Saturday, September 12, 2009

Chen Garden

A quote on the RocWiki page for Chen Garden sums up my thoughts about the Chinese restaurant: "Can't believe we have been driving by this place for years and never tried it." Somehow, I only recently found out how good the restaurant really is. Better late then never, though -- after dinner there last week, we'll definitely return.

On a Saturday night, Chen Garden was moderately crowded. We were led through the bar -- with its TV tuned to a college football game -- to the dimly lit dining room with leather booths, dark wood, and an upscale feel.

One of the first things I noticed about the menu -- besides the helpful color photos of many of the dishes -- was that Chen Garden is serious about drinks. And soup. Until our dinner there, I had never been to a restaurant that boasted 25 soup choices. And if you're in the mood for any sort of beverage, you're likely to find it, from beer and wine to appletinis and smoothies. There's also a page of Thai dishes. (Although if you're at a Chinese restaurant, why not stick to Chinese?)

The end of the menu features several selections for kids as well as desserts -- almond cookies and green tea ice cream. As a vegetarian, I was happy to see many veg options, and I picked a slightly spicy tofu dish along with scallion pancakes for an appetizer.

Service was fast and friendly, our food was excellent, and the price was nice, too -- about $30 for the two of us (with tax, before tip). That doesn't include drinks, though; we stuck with the always-welcome free hot tea.

TIP: They deliver!

NEARBY: If you can still manage dessert after enjoying the generous portions at Chen Garden, Abbott's is nearby.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The State Fair (Syracuse)

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Ah, the State Fair. Where else can you...

... witness a parade that includes a pink John Deere, a bunch of PT Cruisers, a band playing "Louie Louie," and a Cub Scout float?

... watch part of a horse show and then play a couple of games of skeeball?

... join a big group of people crowding around a counter to buy a plastic cup full of milk -- plain or chocolate -- for 25 cents?

... find so many men willing to either flatter or insult you by guessing your weight or height?

... eat things you never knew existed, such as maple cotton candy and deep-fried PB&J sandwiches?

... supposedly get a glimpse of a "monkey with a human face," "giant nuclear radiation beetle," or a horse "smaller than a bale of hay"?

... admire a sand sculpture, butter sculpture, and art created by a man with a chainsaw?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

High Falls/Brown's Race

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We all have our favorite spots to take friends and family who visit Rochester. For us, they've included the George Eastman House, the Susan B. Anthony House, the overlook at Cobb's Hill, and Wegmans, to name a few. The last two times friends have visited, we've driven them around downtown for our own "guided tours." The one place we've stopped the car and explored each time, winter and summer, is High Falls.

Besides checking out the 94-foot falls from the Pont de Rennes bridge, you can walk down Brown's Race to the Visitor Center, where you'll find a Rochester-themed gift shop, exhibits about Rochester history, and an art gallery. I like the "Power of the People" interactive exhibit, which tells you a bit about the lives of many prominent Rochester figures, like George Eastman, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Kate Gleason, and Sam Patch, who met his end at the falls on November 13, (Friday the 13th), 1829.

To learn more about the area, check out the Center at High Falls' website, which has an "online walking tour" with photos of each spot and historical details about the area in the 19th century, when it was home to several factories (churning out shoes, tools, buttons, and more) and mills. Unfortunately, when it comes to current information about the area, the website is at least a few years out of date, but you can read a bit about what's in the works for High Falls on

TIP: Check out the free laser/fireworks shows at High Falls. The next two take place tonight and Thursday, September 3.

NEARBY: Tribeca, Spin Caffe, New Unto Others

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (Seneca Falls)

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After driving past the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge countless times on my way to or from Syracuse over the years, I finally went through it on Sunday. Because of the rainy weather, Clem and I skipped the walking trails and stayed inside the car to explore Wildlife Drive, a three-mile route through the refuge, which is about 45 miles from Rochester.

Montezuma's website says that Wildlife Drive is "where you'll see the greatest variety of wildlife from ducks, geese, and herons to shorebirds, songbirds, bald eagles and other birds of prey! The Drive offers great birding and photography opportunities. You may also see turtles, muskrat, beaver, white-tailed deer and red fox."

Well, we didn't see much. Maybe it was the weather, which got worse as we drove; maybe it was the time of year; maybe it was bad luck; or maybe the animals were hiding behind bushes and laughing at us. Other than a few shorebirds (egrets?) at the entrance to the refuge, all we saw was a bunch of swallows (I think) that were swooping around too quickly for us to get a good look at them. We had better luck a few years ago in Delaware at Bombay Hook (which, incidentally, would be a good band name). I had brought my SLR -- film, not digital! -- and did have some fun taking closeups of flowers and a pretty snail shell.

When we finished the three miles, we drove to the Visitor Center, which has displays and a small gift shop. I think taxidermied animals are creepy, so I mostly passed those by, but the center also had an interesting map showing all the wildlife refuges in the U.S. as well as bird migration routes. If you push a button for a certain species, a series of small bulbs lights up to show the path that bird takes. (I am easily amused.) According to a sign in the center, visitors can borrow binoculars and field guides for the drive or trails.

