Tag Archives: Restaurant Reviews

My Birthday Dinner- Guess Where?

January 2013

This is an example of the dialogue that ensued on January 22, 2013 (ie: the day after my birthday)

Coworker: How was your birthday? Did you do anything fun?
Me: Great! Yeah, my Special One and I went out to dinner.
Coworker: Oh? Where did you go?
Me: I’ll give you two guesses…
Coworker: Meat and Potatoes?

Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

MP Bar

T
hat beautiful bar! It gets me every time! The dark wood, the marble top, the fancy absinthe container, the way the rest of the restaurant wraps around it. The chef’s eye seems to be as talented as his palate because the food gets me every time too!

MP Branded Tables

Sgt. Pepper’s Old Fashioned
bulleit bourbon, black pepper & thyme syrup, whiskey barrel bitters, lemon

There always seems to be some new improvement at Meat and Potatoes too. This time around, I was pleasantly surprised by the branded tables! Branded tables! Then there’s my favorite cocktail the Sgt. Pepper’s, which is a shining example of the restaurant’s consistency in the areas where consistency counts. That Sergeant could make an alcoholic out of an honest woman.

MP Fried Brussels Sprouts

What may look like a mysterious mash was actually a heap of fried Brussels sprouts. Upon eating this amazing heap, cravings for another heap will ensue within three days maximum.

MP Moules

Mussels of the Day w/ Garlic Bread
fennel, tomato, dill, salmon roe and bacon

This was the gift of mussels that kept giving, which is a perfect concept for a birthday meal! After eating every single mussel, we clung fiercely to the sauce, denying every table busser who tried to remove the flavor laden sauce from our grasp. This seemed to earn us extra cred with our waiter who snagged us some extra garlic bread to reward our sauce loyalty. Why were we so adamant? The poutine was on its way, and that poutine meant one more delicious vehicle for a complex sauce!

Tartare and Poutine

Beef Tartare
Dry aged strip, smoked egg, chili, seaweed aioli

Poutine
Gravy & local cheese curd

MP Lamb Shank

Braised Lamb Shank
White beans, broccolini, kale, gremolata

If by this photo, you have visually consumed more food than seems appropriate for two people, know that by the lamb course, we had the same feeling. After a few quality control bites of this lamb shank, we had to throw in our rustic napkins, and call it “to go!” This meant my birthday dinner stretched over three nights. After lamb leftovers the following night, I made a poutine omelette with a side of kale sauteed in the mussels sauce.

It was the birthday meal that kept on giving!

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week: Blessed Rice Paddy (ie: Fukuda)

January 2013

My Special One feels about sushi the way I feel about French cheeses. We respect the traditions surrounding these food forms, the significance of their names and could live almost exclusively off our respective passions (with the addition of some bread in my case). If we were to order an “Appalachian Tomme” from a local vendor, I would feel obligated to state the case of why the cheese should not have “Tomme” in the title despite its flavor merits. Accordingly, when I order brown rice sushi at more grain-conscious establishments, my Special One feels obligated to tell me brown rice is a bastardization of the very word “sushi,” which refers to the vinegared white rice.

Fukuda Exterior

Cheese snobbery and grain preferences aside, this anecdote points to my novice approach to sushi, and why I usually defer sushi menu deciphering to my Special One. His rice reverence brings me to another vocabulary lesson: Fukuda, or Blessed Rice Paddy.

Fukuda Sushi Station

Fukuda is the new kid on the block, and it has a bunch of hits [yes I did just dip into 90s pop culture], which we sampled as part of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week. We had the ideal dining spot, poised right before the sushi chef at work.

Fukuda Ceramics

A realtor would call this addition to the Bloomfield neighborhood a cozy or quaint establishment. In the case of Fukuda, these words are apt for more than size descriptors. The interior is not what you might expect from a Japanese restaurant. Rather than put bamboo in every nook and corner, Fukuda features the layered and nostalgic aesthetic of artist Ron Copeland. While the space is meant to function as a changing gallery of artists’ work, I do hope a base of Copeland’s work remains.

Fukuda Nigiri

Restaurant Week Tasting Menu: Chef’s Choice 4-piece Nigiri (left)
Nigiri sampler (regular menu)

Fukuda Takoyaki

Takoyaki
Foie gras butter, roasted beet powder, housemade Takoyaki sauce, scallion

Takoyaki are Japanese octopus dumplings. After the taste of the sweet and tangy sauce, there’s the richness of the foie gras butter, then you bite through the soft texture and arrive at a firm piece of octopus. If you are unsure about octopus, I still recommend trying these!

Fukuda Oysters and Pork Belly

Restaurant Week Tasting Menu: Kusshi Oysters
Juniper shisho granita, thai chili, fresh lemon

Restaurant Week Tasting Menu: Simmered Pork Belly
Coriander & Japanese mustard sauce, cilantro, togarashi, crispy ginger

Fukuda Shiitake Dessert

Shiitake Chocolate Ice Cream
Chocolate dipped shiitake mushrooms and lavender

The best way I can describe the dessert finale is to tell you to imagine eating a cold, creamy shiitake mushroom with a chocolaty base, at which point, you’ll probably turn up your nose mid-imagining. It’s better just to try this because somehow Fukuda made mushrooms work for dessert! Fukuda makes a lot of things work really well, and it just may be the place that sets me on a sushi roll [and a string of bad puns]! My Special One and I will return soon because the ramen is calling, and I say that as someone who typically has zero interest in ramen.

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week: Alma Pan Latin Kitchen

January 2013

The Regent Square neighborhood of Pittsburgh boasts the every-run-is-a-longer-workout-once-you-get-lost-in-the-woods Frick Park, an independent movie theater, tiny shops, a main drag with an old charm and a few noteworthy restaurants. Having already fallen for Root 174, I was due for another dining adventure in the neighborhood, and Pittsburgh Restaurant Week provided just the opportunity. Since I do spend a good deal of my time wordpressing, it was appropriate that this opportunity was a meal dedicated to Pittsburgh bloggers. For the winter restaurant week, our host was Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen.

Alma Caldo and Fritura

Canja Sopa
Alma’s take on this classic Brazilian rice and chicken soup

Frituras de Maiz Tierno
Fritters stuffed with arugula and grilled corn, served with plantain hash and roasted poblano aioli

Alma Ceviche and Pork

Ceviche de Hongos
Mushrooms, green onions, pink beans, and avocado marinated in fresh citrus juices

Chuletas de Puerco con Pina y Batata
Grilled pork tenderloin topped with cilantro and jalapeno, served with pineapple and white sweet potato puree

In keeping with restaurant week perks, my Special One and I each ordered from the prix fixe menus and then shared a little bit of everything. Though the starter soup packed comfort and spice, two essentials for a place whose name means soul, the entrees were Alma’s stronger suit in this medley. Corn fritters with the sweet accent of plantains and pork with the bold flavor of the herb and jalapeno sauce could easily occupy the room one typically reserves for dessert. However, I happen to place a very high priority on dessert. I was justly rewarded with Alma’s biscochito. Though the name may refer to a little cake, this dessert was rich beyond its size!

