Restaurants

Il Pizzaiola (Fox Chapel Area, Pittsburgh)

This is a funny restaurant.  Set in a strip mall – small, quite upscale, but a strip mall, nonetheless – the interior is elegant.  The bar offers good seating, handsome shelves of bottles, very strong pours and very friendly service.

The one thing the restaurant advertises in its name and on its web-site – wood-fired pizza in the style of Naples – is awful.  The dough is bland and soggy, the ingredients not well-seasoned.  But the pasta, the branzino, the salads are really top-notch.  The prices, alas are also top-notch.

Along with its neighbor, The Heartwood and Whispers Pub, across the road, Il Pizzaiola, offers good food and nice atmosphere for the restaurant-starved residents of Fox Chapel, and O’Hara.  (The Hartwood, and Andorra, both in the same area, are reviewed below – pretty far below.)

New York City – Connecticut (Westport, Norwalk)

Cookshop (Chelsea neighborhood)- Nice, busy place with outdoor and indoor seating.  Zinc Bar.  Working to make good food.  Best dish we had:  Heirloom tomato salad – perfect.

We met Julia and Andrew at their apartment in New York about 1:00, having just come in from LaGuardia, and proceeded to one of Julia’s favorite places in Chelsea – Cookshop – a handsome place with a zinc bar, a handsome dining room, and outdoor tables under umbrellas running along 10th Avenue.  It is just across from the Highline Hotel – a complicated piece of architecture with its own restaurant – part of the General Theological Seminary, a fascinating city block of a campus which you can see to best effect by walking along West 21st Street.  Immediately across the street from Cookshop, is a stairway which will take you to the Highline where you can walk off your meal.  We immediately liked the place because Rusty, Andrew and Julia’s dog, was able to join us at an outdoor table (he couldn’t decide between the Jugged Hare and Pheasant Under Glass, so we ordered him a hamburger).  We had a good meal, marred by a cruely oversalted ceviche and crowned by a superbly assembled heirloom tomato salad.  The tomatoes were perfect and the light dressing of olive oil, salt, pepper, a spritz of vinegar and a hint of garlic was perfect.

After a walk and a nap, we met Julia and Andrew for wine and beer on the roof terrace of the Gem.  We could see the top Empire State Building lit in red, white and blue for the upcoming 9/11 memorial.

Le Coq Rico (Flatiron District)- Handsome restaurant with a long bar as you enter, mirrored by a dining bar around the corner.  Best dish:  Offal appetizer with chicken hearts en brochette

Billy got in about 9:00 and was able to join us at Le Coq Rico for a very good dinner.  From the greeter in Black Brogues without any socks, to the dining bar overlooking the kitchen, to our waiter who referred to Pittsburgh as the Trois Rivieras, to the menu, the restaurant was unique.  The general idea is that they raise imported French chickens of various types and roast them perfectly and serve them whole (cut into pieces) with jus.  They also offer squab, guinea hen, other exotica, a fish and scallops.  The Offal appetizer was the hit of the evening with perfectly trimmed and cooked chicken hearts en brochette.  Antoine Westerman, a three star Michelin chef has recreated his French restaurant ideas here.  They also have spectacular eggs and serve, so we hear, a superb brunch.     Billy and I would go back in a flash, Beez was ambiguous, and I forgot to ask Julia and Andrew.

Foragers Table (Chelsea neighborhood) – Industrial chic decor.  Food store with superior bread, attached to a really good restaurant.  Best dishes (we had brunch):  Poached Eggs with Merquez sausage in a stew of chickpeas and fennel.  Grilled bread with avocado slices.

The best meal in the city turned out to be the brunch we had at the restaurant next to our hotel while waiting for the childers to rise and get decent.  Thinking they would join us, we ordered coffee, juice and some sliced avocado and toast to tide us over until they came.  Foragers is attached to a market which, among other things, offers superior bread.  The ripe avaocado smashed onto the bread with a dash of salt reminded us that the avocado toast rage, while annoying, had a point.  We finally broke down, and I had a poached egg on merguez sausage in a chickpea stew.  Zowie!  We hobbled over to the Highline, after the kids drifted in and ate, where we were able to walk off brunch and amble, herd-like, with the entire population of China and some Frenchmen.