Before we left, I flipped through a notebook in which refuge visitors had jotted down the birds they'd spotted. Recent entries mention blue herons, eagles, sandhill cranes, ospreys, and kingfishers, so maybe if we had picked a different day or time, or used binoculars, or had more patience, or something, we would have seen more. Montezuma doesn't charge a fee to get in, so someday we'll have to try again!

NEARBY: Women's Rights National Historical Park, National Women's Hall of Fame. Down the road is Montezuma Winery.

TIP: The Montezuma website points out which times of the year are the best for viewing wildlife.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Donating Blood

This Rochester experience is a bit different from others I've written about -- even though it does involve eating!

If I had to sum up my blood donation experience with one word, it would be "easy." It was easy to make the appointment online, easy to slightly change the scheduled time (online) when I needed to, and easy to prepare for and go through with the actual donation. It made me wonder why I had waited ten years (oops) since the last time I gave blood.

It's also easy to find out if you're among the 60 percent of Americans eligible to donate blood -- just check the Red Cross website. If you make an appointment, you'll be told how to prepare, too -- I made sure to drink more water than usual during the 24 hours leading up to my donation and didn't eat any high-fat foods that morning (because doing that can interfere with a certain test they may have to perform later on your blood donation).

I got to the Red Cross building on Prince Street a few minutes before my appointment on a recent Saturday morning, checked in, and showed my ID. A volunteer gave me a binder of information to read as well as a coupon for a free container of Friendly's ice cream (nice bonus), and then a staff person took me to a small room. She took my pulse, checked my blood pressure, and pricked my finger to get a bit of blood to check the iron level. Next, she left the room while I used her laptop to answer 50 questions about my health, which were very easy and didn't take long.

Then she directed me to a very comfy recliner-type chair in the donation area. She cleaned my arm, found a good vein, and put the needle in, which honestly only caused me a little pain. When I was "hooked up" to everything, I had to squeeze a little foam ball for five counts and then relax for five counts, and the Red Cross person stayed close by and made sure I was feeling OK. I had planned to use my phone to go online while I waited, but the counting kept my brain busy enough!

About ten or fifteen minutes later, I was done! I had to hold up my arm for a couple minutes to stop any bleeding, and then the staff person bandaged my arm with gauze and tape and sent me to the snack area. They had lots of sugary and salty snacks to choose from, and I picked the chocolate one, of course -- can't pass up Oreos. The very friendly volunteer got me a can of juice and made conversation with me and the other donor at the table. She showed me a little book of facts about giving blood -- that's where I learned the 60 percent figure. Unfortunately, just 5 percent of people donate each year.

The whole process took about an hour, and I hope to go back as soon as I'm eligible to donate again. (You're required to wait 56 days between whole-blood donations). How about you?

TIP: You can schedule an appointment online. If you donate before the end of this month, you'll get a carton of ice cream like I did, according to the website.

NEARBY: The Memorial Art Gallery, George Eastman House, and more.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ukrainian Festival

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Varenyky! That was my main thought any time the Ukrainian Festival came to mind this summer. Potato- and cheese-filled dumplings covered with melted butter and, for 25 cents extra, sauteed onions. Yes, please!

Within a couple minutes of arriving at the festival on Sunday, we were already ordering dinner. I went for the varenyky (of course), and Clem chose the combination plate (varenyky, holubets, kovbasa, kapusta, sauteed onions, and rye bread). We ate our delicious dinner while watching the end of one of the dance performances.

Afterward, we grabbed a couple of drinks and wandered around the festival, mostly looking through the booths. Vendors sold jewelry, hand-decorated eggs and other crafts, CDs, icons, wooden roses, and clothing (ranging from the traditional to T-shirts proclaiming the wearer "ukielicious"). The dessert area offered pastries and ice cream, and several Blackjack tables were set up across from the arts and crafts area. If we'd arrived earlier in the day, we could have watched embroidery and egg-decorating demonstrations inside the church.

After we'd looked around, it was almost time for the next performance, so we sat down by the stage to wait for Stephania Romaniuk to take the stage. A soprano studying at Eastman, she sang traditional folk songs and Ukrainian pop songs from the '50s.

We had been eyeing the desserts for sale, but it was such a perfect day for ice cream (i.e. really hot), I managed to convince Clem to go to Bruster's afterward.

TIP: Ignore the outdoor stands with typical festival food, like hamburgers, onion rings, and fried dough -- eat a Ukrainian meal instead!

NEARBY: Ice-cream-wise, Abbott's and Bruster's.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time hanging out in the area near the corner of Monroe and Oxford, stopping at places like Good Company, Village Green, and Brownbag Bookshop. A decade and a half later, those stores -- and several other independent shops -- have closed. The area looks very different, especially with the unfortunate addition of national chains like Pizza Hut and Subway. One store that has survived is Archimage, and I'm glad it did. I most recently stopped by the store on Friday after work.

