by Matt Steinberg

If you’re craving Italian food, Buffalo has you covered. From Chef’s downtown to Cecelia’s in the Elmwood Village to Lombardo’s in North Buffalo, there are a ton of places here where you can satisfy your pasta jones. This is also community that loves mom and pop places – we are serious locavores. This being said, there is a chain place out in the ‘burbs that you should seriously consider trying. Bravo! is located on the ground level of the Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga, and I had a fantastic lunch there recently. My friend, who is an Italian cuisine connoisseur, recommended that we go there, and I wasn’t disappointed. She started with a delicious tomato bisque, followed by a perfectly pressed mozzarella, tomato and pesto panini, while I had salad and a wonderful plate of lasagna that seemed to be homemade. The decor is a fun, family friendly Romain ruin, and the menu had something for everyone’s taste.

I know what you’re thinking – it’s a chain, and it’s in the mall. But don’t let that stop you – Bravo isn’t your typical mall eatery. It’s definitely worth a trip.

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by Matt Steinberg

My family and I had lunch recently at Chef’s, my favorite restaurant in Buffalo, and one of the city’s landmarks. Open since 1923, Chef’s has served generations of Buffalonians understated but exquisitely prepared Italian fare like lasagna, veal parmesan and chicken cacciatora. However, on your first visit, one of your party must order their signature dish, spaghetti parmesan. Pasta doesn’t come with simpler ingredients or preparation – a plate of lightly sauced spaghetti covered in mozzarella, then baked, and served with a cup of their famous tomato sauce for dipping. I’m not sure what the secret is (I sure can’t replicate it at home), but decades of practice has perfected their technique. Combined with a loaf of warm bread, a meatball or sausage and a glass of wine, this is a classic (and filling) meal that I order almost every time I go. Aside from it’s delectable dishes, Chef’s is also where many of Buffalo’s movers and shakers congregate to make deal or just share a meal, so you never know what CEO, media type or ballplayer you’ll see in the dining room. One caveat – reservations are highly recommended any time, but are an absolute necessity whenever the Sabres or Bandits are in town; without one, you won’t get in.

For more information, check out www.ilovechefs.com, or take a trip to the corner of Seneca and Chicago Streets and taste it for yourself. This trip was my son’s first experience, and judging by the smile on his face, it won’t be his last.

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by Karen Huefner
Upon completing my final essay in graduate school, I pretty much vowed that my schooling days were over. That was until Wine School came into my life. Gone are the days of sitting in the back of class, doodling in my notebook waiting for 9th period to end. At Wine School, it’s chair closest to the teacher, arrive ten minutes early and ask as many questions as I can.

Bacchus restaurant located in downtown Buffalo on Chippewa Street offers Wine School every other Wednesday for those who want to have an intimate lesson on a grape’s most valued byproduct. Taught by a certified sommelier, each class touches on a specific type of wine from a specific region. The class I attended focused on Pinot Noir’s of California. Mmm…

There were 12 of us in the class and they sat us at a table right in the main dining room. With a set of wine glasses in front of each of us, we had a chance to sample 4 wines ranging in price and taste. Mike, the sommelier, gave a down-to-earth approach to the lesson and gave us a blow-by-blow as to what makes a Pinot Noir a Pinot Noir. It was fantastic!! The wine tasting also includes two food pairings. The leg of lamb and sea bass they served were incredible and the wine truly complemented the food beautifully. Mike answered everyone’s questions and provided personal suggestions and tips on wine buying. The class lasted about 2 hours and for a girl who used to only drink Riesling, I was rather impressed and left eager to sign up for the next one! Something different to do on a Wednesday night, especially if you time your trip to Buffalo right!

For more information, go to the Bacchus website. Salud!

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By Karen Huefner
The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives caught my attention from day one. While some of us don’t want to admit it, some of the best local food joints are the tiny neighborhood hole-in-the-wall establishments that ooze charm and character. Those two qualities are exactly what I found when I bellied up to the counter at Lake Effect Diner – a recent stop for Guy Fieri and his “Triple D” crew. This old-fashioned dining car-style diner offers a hearty menu of homemade classics. Not being a regular consumer of this type of fare, I felt that in order to get an authentic experience I was going to have to opt for a meatloaf and mac-n-cheese entrée. That was until I opened the menu, and the chocolate chip pancakes were staring me straight in the eye. I don’t typically break the traditional dinner boundaries by ordering breakfast in its place, but today was the day.

With my first bite of the triple stack, my decision was confirmed as a positive one. The pancakes were incredible. Extremely moist and not overly-chocolatey (which is typically a downfall of adding chocolate chips to pancakes). The best part of the entire meal was the side of maple butter positioned at the top. Between the butter and the natural sweetness of the pancakes, no syrup necessary! The pancakes were THAT good that I needed to call our server over to ensure the compliment got back to the line cooks. She revealed that they cut their batter with a bit of 7Up to keep them fluffy – go figure! The side of ham I ordered was equally as tasty with just the hint of honey to tickle the tongue. I topped the meal off with a cup of Lake Effect’s coffee and my experience was complete.