Alma Bizcocho

Biscochito de Chocolate con Dulce de Leche y Helado de Canela
Warm chocolate cake with a sweet center, served with cinnamon ice cream

Alma’s owner, James Wallace also founded Pittsburgh’s first Ethiopian restaurant Abay (of which I am long overdue for a return visit). He has a knack for bringing really exotic and authentic cuisines to Pittsburgh, but what I currently find most exciting about his business ventures is his new push to support the local community and local agriculture in the process. This objective comes with its fair share of obstacles for cuisines that feature many tropical ingredients, but Jamie’s wife’s background as an environmental engineer certainly adds a positive push to this momentum. This was a great intro to the restaurant, and I will surely return. Next time I’ll have one of my City Dining Cards in tow!

Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Mercurio’s Artisan Gelato & Neapolitan Pizza (Pittsburgh, PA)

December 2012

Admittedly, I do not frequent the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh very frequently. Admittedly, I maaaay even be a little judgy if you ask me about the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Sometimes its ratio of [bros and girls in mini skirts paired with Ugg boots :: yours truly] can be just a tad overwhelming. I plead guilty to avoidance. However, an aimless wander powered by a new brunch location, recently motivated my brunching companion and me to poke our heads into Mercurio’s.

Mercurio's

I had passed this corner of Shadyside before, but Mercurio’s full offerings hadn’t registered (I blame the abundance of FroYo places and brightly lit, fat-free establishments- they have desensitized me to frozen dessert offerings). Our peek inside the restaurant revealed pizzas topped with fresh ingredients, large salads, a beautifully glowing pizza oven, an array of gelato, an espresso machine and happy people drinking wine with lunch. I officially fixed Mercurio’s on my radar!

Mercurio's Interior Sign

Thus on a cold and quiet New Year’s Eve, I found myself cozied next to my Special One in his Shadyside apartment, and I had an idea for lunch. One conveniently quick stroll later, we found ourselves evaluating the many enticing menu options at Mercurio’s.

Portabella Salad

INSALATA CON PORTABELLA
Portabella mushrooms, arugula, lemon zest, parmigiano reggiano, extra virgin olive oil

The lemon zest! What a simple and rewarding trick. I resolved to eat more salads with lemon zest in the coming year.

Pizza Della Casa

PIZZA DELLA CASA
Tomatoes, house made mozzarella, grape tomatoes, arugula, Prosiutto di Parma, shaved parmigiano reggiano, extra virgin olive oil

Pizza Del Re

PIZZA DEL RE
House made mozzarella, truffle spread, mushrooms, Prosiutto di Parma, extra virgin olive oil

Mercurio's Gelato

GELATO
Tiramisu + Amoretto + Nutella

As we walked home listing the many gaps Mercurio’s would fill, I realized we had found a new favorite. To recap our walking conclusions:

1. The food is really good! Fresh ingredients. Flavorful salads. Soft, warm pizza crust that puffs just at the end of the slice. The intense flavor of truffle oil!
2. The hours! Late night dining in Pittsburgh is tricky, so it’s worth noting that Mercurio’s is open until 10pm during the week and 11pm on weekends.
3. We once sought a place to go for dessert only. In the end we abandoned the pursuit because most of our restaurants of choice probably would have wanted us to order more food to earn our keep. Now we have a dessert outing option in the form of three scoops and two spoons!
4. Downers: Beer and wine!
5. Uppers: I finished my meal with a cappuccino, a really good cappuccino!

Pass me a mini skirt and some Ugg boots. It looks like I’m going to be spending a lot more time in Shadyside!

Eden: “Fresh. Local. Smart.”

January 2013

After the countdown and the ball drop, attention often turns to weight loss. Gyms and yoga classes fill to the brim. About two weeks later, the ellipticals are free, the yoga classes offer breathing room again, and old habits resume. A more positive approach may be a resolution to be healthier, but without a concrete strategy, the resolve to be healthier can quickly dissolve. If you live in Pittsburgh, there is one concrete step you can add to your health routine for a more successful outcome. Welcome to Eden

Eden Exterior

In their own words…

Eden is Pittsburgh’s premier restaurant for clean and healthy eating. We specialize in offering raw, vegan entrees, local produce and chicken, and Sunday brunch. Eden is a BYOB establishment and is located in Pittsburgh’s beautiful Shadyside neighborhood. Your health is very important to us, as is the health of our local farms and cooperatives. We want to do good for you, and do good for our community.”

Eden Interior

Based on the clean, vibrant design of the website and Eden’s mission, I had high hopes for a highly designed cafe and a healthy brunch. Unfortunately, the design of the interior did not match the caliber of the website. The space suffers from its basement level location, but lacking natural light aside, the space calls for brighter lights, brighter colors and more modern, streamlined furniture. As for the food…

Whole wheat waffles

Since I have a juicer, I skipped the many fresh juice options on the menu, but for those looking for a really fresh and wholesome way to start the morning, Eden has you covered. For those looking for a caffeine boost, Eden never leaves your brunch mug empty. In the spirit of sharing, my brunch friend and I split the Farm House Waffles and the Vegetable Omelette.

What makes Eden’s waffles stand out is their ingredients. They are made with local, free-range eggs, whole-wheat flour, housemade rice milk and brown sugar, served with real butter and local maple syrup.  For the gluten intolerant, there is also a gluten-free option.

Waffles for Sharing

The whole-wheat waffle and honey butter had me sold, but the “pile high” options ($1 each) were a little lackluster. With such a commitment to local foods, I was expecting the apple topping to burst with the sweet flavor local apples deliver, but these little chunks tasted more like the red delicious apples of grocery store ubiquity. I was also expecting the apples would be lightly caramelized, but they arrived raw, which I am willing to accept from the perspective of preserving the raw fruit’s nutrients.

Eden Omelette and Salad

The Eden omelette offers fresh vegetables, creamy local goat cheese and the assurance of knowing it was prepared with pure olive oil and sea salt.

All in All…

Design disappointment and minor preparation complaints aside, I appreciate eating at a restaurant that prioritizes health in all its details. I’d like to give Eden a second chance and try the more challenging and unique raw menu options, and specifically, I’d like to end my next visit with the Hazelnut Mexican Cacao Torte! I’d also love to redesign that interior! As always…will design for food! Let’s talk!

Returning Home: The Local

December 2012

Like many a young suburban girl with eyes on city living, my plan was always to leave my hometown. As a little girl, the suburban backdrop was ideal. I had a big yard, where my imagination ran as wild as I did, and I had neighbors who were extensions of my family. I had softball games in big parks, and dinners from my parents’ garden. It was ideal, but as I filled my time with more than games of tag, I saw a city as a better fit for my personality, so I moved.

The Local Train Station

When I would return home for the holidays, the acres of new cul-de-sacs and chain stores would taint my nostalgia. The character of the town was on the decline with each new development, but on this holiday trip home, I found a resurgence of character in thoughtful redevelopment. Very simply, I found The Local!

