If a craft cocktail program was launched in Western New York in the past five years, odds are whoever put it together logged some time at Vera, either working behind the bar or slugging back drinks in front of it.
The restaurant has become so well known as a craft cocktail dojo, it’s been described as an incubator of sorts for aspiring beverage directors.
However, the world doesn’t turn on tinctures and small batch spirits alone and the team at Vera, spearheaded by Chef Benji Pecoraro, is now putting up a more focused food menu that’s aimed at drafting behind the restaurant’s powerhouse cocktail collection.
“We definitely wanted to try to incorporate the cocktails with the food so they work better together,” Chef Benji recently told me, “lighter fare that works well with the new cocktails we’ve started to do, which aren’t as heavy.”
He went on to describe a shift in mindset: from a kitchen with far-flung culinary influences, to one focused on fresh Old World flavors prepared with a modern approach. Essentially, the kitchen staff is looking to make their ingredients shine – touching the food, with fork or flame, as little as possible.
That might sound like an artist working with a three-color palate or a concert pianist confined to a single octave, but Chef Benji has a long history of navigating culinary restrictions.
“Having been a vegan/vegetarian for 20 years, I’m looking to keep clean flavors (at Vera), but still have those meat-heavy properties when we need to,” he said.
You can see the balance of fresh and hearty in Vera’s new scallops dish, where gently-charred pillows of fishy umami nestle up against pesto, gnocchi, and fruit like four friends with benefits.
The new vegan lasagna takes the familiar flavors of ricotta, sundried tomatoes, and jalapenos and sculpts them into something from a botanist’s sketchbook.
Chef Benji admitted to me the new minimalist approach is a reaction to what he and his staff see popping up at various new kitchens opening around Buffalo. He said Vera’s kitchen simply wants to be a part of that on-going culinary conversation.
“I’d say it does affect our mindset,” he said. “So instead of doing crazy things, we’re just trying to make real food.”
“There are a lot of new places, so hopefully we can all piggyback off each other by doing similar stuff, but all in our own way.”
Vera also gives guests the opportunity to come enjoy the space, food, and cocktails aside from just dinner or drinks during regular hours by hosting private events and classes. Guests can even get the chance to step behind the bar and see what crafting cocktails is all about. For more info on special events and cocktail classes email VeraBuffalo@gmail.com.
220 Lexington Ave, Buffalo
Hours: Mon – Thur 5pm to 12am • Fri – Sun 5pm to 2am
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