Friday, April 18, 2008

Lento: Fine Dining with a Side of Social Conscience

Ed. note: This post originally appeared in my 2008 food blog Fork It Over on the website of the Rochester Insider magazine, which is now Metromix Rochester. Since the old blog is no longer available online, I'm re-posting some of those posts here and backdating them to their original posting dates. Although in most cases they are specific to Rochester, hopefully you'll still find them somewhat interesting!  ~Rachel, 6/27/10

I've been meaning to try out Lento since it opened at Village Gate over the summer, and I finally made it there for the first time last week. The menu, which changes daily (an ambitious undertaking!), features a wide range of meat, fish, and vegetarian options. Everything is made with local, seasonal ingredients. That evening's menu included a couple of gourmet versions of old standbys that caught my attention immediately: French onion soup and spaghetti and meatballs. The names were a bit more elegant on the menu, of course, but I was too busy stuffing my face to remember to write down the details.

The Beginning
My boyfriend and I were greeted cheerfully and seated immediately even though we showed up without a reservation. I was immediately struck by the ambiance, which was both elegant and relaxing. The fine white tablecloths, hardwood floor, and numerous candles emphasized the fine-dining feel of the place, but the earthy tones and jazz standards kept the atmosphere from feeling pretentious and overbearing. After we were seated, we were offered three choices of water. For some reason, I always want to giggle when offered multiple types of water. I'm fine with tap. Even so, it's nice to be asked. I also ordered a mango ginger bellini, which was light and delicious. My boyfriend ordered a glass of a dry white wine, which was marked as "recommended" on the menu. The focaccia bread and dipping oil were a delicious start to the meal, and it was hard not to overstuff myself before the real food came out!

The Appetizers
I'm addicted to French onion soup. I don't like cheese in many other contexts, but when it's melted on top of a crock of onion soup, I can't resist. I wish I could remember the exact wording on the menu, but in any case, Lento's version of this classic sounded delicious on paper and definitely lived up to its description. My boyfriend started his meal with a salad that included deliciously crunchy candied walnuts, apple slices, and a touch of gorgonzola dressing. He described his salad as "rustic" and "well-balanced." He cleaned the plate, so it must have been good. Gorgonzola doesn't do much for me, though, so I didn't taste it.

The Main Course
After filling up on bread and soup, my heaping portion of spaghetti and meatballs was quite intimidating. The meatballs were made with organic pork, and the sauce was thickened with a touch of parmigiano reggiano cheese. It's tricky to make spaghetti and meatballs into a unique and exciting dish, but Lento did a good job with it. My boyfriend's choice was a bit more daring. He decided to try the paneer beet fritters, which were served with Himalayan red rice and sauteed spinach. The crispy fritters had a spicy taste that satisfied his craving for Indian food, but it was a unique taste that he hadn't really experienced before. He enjoyed it nonetheless. The red rice, which was literally red and had nuts mixed in, had an interesting earthy flavor.

The Dessert
We didn't have much room for dessert, but for the sake of this blog, we stuffed ourselves. (Ok, I admit it. We just couldn't resist checking out the dessert menu. Besides, there's always room for dessert.) Anyway, I enjoyed every part of the meal, but dessert was the clear winner. We were intrigued by the cardamom ice cream, which was served with a couple of homemade sugar cookies. The ice cream itself was also made in house. Cardamom seems like a strange ice cream flavor, but now that I've had it, I don't think I can ever enjoy plain vanilla again. It tasted like a strongly spiced version of vanilla ice cream with hints of cinnamon, ginger, and mint. It was absolutely amazing. We complemented our ice cream with Serindipitea tea. The tea selection was presented beautifully with small portions of each type of tea leaf in tiny bowls along with name tags for each. I chose Buccaneer (mainly for the piratey name, but also because it smelled good). My boyfriend chose Zzz, a relaxing blend of chamomile and organic lavender. I love tea, but it's rare that a cup of tea actually amazes me. This one did. It was a delicious blend of coconut, chocolate, vanilla, and rooibos.

Additional Notes
As the name suggests, the pace is relaxed. (Lento is Italian for "slow.") The dining room began to fill up towards the end of our meal, but we never felt crowded or rushed. The layout and decor of the restaurant give it the feel of a spa. Our server Liz was friendly and knowledgeable. One of the great things about Lento is the focus on using organic, local ingredients to create unique dishes. The website even has a section where local farmers are featured. I was initially a little intimidated by the menu--I can be somewhat of a picky eater, and there were lots of ingredients I wasn't sure I'd like--but everything turned out to be wonderful, and I definitely plan to return.

Just the Facts
Address: 274 N. Goodman St (in Village Gate)
Phone: 585-271-3470 (reservations accepted)

Also, check out for information about the tea. I'm ordering a tin of Buccaneer!

Update 6/27/10:
I finally got around to ordering the Buccaneer tea about a year after this meal, and it was as wonderful as I'd remembered. I recently noticed some Serendipitea teas at Cardullo's in Harvard Square. 

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