The best word to describe Archimage is "eclectic." It sells

- clothing and accessories (including hats, scarves, bags, and jewelry)
- incense and candles (in fact, the whole store smells of incense, as will your purchases)
- drums, tambourines, and other musical instruments
- paper goods (like Moleskine, notecards, origami paper, and gift wrap)
- toys and other fun items ("novelty" stuff, for example, inflatable toast; magnetic poetry kits; and things from Fred & Friends)
- home decor and accessories (paper lanterns, batiks, wall art, sushi plates, decorative wooden boxes)
- many other things, from political buttons to Uglydoll to a Vincent VanGogh action figure

Since it had been months since I last went to Archimage, I spotted a couple of new things I hadn't seen before -- pretty boxes made to look like old, leather-bound books, and scarves "recycled" from saris.

I was looking for a tank top -- now that real summer weather is here -- and I found a pretty pink one from a company called Eucalyptus. The tag on the shirt said that the company donates 10% of pre-tax profits to an organization that improves health care and education for women and children in a small Guatemalan village. It was included in the store's current sale, so I got it for about $18, down from $28.50.

Since I got a deal on that, I also picked up a silk short-sleeved top, made from sari-type material, from Jedzebel, a fair-trade company based in Santa Cruz. That was also on sale for about $18. I noticed a few other Jedzebel items at the store, as well as Flax pieces.

TIP: Archimage is a great place to find gifts.

NEARBY: Astoria and Aladdin's, just to name two.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Erie Canal

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During the summer, I'm not a big fan of outdoor activities. (What can I say? I sunburn easily and hate hot weather.) But on a nicer (i.e., cooler) day, I wouldn't mind a walk by the Erie Canal.

Go ahead and take your kids, your dog, your bike, your skates, or some combination thereof! In the past, I've gone on walks starting at Perinton Park, Schoen Place, and Lock 33 in Henrietta and would recommend any of them.

You can also cruise the canal on the Sam Patch, which departs from Schoen Place in Pittsford. Clem and I are hoping to take a boat trip sometime before summer ends.

To get you in the mood for canal-exploring, here's the Erie Canal song, sung by ... Suzanne Vega?! "Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal."

TIP: If you want to learn more about the canal's history, Syracuse is the home of the Erie Canal Museum.

NEARBY: Plenty, depending where you are! A couple of my favorites are Coal Tower and Bill Wahl's Microcreamery.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The City Walk

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The City Walk can give you a good opportunity to accomplish those "meaning-to" items on your list of things to do: "I've been meaning to try that bar," "I've been meaning to try that restaurant," etc. Other things always seem to get in the way, but if you go to the City Walk, which takes place on the first Thursday of each month, an evening of visits to Rochester spots is completely planned out for you. All you have to do is walk.

Last Thursday, the City Walk started at one of the Eastman House's Garden Vibes outdoor concerts (featuring the Hi-Risers). I had heard about Garden Vibes at the beginning of the summer but didn't know if I wanted to pay the $10 admission fee. Fortunately, City Walkers got in free. We'd continue the night at Starry Nites and Edibles (which are next door to each other on University Ave.) and then Pomodoro.

We gathered inside the Eastman House entrance and waited around a bit until we all had a raffle ticket and City Walk stickers to wear. Then we were free to browse the museum and listen to the band until 7:25 p.m., when it was time to meet again to leave for our next stop.

Clem and I walked to the gardens and checked the food. Near the band were booths from Abbott's, Dinosaur Bar B Que, and the museum cafe (which was open in the museum, too -- mmm, gelato). The concert was pretty well attended, and people of all ages were sitting on blankets and lawn chairs and enjoying the wine and picnic dinners they'd brought -- everything from bags of potato chips to brie. We found a spot to put our chairs on the edge of the garden, (On the way there -- of course, since this is Rochester -- we ran into a couple people we knew.)

Not too long after, it was time to meet up with City Walk back inside the museum. The evening's organizer raffled off some door prizes to places like Rock Ventures (which I'd like to try sometime!) and Starry Nites. Clem actually won one! (I think the last time I won a door prize was about ten years ago, seriously.) We now have a $10 gift certificate to Roma Cafe on University Ave.

After the drawings, the Eastman House's director of communications and visitor services talked briefly about the next Garden Vibes concert, the Picturing Rochester exhibit, a concert by Michael Feinstein to celebrate the museum's 60th anniversary, and the Eastman Young Professionals Group.

We walked along University Avenue to Starry Nites and Edibles, and there was just enough sunlight for me to get some photos of ARTWalk. Clem and I hadn't had dinner yet, so, faced with the choice, we picked Edibles, which offered a Thursday two-for-one drink special. It was a perfect night to eat outside, so we did. Not only was the weather nice, but we could easily hear the live jazz outside Starry Nites. Clem ordered the grilled pork tenderloin, and I got the pierogies with caramelized onions and sour cream. I will definitely be going back someday for those.