The Local

Through partnerships with local food purveyors within very specific mile ranges from their kitchen, the restaurant’s commitment to their community is apparent, “Our mission is to show people how good local food can be. Our target customers are those who care about what they eat and are motivated like we are to keep money in the local economy as well as anybody just looking for a good meal….”  [= me!!!]

The Local Mural

What adds even more uniqueness to the menu is the venue! The Local serves the flavors of its community in a symbol of the town- a former train station. One can imagine the hustle and bustle f commuters, maybe even railcars filled with the local produce bound for Philadelphia markets. The antique elements (dark wood grains, radiators, mason jars, etc) come alive with the accents of red and the personality of the mural above the kitchen.

The Orchard Sandwich

The Orchard Sandwich
Fresh local turkey breast, crisp apple slices, hardwood smoked bacon, sharp cheddar and honey Dijon mustard on a *French round roll

The Local buys their breads from Bakers on Broad, another newer place I was hoping to hit on this trip, but I’ll have to visit next time I am home. Unfortunately, all the early bird lunchers ate the place out of sweet potato fries, but the regular ol’ spuds did the trick in their stead. The sandwich was delightful, and there are still so many more menu items I’d like to try!

From the Back Room

Though the window views revealed white, wintry skies, there were a few signs of lingering greens, and I could imagine the summer garden beds brimming with lettuces, herbs and fresh vegetables.

Places for Growing

Though a big part of me wishes such places had been around when I began to forge my own food philosophies, I couldn’t have found this reclamation at a better time in my own development. This holiday I found myself seeking to understand my roots more than ever as a woman, as a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a friend.

Quiet Local Window

I came home to unearth buried memories, forage for deeper conversation and plants seeds for more growth. As the restaurant nurtured its community, I finally reconnected with mine.

Returning Home: Down to Earth Cafe

December 2012

There are many reasons to support local businesses. Numbers and statistics might be your motivators. For every $100 you spend in locally owned, independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spent that same $100 in a national chain, only $43 would return to your community. If you care about the longevity of your community, your $100 will probably reflect that.  Maybe you’re less driven by numbers, and the notion of people and community is enough. Maybe your motivator is supporting an effort that values people at every level.

Down To Earth Cafe

My recent trip home reaffirmed my belief in local community. Finding a lunch spot became a game of connect-the-dots. My starting dot was One Village Coffee, a specialty coffee roaster whose stance on community is evidenced by its name. Tracing the routes of coffee locations led me to Down To Earth Cafe, which incidentally led me to one very large and colorful rooster and a meal the whole family enjoyed together (the coffee dot also led me to The Local).

Rooster Art

In their own words, “Down to Earth is a casual Café located in the heart of Upper Bucks County. Our mission is two-fold. We want to create the most flavorful food using fresh ingredients and we also want to create a warm friendly place for you to enjoy our food. To ensure freshness, we will use organic and local products whenever possible…. We feel that local and organic foods are not only healthier to us and the environment, but simply taste better too.”

DTE Smoothies and Specials

There was only one troubling detail to be seen, and it’s a detail that would only matter to some. When a cafe claims to use organic when local is not a viable source, I find it objectionable to see very conventional brands of chocolate syrup and peanut butter being blended into a smoothie, knowing those brands use corn syrup unnecessarily and a laundry list of other preservatives. This isn’t an end all criticism. This is a challenge. These ingredient details matter if your mission states they matter (and if I was somehow wrong in my observations, I will gladly stand corrected).

DTE Quesadilla Special

Quesadilla Special
Boarshead roast beef, caramelized onions and American cheese w/ marinara sauce

Vegetable Sandwich

The Anti-Salerno
Zucchini, asparagus, eggplant, red peppers and other seasonal veggies grilled to perfection and tossed in a light olive oil. Topped with melted goat cheese on a warm ciabatta.

DTE Fish Taco Plate

Fish Tacos
Seasonal fish, beer battered and fried, in a soft taco shell smothered with house made cole slaw, tomatoes and avocado

DTE Crab Cake Sandwich

Housemade Crab Cake Sandwich*
Tartar sauce, organic mixed greens, tomato on a brioche bun
*Forever I will think of this as the sandwich that coerced my dad into both pronouncing and trying Quinoa!

From the large rooster painting, to the art on the walls, to the reclaimed wood of the tables… Down to Earth was just what I sought to support! It was healthy, flavorful food set against a unique backdrop. I may challenge the details, but overall, I was pleased my community connect-the-dots game led me Down to Earth!

That’s The Way They Became The Brady Brunch (Jones Restaurant)

November 2012

Here’s the story of a hungry lady, who was meeting with three very, hungry friends. All of them had one goal for their Sunday…

In The Neighborhood

… and that’s the way they became the Brady Brunch!

Jones Restaurant

Welcome to Jones, one of the restaurants on the ever growing list of restaurateur Stephen Starr’s establishments. Opening the doors to Jones feels a lot like tuning into TV Land and entering the living room of THE American family- The Brady Bunch, and the menu is equally reminiscent of American comforts.

Very Brady Living Room

Starr said, “People need different places and different scenes to keep things fresh…. It’s all about offering an exciting variety of entertainment experiences.” Sitting in a facsimile of the Brady living room truly does provide an exciting and different dining experience, an experience lined with shag carpet.

Shag City

Two words: Shag Carpet.

Happy Ladies

Menu Excitement

Monkey bread

Monkey Bread
This was a very different monkey bread than my mom’s Christmas morning monkey bread, but it was my favorite part of the meal. This sweet start was closer to the brioche spectrum of pastry dough than a typical sticky bun.

Phil and Q

Something about the atmosphere caused us to turn into talkshow type people.

Macaroni Before

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni After

Chicken and Waffles

Fried Chicken and Waffles 
I thought the accompanying bowl was chicken noodle soup, which didn’t appeal to me first thing in the morning (and yet, fried chicken did?). It wasn’t until reading the website that I learned the bowl was supposed to be an offering of chicken gravy. I’m more of a syrup gal anyway. Overall, this was not a chicken and waffle combo to write you grandmother about, and I’m fairly certain the syrup was not the nectar of real trees. This plate summed up my overall opinion of the restaurant- great fun over great food. Maybe Starr just hasn’t found his Alice yet?

Neighborhood Yellows

From brunch, we skipped through a yellow city.

Bike and Leaves

Other Stephen Starr restaurants in my repertoire:

The Dandelion
Talula’s Garden
Ranstead Room

Abstract Wine Art and Summer Meadows: Tria Cafe (Philadelphia)

November 2012

You know you have wonderful friends when they say “I know where we can go. It’s a real Quelcy place!” You know you have wonderful friends when they turn your name into an adjective and use it with acute precision. Let me tell you, I have some wonderful friends in Philadelphia because they dubbed Tria Cafe a “Quelcy place,” and they were indeed correct!

Tria Cafe

From the restaurant website…

Tria Rittenhouse opened in 2004 with the somewhat novel goal of bringing wine, cheese and beer together and celebrating them as equals. Tria has received six Best of Philly® awards from Philadelphia magazine, has been called one of the nation’s best places to enjoy beer by Imbibe and Draft magazines, and has been honored with three James Beard Foundation Nominations for Best Wine Service. At heart, Tria Cafe is the friendly corner bar in which you can relax with friends over some of the world’s most wonderful wines, cheeses and beers.

Tria Wines

MALBEC, BODEGA CATENA, ‘10 (Mendoza, Argentina)  
Pioneers of the Malbec revolution: violet, dark plums, vanilla and cocoa. Powerful yet so smooth.

Tria claims, “Don’t know the difference between Cabernet and Carmignano? Our friendly, knowledgeable staff is here to help. We’re all about passion, not pretension,” and their self-assessment is spot on. I was just about to take the recommended cabernet when our wine guide mentioned a Malbec. I quickly and quite pleasantly changed directions. The Malbec delivered the prescribed power and smoothness.

Tria Main Floor

The ambiance at Tria is steeped in simplicity. There are enough accents of brick and wood to give the space a quiet character, but the flickering candlelight and minimalism guides the rest of the experience.

Interior and View

Tria Menu

Truffled Egg Toast

Truffled Egg Toast with Fontina Fontal 

The first small plate to arrive at our table, this truffled egg toast caused us all to pause and savor every bite! It was the combination of the creamy egg, the sharp cheese, the light toast, the truffle flavor and the little accents of green. I nearly suggested ordering a second helping, but I was quickly distracted by the other flavors as they arrived.

Wine by Candlelight

Pistachio Ricotta Lavender Honey

Pistachio Herbed Ricotta with Lavender Honey (Bruschetta)

My friend Brian described this perfectly when he declared, “This tastes like cheese on a summer field.” We also ate the bruschetta with Truffled Mushroom and Fontina, which earned high approval ratings from the table as well but nothing as poetic as “cheese on a summer field.”

Tria Ambiance

Panna Cotta and Pine Nut Torta

Autumn-Spiced Panna Cotta with Caramelized Apples (left)
Rosemary-Pine Nut Torta with Roasted Grapes (right)

Being able to say “one of each of the desserts, please!” without being a glutton or feeling ill is a very lavish way to conclude an evening. Sharing with friends is one of my favorite ways to experience a meal, and this shared meal concluded ever so sweetly with notes of fall and roasted sweetness.

Decadent Chocolate Dessert

Valhrona Chocolate Espresso Cake with Caramel and Candied Walnuts

If a Snickers bar had the opportunity to better itself, it would strive to be Tria’s decadent, rich, chocolate purity. Eating it was like escaping to a Willy Wonka world, post the selfish, greedy, rich kids’ demise. It was harmony!

Wine Art

Now we have come to the point in the post in which I offer a piece of advice: if you foresee a wine bar in your near future, plan your outfit to include burgundy colored pants. Then spill all you want with the calm assurance no one will notice, your pants will recover quite inconspicuously, and you might even inspire a Rorschach-test type of moment for your understanding friends.

Santé!

An Anniversary Dinner at Cure

November 2012

“What do you want to do tonight?” I asked my special one in the morning.
“Well, I don’t really want to plan anything becaaaause… we have an 8:30pm reservation at Cure!”

On the list of “Best News to Hear Before Going to Work,” being surprised with plans for a dinner date at Cure ranks very highly! Being surprised with an anniversary dinner at Cure is even better yet!

Seat at the Kitchen

We local foodies have been praising Cure left and right, but it’s always encouraging to see a deserving establishment receive national recognition. Bon Appetit (one of my trusted favorites!) listed Cure as one of the nominees for best new restaurants of the year (#15 of 50). That most certainly calls for a toast! I’m sure there were rounds of campari to celebrate!

Pain d'epice

Foie Blonde and Veal Short Rib Terrine
pain d’epices, persimmon curd, whipped lavender oil, pomegranate, pea shoots, orange

Salumi and Kitchen

Salumi
calabrese, duck speck, chicken rillette, lardo

Salumi

Kitchen Scene

For a relatively small space, Cure offers so many experiences from a table for two, to seafood and drink pairings, to hog butcherings and at long last [for me], the heart of it all- dining directly in front of the kitchen. Sitting at the kitchen is like watching a show during dinner. The team really shines, with each person performing his or her role while still having fun, and it’s that fun factor that makes the front row seats especially worthwhile. Why wouldn’t you want to see passionate talent and joviality combine to produce the prettiest plates from a creative menu?

Kale and Mushroom

Veal Cheeks
apple cider, bacon, chestnut- cippolini risotto, crispy maitake, royal trumpet  mushrooms, crispy collard greens, fine herbs

Squid Ink Spaghetti Florentine

Squid Ink Spaghetti Florentine
Taleggio creamed spinach, parmesan, fried garlic, golden crumb, egg

Quality Control

Panna Cotta

Roasted Red Pepper- Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta 
burnt fennel meringue, fennel marmalade, olive caramel, tomato jam, white balsamic zabaglione, candied hazelnuts

Dessert Remains

I don’t have to dissect the meal’s rich flavors, the creamy textures or the bursts of pepper in an unexpected course because everything was eye-closing, mouth-poised, enjoy-every-morsel good. Nor do I have to say I told you Cure was good, legitimately good. Cure is my very own Pittsburgh food blessing, and now it’s a beacon to the outside world; Pittsburgh’s food scene is really evolving for the best… the best of the year, in fact!

Escaping It All: Pusadee’s Garden

October 2012

Where do you go when you want to step off the sidewalk and feel as though you have stepped into a new world?

Maybe it’s home. Maybe it’s a garden. Maybe it’s a yoga school, but if you live in Pittsburgh, there is a point of departure you should add to your list: Pusadee’s Garden.

Pusadee’s Garden is a Thai restaurant in the ever growing Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville, but the reason I find myself eating there so frequently is because it feels like so much more than a restaurant experience. In the warmer months, Pusadee’s Garden comes alive with vines, flowers, flowing waters, hanging lanterns and the hum of people enjoying really fresh food in a beautiful setting. In one word, Pusadee’s feels like an escape.

“Thai Cole Slaw”
w/ a spicy tamarind-peanut sauce

Curry Puffs
Kabocha squash, asian sweet potatoes & veg in a pastry shell

Don’t let the photos fool you. There was far more food consumed and enjoyed thoroughly! My special one and I order food from Pusadee’s at least twice a month, so we know the menu well and have many trusted favorites, so I won’t break down the menu here. Pusadee’s is the full package. It’s consistent quality and fresh ingredients, often as locally sourced as the backyard garden. It’s friendly people. It’s a beautiful setting, and most importantly, it’s an escape. Sometimes  I just want dinner to transport me, and this garden space is where I go to depart!

*Note: The owners take a really long trip to Thailand in the winter months, so go try Pusadee’s soon, VERY SOON! As I recall the restaurant closes November 26 and reopens on February 14th. It makes the winter months pass really slowly for us, but it makes Valentine’s Day really sweet!

Treasured Time & A Meal At Sienna Sulla Piazza (Pittsburgh, PA)

October 10, 2012

To realize the value of four years:
Ask a graduate.

To realize the value of one year:
Ask a student who has failed a final exam.

To realize the value of nine months:
Ask a mother who gave birth to a stillborn.

To realize the value of one month:
Ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.

To realize the value of one week:
Ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.

To realize the value of one minute:
Ask a person who has missed the train, bus or plane.

To realize the value of one second:
Ask a person who has survived an accident.

To realize the value of a friend or family member:
Lose one.

Time waits for no one.
Treasure every moment you have.

You will treasure it even more when
You can share it with someone special.

~Author unknown

My dad sent me that! My dad, who is a bit behind the email curve (but bravely immersing himself in the email world nonetheless), emailed me those words, and the message really struck me. I’m not going to acknowledge I am getting older (exhibit A), but time does seem to be passing me at an alarming rate! The passage of time can be overwhelming, but it can also be celebratory. Eleven months in a relationship might not be a widely acknowledged anniversary or have an associated gift, but why not celebrate each other anyway? We did! We chose a place that was new to both of us: Sienna Sulla Piazza.

WILD MUSHROOM BRUSCHETTA
focaccia, truffle, tomato, parmesan, arugula

Meaty mushrooms and a mound of cheesy arugula is an excellent way to start a meal!

POACHED PEAR SALAD
grapes, frisee, hazelnuts, roasted garlic mascarpone port vinaigrette

I do have a penchant for a touch of fruit atop a salad, but I was even more intrigued by the salad dressing. Mascaprone and port?!? The descriptors were not exaggerative. The dressing really did deliver the sweet acidity of port and the creaminess of mascarpone, and the entire salad was served on a slate board, which really struck my presentation fancy!

LOBSTER RISOTTO
brazilian lobster tail, tomato,zucchini, mascarpone, parmesan

Huge chunks of lobster were buried in that mound! Also of merit were the libations. My special one sipped the Boulevardier, a combination of bulleit rye, carpano antica and campari. I chose the red wine route, and our server went out of his way to help me make my selection (ie: two taste tests later…).

CHIANTI BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIB
orzo mac ‘n cheese, parmesan, mascarpone, tomato-basil jam

The beef was unbelievably tender, and the tomato-basil jam added a really sweet, intense accent flavor.

ZEPPOLE
housemade hazelnut sauce

LEMON TIRIMISU
lady fingers, espresso, cocoa, mascarpone cheese

Though any downtown restaurant draws an oddly mixed crowd, I salute the brick and dark wooden ambiance of the restaurant. The part of the meal that really stuck with me was that tomato-basil jam on the short rib. Concluding with a citrus burst in tirimisu and a chocolate hazelnut drizzled zeppole concluded the evening deliciously. In closing, it’s highly likely I’ll venture to downtown Pittsburgh again for another dinner at Sienna Sulla Piazza. Maybe for a 14th month anniversary?!

Smoke in black and white

Smoke Taqueria (Pittsburgh, PA)

September 2012

Homestead is a borough just beyond Pittsburgh. It can feel like a very monotonous compilation of big box stores and  confusing parking lots, but when one crosses the tracks and really enters the main drag, there are remnants of the old, bustling community that once thrived on the steel industry. For example, the historical Carnegie Library of Homestead still boasts a bowling alley that predates manual pin resetting and an indoor pool. You can almost feel the ghost of an ornately dressed bather brushing by you as you take in the sparkle of the antique tile. Like many a story in this region, when the steel industry left, jobs and consequently people left. The neighborhood fell to decay, but recent endeavors are reviving a reason to visit Homestead, reasons beyond a shopping list for a bulk supply of toilet paper or hardware. My current number one reason to “trek” to Homestead? Smoke BBQ Taqueria!

Smoke’s commitment to its craft quickly becomes apparent. The vintage letters line the windowsill of the large, glass storefront and lead to bold color accents, hardwood floors, exposed brick, a mix of vintage and modern furniture, a carefully crafted menu and most importantly, the very enticing scent of smoked meats and tacos in the air. The atmosphere is warm and cozy. You might feel like you are traveling and have stumbled upon a winner of a hole-in-the-wall joint. That’s because you have!

Anyone can throw a heap of stir-fried meats onto a taco shell, add some shredded lettuce and call it a dia, but Smoke prepares their tacos holistically. They smoke the meats in house, so the flavor is intensely intertwined in the process, not spooned on right before service. The flour shells are rolled on site, adding another layer of fresh distinction. The menu’s sides evidence a mix of the owners Pittsburgh and southwestern stints: apple jalapeño slaw (Pittsburghers love their slaw), mascarpone macaroni ‘n cheese and creamy, red potato salad with leeks and crispy bacon!

Smoke is a BYOB establishment, but unless I were to bring a bottle yielding a handcrafted margarita or mojito, I find contentment in the fresh fruit agua fresca. In this case, the flavor of the night was a refreshing strawberry water with the extra flavor of lime zest.

Between two trips, I have tried most of the taco offerings, but much like the Burg Gourmand (a true Smoke aficionado), my consistent favorite is the Pork Taco with apricot habanero sauce and caramelized onions.  Additionally, Smoke offers menu specials. On this occasion, we immediately opted for the lightly fried, chorizo balls, which were similar to a falafel with a south-of-the-border spin.

Smoke is as adorable as it is delicious, so get yourself to Homestead! Who knows? Maybe the revival of the neighborhood’s former character will emerge between Amity and Anne street.

…And The Foie Ran Away With The Spoon (Pittsburgh, PA)

September 2012

If my special one were a spoon, and I were a dish, I’d definitely run away with him (even though he’s a lot faster than I will ever be)! I’d run away with him because he makes me laugh until my laugh becomes a high pitched gasp for air; he always sees the positive side; he is a very “special” dancer; he is smart beyond his years, and because he is the perfect dinner companion (just to name a few reasons)! He’s always eager to share our meals, and he patiently waits while I fiddle with f-stops. In short, he is the best, and I am the luckiest! Though it may be too sappy for some, we celebrate our anniversary each month, and what better way to celebrate than with a shared meal! For the September installment of our swooning, we chose a place that was new for both of us, as well as long overdue for both of us: Spoon.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover Spoon has a small courtyard area, but unfortunately, I was way too chilled to partake in the courtyard experience. As such, I was less impressed with the intentional formality of the interior. A wash of beige and dim lighting does not automatically equate to fine dining and masked the more unique furniture accents in a curtain of drab. Fortunately, the food delivered more than just a display of formality.

We began our meal with two cocktails. I opted for the smokey hints of Laphroaig, but I also sipped heavily from the bubbly bourbon. Both cocktails exhibited what I view as a quality blend- a distinction of the various flavor parts of the whole.

Vancouver in a Glass
Famous Grouse Scotch, Tupelo honey, lemon, ginger, Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch

5 O’clock Shadow
Averna amaro, Buffalo Trace bourbon, mint, lime, demerara sugar, ginger beer

The Bread Basket
Cornbread and chive biscuit

Duck Two Ways
Crispy confit cake, duck liver mousse, grilled peaches, balsamic reduction

The bread basket at Spoon shows an extra level of dedication with its cornmeal and biscuit offerings. Though well prepared, Duck Two Ways may be just a little more fattened duck than one should eat in one sitting.

Roasted Local Corn Soup
Butter poached Maine lobster, forest mushroom + sweet corn saute, tarragon creme fraiche

The combination of sweet corn, tangy creme fraiche, meaty mushrooms and lobster is the perfect harvest harmony!

Pork Two Ways
Grilled tenderloin, braised pork, Anson Mills white cheddar polenta, corn + zucchini + tomato saute, caramelized figs, port reduction

I usually find it difficult to be excited about pork tenderloin, so I was skeptical. My special one prevailed, and I was glad he did. The two porks combined with equal contributions of flavor and a contrast of texture. There is nothing bland about Spoon’s tenderloin.

Crispy Skin Skuna Bay Salmon 
chorizo stuffed pattypan squash, olive oil poached cherry tomatoes, creamed corn, mushroom + eggplant puree, blistered tomato reduction

Housemade Ice Cream

Corn! Bright, yellow, corn ice cream! If you’ve been with these grains before, you know this is something I’ve already thought about quite a bit, so I was eager to try another ice creamier’s version (as far as I know, I just made up the term ice creamier). Sweet corn in every frozen bite! I loved it, but after all, my genealogy resembles a cornstalk more than a tree. Hurry to Spoon, and try a scoop for yourself!

All in All

Was it a great anniversary dinner?
Absolutely!

Did Spoon live up to the hype?
I salute Spoon’s commitment to local purveyors, and I recommend the food and the drinks, but the overall experience? Though it may seem like pure pickiness, the beige and forced formality of the dining room really dimmed my desire to return. The demographic of people who appreciate good food is not limited to a class of diners who flaunt their wealth via boring blazers and snide behaviors, so why cater to those types in design? No, I’m not saying every restaurant has to be clad in reclaimed barn wood (though I do love reclaimed barn wood!), but the bounds of restaurant design could use a push.

What do you think?

Happiness, Wolf Shirts & My New Favorite Place (Marty’s Market, Pittsburgh)

September 2012

Lately, I’ve found my interest piqued by the topic of happiness- what is happening in my brain when I am experiencing happiness? Or conversely, what is happening in my brain to incite my feeling of happiness? I found the most approachable answers to my questions via an article by Josh Clark, of How Stuff Works, entitled What is the Neurochemistry of Happiness?

When stimulated, a series of regions in the brain associated with the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals are activated. At the center of the system is the nucleus accumbens, [which] is responsible for characteristics we associate with feelings of happiness, like laughter and euphoria. The nucleus accumbens gets what you might call fuel for pleasurable sensations from the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which responds to pleasurable sensation signals from the cerebral cortex. The VTA floods the nucleus accumbens and other regions in the system with the neurotransmitter dopamine, a hormone associated with pleasure. Other regions of the brain complete the reward system and reveal the purpose of not only the reward center, but also perhaps the basis of happiness itself. 

Why bombard this typically science-free corner of the blogosphere with a lesson on the brain?

Allow me to elaborate:

When I arrive at this bright green corner of Pittsburgh’s historical Strip District, my VTA floods my nucleus accumbens and other regions in my system with the neurotransmitter dopamine, and the hormone causes me to feel positive emotions. These unseen reactions result in a look observers would classify as “stupid bliss.” My eyes widen; my facial muscles engage to communicate the universal signal for happiness; my eyes gloss a bit, and I stare dreamily at my surroundings. The stimulus in this scenario, the stimulus which renders my face so happy as to be nearly unrecognizable by close friends and coworkers, is Marty’s Market.

Marty’s Market is a new, community-oriented store offering local and organic fares, a carefully sourced coffee bar and a seasonally inspired cafe. That combination alone would make me smile, but what floods my brain with happiness “fuel” is the careful attention to detail and quality apparent in every aspect of that combination.

One of those details is the design of the space. Owner Regina Koetters transformed the former, rather sterile Right By Nature grocery  space into a very modern and open atmosphere. The DIY and vintage touches are worthy of your favorite design blog’s reportings. The garage doors, the gentle breezes, the natural light, the swaying plants and the outdoor seating transport patrons to sunnier, more progressive cities with higher vitamin D offerings in their forecasts.

Marty’s is an example of the bar raising in Pittsburgh. It’s not just a grocery store, nor is it just a business with hints of an environmental conscious. Marty’s Market is fostering a community and curating an experience, and their eyes are set on continued improvement, which is why those eyes see this happy face quite a bit [my next brain research session might need to investigate obsessions]!

One of my first visits (which resulted in several subsequent visits in a very short span of time), happened to coincide with “Wolf Shirt Friday.” What is “Wolf Shirt Friday?” you might ask. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it all began when one friend and visionary graced our first and only basketball game with his Niagara Falls souvenir. The rest is a history howled at the moon, and on one such Friday, the howling trio went to Marty’s for a less scientifically analytical and more instinctual approach to happiness.

On the table for that particular visit was…

Grilled Zucchini & Goat Cheese Baguette sandwich
BLT with Niman Ranch’s all natural bacon and heirloom tomatoes on whole wheat
Grilled Peach & Blue Cheese salad
Pulled pork with Rufus Teague’s honey sweet BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese and pickle chips (I order this almost every time I go)

Marty’s coffee bar reminds me of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, where an awarded bakery and top caliber coffee bar combine in one delicious and crowded space. This begs the question why aren’t more eateries offering really great coffee options? With the requisite free wifi, Marty’s very well could become your public, caffeinated office space, competing in my book with Espresso A Mano and Commonplace Coffee for quality of craft and well designed spaces.

I typically shy away from syrups, but when a vanilla syrup is made in house and boasts flecks of a vanilla pod, I can easily be convinced otherwise. My staple mug at Marty’s is the vanilla-infused latte, but I’m also impressed the menu includes the perfect little drink known as the cortado.

Marty’s by Morn

It was only a matter of time until we arrived for a Chef’s Breakfast, offered on weekends until 11am.

Brioche French Toast w/ Cinnamon Butter
Harvest Omelette w/ Roasted Potatoes and Griddled Bread

A friend recommended the omelette (which I only hint at here photographically) and dubbed it, “the world’s fluffiest omelette.” With a bit of skepticism, we followed his recommendation, which did in fact reveal the world’s fluffiest omelette brimming with a local corn so sweet it could be a dessert. As for the French toast, the standard breakfast offering is deceptively simple, but once you take a bite of the fluffy brioche slathered with the cinnamon butter, you’ll know why I dream of this French toast on weekend mornings.

