This remarkable year of Buffalo restaurant openings continued last week with the maiden voyage of Marble + Rye, another newly-minted downtown place with an abundance of exposed brick and culinary ambition.
It’s from Michael Dimmer and Christian Willmott, the owners of Black Market Food Truck. I arrived at the 75-seat room at 112 Genesee St. on the second day of service. The front of the restaurant was hemmed in with construction equipment and traffic cones, which are gone now. I hoped it was a grand opening touch to make the street cooks feel at home, but it was only construction next door.
By the time the roast chicken with mushrooms and potatoes arrived, it was clear that Buffalo diners' to-do lists are going to get longer. When a restaurant can translate boring old onion rings, roast chicken and ice cream sandwiches into its own tongue, you want to find out what else it has to say.
Like many of the chef-driven New Wave Buffalo restaurants, the menu is brief to the point of reticence. Nine small plates, including toast and cheese boards. Four large plates (roast chicken, T-bone steak, trout, carbonara pasta). Four burgers, and four desserts.
Its drinks menu yielded a Vodka Soda featuring house-made watermelon soda, colorful and fragrant with mint and not too sweet ($8). The Bourbon & Tea ($8) boasted a house-made syrup that started with roasted peaches. The flavor didn’t say “peaches” but rounded out the bourbon’s edges with a hint of fruit.
Pinzimoni ($8) is Italian for crudité, a plate of raw and pickled vegetables. A pickled okra pod and garlic scapes offered tartness, but the other vegetables (green and wax beans, radishes, beets, fennel) were bare naked, straight up, just cut. Or not; the beans still had stems, lending to its farmstand-fresh feel rather than seeming declasse.
Chefly intervention came in the Green Goddess tonnato dip, a hybrid of two classic dressings with creamy richness. The garlic and tuna funk provided just enough louche undertones to make eating my vegetables feel rebellious, which I appreciate.
Other vegetable preparations left me pondering. English peas ($7) dusted with pecorino were fresh, but I’m not used to peas that are firm to the point of chewy.
Broccoletti was a bitter broccoli relative further sharpened with char from the grill, topped with lardo strips and flakes of extra-sharp cheddar. The bitter-char-sharp resonated to leave the overall taste unpleasantly jabby. Still, I applaud the appearance of vegetables that stretch the norms, taken seriously and not just chucked in the steamer basket and dunked in butter.
Case in point: the Marble + Rye bar snack described as Really Hot Cucumbers.
Cucumbers are cool, right? These are provided gratis, with a warning right in the name, straightforwardly offering to start fires the bar can put out. This is what they taste like: "Ow. Just one more. Ow. Just one." Its flavorful heat punches you in the mouth, turns to run, and you chase it, as it flowers and fades, marveling at a carefully metered dose of chile ordnance.
The house salad ($8) was a buttery-crusted wedge of cheese and onion tart camouflaged with a few greens that were impeccably fresh but so outweighed by the tart that I wondered why it was billed as a salad. That's just a marketing quibble, though - it was delicious.
Pickled onion rings ($5, pictured as the featured image) were a surprising lift to a familiar dish. The tangy rings in an impeccably fried coating made me wonder why I’d never had this dish before. A delicious invention, and I nominate its creator for knighthood.
The burger ($13), described as short rib, chuck and brisket with a shot of bone marrow, was terrifically moist and bloody in a good way. Its housemade sesame-freckled bun was an outstanding vehicle for the hand-held beef.
The sauce brought me up short. It seemed strongly anchovy-flavored – and I am an anchovy fan – covering instead of amplifying the burger's pleasures. I learned later it was nori aioli, with roasted seaweed and garlic. Next time I’m having this burger – and its core excellence demands a next time – I’ll happily get a different version, one topped with aged cheddar, or pate.
I have immensely enjoyed Ed Forster’s roast chicken at Buffalo Proper, but it might be time for a roast chicken duel, because Marble + Rye’s roast chicken ($24/$45) was a show-stopper. Crispy well-seasoned skin, moist flesh to the bone and lots of it, and an able supporting cast. In this case, meaty oyster mushrooms that picked up vinegar from the pan deglazing and potatoes cooked in pork fat. I would order those mushrooms and potatoes by themselves, if offered the chance.
For dessert, a macaron ice cream sandwich with spiced strawberry jam and toasted marshmallow ice cream ($8) was delicious, full stop. The ice cream alone, the ghost of s'mores, was worth the trip by itself. I ate it off the plate with silverware after chewy macarons meant the fillings squished out at first bite.
Sponge candy ($6) was chewier than Ko-Ed's, but the flavor was on, and it was dusted in cocoa and cardamom, a note of minor genius. Points for ambition, and a demerit for not quite achieving classic snap-and-dissolve texture. Humidity is the enemy of first-class sponge candy, which is why some places suspend production for the summer. Which is why I want to try it again in the fall.
Whiskey apple pie ($8), topped with whipped goat cheese, was stuffed with fresh fruit under gingery crumbs, and made me want to offer coffee. It was not the first time I observed that Marble + Rye got me to at least consider jumping my rut and trying something new.
If these folks cook this way right out of the chute, I am intrigued what a season’s polishing might bring.
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