When it was time for everyone to move on to Pomodoro, we weren't finished with dinner, so we stayed at Edibles and ordered dessert instead (hazelnut creme brulee and chocolate lava cake). Someday we'll make it to Pomodoro -- their menu looks pretty promising.

TIPS: The City Walk has a Facebook group where you can find out about future events.

NEARBY: It depends!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thali of India

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If you're a fan of Indian food like I am, you're sure to find something to like on the menu at Thali of India. But if you visit for lunch on Sunday, you'll get to sample a large variety of dishes in one of the restaurant's twice-weekly buffets.

Last weekend, we took my college friend and her boyfriend, visiting from Pennsylvania, to the lunch buffet. Thali's website gives two different times for the meal -- 11:30 to 2:30 and 11 to 3 -- but we arrived around 11:45 and the food in the trays still looked very fresh.

The restaurant wasn't very crowded at first, but it quickly filled up (and then thinned out again by around 1:30). The buffet, which costs $8.99 per person, offers several vegetarian dishes as well as meat-based ones, along with a corner section with fruit and desserts, like gulab jamun. In addition to enjoying bread from the two baskets of naan brought to our table, I couldn't resist a couple pieces of bhatura. Keep an eye out for masala dosai -- I scored a couple of pieces from a plate a server brought to one of the buffet tables, but when my friend went to get one later on, they were gone.

None of us ordered drinks (at dinner, I'll usually have a mango lassi), but even when it got busy, servers were constantly refilling our water glasses, which was nice. This was our second time at Thali in a week and a half, and I'm sure we'll be back again pretty soon.

TIP: Try the dinner buffet on Monday nights.

NEARBY: Cantonese House is in the same plaza.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Park Avenue Summer Arts Festival

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On Saturday, I returned to the scene of my last blog entry with a trip to the Park Ave. Fest. We spent hours there, which was easy to do since the festival covers a one-mile strip of Park Ave. with booths on both sides.

If you've never been, it's definitely worth a trip. The 300 artists offer work for sale that includes the cute, the beautiful, the kitschy, and the odd (example: paintings of various dog breeds sitting in martini glasses). You don't have to spend much to go home with a festival souvenir; I bought a package of blank gift tags in assorted colors for $1 and spent $4.50 on a rubber stamp.

Of course, besides browsing through the booths of art, you can EAT! Park Ave. offers typical fair/festival food like fried dough and kettle corn but also crepes from Simply Crepes, samosas from India House, and some healthy selections from Freshwise Kitchen, just to name a few. Next time, I just might have to try the chocolate-dipped cheesecake on a stick.

If you're hungry, you can also stop at one of the many restaurants lining the street. For a nice air-conditioned break, we had lunch at Hogan's Hideaway (after just a 5-minute wait to sit inside), which had a special -- meaning limited -- festival menu. Later on, we shopped at a very crowded Parkleigh and ordered gelato (hazelnut with chocolate sprinkles for me) at Roman Holiday Gelato.

About 30 bands and artists perform at the festival stages, which are set up throughout the street. We didn't stop for long at any of the stages, but I did visit the greyhounds from Greyhound Adoption of Greater Rochester, NY. If we didn't have four cats, I would seriously consider adopting one of their dogs!

TIP: Wear comfortable shoes! Also, parking at one of the shuttle lots is pretty convenient if you arrive early enough to nab a spot. We parked at Gleason Works and paid $1 for a round-trip shuttle, which I would do again.

NEARBY: Lots of places, festival or not!

Friday, July 31, 2009


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Selling everything from coffee to jewelry, Parkleigh is one of my favorite places for gifts (and the wrapping paper, gift bags, and greeting cards to go with them). It's hard to characterize the place in a few words, but "Urban Outfitters meets Dean & Deluca, Rochester-style, with a Crabtree & Evelyn store inside" is a good start. (I mean that last part literally -- there is actually a C&E inside Parkleigh.)

Soon after walking in, you'll see the candy counter. Parkleigh sells truffles, candies, and other sweets, including locally made Hedonist chocolates. Today I picked up two boxes of truffles (two chocolates in each) for gifts. I hope they taste as good as they look, because they're very cute -- two dogs ("chocolate" Labs) and two white cats. They're handmade in Oregon by Moonstruck Chocolatier.

Walk a bit further into the store and you'll find more edibles: Barefoot Contessa mixes, Stonewall Kitchen products, coffee, tea, and more. In the same room are fun kitchen tools like wooden salad servers that look like wrenches, or "Ice Invaders": Space Invaders ice cube trays.

If you're looking for a new tote or reusable shopping bag, you might find what you're looking for here. Parkleigh carries brands like Lug, Baggalini, Emilie Sloan, Blue Q, and others. The cutest one was probably a Bungalow 360 bag with an owl design by Susie Ghahremani.

