It's a chilly Wednesday evening in early October. The sheds at the Rochester Public Market are vacant, a brisk wind chasing bits of paper and leaves around the wide-open space. On the edges of the market, warehouses, brooding ramparts of industrial-grey concrete and steel rolling doors, stand shuttered and dead under the glare of security lights. This is where the penultimate scene of a Sam Spade novel would take place, the trenchcoat-sporting hero stalking in to meet with a representative of a local fraternal organization. Look around the Market at this hour of the night and the word "gritty" comes to mind. Against this dull background the neon sign above the door of Cure, the Public Market's first full-time restaurant, pops out at you like ruby lipstick against snow, the glowing windows beneath it promising warmth in a cold, hard world.
On this Wednesday evening, the 6-month-old Cure is packed. Every table is full, the bar is stacked two deep, and the ebb and flow of a dozen or more conversations is punctuated with the clink of cutlery and the staccato rattle of cocktail shakers behind the bar. The vibe of the place is irresistibly French — the only thing missing is a cloud of smoke from a hundred Gitanes hovering near the ceiling. Taking advantage of a group-migration from the bar (a six-top has just come available), I slide onto a stool and scoop up the menu.
Cure is not Chef Dan Martello and Chuck Cerankosky's first restaurant — that would be the eminently successful Good Luck on Anderson Avenue. But it is the restaurant that is closest to their original concept for Good Luck: a bar with a small, carefully considered menu emphasizing the best of French bistro food. It's not a wine bar, although there is an excellent and very reasonably priced wine list available. This is a cocktail lounge, the back bar looking more like an alchemist's workshop than anything else, with a whole wall of various bitters and nameless bottles and phials full of fragrant liquors and fruit essences. I'm a fan of good gin, and "Faith in Medicine" ($8), made with Plymouth gin, housemade tonic syrup, a bit of Swedish-style rum, and a splash of champagne to lighten things up, seemed like the perfect thing to sip while I plotted my course through the menu.
The choice between a plate of charcuterie — Martello and his staff make prosciutto cotto and mortadella in-house, along with all of the pickles and mustard that come with the dish ($16) — and a selection of three different terrines ($7 each) was a difficult one. But I couldn't pass up a rabbit-mushroom pate on such a wintry-feeling night. It was an excellent decision: the country-style terrine was satisfyingly toothsome, studded with bits of pistachio and enhanced with allspice and clove, the chicken liverwurst silky smooth and deeply flavored, wonderful slathered on Flour City Bakery bread with a cornichon or a slice of pickled banana pepper to offset the fat.
About a hundred years ago, people ate differently. Look at the much-ballyhooed menu for the last night on the Titanic, or for Delmonico's in Manhattan, and you'll see a world in which fish was followed by poultry, which was in turn followed by meat. Cure allows you to sample a bit of that era, albeit without the sizzling roasts and joints of meat (but Chef Martello told me that he plans to start roasting whole lamb in the near future). Gather some friends and start your feast with haddock brouilles, a simple dish requiring very careful preparation. Heat a skillet red hot, layer in eggs beaten to a froth with cream, allow them to barely set and then place a fillet of haddock, a drizzle of onion-laced bechamel sauce, and a scattering of bread crumbs on top. Slide the whole thing under a broiler for a few minutes. The result is nothing short of sublime: scrambled eggs as God Himself intended they should be.
Follow that with a brace of pheasant and truffle sausages served atop gorgeously roasted carrots and brussels sprouts and tossed with a bit of currant-enriched demiglace ($15). Or, if you are feeling particularly adventurous, ask for boudin noir, housemade blood sausage ($15). Deep purple-red and a bit earthy, but not at all bloody-tasting or tangy from the iron, the cabbage-potato puree beneath the sausages soaks up juices like a sponge and the caramelized apples add a welcome sweet accent to the dish.
We were still mopping up the last of the demi-glace when a plate with a golden-brown portion of uniformly cross-hatched pork belly ($17) was delivered to us by Chef Martello himself (on really busy nights, the chef sometimes turns kitchen runner). Sitting atop an emerald heap of sauteed spinach and snuggled next to a ramekin full of sweet-potato puree topped with melted Gruyere cheese (the chef's reinterpretation of potatoes Lyonnaise), the pork belly was one of the meatiest I've ever encountered, more like a tenderloin topped with a layer of chicharrons rather than the proto-bacon that I've had elsewhere. The fatty layer was well-rendered, buttery and rich. The meat, bathed in all of that rendered goodness, was just shy of fork-tender.
After such a meal, offering dessert seems cruel. Instead of going for berry trifle with Greek yogurt, or a pair of very cute molten-chocolate cakes, instead opt for one of Cure's intriguing ice creams, like the buttered-popcorn concoction I sampled on my first visit on a dark and stormy Sunday night. My server tried to explain the process of steeping popcorn in something or other to infuse the unmistakable scent and taste into the ice cream, but I frankly wasn't listening. I was lost in admiration of Martello's ingenuity and cleverness, and wondering how soon I could arrange to take the cure again.