Pescara in Rochester, MN

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Here’s a question for you: What the devil is a great oyster doing hanging around in Rochester, Minnesota? There’s not a clear and easy answer to that question. The query itself is posed by the relatively new Pescara, a fine-dining seafood restaurant operating in a Doubletree hotel within ironic spitting distance of a Red Lobster.

As a point of context: I was an East Coast oysterhound for six-plus years, eating oysters of all shapes, sizes, and varieties from Maine to D.C. and all points in between. The specimens served at Pescara (the specific variety now escapes me, but they hailed from the West Coast) were tangy, briny, sweet, and, overall, thoroughly lovely — soundly thumping the adequate but uninspired oysters I’ve eaten at Stella’s, Barbette, and Oceanaire, and standing up to the oysters served at respectable joints like the Old Ebbitt Grill in D.C. and B&G Oysters in Boston’s Back Bay. That this feat was accomplished in Rochester, MN is both a dark tribute to the petro-guzzling modern industrial food complex, and a miracle worth celebrating. Perhaps they’re flown in along with the transplant organs used over at the Mayo Clinic? No matter. At $2.50 a pop, they were cheap for the taste.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Dinner at Pescara isn’t for the faint of wallet, but if a seafood meal of this quality were available at a steal, something would, in fact, be seriously amiss. From the night’s first taste — an austere-looking and seductive-tasting Obovoid Empirical Russian Stout served in a chilled glass — to the last, Pescara had a button-down sense of quality that was downright cosmopolitan.

Much of this was a reflection of the restaurant’s staff, which was responsive, attentive, thoughtful, and emotionally present from check-in to farewell. Here’s an anecdote: It’s the end of the meal — time for a chocolate souffle. The waiter asks if I’d like coffee. “No, I’ve got this,” I say, gesturing toward my second Obovoid. This could be interpreted as meaning: “I don’t need coffee, I’m going to have beer with dessert.” That would be just fine, but I was driving at the fact that the coffee notes in the beer would be a find stand-in for coffee itself. The waiter says, “Ah! The coffee flavor in the beer! Excellent,” before strolling off to bring dessert. Having someone who knows the menu’s flavors and is paying attention — as our waiter was, throughout the meal — is a real pleasure.

The restaurant’s menu is also pleasing, driven as it is by a pencil-marked checkbox system that indicates which of the 15 or so regularly carried fresh fish are in stock on a given night. The seafood emphasis is rigorous and committed, the only way to make this particular style of eating work so far from the world’s oceans. Sustainable fish isn’t a primary emphasis of Pescara, and it was easy to dismiss as an empty platitude the waiter’s claim that the restaurant serves sustainable items whenever possible. But when the menu’s offerings were checked against Seafood Watch, the majority came back as Good or Best choices.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

And the flavor was there. Scallops ($25) came five to a serving. They were delicate and buttery, prepared beautifully (almost raw on the interior with a seared brown exterior), served with a fond blanc pan sauce and minced onions.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A mellow sauteed Costa Rican Mahi Mahi ($22) was moist and married perfectly with a lemon buerre blanc, neither losing its flavor to the sauce nor overpowering it. All of Pescara’s fresh fish options come with a diner’s choice of cooking styles (grilled, sauteed, broiled, seared) and eight different sauces; you can captain your own ship, or rely on the waitstaff for a sound recommendation.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A Green Apple and Amablu Cheese salad ($8) also merits mention. It had a cinnamon-kissed depth of spice that was both surprising and wonderfully matched with the dried cherries and toasted walnuts that were tossed amid the greens and a buttermilk herb dressing. This was a Finish-Every-Bit-of-Food-on-the-Plate salad, a rare and wonderful beast, and a sign that Pescara is dotting its I’s and crossing its T’s.

Finally, a chocolate souffle with berries and cream ($5) tasted suspiciously like a warm-from-the-oven fudgey brownie, which is both declasse and freakin’ fantastic. Through some trick of the cream sauce, the blueberries and raspberries actually married well with the chocolate — berries and chocolate are often at loggerheads, but not in this case.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Perhaps you don’t get down to Rochester often, and perhaps you don’t typically order seafood. Pescara offers an effective — heck, urgent — reason to change your ways.

BEST BET: Oysters. Not clear what deal with the devil was signed to get these things to Rochester in such good shape, but order them.

Pescara
Rating: ★★★½ (excellent)
Seafood in Rochester, MN

150 S Broadway Ave
Rochester, MN 55904
507.280.6900
OWNER / CHEF: Pat Woodring / Scott Foster with Dan Calloway, Erik Paulson, Anthony Pester
HOURS:
Mon-Thu 6:30-10am 11am-3pm 5-10pm
Fri 6:30-10am 11am-3pm 5-11pm
Sat 7-11am 11am-3pm 5-11pm
Sun 10am-2pm (brunch) 5-10pm
BAR: Full
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Yes for Weekends
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE:
$20-35

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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6 Comments

  1. Beware Rochester Dining…

    My sister and her husband live in Rochester, and they say that what I’m about to describe is a common occurrence. We ate at Pescara (with my sister and husband) several months ago on a Saturday night, and found it to be amazing. Perfect service, excellent timing, knowledgeable wait staff, delicious food, etc.

    About a month later, they went back on a weeknight, and had a much different experience. Poor service, messed up orders; not nearly the same attention to detail.

    They think this is due to the Rochester dining scene: Basically, during the week, restaurants have a captive audience in people visiting Rochester for the Mayo clinic. The restaurants do not need to excel in any respect to make money off these folks. During the weekends, they turn up the attention to detail and quality for the locals.

    Anyway, go to Pescara on a weekend!

  2. Author

    Mike,

    Really valuable observation. I’ll return on a weeknight sometime in the next couple of months and amend the review if the experience varies. Thanks for the insight.

    James Norton

  3. Jessica 04/19/2010 Reply

    My husband and I have eaten twice at Pescara and have had great experiences both times. I am absolutely in love with their wild mushroom risotto. The fish has been very nice and fresh. Not sure if we ever went on a weekday, but will take note.

  4. I went to pescara tuesday night after reading the notes above a bit leary, but the service was great and the food a real treat, prices are in line with the city but the subtle flavors and serving size compensates for that nicely, our server was exceptional, with an understanding of the menu and flavors to expect and would have been as good with our wine options as well, i will be going again as i too live in the rochester area and am happy to find this level of quality so close, take a ride down

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