Fun and funky selections are everywhere, including things from Uglydoll, Knock Knock, and Fred & Friends. I liked an alarm clock from Fred & Friends that can wake you with the sounds of birds chirping. There's also a small area displaying kids' stuff like backpacks, cute dish sets, bibs, and tiny sweaters.

If you know someone who's a fan of Vera Bradley, you've come to the right place -- there's a large selection. Parkleigh also sells Kiehl's, Burt's Bees, and McKenzie-Childs.

TIP: Join Parkleigh's mailing list and you'll get occasional coupons.

NEARBY: Hogan's Hideaway, Jines, and a lot more in the Park Ave. area.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


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With eight decorated homes to browse through, much of the fun of going to Homearama comes from forming opinions and making comments on the countless decisions made by the designers and builders -- dissecting their choices of bedding, wallpaper, kitchen layouts, framed art, window treatments, and more. This is even more fun than it sounds, and it's easy to spend hours doing it. At least, for me it is. I could also spend hours watching home shows on TLC or the Style Network, so it's probably a good thing we don't have cable anymore.

Since the houses were newly built, they boasted cavernous closets and bathrooms, deluxe entertainment rooms, and laundry rooms on the first or second floors. Some design elements were repeated among the different houses, too, like pink-and-green bedrooms for girls and floor-to-ceiling stone fireplaces. My favorite house stood out from the others with its clean and simple design aesthetic, blue-and-brown color pairings, hand-painted wall designs, and subtle touches that echoed throughout the house (bird images and a reddish-orange hue).

In addition to the new homes, the event also featured more than 50 exhibitors, from Cricket on the Heart to Oriental Rug Mart, and a food tent run by the Junior League of Rochester. Barkitecture, a selection of doghouses created by local homebuilders, raised money for Lollypop Farm.

TIP: This year, the Rochester Home Builders Association website offered coupons for $1 off the $9 admission fee, so if you go next year, check online first.

NEARBY: Homearama 2009 was close to Eastview Mall, but the location of the event changes each year.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Bagel Bin Cafe

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update: no longer in business

Last Friday, I had breakfast with my mom at the place voted "Best Bagel Shop" in City's "Best of Rochester" awards last year: the Bagel Bin Cafe in Brighton. The egg-and-cheese bagel in the photo above isn't mine, though -- I couldn't pass up the Belgian waffle with strawberries, so mine was a bagel-free breakfast. (The cafe offers other choices for breakfast, too, like French toast or a breakfast wrap.)

For lunch, served 11 to 4, choices include bagel sandwiches, salads, and soup, with cookies, brownies, bars, and other treats for dessert. I'd estimate that there were about 30 bagel varieties behind the counter, although the website lists 22, not counting bagel sticks or bialys. I can't comment on many of them -- I usually go for my old standard, sesame.

The cafe wasn't too busy at 9:45 a.m. on a Friday, but our food took longer than usual. (Diners order at the counter and wait at their tables.) When it arrived, I noticed my waffle had turned black around the bottom edges (and was a bit too crispy overall), and the egg in my mom's bagel sandwich looked slightly overdone. But my waffle was topped with a generous helping of strawberry slices and what I think was real cream. Beside my mom's sandwich was a big strawberry, which was a nice surprise.

Another surprise was the bill: $13.40 seemed high for a waffle, bagel sandwich, cup of tea, and bottle of juice. Still, as long as the cafe stays open, I'll keep coming to the Bagel Bin.

TIP: Don't miss the Oreo bars.

NEARBY: Abbott's and Aja Noodle are in the same plaza.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Second Bloom

I LOVE saving money on clothes, so today I checked out Second Bloom, a consignment shop in Fairport that sells women's clothing and household items. The store, which opened in 2006, has a pretty wide variety of brands -- I spotted pieces from the Limited, DKNY, Sigrid Olsen, Old Navy, Express, Anne Klein, H&M, French Connection, Jones New York, Ralph Lauren, etc.

The other items they sell include picture frames and framed prints, vases and other decorative pieces, kitchenware, books, DVDs, and a small selection of furniture. A sample price: $13.39 for a Farberware stainless steel tea kettle.

While the clothing prices at Anything Goes (my favorite consignment shop) are significantly cheaper than T.J. Maxx or Marshalls, Second Bloom's aren't as low; for example, an Ann Taylor cotton/spandex T-shirt was $15.39, and a Jones New York silk/nylon short-sleeved shirt was labeled at $10.49. Anything Goes seems to have both a greater number of higher-end items and lower prices across the board. Second Bloom is worth a look, but I'll stick to Anything Goes (which reopens on August 3 after closing for vacation).

TIP: Second Bloom accepts clothing on consignment, and you'll receive 50% if your items sell. Details are on their website.

NEARBY: Perinton Park (on the canal)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sweet Times Bakery

(more photos here)

Sweet Times Bakery is just a short walk from the Subaru dealer where we both take our cars for service, so once in a while I have a good excuse to go there. Last Saturday, we dropped off Clem's car for an oil change on our way to Canandaigua and got to enjoy a snack at the bakery.

It was hard to pick just one treat with all the delicious-looking possibilities in front of me -- cupcakes, cream puffs, lemon bars, brownies... I was in the mood for something sweet (no surprise there), but the bakery also offers soup, sandwiches, bread, and rolls.

We eventually decided on a cherry cheesecake bar (definitely Clem's -- ever since I was little, I can only associate cherry flavor with medicine) and a "panda bear brownie" (a cheesecake brownie -- for me). Including a half pint of chocolate milk, the total was $4.97.

On the patio outside, there were a few tables with umbrellas, but none of them were open, so we cranked one up and sat down. The person behind the counter had given us plastic forks instead of real ones, which -- besides creating more trash -- didn't actually work. The bar and brownie were too dense for the flimsy forks to do much, so we had to pick them up and eat them that way -- and my brownie became sort of a mess. That's enough about that, though -- I don't want to sound like the Aga saga woman.

Next time, I think I'll go for a cream puff or take home a loaf of bread -- they looked good.

TIP: The bakery also makes wedding cakes.

NEARBY: Ontario Mall Antiques, definitely good for browsing

Monday, July 20, 2009

Italian Festival

(more photos here)

On Sunday, we went to the Italian Festival for the first time. Even though the ad in City said the admission fee was $4/person, we thought we'd give it a try. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough at the festival to justify the admission fee, at least on that day. Looking at the schedule online, Saturday offered a few more activities -- like pasta-making demonstrations, eating contests, and a car show.

Not surprisingly, my favorite part of the festival was the dessert. Yum, cannoli. We bought one for each of us, which came to $4 -- but that meant that we didn't have any cash left to play Bocce (at $2/person). So after browsing through the few vendors (a random assortment of purses, jewelry, roses, sunglasses, and Italian-themed T-shirts), witnessing a odd and confusing raffle drawing in which no one actually won the grand prize (a car), and spending some time waiting around for the 2 p.m. band to start (by 2:30, they hadn't), we ran out of things to do and went home.

TIP: If you go next year and the organizers keep the same schedule, Saturday definitely sounds like a better bet than Sunday!

NEARBY: Yianni's in Gates

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sonnenberg Gardens

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With nine gardens, greenhouses, a historic mansion, a wine center, wine/gift shop, and a cafe, it's easy to spend a few hours at Sonnenberg Gardens -- and that's just what we did on Saturday. After wandering through a few greenhouses, we took a guided tour of the mansion, which was built by Frederick Ferris Thompson and Mary Clark Thompson in 1887.

One of the most impressive things about the house was the view of Canandaigua Lake from a second-story window -- especially when you consider, as our guide pointed out, how much more of the lake would have been visible when the surrounding trees were much younger and smaller.

After our tour, we took another look around the mansion and then walked through the gardens. The park has nine, and I think we may have missed one or two. (The admissions booth had run out of maps by the time we arrived.) My favorite spot was the Japanese Garden -- it was simple and peaceful. (Its statue of Buddha also presented the most memorable part of my park visit when it inspired a 10-year-old boy to exclaim to his father, "That's a false god!")

We finished our visit with a tasting at the Wine Center, which features New York wines. We shared a flight of five samples for $3, then bought a bottle upstairs in the shop to take home.

TIP: Even though you aren't likely to walk all of the park's 52 acres, I would suggest comfortable shoes!

NEARBY: Granger Homestead and the New York Wine and Culinary Center (although I admit I haven't been to either one yet!)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Zoo Brew

(more photos here)

A few minutes ago, I signed up for the Seneca Park Zoo email list. That'll improve my chances of catching one of their "Zoo Brew" events this summer. At Zoo Brew, visitors who are 21 and older can explore the zoo after hours, have a drink or two and maybe some food, and listen to a local band.

We skipped tonight's event because there was a 50 to 60 percent chance of rain. OK, it was also because we had to watch our DVD of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" before seeing the next Harry Potter movie this weekend. But we did make it to Zoo Brew last year and took some photos.

Admission is $3 for zoo members and $5 for non-members, while a beer costs $3 and a glass of wine, $4. (Those were last summer's drink prices; they may have changed.) Zoo Brew is a great way to spend a summer evening -- you'll have fun while supporting a local organization and getting some fresh air after a day at work.

TIP: The remaining two Zoo Brews this summer are August 14 and September 11.

NEARBY: Bruster's is a few miles away.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harrison Bakery (Syracuse)

(more photos here)

Our last stop in Syracuse (besides the Everson and China Road) brought us to Harrison Bakery on West Genesee Street. Before we left home, I'd seen a photo of the bakery online, so as Clem drove, I kept an eye out for the red-and-yellow sign, and we found the place pretty easily. (Now I know to just look for the huge church across the street!)

Harrison's is an old-fashioned, no-frills bakery -- as you walk in, you almost feel transported to another decade. Their online yellow-pages entry says they've been around for more than 50 years, and the inside of the bakery doesn't seem like it's been updated for, if not 50 years, then a quite a while. But if holding off on renovations helps keep the prices down, that's fine with me! We were surprised that a cupcake (my pick) and a napoleon (Clem's) together cost just $2.50!

