for your support. Now, without further delay, my latest food review:

If Morgan and I have ever been guilty of a self-inflicting sin since moving closer to the city, it's been our neglect of Jine's Restaurant on Park Ave. Despite hearing numerous people's raving reviews of the place, it wasn't until a few months ago that Morgan and I actually decided it was time to put these rumors to the test. Since that day, we have returned many, many times to indulge in Jine's "upscale diner"-style atmosphere and sample the myriad of outstanding culinary offerings. Now, I normally consider the term "upscale diner" a snobby way for 2-star restaurants to justify charging you $12 for a plate of meatloaf, but honestly Jine's manages to exude a feeling of elegance, while maintaining a casual and comfortable environment. A great date restaurant, due to being open 7 days a week (until 10PM from Monday - Saturday, and 8PM on Sundays), Morgan and I have been to Jine's for quite a few fun, romantic meals, although Jine's is also the perfect place for a quick Sunday brunch with family or friends. Staff are friendly, helpful, and efficient, the menu is varied enough for the pickiest of palates, and the price tag on most of the meals is fairly reasonable for the quality and quantity of food provided. Jine's definitely should be complimented on their selection - dishes range from familiar and hearty comfort food to modern spins on homemade classics.

As a wholly-genuine breakfast food lover, Jine's breakfast menu is a veritable culinary playground during Morgan and my brunch sessions there. To be honest, I can sometimes spend upwards of 15 minutes deliberating on whether I should try any one of their 20+ varieties of delectable, four-egg omelettes, or one of their unique twists on Eggs Benedict. On this particular occasion, unable to choose whether I wanted Eggs Benedict or eggs with a side of Corned Beef Hash, I chose the Hash Benedict and a side order of Turkey Sausage. Hash Benedict is essentially Eggs Benedict served over a generous helping of Corned Beef Hash, with American cheese melted into the hollandaise sauce, all of which is served over toasted English muffin halves. The side of Turkey Sausage was served up as 3 small patties, mimicking the classic breakfast sausage patty found on most menus, albeit (and obviously) made of turkey instead.

Shortly after taking my first bite of Hash Benedict, I realized that I had found the Holy Grail of hearty breakfast combinations. The poached eggs were prepared perfectly, the slightly runny yolk mixing into the hollandaise sauce's buttery and creamy flavor, all complemented by the mild tang of melted American cheese. The Corned Beef Hash was phenomenal, to say the least - not overly-salty, the corned beef flavor blended perfectly with soft potato chunks, with mild hints of onion, all lightly pan-seared to give the dish a satisfying crispy texture; easily, some of the best Corned Beef Hash I've ever had (and I have had a lot). While this was a wonderful addition by itself, once the egg yolk, hollandaise, and melted cheese mixture combined with the Corned Beef Hash, there was nothing I could do but continue to put forkful after forkful of the delicious concoction into my mouth. Not once did the savory ingredients work against each other, and the fact that the perfectly-toasted English muffin seeped up all of this flavor was an added bonus to this already outstandingly satisfying meal. The main negative aspect of this dish is one that plagues almost all food that utilizes melted cheese: eventually, as the cheese cools, it begins to harden and seize up, becoming a somewhat gluey paste that must be scraped off the sides of the dish, instead of serving as the velvety blanket of flavor it began as. The other thing that some might find unpleasant is the hollandaise, egg yolk, and cheese mixing into all of the other ingredients, not due to the taste, but due to this causing the entire dish to become somewhat monotonous and uniform in flavor. With this in mind, these are the only two shortcomings of this meal, and are really quite minor.

The Turkey Sausage patties were a great addition as a side, offering the classic spice of breakfast sausage patties, while utilizing the much milder flavor of the turkey meat. Those of you who have never had turkey sausage may be put off by the leaner meat's tougher consistency, which may have you using a knife to cut through the first few bites of each patty. Texture and toughness aside, turkey is a great, lower-fat alternative to one of my favorite breakfast sides.

Overall, it can't be denied that Jine's serves up one hell of a good breakfast. I felt fully satisfied at the end of my meal, having eaten my fill and then some, all at a reasonable and completely affordable price. Jine's should definitely be considered by those on a budget, costing less than many of the other local eateries downtown, and is of far better quality than any chain restaurant I've been to lately. Easily one of Morgan and my favorite places for weekend brunch, lunch, or dinner, Jine's is just around the corner from you, and is waiting with welcoming service and, as always, plenty to eat.

Score (out of 10): 9.5

Location: 658 Park Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607
Phone Number: (585) 461-1280
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