Mussels are muscling in on summer menus.
Even restaurants that don’t necessarily lead with seafood are finding that mussels are a high-gloss menu item, they’re relatively inexpensive and simple to prepare, they’re easier to source than they used to be, and customers like them, especially on a patio in summer.
Mussels are coming out of their shell, in other words, so it’s time to give some attention to the Four Stars of Mussels in the Rochester area.
I tend to like just about anything that comes in a shell, from abalone to zebra mussels — well, maybe not the zebra variety, but just about any other variety of mussels. At City Cafe in Rochester, they’re Puget Sound mussels, rope-grown in traditional fashion, and they’re about as big and meaty as you’ll find, with not a grain of grit. They’re served in a large bowl, about a dozen of them, in a garlicky chablis broth that’s also green with pesto.
Torpedoed in the middle of the dish is a half-baguette of hot, fresh bread, which reminds me: A key part of any presentation of mussels is the bread. You won’t want to miss a drop of the shellfish-flavored wine broth, and no ordinary bread will do. At City Cafe, their outstanding sourdough baguette will always remind me of Broadstreet Cafe, now 300 First. They’re both owned by Creative Cuisine Co., and the bread’s available at their Redwood Room as well.
One of the most surprising mussel masterpieces is at Grand Rounds Brewing Co., the new brewpub that’s carrying on some of Sontes’ tradition of innovative cookery at the corner of Historic Third and South Broadway. They offer a bowl of steamed, petite mussels in a garlic wine broth brightened with ginger, lemon, crushed red pepper and cilantro, and amid the mussels are crumbles of chorizo.
The night I was there, there wasn’t one failure among all the mussels, and there were a lot of them. They were organized on thin slices of bread, with more bread on the side. It’s a great deal for 10 bucks.
Across the street at Terza Ristorante, the new Italian restaurant from the people who own Chester’s and Pescara, the mussels are from Prince Edward Island in the Canadian maritime provinces, and the broth hints at the sea. They call the dish Cozze alla Napoletana ($14 on the antipasti menu), and the mussels were perfect — flavorful and firm but not tough. They’re served with crostinis, a few of which are waiting for you in the bottom of the bowl.
Among my favorite dishes at Terza is the polenta, and it’s a perfect match for mussels.
Nosh, the first-rate restaurant and bar overlooking the marina in Lake City, has the most spectacular presentation: The mussels are dished up in a flying saucer-like apparatus, a covered and hinged metal bowl that provides a convenient place to pile up the shells. The wild Maine mussels are small but intensely flavorful, and they’re served in a white wine broth spiced up with chipotle. There’s some genuine heat in the broth, which makes the shellfish pop with flavor.
They’re served with crusty, house-made foccaccia, an imaginative variation on the standard French bread. Just about everything they do at Nosh is deliciously out of the ordinary. Last Sunday, for example, the mixed greens salad ($6.50) was filled with fresh, tart gooseberries and dressed with a gooseberry vinaigrette. For all the quality and imagination in cookery, Nosh also keeps the prices affordable.
To wrap up on mussels: I have to admit I was a sucker for the mussels at Olive Garden for many years. They were small but meaty, steamed to a coral color, tender and served in a white wine and garlic broth that could only be soaked up with about two baskets of bread sticks. But alas, that’s no longer on the menu.
216 First Ave. SW, Rochester
Price range: $$
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
GRAND ROUNDS BREWERY
4 Third St. SW, Rochester
Price range: $$
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday-Saturday, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
30 Third St. SE, Rochester
Price range: $$$
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
NOSH RESTAURANT & BAR
310 1/2 Washington St. S, Lake City
Price range: $$$
Hours: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday