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!