Much like Paris, brunch is always a good idea. So are exclusive food tastings with celebrity chefs. So naturally, when I was invited to preview the brunch menu at Fabio Viviani’s newest restaurant, Portico, I accepted faster than you can say, “another mimosa, please.”
Portico, opened in February 2017, is located at the Del Lago Resort and Casino, about an hour’s drive from downtown Rochester, NY. A brand new luxury hotel and spa are expected to open shortly, making it inevitable the Portico would jump on the brunch scene (and giving me serious #vacationgoals).
Open to just a dozen or so publications; I made the guest list thanks to my work with Rochester A-list, a collaboration that has been one of the best parts of relocating back to my hometown.
Portico by Fabio Viviani
1133 State Route 414, Waterloo, NY 13165
And what a night it was. If it seems odd to sample brunch dishes at 7 in the evening, let me assure you that between the gorgeous, delicious food, the sumptuous surroundings, and the cold rosé, I lost all track of what time (or day) it was. It was the kind of meal that transports you away from mundane things like clocks and calendars.
Each dish was served family style, and it made the experience so much fun. The first dish we sampled turned out to be my favorite – Lox Cured Salmon served with sliced tomatoes, pickled onions, imported capers from an island just off the Italian coast, and orange cream cheese, served atop toasted, house-made polenta bread.
Are you drooling a little?
I’m going to make a startling confession here: I don’t care for salmon. This salmon, however, changed the game for me, and I daydream about going back for more. Cured in limoncello for 72 hours, it melted in my mouth. The orange cream cheese didn’t have a pronounced orange flavor; rather, it was light and sweet, the perfect accompaniment to the savory elements. It was all carried off nicely by the polenta bread, which was deliciously chewy without being heavy – hearty enough to stand on its own beside its formidable toppings, but still soft and pillowy.
Next came Shredded Beef Short Ribs braised in red wine and served over a potato, parsnip, and red bell pepper hash with a perfectly poached egg sitting on top like a crown. If you’re thinking, “Parsnips? Really?” Let me assure, you: parsnips. YES. They added texture, plus that distinctive peppery bite that makes them great – and made them perfect for this dish. No fancy sauces here; the egg yolk filled that role, and filled it flawlessly.
Crab Cakes Benedict followed, a classic brunch staple, executed beautifully, thanks to crab cakes made almost entirely of crab, and just barely held together with a dash of breadcrumbs and spices and a whisper of egg white. Sweet and succulent, complemented by a spicy chipotle hollandaise and more of that beautiful polenta bread. Creamy poached eggs made another welcome appearance.
It seems like every brunch restaurant is executing their own take on Chicken And Waffles, and Portico is no exception – and we are all the better for it. What could be a heavy meal was instead, perfection. No grease here, just crispy, juicy, spicy boneless chicken over impossibly light waffles, topped with freshly whipped butter and local maple syrup. This is chicken and waffles as they are meant to be enjoyed, and I loved every bite.
Last, but most certainly not least, was a Cinnamon And Nutella Sticky Bun. Chef Viviani introduced each dish as it was served, and when he came to the sticky buns simply said, “You’re welcome.” Indeed, these are a gift to foodies and sweet-toothed diners everywhere. They start with house made brioche dough, candied walnuts, and a luxurious amount of the chef’s own favorite guilty pleasure, sweet, chocolatey Nutella. While a tad heavy for my taste (I’m a savory girl) my dining companions couldn’t get enough and even I had to agree, those few sweet bites were the perfect end to a fabulous meal.
Try the new menu for yourself when it debuts this summer. It’s a meal worth waiting for.