If you’re looking for a nostalgic dining experience back to a time when life was as simple as pancakes and coffee, swing by Lake Effect Diner next time you’re in town.

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by Matt Steinberg

My wife and I decided to hit downtown for dinner this past weekend, and chose Seabar to satisfy my sushi jones. Chef Mike Andrzejewski’s two locations (Ellicott Street downtown and Main Street in Williamsville) serve the best sushi, sashimi and rolls in town, in my humble opinion. My wife ordered the seared steak special, while I, being very hungry, got the sashimi special, ramen bowl, spicy tuna roll and one of the most unique (and delicious) dishes you’ll ever have – Chef Mike’s Beef on Weck roll. The only thing it has in common with an ordinary sushi roll is it’s shape. A center of rare beef is surrounded by rice, another slice of rare beef, and finished off by coarse salt and the requisite caraway seeds, served on a plate with a drizzle of horseradish sauce. In spirit, it’s just like a bite size beef on weck sandwich, but so much more in this form. I can’t emphasize the following point enough – if you go to Seabar, GET IT. Don’t think about it, just order it. You wouldn’t go to the Anchor Bar and not get chicken wings, would you? ORDER IT.

As incredible as the beef on weck roll is, the other parts of our meal were equally delightful. My wife’s steak was extremely tender and tasty, and it was accompanied by a serving of delicious spinach and herb noodles (which she liked even more than the steak). I started with a small plate of sashimi, containing five different selections, including a wonderful Spanish mackerel. A bowl of ramen noodles was next, but this isn’t anything like the packets you ate in college. A rich broth contained hearty noodles, shrimp, and vegetables, and was very filling. I shared the aforementioned beef on weck roll with my wife, and then finished my meal off with a divine spicy tuna roll.

It being Lent, we skipped dessert, but I’ve had the tempura banana split in the past, and highly recommend it. If you’re looking to save a little money (and who isn’t), go between 4:30 and 6:00 for a 20% happy hour discount. For more information, check out Seabar’s website at www.seabarsushi.com

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by Carolyn Batt

Last week, I went to a cooking lesson at Delish! I’m not much of a cook—but I am a big eater, so the thought of attending a class and watching someone else cook, while I reap the benefits sounded most appealing to me.

The cooking lesson is taught in a casual, class-type setting, with four dishes being prepared. Classes are offered Tuesday-Friday with different themes, ranging from “Cooking with Beer” to “Sushi & Summer Rolls.” Those attending are offered the opportunity to purchase wine or beer while they relax and learn how to cook interesting dishes. Questions are welcomed and the recipes are prepared step-by-step in front of you before a generous sample is extended to each “student.”

The class I attended was “The New Vegetarian Cuisine” that I brought my boyfriend to. There was a mixed crowd—several women were on a “Girls Night” while several other younger couples like us were also present. The classroom/kitchen has seating for approximately 20, making it an enjoyable, intimate experience.

The chefs prepared complex dishes such as Artichoke, Asparagus, & Mushroom Quinoa Risotto that were interesting to see prepared and even better to taste.

Attending a cooking lesson at Delish! was one of the more off-beat things that I have done recently in Buffalo, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone—especially if like me, you want the experience of learning how to cook a meal, without ever leaving your seat.

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by Karen Huefner

When an occasion comes about that involves a dinner out, I always try to check out a restaurant I haven’t been to. Buffalo is blessed with a diverse array of culinary experiences and while I have my favorites, it’s fun for my tastebuds to venture into something new. This time the occasion was a friend’s birthday and she was in the mood for Italian. Instantly I’m thinking about Sinatra’s, Chef’s, Ilio DiPaolo’s, DiGiulio’s, etc. but was craving something different. I had heard of San Marco Ristorante but didn’t know much about it. Did a little research online and thought it was worth a try.

You know a good Italian meal is in your future when you can barely make out a lick of English from the gentleman who answers the phone! San Marco Ristorante is located northeast of downtown Buffalo. San Marco’s quiet, understated interior allows diners to fully focus on the stellar northern Italian cuisine. The coziness of your first step into the restaurant is so welcoming, which is a feeling that carries over to the staff as well. Our waitress was the absolute sweetest thing and was so helpful with the menu. She read off the list of specials and San Marco’s had a lobster ravioli appetizer that I couldn’t get out of my head. She knew I was crazy about it, so before I even asked, she offered to turn that appetizer special into an entrée for me. When the plate was set down before me, I was in awe. It was eight very plump lobster ravioli covered in a blush cream sauce and sprinkled with baby shrimp. It was this seafood lover’s dream! Couple that meal with a glass of their house Reisling and I was smitten.

If you’re looking for an upscale Italian dining experience while you’re in town, San Marco’s is worth the visit. Grazie!

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