Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tempo - Buffalo Fine Dining at Its Best

With four children, we're on a strict budget in our household. That doesn't stop us from checking out some of the best dining Western New York has to offer, but it does mean that we don't do "fine dining" frequently. To be clear, while the food at many restaurants meets the "fine dining" level, when I think "fine dining", I'm thinking white table cloths and service that's efficient, attentive and professional. The wine lists are comprehensive and well-made. The menus are well constructed, appetizing and often pricier than most. It's a top-notch culinary experience and for the most part, you get what you pay for.

There are several restaurants that I would put into that category in Western New York and they offer some of the best culinary experiences in the area. We traveled to one of those places just this past weekend - Tempo Restaurant.

I've been to Tempo a few times before and each time was a memorable experience. This past weekend was no different. Tempo offers "contemporary cuisine" with a distinctly Italian theme. We arrived early and were able to enjoy a drink at the small, but well-stocked bar. Sipping on Blanton's Original Single Barrel Bourbon was a great way to start the evening and to spend the time while we waited for our family to arrive. Once everyone had arrived and had a chance to enjoy a libation, we were seated right on time.

It took a while to reach decisions on both wine and our meals. The wine list is quite lengthy with many selections by the glass and/or bottle from winemaking regions around the world. Other than a few Herman J. Wiemer rieslings, there were no local wine selections. That's a problem that should be remedied, but it's a discussion for another time. Nonetheless, we were able to select a great bottle of red wine, which I'll get to shortly.

For our dining options, we could choose from the winter menu featuring appetizers, salads, Primi and Secondi. The specials list for the evening was broken down into three categories with some overlap - Antipasti, Secondi and Bistecca. Ultimately, my mother chose the Mussels con Finocchio ($16) for the table to share, to be followed by the Insalata Mista ($9.50) and the Osso Bucco con Gnocchi ($54). My sister, Beth, selected an antipasto from the specials - Seared Scallops and Pork Belly ($16) to be followed by the Osso Bucco. Brooke selected another antipasto from the specials list - Bacon Wrapped Rabbit Saddle ($14) and followed that up with Venison Stuffed Quail ($36). My wife also selected the Scallops and followed that up with a Secondo from the specials list - Pan Seared Halibut ($38). My father started with the Insalata Mista and followed it with a selection from the menu - Prosciutto Wrapped Filet Mignon ($54). I started with the Rabbit Saddle and then went with the Quail - exactly like Brooke.

After we placed our order, we selected this red from Sicilia made from an indigenous varietals:

2007 Cerasuolo Di Vittoria Classico from Cantina Valle dell'Acate (Bidini, Sicilia).

Cerasuolo Di Vittoria Classico is a blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato. This wine was full bodied and well structured. It featured deep, dark fruit like blackberries, prunes and dates. It was a delicious accompaniment to the Quail which I'll tell you about shortly.

As we waited, we were provided with a small plate to share full of olives, salumi and house-made Caponata, which is an eggplant relish typically made in Sicilia, especially for the feast of St. Joseph on March 19. Here's that plate:

These antipasti were the perfect small bites to accompany our wine and fresh bread that was served. The caponata went very well with the focaccia I chose with oregano and caramelized onions.

Here is the scallop appetizer my sister and wife had:

The scallops were seared perfectly and not overcooked. The pork belly was unctuous but not over powering. In fact, a little more pork fat wouldn't have hurt. However, it was delicious when paired with the cauliflower puree and hot pepper jam.

This what the rabbit saddle looked like:

It was plated beautifully and served with an herb salad and foie gras polenta. The light vinaigrette which featured orange zest went perfectly with the herb salad. The tang from the vinaigrette also paired nicely with the bacon wrapped saddle which was cooked perfectly. The foie gras polenta was rich and the prefect base for the dish, although it could have been warmer. The dish was a perfect start to a great meal.

Unfortunately, I didn't get pictures of the salads or mussels. Both were overwhelming hits and were incredibly flavorful. The mussels were tasty and not even slightly over cooked. Delicious.

All of this food was brought to us at the perfect pace. There were no excessive waits and the staff was very attentive. It reminded me that when you pay the price for fine dining, you should not only be getting top-notch food, but top-notch service as well. Tempo delivered in both departments. While the staff was attentive, we were also left alone to enjoy conversation and the meal at the appropriate times. The crumbing of the table and refilling of water glasses were done at just the right times and the servers never got in the way of a great evening. The service is worth the extra price.

Then, the entrees started arriving. Here's my father's filet mignon:

It was cooked just as he wanted and set off by fried gnocchi. For his taste, he opted to not have the gorgonzola, but did get the braised greens. The entire dish was a success.

This is what the Osso Bucco looked like:

It was cooked well and fell right off the bone. While the meat was rich, the gremolata on top cut through it. The gnocchi in the tomato broth were light and flavorful. They were the perfect vehicle for the rich braising liquid. Another successful dish.

This was my wife's halibut:

It was, not surprisingly at this point, cooked spot on. The fish was moist and flaky and went well with the roasted fingerling potatoes and olive oil marinaded artichokes. The small salad of arugula and shaved fennel on top went perfectly with the fish and vegetables. This was my second choice, but could have easily been my first.

This was my quail:

The quail was moist and tender and had plenty of smokey bacon flavor. The venison sausage stuffing was aromatic, but didn't have the rich gaminess of venison that I was expecting. It was delicious nonetheless and the wild mushroom risotto underneath was worth the price of admission. It was rich, cooked to a perfect al dente and was brimming with wonderful mushroom flavor. This was a wonderful dish.

With all that, you'd think there was no way we had room for dessert - but we made room. There were a plethora of choices, but we were able to narrow it down to the Sour Cream Chocolate Cake ($10), Tiramisu ($9.50), Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée ($9.50) and Torta Gianduja ($9.50). While my father opted for gelato, I did not get a picture of it.

This was the Sour Cream Chocolate Cake:

It was huge, moist and delicious. It was very rich, but perfect for chocolate lovers.

And the Tiramisu:

Another successful dessert and quite traditional. The ladyfingers were soaked with the proper saturation so as to be moist but still hold their consistency. 

Here was the Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée:

It was just what Brooke had been waiting for. It was rich, creamy and full of vanilla bean.

And, at long last, here was my Torta Gianduja:

I've long enjoyed Gianduja, which can be a sweet soft spread made in Italy made of chocolate and hazelnuts. It's similar to Nutella. The term can also refer to chocolate made with nut paste, most frequently hazelnut. In this torta, it was delicious. It was light, rich and had dark chocolate on top. The hazelnut crust was crunchy, butter and rich. It was the perfect way to end a wonderful meal.

What a meal we had! It was delicious and filling. I probably ate way too much, but when you only go to a place like Tempo every now and again, you have to experience it all. While it certainly wasn't cheap and the quality of the food was on par with many of the casual restaurants we frequent with great food, it was a memorable experience. The service made the meal special and was well worth it. We'll be back again for another special meal.

What's your favorite fine dining restaurant in Buffalo?


© The Nittany Epicurean, 2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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  1. Tempo usually has Arrowhead Spring Vineyards.... They had the reserve Chardonnay last time I was there.

    1. I didn't see it on the wine list, but I did not ask for wines off the list.

  2. Michael you are making me hungry! That meal looks beautiful and sounds like you all enjoyed your selections. Put it on your list for a cousins dinner next time we're in town. These days my fave in Buffalo is San Marcos,but BB and I are willing to expand on that if NE has some good recs.
    Nice post!

    1. Thanks, Jill! Tempo is worth the stop next time you're in town. There are a few others as well. Let's talk.