In Conclusion…

The same article on happiness states, “During a reward response, the prefrontal cortex also activates; this focuses the individual’s attention and ultimately conditions the person to repeat the task that led to this reward.” In my case, my Marty’s induced happiness has now reached a conditioned state. The market has quickly become one of my Pittsburgh favorites. I strongly hope more Pittsburghers find the same level of happiness there and support such an endeavor, for our dollars are our votes, and it’s time to keep the bar raised! See you there soon… and don’t forget your wolf shirt!

Dancing Japanese Pancakes (Teppanyaki Kyoto, Pittsburgh)

September 2012

If “Japanese food” means more to you than sushi, there is a Pittsburgh restaurant just for you! If you like your food to combine fresh ingredients and a little bit of spectacle, there is a Pittsburgh restaurant just for you! If you like your food to encourage sharing…you get the idea! Said Pittsburgh restaurant is Teppanyaki Kyoto, located on the tiny main drag of the Highland Park neighborhood (where you’ll also find me brunching at e2). Teppanyaki (teppan for iron plate and yaki for grilled/boiled/pan-fried) is a style of cuisine centered around the iron griddle.

The faded logo made my chopsticks look unhappy, but luckily, there is an old Japanese remedy for unhappiness, and at Teppanyaki, the happiness syrum arrives in beautiful pottery. It is even purported to slay goblins!

“Goblin Killer” Sake
Warm, smooth and sips so easily. There will be refills!

Seaweed Salad
Pretty straightforward but worth ordering nonetheless.

Takoyaki
Dumplings made of batter and filled with diced octopus

If the more gelatinous preparations of octopus send you to other sections of a menu, have no fear. These little dumplings are amply packed with octopus chunks that still require a bite. I highly recommend this appetizer!

Japanese Pancakes (multiple varieties)
Wheat flour, cabbage, egg, choice of meat, topped with bonito fish flakes and spicy mayo

This is the specialty, and the advantage of eating with several friends is sampling all the different flavor combinations of pork, beef and seafood. The pancakes are really light, so the other advantage of sharing is justifying the number of pancakes that end up on the table. As the plates arrive, a little flutter might catch your eye. No, you are not mistaken. That pancake is dancing! Want to know why…?

Now you’ll be able to impress your dining companions when they behold the magic of the dancing pancake, and you tell them, “it’s simply thermal expansion at work. It’s science!” Be sure to offer your enlightening knowledge before dessert arrives. Studies show listening wanes when green tea mochi is served!

Birch-and-Barley-Beautiful-Menu

They Had Us At “Birch & Barley” (Brunch in Washington DC)

September 2012

This Labor Day weekend I attended a very special wedding in Chantilly, VA. Where is Chantilly, Va? For the purpose of a Sunday morning, Chantilly is precisely “close enough” to Washington DC to justify a jaunt for brunch . A quick investigation of the DC brunch scene revealed a restaurant entitled “Birch & Barley.” As two rustically-inclined, event designers, they had us at “Birch!”

One of Birch & Barley‘s biggest claims to fame is its collection of 555 artisanal beers, of which I drank not a drop. Brunch, I repeat, I was there for brunch (I’m also such a baby when it comes to beer, but that is beside the point at 11am). The display of beers on tap dazzled me nonetheless.

Though I did not spy any birch, I immediately embraced the interior scheme of rustic brick and glass candleholders wired to the wall and columns. The menu was also a thing of beauty- thick, watercolor paper with letterpress inspired fonts and “painted” dabs demonstrating the farm-fresh egg varieties.

Warm Brioche Sticky Bun
Brown Sugar Caramel, Pecans, Cream Cheese

I’m a big fan of ordering a cinnamon roll for the table (exhibit A), and the use of brioche dough in this sweet bun added all the extra allure I needed to choose between this and the donut varieties (Toffee-Bacon, Lemon-Poppy Glazed, Bittersweet Chocolate to name just a few examples). The roll was fresh and warm, and the dough was light and squishy. The only complaint was the uneven distribution of cream cheese, which appeared in a little burst.

Note: The half & half arrived in a metal version of a [miniature] carton of milk. As the waiter said, “we really try with the details.” I applauded!

Duck Confit Quiche
Caramelized Onions, Frisee Aux Lardons, Fried Shallots

A little heavy on the duck and light on the quiche, but still a passing entree. The hash browns arrived in a Jenga-like stack of fresh herbs in a crisp, fried case. One major oversight of our waiter was a failure to tell us the entree included hash browns, since we ordered a side of them. Apparently, he took us for ravenous and gluttonous (which fair enough because we did order way too much food, including a serving of the house-smoked bacon…house-smoked!!!).

Fried Chicken & Waffles
Belgian Waffle, Buttered Pecans, Maple-Chicken Jus

We went overboard, but when we saw chicken and waffles…we just had to! I would have liked an ample supply of maple syrup to push the sweet and savory juxtaposition, but alas, it was a drier serving. Pittsburghers will be happy to note, we both enjoyed this version, but in our hearts, we knew we would have preferred the cheddar, jalapeño, cornbread waffle with bourbon-bacon maple syrup from … you guessed it… Meat and Potatoes.

Sometimes you just need a little excursion to make you appreciate the places nearer to home. That being said, the overall Birch & Barley design, the food and the wanderings outside the restaurant door made the trip well worth our while. I would sincerely love to return with a hearty beer drinker and a healthy appetite for a really great cocktail!

Market Table Bistro

A Little Lunch in Lovettsville (Market Table Bistro)

August 2012

The road typically offers made-to-order sandwich menus ending forcibly in Z sounds, but occasionally, the road can bring a pleasant surprise. On an August wander to a special wedding, lunch was a case of the latter, thanks to Market Table Bistro.

An antique store is what initially pulled us off our path. A little meander through farmlands put us in front of a plate of deviled eggs, with pickled fixins’ and little snappy pea shoots(?), set against the backdrop of a quaint and quiet town.

In the spirit of the south, we ordered the catfish sandwich with roasted potatoes, but the real winner- no surprise here- was the pulled pork! I find it hard to resist pulled pork, especially from a lunch spot that has close ties to local purveyors.

Market Table Bistro boasted an interior reminiscent of a New England cottage with its slate blue walls, stone fireplaces and white accents. However, we were intent on enjoying the last bits of August on their large patio. Had we not been basking in the sunlight, we may have sampled the early signs of fall in the soup du jour.

Should you not have a bride awaiting your arrival, do take some time to sit on the bistro’s rocking chairs near their raised beds of herbs and vegetables, but as for us, we had other places to be. All in all, Market Table Bistro was a pleasant surprise, and we were quite grateful for steering off course.

Food Blogger Dinner at The Porch (Schenley Park, Pittsburgh)

August 2012

My number one regret about my apartment is the lack of outdoor space, so I was excited to learn about a newer, Pittsburgh restaurant named “The Porch.” I was even more excited to learn the name was no misnomer. The restaurant does indeed boast an extensive porch bordering Schenely Park, as well as a large interior. More importantly, The Porch supports many local, agricultural resources.

