Since December, Pittsford restaurant The Kitchen has offered a unique culinary experience: intimate, chef's table dining. Overseen by Executive Chef Joseph Cipolla, The Kitchen turns out modern American cuisine through a seven-course tasting menu. This alone would make The Kitchen a stand out in Rochester. That Cipolla and his team are able to do so while executing an immersive sensory experience makes The Kitchen an attractive destination for those with a passion for fine dining.
Cipolla, a Rochester native, got into the local restaurant game in his teens. He studied haute cuisine at New York City's French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) with Jacques Pepin and Andre Soltner. After working in notable New York restaurants, he returned to Rochester and, in 2011, opened Scratch Open Kitchen, a food cart and catering company. Later, he co-owned and operated the beloved vegetarian and vegan cart and café Lettuce B. Frank, as well as the barbeque spot at Three Brothers Estate Winery, Smokin' Bagg Dare, with David Romaine. Today, Cipolla focuses on The Kitchen and Cipolla Romaine Custom Catering; both are run with his business partner Greg Kacprzynski.
The Kitchen strikes me as an intimate expression of Cipolla's take on food and dining. He walks diners through each meticulously plated course, explaining each dish, how to eat it, and at times, what inspired the item. While the majority of prep is done in the kitchen — Cipolla says it "takes as much as 14 man hours ... to prepare each two-hour service" — he finishes each plate in the dining room just before serving. His cuisine may be haute, but the attitude is courteous and attentive: Cipolla encourages guests to ask questions throughout the evening and, after dessert, he visits each table, thanking diners for sharing the experience with him.
During my visit* in late May, the first course Cipolla and his team served was a paper-thin strip of carpaccio. Made with grass-fed beef, it glistened with a touch of olive oil, and was set off with micro-arugula greens and asiago cheese. The beef tasted clean and rich, disappearing quickly into our eager mouths.
Next, was a warm spring salad, made with of-the-season ramps and asparagus and topped with a soft poached egg. The runny yoke blended with the salad's morel mushroom cream, making it richer and silkier — a lovely foil to the freshness of the vegetables.
For the third course, we were presented with a couture take on Caprese salad. Two small globes of house-made burrata cheese were placed in a small, deep bowl and served with thin, crisp slices of bread, a cherry tomato concasse, and basil. Cipolla suggested we crumble the bread over the cheese and eat it like a soup, the way his family does at home. It was a good suggestion, and let us taste every flavor and texture in each bite.
After a palate cleanser of bright and herbal orange tarragon sorbet, we headed into the two final savory dishes of the evening. First: tender and sweet medallions of lobster, perched on a bed of mascarpone and pea risotto. Their lushness was cut through with a sorrel sauce's pungency. Next: duck prepared three ways — a roasted breast, a foie gras and a confit — served with creamed Swiss chard and cracked faro. Again, the flavors balanced one another; if there was a fault with this dish it is that it was difficult to distinguish the different preparations of duck.
For the final course, we were served a cashew and chocolate bread pudding with a cayenne pepper chocolate sauce and vanilla bean gelato. It was fine, but unfortunately it lacked the complexity and interest of the other courses.
To pull off a luxurious evening, The Kitchen operates a bit differently from other restaurants. There is only one seating per night and the restaurant is only open Wednesday through Saturday. The dining room is small and intimate, serving only 18 (increasing to 24 in the near future). Guests are asked to arrive by 7:20 p.m., so there is time to settle in and enjoy a beverage before service starts at 7:30 p.m. sharp. The menu rotates every six weeks. Diners are encouraged to bring their own beer or wine, and can contact the restaurant in advance of their reservation for suggested wine pairings.
Given The Kitchen's hands-on approach to fine dining — the quality of its ingredients, number of its courses, and excellence in its preparation and service — it's not surprising that the cost is $90 per person (sans gratuity, alcohol, or beverages). My dinner for two approached $300, including tip, beverages, and the wine pairings that I purchased at Century Liquor & Wines. It's not an expense I can afford regularly, but it is well worth it as special treat.
*Given the cost of dining at The Kitchen, readers may view it as a special occasion destination. As such this review is based on a single visit.
Find Laura Rebecca Kenyon on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest @LauraKenyon, and dig through her recipe archive at LauraRebeccasKitchen.com.