As a kid growing up in central Illinois, I would always look forward to my dad’s two-week summer vacation. Along with my aunts and uncles (they were the ones with the car), my parents and I would head for a fish camp in Walker, Minnesota, about four hours north of the Twin Cities. We would leave in the middle of the night in order to make the 600-mile drive non-stop.

I managed to sleep most of the night (despite the nicotine buzz I got from riding in a car full of smokers), but I insisted that they awaken me so I wouldn’t miss the famous EAR OF CORN water tower on the outskirts of Rochester, Minnesota.

It still stands today.

Of course, I never imagined that Rochester would play a significant role in my professional life. Rochester, just like Joanne and myself, has “growed-up.” I’m reminded of the song from the musical Oklahoma: ”Everything’s up-to-date in Kansas City…They’ve gone about as fer as they can go.”

They couldn’t have written that song about Rochester, because it just keeps on growing. And talk about up-to-date – the multi-billion dollar expansion of the Mayo Clinic will make it the world’s preeminent health care destination.

As some of you may know, five years ago we launched PITTSBURGH BLUE STEAKHOUSE in the new, world-class Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area, a 440-room, 18 floor tower located in the heart of downtown Rochester.

And what a pleasure it has been to serve throngs of friends and locals as well as the multitude of folks visiting Mayo.

Having been named the “THE BEST STEAKHOUSE“ in Rochester, it is fortunate for our patrons that we are so close to the Mayo. After all, Pittsburgh Blue specializes in weapons-grade cholesterol-laden beef – the kinds of cuts that London Guardian food critic Jay Rayner recommends you enjoy in proximity to a defibrillator.

If you gotta go…what a way to go!

Though my first stop in Rochester is always Pittsburgh Blue – I’m partial to its Flintstonian slab of bloody, rare prime rib –or a 24 ounce dry -aged Porterhouse steak.  ….medium-rare.   I find that the next night something else may suit me.

But where to go?

I dream of a small family-owned place that nobody knows about, one of those “best kept secrets” that is simple and unpretentious, where the father cooks for the sheer joy of it and the mother and son ply you with refreshing local wine as the family dog lazes hearthside.

YEAH….in my dreams!

But let me fill you in on a Rochester restaurant that Joanne and I have come to know and love – a place that has some of those same attributes, and even more.

It’s called the BLEU DUCK KITCHEN. Situated on the edge of downtown, this small restaurant is folksy, easy-going and yet smartly designed.  

The chef, whom I have not met, seems to know physics, biology, surgery, art, and design. Moreover, an impressive imagination allows him to bridge multiple culinary cultures and preferences with ease. Seasonal fare is well represented. Healthy dishes complement decadent choices. Asian and Latin-influenced items are joined by Italian, Greek and American-inspired offerings. Some dishes are spicy, others are safe-harbor comfort-food preparations. And all of them have the culinary underpinnings of French technique. It’s FRISKY and FUN!

Joanne and I have dined at the Bleu Duck on a number of occasions over the past several years, and although I frequently take notes, I just haven’t done that here. So my descriptions of the food are from my occasionally flawed memory. Big deal. You’ll get the gist.

The menu is short: 5 starters, 5 second courses, and about 10 mains. Offerings change frequently. In fact, in all the times I’ve eaten at the Bleu Duck, I’ve never seen the same menu twice.

Dinner always begins with slightly sweet and soft Hawaiian rolls.

And then come the STARTERS. Among them: Deep Fried Oysters; a riff on Scotch Eggs using tiny quail eggs; Pork Egg Rolls with a spicy chili sauce; Calamari, sometimes served with artichokes, but usually with jalapenos and peanuts; Frog Legs offered Nashville Hot or perhaps Buffalo Style with bleu cheese, celery and hot sauce; and savory Crème Brulée with Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and bacon.

SALAD CHOICES have included a simple green salad, a Tuna Poke Bowl with spicy yellowfin tuna and avocado, and a Cauliflower Bowl as well as a hen-of-the-woods mushroom salad with marrow mousse and caramelized onions.

An oyster bar in Rochester, Minnesota? You betcha! Apparently, the owners cut a deal with the Maine Oyster Company on Casco Bay and bring in fresh oysters daily.

Sometimes I break tradition and enjoy Starters as Mains and Mains as Starters. A few examples: Lobster Risotto (or, in the summer, Sweet Corn Risotto with goat cheese, salmon and tomato); Lobster Bisque with only claw and knuckle meat, parmesan croutons and chives; Mac ‘n Cheese; and a favorite: Fried Cornish Game Hen on a savory waffle.

And now the MAINS……

Choices might include Grilled Lamb Chops with white beans; Roast Duck with corn pancakes and chipotle aioli; Lamb Shank with corn tortilla, black beans and watercress; Sea Scallops with roasted carrots, chard and roasted garlic; and Shrimp & Grits with andouille sausage, sambal and scallions.

And finally…DESSERT

There’s a signature 16-layer Vanilla Crepe Cake (also available with strawberries); Croissant Bread Pudding with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate shavings; and a Chocolate Torte with raspberry coulis, chocolate ganache and whipped cream.

So that’s it…Humble and charming….deep and punchy flavors….frequently exotic…..modest portions… and I’m certainly not going to knock size, because, as we all know….size isn’t everything.

This is a restaurant with a consistently seductive menu. To paraphrase the late A.A. Gill, food critic for the London Times: “Girls who don’t want to go all the way on a first date, should be very, very cautious about dining at Bleu Duck.”




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  • February 3, 2024 at 10:56 pm

    Enjoyed your delicious overview of Rochester dining and visual praises for the “other Bleu”; and promotion – of course – of Pittsburgh Blue. Andy and I met you and your wife on its opening night. (Our daughter Sue is an old Williams College friend of Michael Gross.) Best wishes and good health,

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