Appetite for deconstruction
Spencerport native brings culinary talents back home to Bad Apples Bistro
The bistro is one of the more common restaurant formats, not only here in Greater Rochester, but also in France, the country of its origin. Bistros started as cozy basement dining rooms where Parisians could linger over home-cooked cassoulets and glasses of bordeaux without much fuss. This is how Rochesterians like to eat, too.We expect quality meals that we don’t have to dress up for—so we’ve developed our own bistro culture.
Bad Apples Bistro is one of the best of its kind. It’s in a shopping plaza in Spencerport, squeezed between a health clinic and a vacant pizza joint. While it’s not much to look at on the outside, the interior is stylish: lots of wood and leather, and a big, green back wall painted the shade of a ripe granny smith. There’s room for approximately fifty patrons.
Chris Kisiel opened the restaurant in 2011. The son of two restaurateurs, Kisiel grew up around working kitchens. “I was raised Italian, so we liked to eat,” he says. But Kisiel’s childhood was not always smooth sailing. He was always in and out of trouble at school—eventually, he left home, got a culinary degree at SUNY Delhi, and came back to work in some of Rochester’s top restaurants. Kisiel now proudly prepares meals for the same teachers and principals who sent him to detention at Spencerport High fifteen years ago. The restaurant’s name, Bad Apples, is a nod to his misspent youth.
Bad Apples Bistro serves lunch and dinner, each meal made by the chef himself from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Kisiel is fond of deconstruction; he takes familiar comfort foods apart and rearranges the ingredients into other types of food. At Bad Apples, patrons can order a poutine sandwich or polenta served as a steak.
The beet salad ($9) is the restaurant’s signature starter dish. There’s nothing fancy about it, just some diced beets and slaw alongside a bed of spinach drizzled with bacon vinaigrette dressing, but eating this salad is a process of revelation. The dressing has been warmed on the grill, slightly wilting the spinach and waking up its flavors. There is chevre cheese hiding under the leaves, adding a silky creaminess. The julienne-sliced slaw has tart apples intermingled with the cabbage and carrots. It’s sweet where it’s expected to be savory.
The arancini ($9) is a classic Sicilian appetizer. Three round croquettes of rice rest in a splash ofhomemade marinara sauce. The rice is blended with dry Romano cheese and prosciutto. The fried breadcrumb coating is perfectly crunchy, the rice sticky without being too soggy—and there’s that unexpected burst of flavor again, a slice of melted mozzarella tucked into the center like a savory bonbon.
The main course is a deconstructed Bloody Mary served with scallops ($27). The tomato and vodka has transformed into a roasted tomato cream sauce drizzled over three seared scallops the size of camp marshmallows. There comes a time when you will have an extraordinary meal and realize the bite you just took is the very best example of that food: you have never tasted anything so good, and you will compare every forthcoming example of that dish to what you are experiencing right now. Bad Apples’s scallops are like that—and yet they shouldn’t be. The shellfish is from a local restaurant distributor, not shipped direct from a New England dock. The vodka sauce is indistinctive, but somehow perfectly matched with scallops that are so delicate they seem on the verge of splitting apart. The side is nothing but a round white dollop of celery root purée, blended with horseradish and garnished with a few leaves from the stalk. Celery root, also known as celeriac, is the ugliest part of the vegetable, but chefs like its starchy consistency and flavor, which is even more distinctive than the stalk. (Celery root often makes food trend lists, but it’s never really gone out of style. Julia Child was a fan, borrowing the classic French céleri rémoulade.)
You will scrape up every drop of this meal, and its taste will linger with you for hours.You’ll want to go back and try other things that you might have overlooked because they seemed, perhaps, too common. If the scallops are this good, what about the pork chops? Or the chicken breast?
Alas, there’s still dessert, and the rhubarb crumble doesn’t disappoint. The rhubarb tart, with its dense brown crust, is served with homemade cherry and mascarpone cheesecake ice cream over a bed of toasted oats. (After this, Grandma will need to start stepping up her game.) The dessert menu doesn’t feature anything made with apples—surprising, given the restaurant’s motif. A nice slice of “bad apple” pie would have been just right, but Kisiel says that apple crisp is a seasonal offering and will return in the fall.
Once a month, the restaurant offers a five course tasting night hosted by Kisiel and his wine supplier, Adrian Buisch. At a recent prix fixe event, guests were serenaded by the hard rock music of Guns and Roses while enjoying a menu titled “Appetite for Deconstruction.”
The trademark of Bad Apples Bistro is understatement combined with impeccable quality and surprising preparation. The menu doesn’t make a fuss over imported or hand-harvested wild ingredients prepared by arcane gourmet methods lifted from LaRousse Gastronomique. Instead, it takes familiar foods, turns them inside out, and surprises you with how good something so seemingly common can be. A restaurant like this would more than hold its own along Park Avenue or in a funky, repurposed building downtown—but it’s in Spencerport. The weather is warming up, and it’s time for a little road trip.
Mark Gillespie is the communications manager for the Rochester Institute of Technology College of Science. He is an avid fan of the region’s food, culture, and great outdoors.