Branca Restaurant, 683 Pittsford Victor Rd in Pittsford NY, recently opened its doors under the ownership of Joshua and Jennifer Miles- owners of Revelry in Downtown Rochester. This restaurant invites customers to experience authentic Italian food the way they see it.
Having only been open for roughly five weeks, Branca is already jammed packed and turning people away- literally. You either have a reservation or you wait….for hours to get a seat. I witnessed this first hand as we ventured out to Rochester, a little over an hour drive, to dine at this unique restaurant. Our group included my lovely parents, who were smart enough to make a reservation. As we waited to check in, I watched as the cute couple in front of us (who looked like they might have been on a first date) asked for a table. This is how it went down:
Hostess: “Do you have a reservation?”
Cute Couple: “No.”
Hostess: “I’m sorry, we honor reservations first.”
Cute Couple: “Well then how about the patio?”
Hostess: “Our patio is reservation first as well.”
Cute Couple: “So we can’t get a table at all? I see tables open.”
Hostess: “Sir, we have reservations coming in. If you’d like to wait at the bar, we can seat you around 9 pm.”
That effectively ended their conversation and I saw the couple stalk past us in a huff. Tisk tisk. When you have a restaurant who’s chef is directly off the boat (correction- he’s from Naples), and all the food is made by hand, you don’t take any chances- you make a reservation. Lesson learned for you future goers.
On to the restaurant itself. We made our way to the bar to have drink while our table was being prepped. Trying to take in all of the nuances of the restaurant was a bit daunting. There was a lot to look at. The light fixtures all have a rustic industrial vibe with Edison style bulbs. Every square inch of the walls are covered in reclaimed barn wood (a style for which I absolutely love). And when I say every square inch I mean every square inch. A beautiful ceramic wood pizza oven sits to the left of the bar, so while you are enjoying a glass of vino you can watch them top, flip, toss, and bake a thin crust pizza. Various Italian meats hang from a display window off the kitchen and the kitchen itself is partially open for view.
Wine in hand, we took our seats at our table and started perusing the menu. There are two things that pleased me right away, first we were asked if there were any food allergies or special dietary needs (big bonus) and second, the menu is simple and short. I was slightly concerned at the amount of dairy dishes I saw and I wasn’t sure how the chef would accommodate someone who is lactose intolerant when many of the dishes seemed to center around this ingredient. As a precaution I took my lactaid and carried on.
We ordered two apps- a wood oven pizza with prosciutto, light mozzarella and a sweet tomato sauce topped with fresh arugula ($15.00) and the Ricotta speziata pinoli e tartufo ($11.00). My dad had had this before and couldn’t stop talking about it. The ricotta is homemade and not only rich and buttery, but it had an airy weightlessness to it that made it divine. It comes with pine nuts and an aromatic black truffle spread accented with black truffle oil. While I could only have a taste, I watched as the rest of my party gobbled it up; leaving barely a crumb to be had. The pizza had a great smokey flavor, the prosciutto was thin sliced and added a great salty flavor to the mildly sweet sauce.
For dinner our dishes included Gnocchi ($17.00), Porcini Risotto ($16.00) and Ossobuco (a special for the evening). Now many of you will know Gnocchi as a hearty potato based dish- it is, and usually a staple for me when trying a new Italian restaurant. If a chef can make a great Gnocchi then it’s a fairly safe bet that they know their Italian dishes. But the chef at Branca has recreated this favorite dish of mine. It comes with a meat ragu that consists of lamb shank, pork shoulder and beef slow braised and tossed in a light tomato sauce that has a hint of orange flavoring. Upon the first bite, my mouth and my head were at odds with each other. Is it potato, is it pasta, is it something else entirely? The gnocchi was so light, it practically fell apart as soon as it hit my tongue. Picture a Pas de Deux; a basic ballet move that, when paired with the right partner, can transform any part of the lift into a complex and beautiful maneuver. The meat ragu was the perfect partner for the pasta, transforming this basic gnocchi into a complex and tantalizing dish. The Ossobuco was paired with a aromatic saffron rice. Simple and slow cooked, it melted off the bone. The risotto is a hearty dish, thick and creamy and accented with porcini mushrooms, truffle oil and sausage. While my husband liked the risotto and I did try it, it lacked that earthy mushroom flavor. You must understand, this dish is a specialty of mine. I make it at home all the time. For my husband to say mine still tastes better is a big deal. He is an honest bloke and not one to mince words. It was slightly under cooked and lacked any real flavor (meaning, it was good but a bit on the bland side for my liking). With that said however, I highly recommend pretty much any dish on the menu.
All the dishes are perfectly portioned and leave room for their amazing desserts- which of course we tried. An olive oil cake, rich in flavor yet flaky and light, had me melting into my seat. The tart freshness of the lemon zest, the richness of the olive oil and the hint of orange from the liqueur hit every part of your palate. This cake has to be one of my favorites to date. We also tried an apple crumble with gelato(a great fall dessert), a panna cotta(a northern Italian dessert) that consists of a rich silky smooth pudding hinted with anise and fruit, and a decadent chocolate truffle cake paired with a truffle flavored gelato. This last dessert had everyone of us digging into it. The chocolate was smooth and rich and oh my goodness good paired with the red wine we were all drinking. The vanilla gelato was infused with an amazing truffle flavor and flecks of chocolate. My mouth waters thinking of this dessert.
For a restaurant that has only been open for five weeks, this place has hit all the right notes. Accommodating to food allergies, they will pair down any dish at the customer’s request. Branca brings a sense of real Italian culture and cuisine to the doorsteps of American lifestyle. It’s urban yet rustic decor is met with the charm and history of traditional Italian eateries. The chef adds elements of Sicilian style cuisine, mixes in northern Italian accents, and presents it with all the flare of a five star restaurant. It’s a home run and I highly recommend this restaurant (minus the risotto), to any Western New Yorker out for a day trip in the Rochester NY region.