MeCHA Noodle Bar  (Fairfield, CT)  Wood everywhere kind of decor, very modern and sharp.  Best dishes – Beef Noodles, Porkbelly Bao, KFC Korean Fried Chicken Bao, ? ?

Andrew and Julia live in Connecticut during the week and we and Billy visited with them and their dog, Rusty.  We had two good dinners at restaurants along the Saugus River.  If you haven’t been to Westport, you have missed a beautiful (and expensive) part of the country with plenty of good restaurants.  But the best meal we had was brunch at a Vietnamese/Thai Restaurant.  I don’t remember half of what Julia and Andrew ordered for us, but it was all good.  Spicy enough so that I had a beer (unusual for me at that time of day).  MeCHA uses pork belly in all kinds of food – they get two stars for that alone.

New Orleans – Beez, Billy and Bill

What follows is a bit of travelogue and notes on a bunch of restaurants, the stand-out being the spectacularly and forthrightly named Toup’s Meatery.  You can also read about the restaurants under the ‘New Orleans’ heading in the “Restaurants” tab.  We had a surfeit of good eating at home as well, including roasted oysters anticipating their stellar counterparts at Drago’s in New Orleans,  rigatoni with sausage and red rapini sauce and the comforting and savory sweet potato, kale and sausage stew.  But I’m going to focus on the oysters and on the simple but memorable asparagus stew I discovered in an old “New Complete Techniques” tome by Jacques Pépin.  These recipes follow the travelogue, just scroll down.

I love traveling and people watching and have been happy in – God help me – Beckley, WV and Coudersport, PA.  So going to New Orleans was not a penalty.  But I have never enjoyed New Orleans as much as other ‘great’ American cities– until this trip.

I can’t prove it, but I feel in my bones, that New Orleans has become a greater city since Katrina* – vastly improved general restaurant scene, friendlier people  and a bit less run down and more clean.  In any event, I like the place – it’s worth a visit – and the food scene is remarkable, from joints to destination restaurants.

*I would settle for a lesser city and no Katrina – but that ship has already sailed or, perhaps, sunk

Drago's

The first revelation (shades of Patmos) was Drago’s fire-grilled oysters on the ground floor of the Hilton Riverside.  Picture vast grills covered with oysters on the half-shell with flames flaring up and singing the oysters and the shells as ladles of garlic butter are poured over them by a raucous crew of gigantic and gregarious chefs (“How about a raw oyster on the house, Sir?”) whose interplay with the crowd at the bar and their fellow chefs is itself worth the price of admission.  That would be Drago’s.  The oysters are huge and sweet and the grilling and flame gives them a meatiness that is not to be missed.  Not fancy – not expensive – just good – get your butt to Drago’s.

To back up a bit – on our first night in town for the AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) Conference at which Barbara hosted a reception and during which she held a board meeting (she was working – Billy and I were on vacation) we had an excellent dinner, along with 300 of our closest friends, at the Ritz-Carlton.   It really was a fine dinner, and the choreography of the servers was something to behold but, as with all mass dinners with pre-set menus, the mystery and possibility of discovering something great or new was lacking.  Like reading Time Magazine in its heyday versus an essay by George Orwell.

WWII B12

The next day, Saturday, Beez was free and after coffee and juice we all headed to the National WW II Museum, which is overwhelming, if you have any connection to that conflict (Beez’ father and my father both served during the war).  The conditions those men and women faced (well, boys and girls for the most part) are easy and frightening to imagine in the well-thought-out exhibitions strung through an old warehouse and two recently built wings.  The blunt outlines of the airplanes of that era seem particularly dated in comparison with the sleek, streamlined look of today.

Weary from all the walking and a bit shell-shocked by the exhibits, we chose, by serendipity, the most impressive of our NOLA restaurants, the wonderfully-named Toup’s Meatery.  The name says it all and we were soon driving our cholesterol levels through the roof with buffalo prosciutto, cracklings, coppa, hog head-cheese, boudin, chicken liver mousse, candied pork belly, and various wonderful pickles and mustard.  Just to make sure that we had reached the cholesterol red zone, Billy and I shared a Toup’s burger with pulled pork and bacon.  Barbara wimped out and had a Caesar with grilled romaine.