Harrison's also sells cookies, brownies, bread, and a lot more. I didn't look around as much as I would have liked to before ordering because the woman behind the counter was clearly NOT having a good day (and neither was the person who answered the phone when I had called earlier to check if they were open on Sundays -- or maybe that was the same woman). It turns out we made good choices, though -- my cupcake was one of the best I've ever had (really!), with fluffy yellow cake and rich, creamy chocolate frosting. Clem liked his napoleon, but not as much as the ones from Malek's.

TIP: Try a cupcake! I've heard (online) that the half-moon cookies are good, too.

If you like malls, the Carousel Center is worth a visit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Pielady's Canaltown Bakery

(more photos)

During my lunch break today, I stopped for a snack at the Pielady's Canaltown Bakery in Fairport (alternately called "The Pie Lady"). With its location at the bottom of a hill on a small street off Turk Hill Road, the only hint to its existence there is a sign on the main road--and even then, you might miss it. I've been there a few times and have never been disappointed.

You can chose from all sorts of treats as a reward for finding the place--today I noticed pies, cookies, coffee cakes, muffins, scones, danish, bar cookies, cupcakes, and more. The printed "menu" offers further selections, including many different varieties and sizes of cakes as well as "tea cookie platters." I spotted a few particularly tempting items like pecan pie, Oreo cake, lemon biscotti, and a chocolate yule log. Yum.

Open six days a week, the Pie Lady has three bakery cases and a small seating area (although during the afternoons I've stopped by, I've never seen anyone sitting there).

Today I chose a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting, which was excellent. The frosting was generously applied, smooth, and buttery, and the cake had a nice texture and wasn't too dry. If I didn't have a relative who makes my favorite cakes, I would definitely consider getting a birthday or other special cake (or pie!) from the Pie Lady.

TIP: The Pie Lady makes appearances at the Irondequoit and Fairport Farmers Markets -- check the website for details.

NEARBY: Anything Goes and RV&E Bike and Skate

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

China Road (Syracuse)

(more photos here)

Many of my favorite restaurants--like Yuan Fu and Il Pizzico, both located in average-looking strip malls in Rockville, Maryland--don't look too promising from the outside. So as we approached China Road in Mattydale (a suburb of Syracuse), its appearance and surroundings were a good omen: an unassuming building next to a laundromat and in front of a can-and-bottle return facility.

Inside, the restaurant's wood-paneled walls were hung with prints of Chinese watercolors and dry-erase boards with the chef's specials written in Chinese and English. Soon after we sat down, our waiter brought us a pot of tea, a bowl of crispy fried noodles with sauce for dipping, and a plate of cold, spicy snacks: soybeans, Chinese broccoli, hot peppers, and what may have been bamboo shoots. (When we had eaten most of each one, he brought us seconds.)

We were given two menus, one in English and the other in both English and Chinese. As a vegetarian, I was happy to see several non-meat options, but I wish I had known that China Road has an entire separate menu of vegetarian dishes, including some with mock meat. I ordered steamed vegetable dumplings and crispy tofu in garlic sauce, while Clem chose the crispy shrimp balls and tea-smoked duck.

We enjoyed everything (and Clem's duck dish could serve at least two). Our waiter was friendly and funny, laughing at me (in a good natured way) when I finished my dish by leaving behind just one piece of tofu--and then even putting it in a box for me to take home. He was amused that my dish's garlic sauce was too spicy for me, but helpfully suggested that I try the tofu with Clem's plum sauce instead. With the bill came juicy orange slices and fortune cookies.

China Road's website says that the restaurant's chef, Simon Teng "was head chef in many famous New York City restaurants such as Uncle Tai's, David K's, Pig Heaven, and Auntie Yuan's." I'm glad Chef Teng came to upstate New York, because China Road was definitely one of the best Chinese restaurants I've ever visited.

TIP: If you want an authentic dish, the menu that's in English and Chinese is listed on China Road's website as the "traditional Chinese menu," so I'd stick to that one.

NEARBY: Being completely unfamiliar with Mattydale, I'd just say Syracuse itself is nearby, and there are plenty of things to do there!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Everson Museum (Syracuse)

(more photos here)

Every Sunday, I read the new secrets posted on the PostSecret blog, so I couldn't pass up a chance to see the PostSecret exhibit at Syracuse's Everson Museum of Art (which, incidentally, was designed by I. M. Pei). Frank Warren, the creator of PostSecret, has received more than 350,000 anonymous postcards, and more than 400 of them made a two-month appearance in Syracuse. Clem and I saw the exhibit on its final day.

Gallery admission is technically free, but we each gave the "suggested donation" of $5. Parking nearby would normally have been free on a Sunday, but because nearby Clinton Square was hosting the New York State Blues Festival, that wasn't the case. (What would the "New York State Blues" sound like? Imagine some bass chords alternating with these lines: "I pay high taxes. / Yeah, I freeze when it snows. / Oh, our State Senators are crazy. / But, baby, that's just the way it goes!")

