Downtown Buffalo’s latest restaurant, Rowhouse, has been open just a week. And while it is still finding its legs in some respects (a thing to be expected of any new restaurant), it shows promise in others. Here are some observations from my initial visits.
Rowhouse’s first-floor café opens bright and early, and as of 7:30 a.m. last Tuesday when I showed up, only a few other customers proved wise to its morning charms. While the Tim Hortons a few doors down was bustling with harried commuters, Rowhouse’s gleaming, white-walled coffee and pastry bar was hushed and tranquil. My only wait was the time it took the barista to carefully froth the coconut milk for my matcha latte. I was so content there, I had half a mind to spend my day working off the free wi-fi and drinking through the selection of espresso drinks, pour-over, cold brew, smoothies, and juices. I would encourage you to check it out, but I sort of like the idea of having the space all to myself.
- Because woman cannot live on green tea powder alone, I also ordered a scone. To my surprise (I’m cynical by nature), it approached perfection. The square-cut pastry was pleasantly golden with patches of toothsome, crunchy russeting at the corners and where the scone’s surface peaked and cragged. In contrast, its interior was tender and flakey, which spoke to the baker’s practiced technique and delicate hand. It also tasted more of flour than sugar, as a good scone should. Eating my way through the cafe’s pastry case is now high on my to-do list.
- The strength of Rowhouse’s onsite bakery was also apparent at dinner. In this case, the proof was in the delicately sour crust of the white pizza, which the restaurant serves topped with a judicial amount of boursin cheese, silky fresh ricotta, pine nuts, arugula, and bright lemon zest. I only wish that less of the pie had blackened in the wood-fired oven. I am all for charring, but certain slices approached acridity, which obliterated the delicious but very subtle flavors the bakers had painstakingly developed in the dough. Pizzas at neighboring tables appeared to be more evenly browned, suggesting this isn’t a blanket problem.
- Despite its thermic vagaries, the wood-fired oven also produced components of the other highlight of my dinner: local roast half chicken with duck confit Brussel sprouts and potato puree so soft and decadent you just know the French (and copious amounts of butter) had something to do with it.
- The house made bread is not complimentary at Rowhouse, and given my new-found fondness for its baking program, I am kicking myself for not trying any. Don’t be like me; order the bread board for $6 and live a life free of regret.
- Not everything I tried was worth recommending. A run-of-the-mill beet salad with walnuts and goat cheese was underdressed and underwhelming. And the roasted root vegetables with honey and thyme were pallid when they ought to have been bronzed and caramelized. Still, it’s very early in the restaurant’s lifecycle, and tomorrow those problems may very well be corrected.
A final note: Rowhouse doesn’t seat tables unless your entire party is present. And while it isn’t immediately evident, there is a cocktail lounge through the door to the right of the hostess stand where you can wait for your guests over a surprisingly inexpensive glass of wine. (I mean, it’s a full bar, so get what you want.) If drinking isn’t your thing, you can browse the larder for gourmet provisions or grab a coffee at the café, which stays open into the evening. Aside from the stunning architectural detail and interior design, it’s this multi-format, something-for-everyone concept that makes Rowhouse worth exploring.