Sylvain's

 It was later that day, after some restorative napping that we hit Drago’s (Billy’s discovery of the previous evening).  From Drago’s, having restrained ourselves to 3or 4 oysters each, we headed to Sylvain’s in the French Quarter.  With an ill-lit street window and nearly invisible entrance, Sylvain’s seemed “closed tonight” to our driver – but a little exploration corrected this misperception and we were soon sitting in a charming courtyard where, looking up at immense trees in surrounding courtyards, we realized that a lot of the beauty is not visible from the narrow streets of this fascinating, teeming, claustrophobic part of town.  The food at Sylvain was good (Speckled Trout and Beef Cheeks), the service slow – but the place gets by on its charm, which is considerable.  (And the waitress was pretty)

On Sunday we went to Mass at the rococo St. Louis Cathedral and afterwards hustled over to the Café Pontalba to secure a table.  This nicked-up Cajun joint with waiters and waitresses who appear to be on recovery programs (and good for them), serves up eggs and wonderfully spiced sausages and has revived millions of New Orleans revelers (and saved the lives of quite a few, I don’t doubt) over the years.  In any event, it put us back together after one too many martinis on Saturday, and sent us off, pulsing with energy, Barbara to her conference and Billy and I to our self-guided (and often quite misguided, backtracking) tour of the French Quarter.  There are fascinating and beautiful buildings and houses here, more than a few of which date back over 2 centuries and street bands of remarkable quality, as well as ‘dead dog’ acts, magicians, red-necks reveling in the beauty of open-container drinking in the streets, and marvelous and bizarre shops of every sort,  Chi-wa-wa Gaga – a large shop for dinky dogs, being my personal favorite.  We also came across “Faulkner House Books” in the front of a luxurious town house.  The shop contains a small but select collection, but make sure you go to the side room to look through the iron grill with the “Private” sign on it to see how magnificent a gracious home in the French Quarter can be.

 Sazerac

Feeling a bit weak in the withers, at this juncture, Billy and repaired to the Hotel Moteleone for a restorative.  We could not find a seat at the inner-ear upsetting carousel bar – yes, it revolves, though very slowly – and settled for a table.  But “settled” is not the correct word for drinking one of the signature Sazerac’s that this place concocts.  This version is much subtler than the pronounced bitter and alcohol forward version you get in most of the country – I suspect it’s the mellowing effect of the sugared absinthe, but Sazeracs are to drink, not to analyze.

Later, after a medically necessary nap, we headed out for a series of Cancer Center receptions and then met Billy for late drinks and snacks at a nifty bar, Cure, in the uptown district of the city.  The bar is very handsome and the drinks are superb – martinis worth travelling for.  And they make a pork terrine which is also worth diverting your trip for.

 Garden District.JPG

On Monday, Billy and I wandered through the Garden District – magnificent piles with gallery porches, enough wrought iron to furnish the armies that fought over Troy, and mysterious, alluring, half-visible courtyards and gardens – and then lunched at Cochon, one of New Orleans trendiest places.  We had more grilled oysters, another meat plate – different than Toup’s and with a pork rillete I want to market nationwide and . . . wait for it . . .  a bacon and oyster sandwich.  I could feel the arteries coming to a full stop as I headed back to the hotel and Billy left for the airport.

Monday was a busy day for Barbara and we caught up at the reception she hosted before heading out for one final, good meal.  Borgne is not John Besh’s signature restaurant – with 20,000 ravenous cancer researchers in town, getting a reservation at August would have required a personal relationship – but it is an excellent restaurant built around the fish that the head chef used to catch in the nearby Lake Borgne.  We shared a platter of raw oysters – the best we had had so far, and Beez had a good crab and pork gumbo and I a finely-spiced and earthy ettoufé of crawfish and mustard greens with very light (think gnocchi) dumplings.  A fitting and restrained farewell dinner to this friendly, loosely-moraled city.

No matter where y’at in this city – you will run into interesting people and food and you will never, ever be thirsty.

Los Angeles – Jan Sloman – April, 2016

Maccheroni Republic ( not to be missed !!)

Highlights:  nduja  ( spicy Calabrian sausage spread on grilled bread)
Pumpkin filled ravioli in butter and truffle sauce
Squid in pasta (corkscrews) with saffron fish broth
Olive cake with oranges and blueberries
2013 Orneilla (sic)
Not expensive …

 Bestia — reservation took 6 weeks.

