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A feast for the senses

Vinalia Urbana celebrates seasonal fare and warm hospitality
Assorted locally sourced pickled vegetables

Vinalia Urbana 

230 Monroe Ave., Rochester 


Along the stretch of storefronts on Monroe Avenue is an unassuming black building. There are no flashy signs or grand entrances. But as you step into the glass enclosure, you’re suddenly transported into a world of merriment. 

The interior is illuminated by dazzling chandeliers casting a warm glow that seems to dance against the dark ceiling like twinkling stars. It’s like stumbling upon a surprise party, where every detail is planned to delight you. This is the essence of Vinalia Urbana: where a warm celebration begins the moment you set foot through the door. 

The name was a bit of serendipity, too. After much brainstorming, the team was inspired by the ancient Roman festival celebrating new wine and the bounty of the spring harvest. It also resonated with their vision for the dining experience— approachable food made from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients paired with organic and biodynamic wines. 

The festival coincides with significant birthdays for members of the management team, including general manager JJ Cutaia and chef Brian Arliss. 

“So, we’re all like, alright, this has to be the name,” Cutaia says. “There are just too many people involved with a connection to it. And who doesn’t love celebrating good food and wine together?” 

This is the brainchild of five restaurant veterans, including Cutaia, a sommelier who ran the wine program at Good Luck; Arliss, the former executive chef at Rohrbach Brewing Company; and Tom Joy, Joseph Joy, and Adam Kirkpatrick, partners in the cocktail bar Pourin Joy

So, you can imagine these guys take genuine hospitality seriously. 

I tested this out firsthand by doing a big no-no in the restaurant world. I rolled up on a Saturday night without a reservation—and with a kid, no less. Cutaia and his team made us feel right at home and even brought my daughter an adorable kid cup. 

Side note: Walk-ins are welcome, but I recommend making a reservation for the best tables. If you prefer a more casual setting, the full menu is available at the bar, and there are high tops in the middle of the restaurant that are sometimes open. 

Within a half hour, the place was packed. Diners were mixed from twenty-somethings celebrating birthdays to friends from the suburbs meeting up in the city. Fortunately, excited murmurs from nearby tables quickly drowned out my daughter’s demands for more calamari ($19). 

From glancing around the room, I learned the Lover Boy ($12) is the way to start your meal. It’s a delightfully blush-toned cocktail made of rum, coconut, lime, and strawberry. Dare I say it’s the drink of summer? It goes down too easily. 

Next, appetizers are a must. Arliss has a classic French culinary background, and his food has a strong Southern German influence inspired by his grandmother’s cooking. 

“I wanted to draw inspiration from family recipes and ideas but also give them a modern twist, adding my own interpretation,” he says. 

If you like charcuterie, try the pork rillettes ($15), which showcase the kitchen’s subtle wink to traditional fare. The rich and velvety pork shoulder is prepared in a classic French style and paired with vibrant pickled accompaniments. Fennel, turmeric-hued cauliflower, tangy peppers, crisp radishes, and jammy onions provide a harmonious medley of bright acidity to complement the spread. 

“I’ve always been a big fan of utilizing what’s around me, whether it be someone I know that grows something amazing or raises amazing animals or anything I grow or ferment myself,” Arliss says. “It’s about using what’s available around me as inspiration and letting my mind wander.” 

For about a year, the team has collaborated with producer Botanical Ben to grow petite lettuces, heirloom vegetables, and mushrooms. They plan to continue experimenting with different vegetables he grows. 

The vegetable crudités plate ($21), an unexpected standout of the evening, showcases the close partnership between the chef and local farmers. It features a colorful array of veggies like heirloom cauliflower and crunchy cucumber spears. But the highlights were the flavorful charred rainbow carrots, meaty oyster mushrooms, and sweet peppers. A creamy dip—a cross between a citrusy tahini and hummus—was the perfect companion for all the incredible textures. 

Fans of Rohrbach may recognize the pork schnitzel ($31), one of Arliss’s signature dishes. But it’s the chorizo and clams ($23) bathed in a Genny Light broth that are addictive. Grilled fennel lends a subtle anise aroma, while pickled peppers contribute a bright pop of acidity to cut through the richness. They’re downright delicious. 

I managed to get a few bites, but my toddler had a ball prying open the shells one by one, plucking out each sweet, briny treasure. Our server didn’t miss a beat, bringing her a half portion after the bowl was empty. This kind of thoughtful touch defines the dining experience at Vinalia Urbana. 

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wine. While I stuck to a familiar bone-dry Riesling from Living Roots ($13), Cutaia is a certified sommelier and deftly curates the wine list. The selection veers off the beaten path, boasting unique finds like Carricante, a white varietal hailing from Sicily’s Mount Etna

He blends traditional regions with small family producers and sustainable practices for the bottle list. But, with his classic training, quality is paramount. 

“I don’t buy something just because somebody says it’s biodynamic,” he says. He prioritizes great-tasting wines that authentically represent their region and grape variety. 

Currently, he features twelve wines by the glass ($11–15 each), and is steadily expanding the offerings, adding new ones regularly while rotating favorites onto the bottle list. 

As I linger over the last few bites, savoring the flavors of locally grown produce and sipping what’s left of my Riesling, I can’t help but feel a sense of warmth. Vinalia Urbana has transported me to an intimate house party hosted by talented service industry friends. 

The team has alchemized the entire dining experience into something lovely and unpretentious.

As I leave through the glass enclosure back onto the street, I find myself looking forward to the next excuse to join this sumptuous soirée. Like the ancient Roman festival it’s named after, it’s a welcome reminder to savor life’s simple pleasures amid those you love most.

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