Nowadays many of the best restaurants in the country are located inside hotels. A welcoming of food the likes of “Cut” – Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant inside the Beverly Wilshire hotel, “The Palm Court” at the Plaza Hotel NYC, “Café Boulud” in the Four Seasons Toronto or “Penrose Room” at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. (PS. They also have the best brunch in the country).
These larger than life upscale hotel restaurants are nothing new to big cities. However, Buffalo has never been home to one of these types of places (EB Green’s is really the only one) … until recently. It’s my hope that Patina 250 is the first of many to come to the Buffalo Area. The next will be SEAR, coming Mid November inside the Avant. And I hear rumors that Morton’s The Steakhouse is coming to downtown Buffalo – stay tuned for more news on that one shortly.
When the team at Patina 250 reached out to offer a private tasting of what their menu had to offer, I naturally invited three companions to join me on this tasting adventure. When they heard that Patina was outfitted with a wood-fired grill, they immediately accepted the offer.
As you walk in the door of Patina, you’re transformed into a world of contemporary elegance, high ceilings, well-lit open space. It reminded me of placed that I had been in New York, Chicago and Vegas. The entire complex is owned by Buffalo based company Delaware North – their new corporate headquarters resides upstairs. It’s obvious that no detail was overlooked when it came to the restaurant, hotel lobby and coffee shop. Surprisingly, much of the interior is adorned with local artwork that was very eye catching. We can thank David Shea of Shea Design for the local artistic flare.
Local artists also contributed their work, including Fotini Galanes’ evocative charcoal illustration murals adorning the walls and Peter Stephens’ “Big Bang” painting and sculptural wall installation, which adds color. And using reproductions of plaster moldings, artist Sarah Fonzi created the installation on the soffit facing Delaware Avenue.
Not to be outdone by the stunning interior design, the kitchen is putting out some of the best food in Buffalo. If Chef Homer Ford was a boxer, his style and technique would easily get him a shot at the title. His small plates menu would be his jab, and his entrees would be the knockout punch. If you’re wondering about his history, Chef Ford isn’t a new kid in the ring. He has been honing his skills for years at some of the finest restaurants in NYC – most recently as Executive Chef of Isabella’s. Now he has brought that expertise back home to Buffalo, where he is presenting stunning interpretations of dishes that might at first appear to be familiar, but are nothing of the sort.
Below are just a few of the extremely well presented and expertly crafted dishes, off the initial offering menu.
Crispy Cauliflower ($8) – According to chef Ford, this is the dish that won him the job when he was interviewing to be the Executive Chef for Patina. With the first bite, you can see why this is a winner. Every hole-in-the-wall bar to top tier restaurant does wings in Buffalo. This is Chef Ford’s take on the iconic Buffalo classic. The extra crispy double battered tempura fried cauliflower is gluten free. It has a little hint of smoked chipotle and is dusted with a blue cheese snow. Frozen blue cheese is then micro-planed on top of the cauliflower to give it the look. Paying homage to the city he loves. What’s more recognizable to Buffalo than wings and snow?
Speaking of wings ($10), his take is the opposite of traditional here in the Queen City. An expertly smoked wing, that is then fried until perfectly crisp, rests above the Carolina gold BBQ sauce that glazes the bottom of the bowl. It allows the recipient the desired option of sauce coating; something we’re not accustomed to in Buffalo, but such a nice touch. After testing multiple batches of sauce, the kitchen finally settled on this one, and it really had such a depth of flavor that actually seemed to enhance the smoky meat, resulting in seriously addicting wings. These are a must order upon each visit!
Keeping with this local slant on traditional Buffalo foods, next was Chef Ford’s take on the pierogi. Being the Dingus Day Capital of the United States it’s hard to deny the local extensive Polish heritage. This starter came with two pan fried potato and leek filled pillows, placed over a crème fraîche sour cream mixture and homemade sauerkraut. The entire dish finally gets topped with crispy onions. It was nice to see a deviation from the norm, yet not a total reinterpretation, just enough for this dish to have a wow factor, yet retain such a reminiscent taste of “home”.