Antipasti:
Roasted marrow bone atop spinach gnocchetti — scrape marrow into the pasta ….
Salumi  — house prepared, each one interesting and distinct, but particularly enjoyed lardo on grilled bread with date purée
Farro with tabouleh, mint, little spring peas, creme fraiche
Lobster crostini
Roasted chicken gizzards — truly amazing
Pastas
Puttanesca — preserved lemon, anchovies
Pappardelle with wild boar and black truffles
Fettuccine with stinging nettles mushrooms
Pizza with ‘nduja sausage, black cabbage and fennel pollen
We didn’t get any secondi– large plates
Desserts
Zabaglione — one of the best I’ve ever had
Roasted banana malt and peanut butter ice cream bar — adult Snickers
“Coffee and donuts”
Wine — started with an Aglianico from 2011, then a Barbaresco from 2009. The Aglianico was terrific.
There were 6 of us. The young people (4) had “craft cocktails”. I eschew that kind of thing … I drink a lot less than I used to, but when I do it’s the same simple stuff I’ve always enjoyed, mostly a martini or unblended Scotch.
The service was excellent, the place hopping and vibrant.

New Orleans – the Stewarts – April, 2016

What follows is a bit of travelogue and notes on a bunch of restaurants, the stand-out being the spectacularly and forthrightly named Toup’s Meatery.  You can also read about the restaurants under the ‘New Orleans’ heading in the “Restaurants” tab.  We had a surfeit of good eating at home as well, including roasted oysters anticipating their stellar counterparts at Drago’s in New Orleans,  rigatoni with sausage and red rapini sauce and the comforting and savory sweet potato, kale and sausage stew.  But I’m going to focus on the oysters and on the simple but memorable asparagus stew I discovered in an old “New Complete Techniques” tome by Jacques Pépin.  These recipes follow the travelogue, just scroll down.

I love travelling and people watching and have been happy in – God help me – Beckley, WV and Couderspot, PA.  So going to New Orleans was not a penalty.  But I have never enjoyed New Orleans as much as other ‘great’ American cities– until this trip.

I can’t prove it, but I feel in my bones, that New Orleans has become a greater city since Katrina* – vastly improved general restaurant scene, friendlier people (could be just the Uber drivers) and a bit less run down and more clean.  In any event, I like the place – it’s worth a visit – and the food scene is remarkable, from joints to destination restaurants.

*I would settle for a lesser city and no Katrina – but that ship has sailed or, perhaps, sunk

The first revelation (shades of Patmos) was Drago’s fire-grilled oysters on the ground floor of the Hilton Riverside.  Picture vast grills covered with oysters on the half-shell with flames flaring up and singing the oysters and the shells as ladles of garlic butter are poured over them by a raucous crew of gigantic and gregarious chefs (“How about a raw oyster on the house, Sir?”) whose interplay with the crowd at the bar and their fellow chefs is itself worth the price of admission.  That would be Drago’s.  The oysters are huge and sweet and the grilling and flame gives them a meatiness that is not to be missed.  Not fancy – not expensive – just good – get your butt to Drago’s.

To back up a bit – on our first night in town for the AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) Conference at which Barbara hosted a reception and during which she held a board meeting (she was working – Billy and I were on vacation) we had an excellent dinner, along with 300 of our closest friends, at the Ritz-Carlton.   It really was a fine dinner, and the choreography of the servers was something to behold but, as with all mass dinners with pre-set menus, the mystery and possibility of discovering something new was lacking.  Like reading Time Magazine in its heyday versus an essay by George Orwell.

The next day, Saturday, Beez was free and after coffee and juice we all headed to the National WW II Museum, which is overwhelming, if you have any connection to that conflict (Beez’ father and my father both served during the war).  The conditions those men and women faced (well, boys and girls for the most part) are easy and frightening to imagine in the well-thought-out exhibitions strung through an old warehouse and two recently built wings.  The blunt outlines of the airplanes of that era are particularly fascinating in comparison with the sleek, streamlined look of today.

Weary from all the walking and a bit shell-shocked by the exhibits, we chose, by serendipity, the most impressive of our NOLA restaurants, the wonderfully-named Toup’s Meatery.  The name says it all and we were soon driving our cholesterol levels through the roof with buffalo prosciutto, cracklings, coppa, hog head-cheese, chicken liver mousse, candied pork belly, and various wonderful pickles and mustard.  Just to make sure that we had reached the cholesterol red zone, Billy and I shared a Toup’s burger with pulled pork and bacon.  Barbara wimped out and had a Caesar with grilled romaine.

