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Savory additions Martini bar expands into elegant dining

Wi-tini's is a small, freestanding restaurant. It opened first as a martini bar -- and it still has a busy bar scene with a thick, 40-plus martini menu -- but then it expanded, opening an adjacent dining space. That space is modestly furnished but attractive, with a good-looking wood floor and quirky light fixtures.

And, for what it's worth, a muted flat screen plays food TV on a prominent wall, giving rise to conversational gambits with the table next door. "Hey, what's that Rachael Ray just put in that pot? Was it -- or was it not -- rosemary?" (For the record, it was.)

The menu, at first glance, is standard upscale Western New York issue. You've got your fried calamari appetizer ($8.99), your crab cakes ($9.99) and your Caprese Salad (which hopefully will be removed once we are out of local tomato season).

Even the entrees do not stun: shrimp scampi ($13.99); pork tenderloin ($16.99); strip steak ($18.99). It all sounds very pleasant. But a little ho-hum, maybe? Been there, done that, if you get my meaning.

So look closer -- read the fine print. The crab cakes are housemade and served with curry aioli; the pork tenderloin has been marinated in Dijon mustard and rosemary. Someone back in the kitchen is actually thinking outside the box.

And -- back to the appetizer section -- we tried the lamb lollipops, husky rib chops marinated in spices and mint ($12.99) served with a side of exceptional tzatziki, the Mediterranean yogurt-based sauce with plenty of chopped cucumber.

We tried the scallops appetizer, too ($12.99): four big sea scallops, pan seared perhaps a heartbeat too long. Here's the good part: The mollusks rested on a bed of chopped curried tomatoes -- just the slightest bit teasingly hot. Addictive.

Moving right along, the Companion opted for chicken piccata ($13.99), a pan-fried breast with capers, parsley and lemon in a white wine sauce. It was perfectly acceptable but lacked excitement somehow. The piquant quality a piccata is supposed to have was missing, although the included artichokes were great. And the chicken itself, while tender and juicy, was cut too thick. More pounding, more flattening was necessary.

No criticism for one of the evening specials, though. Veal marsala ($31.99) was based on meltingly tender, thickly cut, bone-in chop, served in a wild mushroom-chocked wine sauce. Now, veal marsala became the quintessential restaurant cliche many years ago, but Wi-tini's shed new light. And, by the way, the mashed potato accompaniment was terrific.

Other entrees on the regular menu include Thai coconut curry stir fry over basmati rice ($11.99 with chicken, two bucks more with shrimp); a 10-ounce filet with truffle portabella mushrooms ($19.99) is also available.

Desserts are plentiful. They're made, we were told, by a professional pastry chef who comes in part time. And let me tell you, that Mexican cheesecake ($11.99 and big enough for four) was a real blowout. How to start? Cheesecake, rolled in tortillas and deep fried. It comes with: caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream and a strawberry garnish or two -- and I've probably forgotten at least two other ingredients. Housemade sorbets are offered, as well.

A note on beverages: We tried (out of a sense of duty, of course) the Mediterranean Martini ($6.75), which involved grapefruit juice, vodka and grenadine. We also sampled the Dragon's Fire Martini, made from Mandarin liqueur. Sweet but good.

Also, the wine list is extensive here. Note especially two premium Finger Lakes options available by the glass: Lamoreax Landing Reisling and Standing Stone Chardonnay served in tumblers rather than stemmed goblets. They're unusual wines in this part of the state (especially if you don't order by the bottle), but they shouldn't be.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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