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Lanai goes island hopping on Alexander Street 

We often use the metaphor of an explosion as the impetus for big changes occurring in our lives, whether it refers to a relationship, a career opportunity, or just a bunch of little things that have built up and make us want to clear our personal cache and hit the restart button. And then sometimes it's an actual explosion. In the case of Rico Griffone, it was his food truck blowing up in his home driveway that pushed him to make the move back to Rochester from Poughkeepsie and open Lanai (295 Alexander Street) with partner Casey Walpert who had opened Bug Jar, Mex, and Tap and Mallet.

Griffone and Walpert had talked about opening a place together for years and were leaning toward Asian cuisine, but they didn't want to pigeonhole themselves into a specific type of Asian cuisine for the menu. They decided to tap Griffone's Hawaiian roots and celebrate the different culinary cultures of Hawaii. Griffone, his mother, and grandmother were all born there.

"Hawaii has a multitude of different cultures, it's a melting pot, so you get Thai, you get Korean, you get Japanese, Filipino, and that's where the whole concept came from," Griffone says. "We're trying to pull from all these different islands," he says, adding that the menu is "Asian, with an island flair."

The Jap Chae ($10) is a Korean dish made from stir-fried sweet potato noodles in a sweet and savory sauce and tossed with red pepper, carrot, caramelized onion, mushroom, and spinach. Most items on Lanai's menu can be made vegetarian. You'll find Griffone's grandmother's curry on Tutu's Curry Wings ($12), which is baked wings tossed in an Indian curry sauce and served alongside a mango chutney dipping sauce — Tutu means grandmother in Hawaiian.

Lanai occupies the former space of Mex Restaurant, which Griffone opened with Walpert. He says that being back has been surreal: "I helped build Mex and worked in the kitchen, when I left I was head chef. So it's almost like full circle for me coming back — knocking it down, building it back up, and now in an ownership capacity," he says.

Renovations began after Mex closed last year, and the new space is virtually unrecognizable. Walls were torn down to make one giant space on the first floor and to expose the brick walls that lay behind. The brand new bar, made of carbonized bamboo plywood for that island feel, extends for nearly the entire length of the first floor. Custom-built high top tables fill the front of the room and the whole space feels much lighter.

In keeping with the Hawaiian theme, the bar has a selection of four different frozen Tiki drinks that will rotate. Right now you can choose from the classic Mai Tai, Zombie, Blue Hawaiian, or Singapore Sling. A selection of non-frozen Tiki cocktails are also on the menu, including the Navy Grog and Dark and Stormy, and the bar has a rotating draft list along with selection of domestic and craft bottles.

"We're trying to foster a culture of hospitality," Griffone says. "Rochester can get gray, let's keep it tropical in here."

Lanai is located at 295 Alexander Street, and is open Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. 262-3060. rochesterlanai.com.

Quick bites

Branca Midtown (280 East Broad Street) will celebrate their first anniversary on Thursday, December 21, from 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Highlights include a Negroni fountain, complimentary snacks to mark the debut of the new Apertivo Hour, and rounded off with $1 Miller High Life all night.

Via Girasole Wine Bar (3 Schoen Place) will host a Sparkline Wine and Food Pairing Class on Wednesday, December 27, at 6 p.m. $35 will cover the cost of the class and includes wine and food. The class will be taught by sommelier, Michael Facik. Purchase tickets at squareup.com/market/via-girasole/item/sparkling-food-and-wine-pairing-class-wednesday-december-pm.

If you still haven't solidified your New Year's Eve plans, many local bars and restaurants are making sure you've got options.

The Old Toad (277 Alexander Street) will host a New Year's Eve Dinner on December 31 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. The Monte Carlo themed event will cost you $65 for food and beer pairing, or $55 if you want to skip the beer pairing. There will be a complimentary champagne toast at 7 p.m. Call 232-2626 to make your reservation or stop down to The Old Toad in advance.

Branca Basin (683 Pittsford Victor Road) will offer a prix fixe menu on New Year's Eve for $65. Call 310-7415 or visit brancabasin.com to book your reservation.

The Cub Room (739 South Clinton Avenue) will host New Year's Eve 2017, Party Like Gatsby from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Reservations are $89 and include a six course tasting dinner, complimentary champagne toast at midnight, and live Gatsby-era music and dancing. Call 363-5694 to book your table.

Openings

Brooklyn Ramen is now open at 215 Alexander Street.

Thai Mii Up has opened a second location in Fairport at Eagle Vale Golf Course (4344 Nine Mile Point Road).

Blue Taro has opened at 938 Monroe Avenue. The Vietnamese restaurant occupies the former Le Lemongrass space.

Closings

Jimmy John's has closed the College Town location.

Mise en Place (683 South Avenue) is scheduled to close at the end of 2017.

Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to food@rochester-citynews.com.

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