It was later that day, after some restorative napping that we hit Drago’s (Billy’s discovery of the previous evening).  From Drago’s, having restrained ourselves to 3or 4 oysters each, we headed to Sylvain’s in the French Quarter.  With an ill-lit street window and nearly invisible entrance, Sylvain’s seemed “closed tonight” to our driver – but a little exploration corrected this misperception and we were soon sitting in a charming courtyard where, looking up at immense trees in surrounding courtyards, we realized that a lot of the beauty is not visible from the narrow streets of this fascinating, teeming, claustrophobic part of town.  The food at Sylvain was good (Speckled Trout and Beef Cheeks), the service slow – but the place gets by on its charm, which is considerable.  (And the waitress was pretty)

On Sunday we went to Mass at the rococo St. Louis Cathedral and afterwards hustled over to the Café Pontalba to secure a table.  This nicked-up Cajun joint with waiters and waitresses who appear to be on recovery programs (and good for them), serves up eggs and wonderfully spiced sausages and has revived millions of New Orleans revelers (and saved the lives of quite a few, I don’t doubt) over the years.  In any event, it put us back together after one too many martinis on Saturday, and sent us off, pulsing with energy, Barbara to her conference and Billy and I to our self-guided (and often quite misguided, backtracking) tour of the French Quarter.  There are fascinating and beautiful buildings and houses here, more than a few of which date back over 2 centuries and street bands of remarkable quality, as well as ‘dead dog’ acts, magicians, red-necks reveling in the beauty of open-container drinking in the streets, and marvelous and bizarre shops of every sort,  Chi-wa-wa Gaga – a large shop for dinky dogs, being my personal favorite.  We also came across “Faulkner House Books” in the front of a luxurious town house.  The shop contains a small but select collection, but make sure you go to the side room to look through the iron grill with the “Private” sign on it to see how magnificent a gracious home in the French Quarter can be.

Feeling a bit weak in the withers, at this juncture, Billy and repaired to the Hotel Moteleone for a restorative.  We could not find a seat at the inner-ear upsetting carousel bar – yes, it revolves, though very slowly – and settled for a table.  But “settled” is not the correct word for drinking one of the signature Sazerac’s that this place concocts.  This version is much subtler than the pronounced bitter and alcohol forward version you get in most of the country – I suspect it’s the mellowing effect of the sugared absinthe, but Sazeracs are to drink, not to analyze.

 

Later, after a medically necessary nap, we headed out for a series of Cancer Center receptions and then met Billy for late drinks and snacks at a nifty bar, Cure, in the uptown district of the city.  The bar is very handsome and the drinks are superb – martinis worth travelling for.  And they make a pork terrine which is also worth diverting your trip for.

On Monday, Billy and I wandered through the Garden District – magnificent piles with gallery porches, enough wrought iron to furnish the armies that fought over Troy, and mysterious, alluring, half-visible courtyards and gardens – and then lunched at Cochon, one of New Orleans trendiest places.  We had more grilled oysters, another meat plate – different than Toup’s and with a pork rillete I want to market nationwide and . . . wait for it . . .  a bacon and oyster sandwich.  I could feel the arteries coming to a full stop as I headed back to the hotel and Billy left for the airport.

Monday was a busy day for Barbara and we caught up at the reception she hosted before heading out for one final, good meal.  Borgne is not John Besh’s signature restaurant – with 20,000 ravenous cancer researchers in town, getting a reservation at August would have required a personal relationship – but it is an excellent restaurant built around the fish that the head chef used to catch in the nearby Lake Borgne.  We shared a platter of raw oysters – the best we had had so far, and Beez had a good crab and pork gumbo and I a finely-spiced and earthy ettoufé of crawfish and mustard greens with very light (think gnocchi) dumplings.  A fitting and restrained farewell dinner to this friendly, loosely-moraled city.

No matter where y’at in this city – you will run into interesting people and food and you will never, ever be thirsty.