So, because of the festival, or maybe because of the wrestling event at the Convention Center--or maybe both--all the lots nearby had "EVENT PARKING" signs, including the OnCenter lot, which we eventually chose. We said goodbye to six dollars and walked across the street to the museum.

In all my visits to art galleries, I have never, ever seen so many young people. The vast majority of the visitors looked college-age or even younger. I'd also say the female-to-male ratio was at least 80-20. I thought that was so interesting. (And trying to analyze those demographics would require a whole other blog post!)

The exhibit were pretty crowded with people, but the rooms were surprisingly silent. The secrets on the postcards seemed even more "real" when they were in front of you rather than published in a book or on the blog, so they really captured your attention.

I love museum stores, so when we were finished with the exhibit, I had to visit the Everson's. Although it was much smaller than, for example, the excellent gallery store at the Memorial Art Gallery, I found something for myself (a notebook) as well as a couple birthday and Christmas presents. Museum stores are always great for gifts.

TIP: If you visit the Everson's website and find yourself wondering just where all the important information is, mouse over the orange bar at the top of the page to get a menu to drop down. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure that out.

NEARBY: Someday I'd like to go to the Erie Canal Museum on Erie Blvd. Admission is free.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bazil on the bay

(more photos here)

Tonight we celebrated my grandmother's 86th birthday at Bazil on Irondequoit Bay. Its extensive menu meant that all five of us went home happy--and our group was composed of two vegetarians, a seafood lover, a health-conscious diner, and my grandmother, who ordered her steak not just well-done but "cremated." I don't think I've ever seen a restaurant with so many "special" sections on its menu: gluten-free, low(er)-calorie, vegetarian, and low-carb.

We had a friendly and fun waitress and all the salad and breadsticks we could eat. That's a good start! I could eat those breadsticks all day -- although I suppose if you put lots of salt, garlic, and butter (I'm guessing that's their secret) on a piece of cardboard, I might just be tempted to eat that, too.

For dessert, Clem and I shared a giant piece of chocolate cake with ice cream, but I wish we'd ordered the smaller, lighter, and more refreshing lemon ice. I think Italian ice is the perfect summer dessert.

TIP: When you go, fill out the form for Bazil's e-mail list at the table next to the hostess station. The form asks for your birthday and wedding date, and pretty soon after we signed up, we received a coupon for our anniversary. (By the way, we have a designated coupon 3-ring binder at home and a spreadsheet with all their details. A SPREADSHEET. That's courtesy of Clem the engineer.) I think the email coupon was good for a free bottle of wine, appetizer, or dessert. And we didn't have to use it on our anniversary, just by a certain date a week or two after that.

NEARBY: One of my favorite antique places, All That Jazz. We've gotten a couple of small things there, like salt and pepper shakers and an old map of Brighton.

The Little Theatre

The Little Theatre, now in its 80th year, is one of my favorite places in Rochester. I spent a lot of time there as a teenager, seeing movies like "Clerks," "To Live," "Cold Comfort Farm, "Four Weddings and a Funeral," and many that have disappeared from memory. Since moving back to Rochester, I haven't visited as often as I'd like, but now that we're members, that'll probably change.

Depending on the level you choose, membership brings perks like discounted tickets and merchandise, free movie passes, and a great coupon book (for deals at places like Java's and the Eastman House). Since the Little is a nonprofit, you can even write off the membership fee on your taxes. The student level costs $35 a year, while being an associate member will run you $50 ($75 for two people), and regular membership costs $100 ($125 for two). We used our free passes yesterday to see "Moon."

Last night, and every Friday this month, Don Mancuso and Regi Hendrix (Jimi's cousin) played in the cafe, where we could choose from soups, sandwiches and wraps, salads, quiche, and panini. Yum. At least six bottled beers were available, as well as one on tap--Rohrbach's Red Wing Red Ale--and a glass of wine costs 6 dollars.

I picked a slice of hazelnut torte (good, but without enough hazelnut flavor for me), and Clem had an iced vanilla caramel latte. (Total with tax was $8.50.)

At 9 p.m., the cafe was almost full. The walls were decorated with art, and they likely will be for years to come; the Little keeps a very long waiting lists of artists who'd like the prime space.

As always, the selections at the concessions counter outside the cafe easily top any chain's snack options. The cases were full of cookies, macaroons, pecan bars, raspberry bars, goodies from the Nut House, and more. If I hadn't already had the torte, I think I would have picked the giant M&M cookie. When we saw "My Life in Ruins" recently (unfortunately), I tried one of the pecan bars. Yum.

TIP: Member or not, pick up the Little Theatre "Beat the Heat" discount card at the locations on this page for deals on movie tickets (buy four, get one free) and snacks.

NEARBY: The Little Bakery (no relation), and the Old Toad.