The latest high-end dining venue in Rochester is in a low place.
Marrow, an intimate 24-seat basement restaurant, opened late last year in the historic Union National Bank downtown. The 152-year-old building below the Grand Rounds restaurant and Brewery has the genuine atmosphere (and low head clearance) that only an old structure can offer.
Somehow enough space was carved out among areas used to store kegs and restaurant equipment to create a cozy, atmospheric dining spot.
Soft lighting, limestone and brick walls, dark tones, and wood create a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
However, no matter where in a building a restaurant is located, the foundation is always in its food. Marrow’s rotating menu, food preparation, and presentation are as solid as the restaurant’s limestone walls.
The enterprise is a husband-wife partnership by Jeff and Sarah Schwenker. Jeff, a longtime chef at Grand Rounds, now has his own space for Marrow. Diners are led past the kitchen to wind their way down the stairs and through part of the basement to the dining room.
Reservations are appreciated and, on most nights, needed to secure a spot at one of the two- or four-seat tables.
Each dish features a combination of European-style prepared ingredients. Presented colorfully and artistically, each bite is best built with portions of each ingredient to experience how the flavors and textures interact. Part of the fun is finding the best ratio of all ingredients for the perfect bite.
Dustin Thompson collaborated with Jeff for the menu March 4-6, when this reporter visited Marrow.
Sampled from that menu:
The carrots were beautifully charred, but still firm and sweet. A tangy yogurt cheese and limes paired well with the carrots. The quinoa added a nutty flavor and likely was there to contribute to texture. However, the grain was a bit gritty and tended to stick in your teeth rather than give a satisfying crunch.
Chicken liver terrine
A perfect example of how the chefs at Marrow combine ingredients well. The liver terrine by itself is earthy, savory, and has a hint of iron typical of liver. However, the liver flavor is tempered by a sweet winter squash and a slightly spicy biscuit. The puree had a nice hint of mustard that also went well with the liver. A sprinkle of crushed pretzels was an effective addition of texture to the dish.
Steak for two
Of course this was going to be good. No chef would misuse a top sirloin cap. Turnips, held by an ordinary onion ring, added a crunch and fresh flavor to the excellently prepared cut of meat.
The char on the octopus was delicious. Cooking octopus can be tricky. The octopus was prepared to a perfectly soft and even texture. It was accompanied with charred oranges and soft pasta. Thin-sliced radishes and jalapeño added a perfect, subtle earthiness to the dish.
Celery root schnitzel
The tangy celery root with savory German dumplings itself was a good combination. In addition, the dish also featured roasted apples with shredded gruyere cheese to create robust, diverse flavors with every bite.
More liver? Mom would be proud. A creamy foie gras in a crust is topped with pear balls, almonds, and ginger. Listed as a dessert, the savory dish would be at home on a brunch menu. Pears were coated with a dust that included dried pear skin to give you the flavor of a fresh pear without the interruption of pear skin texture. The almonds act as a flavor ambassador between the sweet fruit and savory foie paste.
With a pancake-like consistency, the donut balls are moist and dense, and injected with a foie-tells (foie gras and hazelnut spread). Served on top of warm hazelnuts, it was a hygge end to a warm, winter dining experience.