Casa Reyna – Strip District, Pittsburgh – July, 2014

I was sitting on the veranda at Casa de los Santos looking out over the darkening Pacific. I was sipping a well-aged tequila, my mouth and lips still tingling with the peppery aftertaste of the exquisite mole that had been the star of a simple, but perfect meal. Well, actually, I was sitting at a table at Casa Reyna on Penn Avenue sipping a Negro Modela beer. I was looking through a glass window in the opposite wall at the room where they make the best tortillas, tacos and tamales in Pittsburgh. But the peppery aftertaste of several wonderful moles was definitely there.

The back story behind this restaurant is that the owner’s mother, from Texas, insisted on his importing Mexican ingredients when he decided that Pittsburgh needed a good Mexican grocery and traditional tortillas, tacos and tamales. She wanted the food to be autentico! I haven’t been to Mexico, but the food is certainly unico! and very good.

The restaurant space is downstairs beneath the food store- a sort of Mexican Rathskellar with solid wooden tables and chairs. There is a pleasant bar with 8 or 10 stools, a good number of small tables for 4 and several long tables for larger parties in a sizeable space. There are some simply framed and fascinating pictures of bull-fighters mixed with cheesy art which matches the cheesy music in the background which parallels, in a Mexican way, what you’d find in a neighborhood Italian restaurant (in Italy, I mean).

Before you take all this in, however, you will notice that the hostess and waitress are incredibly friendly (think Italy again). The next thing you’ll notice will be the food which is excellent and worth several visits to explore the entire menu.

————-

We tried a four-salsa sampler: A deep and funky mahogany-colored chipotle, a bright orange and vegetal habanero, a green, savory jalapeno with just the right depth of garlic and a spicy mango which struck me as more appropriate for children or adults who drink daiquiris. All but the mango had a heat that became apparent, but only a bit after you ate them – with the chipotle the latest blooming and the habanero the quickest. I would choose something in place of the mango next time, but the other salsas are keepers as are the simple, fresh tortilla chips that accompany them.

Along with the salsa we had an order of shrimp ceviche – not super flavorful, but a nice contrast to the heavier food to come. I’m thinking it was made to order, as is only right on a slow night, and the peppers, onions, citrus and cilantro had not yet married with the shrimp.   (Leftovers, the next day were nearly perfect)

By now your server, smiling, helpful, naming the various dishes, will be back with the plate of “Tiny Tacos” you ordered – in our case some lengua and carne served with a tomatillo salsa. These were good but not great, but I had already had a lot of salsa and ceviche so that the proper hunger with which one should attack a taco may have been lacking. However, a few more vegetables and less meat would lighten these and make them feel truly “tiny.”

For our main courses we ordered a tamal oaxaqueno and a traditional mole sampler.   The tamal was a traditional corn dough from Nixtamal surrounding shredded chicken in Oaxachan mole sauce, the whole steamed in a banana leaf – by far the best tamale I have ever tasted. The moles were out of this world – even the ice-cream scoop of rice was light and flavorful (and helpful in dissipating some of the heat from the cumulative intake of peppers). The star of the moles was a tomatillo mole with braised pork.

I should mention that Casa Reyna makes great margaritas – the deep whap of tequila anchoring a perfect limey citrus juice that is not too sweet (no whirring machines cranking out slushies in this joint) – and has a nice collection of Mexican beers. They also have an extensive collection of tequilas and offer ‘Tequila flights” for those who live within walking distance or who have chauffeurs. I would skip the mixed drinks which are puny (think Eastern Europe).

Casa Reyna goes on my list of favorite Pittsburgh restaurants and the service, being entirely unpretentious and friendly is enough to draw me back by itself. If you can’t head south of the Border for Mexican cuisine, a good substitute would be visiting Casa Reyna regularly.

Verde Mexican Kitchen – Pittsburgh (Penn Avenue, Garfield)) –   July, 2014

This is a great space for a summer dinner – floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around two sides of a restaurant which is already filled with light – blond wooden tables and light grey banquettes; vibrant Latin-seeming murals on one wall (this painter has seen one Picasso too many – but Picasso never used these colors); and an excellent, huge semi-circular bar with an illuminated counter, surrounding a soaring wall of tequila bottles.

That bar makes great standard and more experimental cocktails and serves ice-cold Mexican (and other) beer.  And the food is good.  I plan to go back with family and friends for the ambience, if not for the food, alone.  Although . . .

