I wasn't sure what I was expecting going into Label 7. I had heard different perspectives on the food over the years, but I hadn't been in to try it myself. Right off the bat, I was happy to see that one of the beer taps was reserved for Lock 32 Brewing, a Pittsford brewery located in the adjacent Schoen Place plaza. The seasonal Goldie-Lock Summer Ale was on at the time, and the bright and refreshing brew had a notable lemon profile and a light ABV at 4.9 percent — it's the kind of beer you want to crush on a steamy day.
A bunch of the dishes had nominally California-based names, but there were no other noticeable ties to the Golden State. Still, among them was one of my favorite dishes of my visits, the California Carrots ($13); I have no idea how it ties into California, but it was impressive nonetheless. Roasted carrots sat atop a house-made tahini sauce accented with crunchy chickpeas and Moroccan seasoning, and the rounded acidity from the grilled lemon brought the root vegetable to life.
The vegan Summer Squash Lasagna ($17) gave me a similar warm feeling about vegetable-forward dishes. The lightly roasted yellow and green zucchini were used as the noodles and the cooked down marinara was balanced nicely with mushrooms and pine nuts substituting for Parmesan. It was a dish that was comforting while not hiding what it actually was. The concept and execution of these two plates show what vegan dishes deserve to be in mid-range restaurants.
Of course there is plenty of meat to go around as well. The nicely cooked San Francisco Hangar Steak ($18) was marinated in hoisin and brought to the table with the now-standard truffle fries. I can't understand the fascination with that truffle oil concoction; unless the oil is overly expensive, the flavor and aroma is really from an extracted chemical that is one of several major components from the actual ingredient. It is the pancake syrup to the real maple syrup of the mushroom world.
The grilled wings ($13) were a good effort to show what you can really do with this part of the bird. I appreciated that the wings were served as whole sections (both the wingette and drumette) and the skin was nicely crisp although the meat was on the dry side. The dry rub could have been stronger, but the combination of the Scotch Bonnet hot sauce — which reminded me of a brighter version of Sriracha — and the slightly funky, tangy bleu cheese definitely helped.
If you're looking to fill up, the Escondido enchilada ($17) was chock full of pork and the accenting bright salsas (verde, roja, and pico de gallo) and melted cheeses kept it interesting, despite being a little heavy. Since the pork was labeled as al pastor, I would have liked to have seen more of the traditional chile, spices, and bright-red achiote-stained characteristics, but at least the meat was properly roasted instead of just being stewed.
I'd like to finish off with a quick comment about the labeling of "local" when it comes to a menu or to an establishment. Label 7 uses the term "Keep It Local" on its "Local Purveyors" section of its website, and indeed some of the dishes do feature products from local vendors like First Light Creamery and Flour City Bakery along with some farms not directly mentioned on the menu. What this doesn't mean is that the other ingredients are kept seasonal or local, especially since the menu is mostly static through the year. I'm not saying this as an indictment of Label 7, but it is something we should all be aware of when we see out of season ingredients featured on a menu in the heart of the Upstate New York growing season. Don't be afraid to ask questions when you see someone advertising "Local" and see what that actually means.
You can read more from Chris Lindstrom or listen to his podcast on his food blog, Foodabouttown.com. Share any dining tips with him on Twitter and Instagram @stromie.