The Poke bowl ($16) is simply refreshing. Sushi grade tuna cubes, pineapple pieces, jalapeño shavings, and a dusting of sesame seeds all come together in this bright dish, coated in a tamari based sauce. It is a wonderful option for the table, as it is somewhat unexpected on a menu such as this, but from what we’ve heard has become one of their top sellers already. This is something you could easily eat again and again.
The bridge between the starters and main course would be the 250 burger ($16). Green tomato jam, Cabot clothbound cheddar, crispy onions, bibb lettuce, and the house 250 sauce. Cooked to a juice dripping medium rare, extremely moist and flavorful. The green tomato jam is something to be reckoned with on the burger. Adding a sweet component I wasn’t sure I was going to like, but the unusual burger topping enchanted me. Served with hand cut steak fries which were again cooked with the exact precision as one would want for a fry. For me, fries are merely a vessel to scoop the dipping sauce into my mouth. Therefore, in this instance, my biggest complaint being that there was no house made ketchup completing the offerings on the plate, though this was something Chef Homer ensured me they are working on.
By far the most visually appealing and awe inspiring of all the dishes served was the Brook Trout ($24). I mean look at it, this is the epitome of food art! The micro greens and edible floral arrangement (which hail from The Chefs Garden – about an hour west of Cleveland, Ohio) – most notably the mini cucumber blossom – make you want to step back and say that this should be on exhibit over at the Albright Knox. It’s almost too pretty to eat… almost! Grilled over the wood burning fire with skin on, this dish was a showstopper, absolutely exquisite. The charred skin on the trout added a saltiness (fitting for a fish which is commonly called Salters) along with a depth of flavor that took this dish over the edge. If you’re a seafood fan and not afraid of a little skin, then give this dish a try. This was a unanimous hit with all of our tasters.
Many places around town are featuring a pork chop on their menu these days, and not your mother’s “Shake & Bake” breaded and fried pork chop. The Double Cut Pork Chop ($28) glistens as it is presented, shrouded in grill marks as it’s cooked over the wood fire. The dish has an obvious subtle smokiness to it, but more importantly it was the restraint in which the meat was cooked. So often in restaurants, pork is overly cooked resulting in the white flesh that we’ve become all too familiar with as “normal”. This chop is a perfect example of “when to be taken off the heat”, ensuring that a hint of pink flesh remains. The pork chop then finds a home resting comfortably in Cortland apple sauce – a great pairing to add that lighter savory flavor. Another knockout punch from Chef Ford.
Lastly, the dessert accompaniment which Pastry chef Carissa Weber makes from scratch. I am not a huge dessert person but these desserts were insanely good. We enjoyed the cheesecake, topped with a divine macerated black cherry sauce. The Blackout 65, which was seven layers of devil’s food cake, chocolate custard and whipped cream would satisfy even the most insatiable chocoholic. And there was the banana cream pie, this is the dessert dreams (and cravings!) are made of. The creamy custard sitting atop a gingersnap crust, is one, if not the best banana cream pie I have ever had!
Patina’s drink menu is also great. The nice thing about Patina 250 is that you can go have a really good meal at an upscale dining establishment, and you won’t break the bank. No drink in the bar is over $11. I was at a place iin Buffalo last week Buffalo and I paid $16 for a cocktail. Yes $16 DOLLARS in Buffalo, NY. I mean come on! I get that everyone needs to make a living but that is crazy. I feel 10-12 in Buffalo should be the max.
Since Patina 250 caters to the guests of the new Westin Hotel, it is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has 81 dining room seats, 131 if you count bar and lounge. But good luck getting a table, this place has been sold numerous nights since it opened – especially towards the weekend.
Patina 250 and Chef Ford have created Buffalo’s best new restaurant and bar. One of which all future challengers will be measured by for many years to come.