Beeze and I began with a tomatillo salsa and a guacamole with chips.  The tomatillo was okay, but all citrus and little heat.  It needed an anchoring of hot pepper and a bit more salt or onion to achieve distinction.  The guacamole, likewise, was bland, but hey, who doesn’t like guacamole and chips with a cocktail?

Much better were our entrees, which the chef has clearly paid a lot of attention to.  Beeze had two squash tacos in corn tortillas – one of the evening specials.  I had only a bite of hers but thought it might have been the taco of the evening with summer squash pieces cooked to that perfect pre-mushy state where they still have some chew but have absorbed the seasoning and flavors in which they are cooked.   I had two tacos with flour tortillas.  I like the wheat because it’s a more neutral flavor and lighter, allowing the innards of the tacos to shine.  And shine they did.  The lomo (beef with jalapeno-feta crema, onion and cilantro) was glutton-making savory with a dressing of onions and crema complementing the salt and slight heat.  I could have eaten a bucketful.  And the pescado (tilapia, cabbage, radish and chipotle aioli) was perfectly seasoned and spiced with a delicious slaw that walked the line between the iron of cabbage and the tartness of vinegar and spice.  I couldn’t have eaten a bucketful of these, but only because the damn thing was so rich.

The service was superior – waitresses who were confident of the food (and knowledgeable) and who did not intrude on our conversation, or keep us waiting.  The crowd was a mixture of young (mostly) and old – a very comfortable place to hang out.

A very positive addition to Pittsburgh dining and a great addition to one of our entry-ways to the city – the Highland Park – East Liberty – Friendship area.

Bottega (Michael Chiarello), Yountville, CA – April, 2014

A perfect meal – gorgeous restaurant, great weather, wonderful gardens, great waitress and superb food. Beeze had a seared tuna salad which featured charred broccoli rabe and a very light dressing. I had fluke crudo with ramp dressing and a salumi y formaggi plate that was spectacular.   I am sure that the French Laundry and other places are spectacular, but this would be my go-to in the NAPA valley.

Napa & Company – Stamford, CT – Spring, 2014

A perfect restaurant – superb service, great looking bar and, above all superb food. I had a cavatelli w/fennel sauce that was impossible to stop eating – so I shared it with the table. Barbara and Julia had a superbly crusted over pureed squash, Andrew had a beautifully-crusted sea bass. The martini was ice cold, the service was that perfect mixture of friendly and formal that Americans like. The bar was fascinating and bottle-filled. I’m going back some day.

Shaw’s Crab House – Chicago – May, 2015

Just back yesterday from a long weekend in Chicago where Beez attended the ASCO (American Society of Cancer Oncologists) Conference. In that town of excellent restaurants our best meal was a lunch in the oyster bar section of Shaw’s. Shaw’s is nearly a tourist destination but we had a seared tuna taco that packed a wallop of flavor. I tried to reproduce this last night – sesame seed crust, ginger/avocado puree, pickled radish, cucumber and jalapeno, vinegary slaw and soft taco – but didn’t come close. If you go to Shaw’s be sure to order the Bloody Mary which comes with a Lagunitas Pils chaser.

Acadia – Chicago – May, 2015

And we had an excellent dinner at this trendy restaurant – a knockout plate of salumi (Duck prosciutto and head cheese were among its highlights), a 63 degree egg with grits, asparagus and truffles that was spectacular, and Beez had fish with a frighteningly good potato puree with basil oil. The waiters were too young to be condescending or pretentious. The customers were talking and laughing, not the reverent, hushed foodies you often encounter in places like this. And the bill was reasonable. I recommend it highly – but brace yourself for the uncomfortably nervous (but knowledgeable) bartender.

Fette Sau – July, 2015

On Tuesday I was in Philadelphia and took a client to dinner at a spectacular barbecue restaurant – Fette Sau (“Fat Pig” in German). This is the flagship of Joe Carroll – backyard, non-professional chef – and it cooks the stuff you can find in his cookbook – “Feed the Fire” – Pulled pork, St. Louis Ribs, Brisket, smoked, barbecued chicken, baked beans with burnt ends, etc. The food is awesome – the kind of barbecue on which you will not want to put any sauce.

