I love living smack dab in the middle of the continent. It helps me feel centered spiritually, mentally and physically. But there is one thing we’re lacking: in a word—seafood.
Fresh, sustainably-caught seafood is what I crave, but too often I have been disappointed by lackluster lobster, less-than-tender-tuna or scallops with the texture of rubbery cheese curds. My disappointment disappeared when I discovered Pescara, the fine dining establishment named for a small Italian fishing village. Opened just two years ago, Pescara is located next to the lobby of the Doubletree Hotel.
Fish are caught and shipped on the same day, so you can be eating
it on the next. “All our fish are hand line caught. We get shellfish tags for our oysters and (tags) for our fish. We know exactly where it comes from,” says Nicci Sylvester, Pescara’s dining/special events manager. She and her brother are integral to the success and popularity of Pescara.
Growing up in a Ukrainian-American family, Nicci Sylvester and her brother Tony Pester were surrounded by people who relished the food and camaraderie of large family gatherings. Nicci, who is seven years senior, remembers, “Part of our interest in food and hospitality and taking care of people has to do with the way we were brought up. We had Sunday brunch every week.”
At Pescara, Chef Tony helps carefully prepare meals. Nicci is in charge of special events, but in her two years with the restaurant she has been involved in every aspect of management. She has the perfect outgoing, exuberant personality for the front of the house.
Nicci started in the insurance business, but bartended on the side, doing private parties. “I do need to be with people,” she says. After her two children were born she was a stay-at-home mom, but she laughs, “I found myself going to Target just to be around other people.”
Nicci was working at Chesters, another Rochester restaurant, owned by Pat Woodring and Scott Foster, and when Pescara was being developed she thought her younger brother would be the perfect chef. “I just knew my brother was the right fit. [He had] the right training, the right passion for this kind of food, this type of ambiance.”
Broccoli as fate
Tony’s introduction to the food industry came in his senior year of high school when Chef Lenny Vanelli visited his food class as a recruiter for Le Cordon Bleu at Brown College in Mendota Heights.
“He was putting fresh, flavorful food in young students’ mouths right there in the classroom,” recalls Tony. “He made steak Diane and broccoli with garlic and I had never tasted broccoli like that before.”
Tony saved a sample for his girlfriend. “I’ll never forget it. She said, ‘If you could make broccoli like this I’ll love you for the rest of my life.’” A week later he was signed up for Cordon Bleu.
As a culmination of his culinary training he did an internship at Maximes in Paris, came back to Minnesota and graduated with honors. He worked for five years at the Nicollet Island Inn as a banquet and sous chef and his expertise grew. “At the Inn we got to play with a lot of fun ingredients.”
There is no rivalry between these siblings, only admiration and cooperation. Nicci suggests menu ideas, and “Tony takes them and elevates them to Pescara level.”
They appreciate working with and supporting local farms, keeping a focus on “seasonal freshness.” They also keep a focus on seafood quality and customer satisfaction.
Smiling, Nicci reflects on their efforts. “We’re looking to the future, looking to health, looking to wellness, looking to what is new, what is interesting. We want our customers to keep coming back and be excited about what we’ve created on a daily basis.”
Every once in a while, if you’re like me, your Midwest diet needs an infusion of seafood. Head straight to Pescara and you’ll be hooked.
Kate Crowley is a writer and naturalist who lives in northern Minnesota, but enjoys every opportunity to spend time in Rochester.