My opportunity to sit on said porch finally arrived when the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week planners hosted a Food Blogger Dinner. The goal of the summer installment of restaurant week was to highlight food and restaurants through fine dining, fresh harvests and outdoor seating. The goal in incorporating the local food bloggers was to gather and thank those of us who enthusiastically support the city’s growing food scene. Thus, the meal at The Porch also included a few perks.

For starters, we heard from Jamie Moore (left) who works with both the Eat’n Park Hospitality Group and PASA (the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) to promote and source local agriculture. Jamie spends a lot of time visiting farms and restaurants in the region and facilitating the connections between the two. His interest in sustainable farming really took hold when he married into a dairy farm and started to learn more about the world of a smaller scale farm. Chef Kevin Hermann (right) followed and spoke about the restaurant’s careful attention to food sourcing from its rooftop garden and honeybees to its in-house butchering of local cows. He’s personally involved at all levels from gardening, to butchering to cooking, and he loves every step of the process! Apparently, the only thing he doesn’t really love is sleeping a lot.

Blueberry-Lavender Smash
Featuring Wigle Whiskey and rooftop rosemary

You wanna talk about a cocktail maaaade for porch sippin’? Why would you want to talk about it when you could actually sip one?!?

Even though there was a spell of rain, we were all dry and content on the porch. The rain even added to the scene, as the park began to sparkle with little puddles and water droplets in the returning sunlight.

Keystone Farm Beef Tartare
w/ wild flowers, capers, picholine olives and tomato gastrique

This was 4-star tartare!

The most exciting aspect of the Food Blogger event was the rooftop garden tour! The rooftop is host to herbs, vegetables, flowers and even bumblebees, set against the urban and whimsical backdrop of the city and park respectively.

(The Cathedral of Learning)

Arriving solo to a dinner event can be a little nerve-wracking, but I was fortunate to be seated at a great table! The conversation flowed comfortably from course to course, and I’d love for a repeat with these ladies.  The surprise seating arrangement enabled me to meet the reading, kid-wrangler you might know as Beezus Kiddo, her friend who was along for the experience and Ali of Cheaterbites. We even managed to talk about topics other than food!

Cunningham Farm Pork Saltimbocca
w/wild sage, “Porch” prosciutto, rooftop tomatoes, sweet corn & heirloom beans

One of the perks of eating locally-sourced foods is the increase in flavor, since the food item was picked as close to the time of need as possible. The freshness and preservation of flavor was definitely true of the accent herbs and vegetables in this entree. I was slightly disappointed by the choice to offer this entree as the main course for a food blogger event. I have made a version of this myself, and it’s the type of recipe one would find in the “Quick Meals To Make During The Week” section of a cooking magazine. This is not to say I do not appreciate simplicity, but I would have preferred to see more of the chef’s chops than pork chops. Oh the puns! How they floweth so poorly!

Chocolate-Blueberry Pie
w/ sweet cream and hazelnut brittle

When Chef Kevin described the menu, he was especially enthusiastic about the dessert. “[My goal wasn't to come up here and rave about how good of a pastry chef I am, but today, I made a really good pie!]” He was right! The chocolate and blueberry combination doesn’t happen often, and this little pie made me wonder why? It was a creative and delicious finale, and slowly we made our way from the warmly lit dining room into the glow of street lights and city life.

What excites me most about the prospect of returning to The Porch is how intertwined the changes in the season and the menu will be. I imagine eating a hot squash soup on the porch as the weather requires a sweater or watching the snow collect on the many window frames while enjoying a heartier creation. Though I am a little sorry to have typed the word snow while still dreaming of sundresses. Get to The Porch before this summer is just a memory!

Special thanks to Pittsburgh Restaurant Week for organizing this event and special thanks to my table-mates for being such great dining companions!

Poutine for Breakfast! Park Brugge (Pittsburgh, PA)

July 2012

Usually if I’m on Bryant Street, in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh, I’m headed to one of my favorite brunch locations, e2. However, on this particular Saturday, my special one wanted to try something new, so we drove a little farther down the street to Park Brugge. For a small commercial zone, Bryant Street really does have quite the brunch offerings!

Park Brugge is the kid frère, so to speak, of Point Brugge, which I visited on a very grey fall morning in November. Both places aim to channel the atmosphere of “a vibrant little [European] bistro tucked away in a quiet, residential neighborhood…with an assortment of people of all ages eating, drinking, catching up with friends.” For a Belgian-inspired, neighborhood cafe, Park Brugge has surely missed its mark design wise. The overall look and feel teeters between college dormitory and generic diner (with minor exceptions in a few of the details such as the bar). However, the food hits the mark.

Bloody Mary for Him
Mimosa pour moi

Crab Beignets
Charred tomato remoulade

Fresh crab in a fluffy, savory donut. I recommend them!

Peach Cobbler Liege Waffles

This was one of those specials I ordered before the waitress had finished her sentence explaining them. The brown sugar streusel bits added a sweet crunch to the sweet peaches. The waffle texture was light on the inside with a crisp, sweet exterior, which made a great base for juicy peaches. Though you may not encounter this particular waffle pairing, waffles are a regular menu item at this Belgium-inspired bistro. They do channel their inspiration well when it comes to the waffle iron.

Poutine Omelette

The moral of this brunch tale is do not judge an omelette by its grey, messy covering because that mess of grey was a sausage gravy overtop a fluffy omelette filled with french fries, more gravy and cheese curd.

Potatoes Au Gratin

I’ve never seen potatoes au gratin served so compactly. It was as if a section cut of the earth had been delivered to the table. My special one has also started looking into being a hand model.

All in All

Behavioral assessments have confirmed, I am driven by aesthetics, so despite wanting to trade interior design plans for food, I would recommend Park Brugge for weekend brunching. The staff was enthusiastic and helpful, and the food makes it worth straying from other, well-loved favorites every now and then.

Food For Thought

When I make and serve brunch myself, I’m often in and out of the kitchen. It’s one of those moments in which I feel more like my mom, who hardly ever sat through an entire meal. However, when dining out, I naturally stay put, which enables the conversation to delve deeper than it might otherwise. On this occasion, my special one and I were trying out something new: brunch time debates! Both of us really enjoy challenging our beliefs while biting into sweet, crispy waffles, so if you’re interested in the same, here’s your food for thought:

Am I morally obligated to be charitable?

It may seem obvious at first, but if you say yes, your devil’s advocate, brunching partner should very quickly ask you how to quantify such an obligation? Should you be eating that brunch when you could nourish yourself with something far less extravagant. Should you be taking pictures of that brunch with an expensive camera? I’m not looking for any heated arguments in the comment section (because it’s not a platform conducive to a proper debate), but if you’re looking to spice up your morning meal, give this conversation a whirl and let me know how it goes.

Bon Appetit!