The restaurant occupies a handsome, industrial space set back from the street with a courtyard at the entrance and a table-filled courtyard at the other end of the dining room. This is more like Texas or the Carolinas than the kind of joint you find in Pittsburgh – as you enter, you join a line-up to give your order to the young lady who slices and piles up whatever poundage of each item you want (along with various sides) on a pewter platter covered with butcher paper. You move on to another young lady who takes your money. You then find your place at one of the communal tables on which are rolls of paper towels and three sauces (sweet barbecue, hot barbecue, vinegar sauce) and, if you are like my guest and myself, you then head over to the bar to order a bourbon flight (Knob Creek, Elijah Craig and Belvedere) with a beer back.

And then, heaven. The brisket was the most delicious piece of slow-cooked beef* I’ve ever had (as opposed to seared and rare steak), the St. Louis ribs made the baby-backs I cook seem puny, and the pulled pork was better than mine – partly because of the Duroc provenance, but mostly because of the cooking. The entire crew of the establishment consisted of the two ladies afore-mention, another who hauled new pieces of meat and sides out to the slicer, two bartenders, a manager and a busboy. Other than the silver and glass ware there was little clean-up. So – minimal staff, standard ingredients bought in bulk, premium brews and whiskey (there is also a full bar and wine), no back-and-forth between waiters and customers over menus – a recipe for low cost, high volume and profit, I’m guessing. We need one of these in Pittsburgh – the communal tables are perfect for a ‘milennial’ area like East Liberty or Lawrenceville.

*The closest thing I can recall is the boiled beef they serve in Vienna. But there you have to sip the rich broth and then eat the beef to get the same flavor contained in a single slice of brisket served at Fette Sau.

CURE – Pittsburgh (Lawrenceville) – July, 2015

The highlight of our week was dinner at this unique establishment in Lawrenceville. Get there as soon as you can. (You’ll probably need to reserve a table 3 or 4 weeks in advance unless you’re willing to eat unfashionably early, as we did, at 6:30 last Friday.) The restaurant is small but interesting, with three massive boar’s heads mounted on a wall of rough, weathered wood, and a small bar in one corner. Up a short flight of stairs is the open kitchen where you can see Justin Severino ordering a crew of 7 cooks around like Captain Bligh on the Bounty. (No mutiny the night we were there). Beez and I had oysters with a peppery rhubarb mignonette that I will probably spend my life trying to recreate. We shared a salmon crudo that somehow dominated avocado cream, dehydrated red onion (a great taste), black olive yogurt, grapefruit and dill.   We also shared two entrees: a squid ink Gnudi in a guanciale and beef-heart bolognese with leek ash and bonito flakes, and CURE’s signature pork-belly confit, served with a vinegary cilantro broth, smoked faro and a fiery ramp-cabbage kimchi. There was also a slow-cooked egg in this dish which helped to tame the just-this-side-of-overwhelming richness of the pork, acid of the broth and heat of the kimchi.

If you don’t finish your food at CURE, you have an eating disorder.

If you do go to CURE, you should have the salumi appetizer, which they make in- house (hence the name) and serve with their own mustards, pickles, etc. Beez is not a serious consumer of cured meats and the Rock Island oysters were spectacular in their own way, perfectly shucked and detached from their shells so that you simply tilted them and let the oysters slide into your mouth. They also make old-fashioned cocktails at CURE and I had a martini in the kind of smallish goblet they used to serve them in – felt like Nick Charles from the “Thin Man”.

Andorra – Fox Chapel, PA – July, 2015

We were surprised by the excellent pasta carbonara we (Beez and I, Hilda and Tim and Julie Stoecklein) had at Andorra , on the way home from Caroline and Sean Regan’s wedding party. Andorra’s outdoor space is great, but the service is spotty and the food is usually just okay. However, this carbonara, made with bits of well-cooked pork belly instead of thin bacon, was spectacular – or maybe we were all just very hungry having drunk but not eaten at the party. Still, it was a good moment for Andorra and a great time for all of us.

The Hartwood – Allison Park, PA – August, 2015

The Hartwood is a pretty place, but our experience over the years had been that the food was mediocre and the service even more so.   A take-out dinner we picked up one night last year signaled a change for the better – good food, good service, but did not prepare us for the spectacular dinner served to 21 Stewarts on Saturday (John and Linda’s idea and their treat). My peppered flat-iron served on risotto parmigiano was perfectly medium-rare and hot! The scallops, mahi mahi, cottage pie and other entrees were praised by everyone and even a simple appetizer like shrimp was special – instead of the bland boiled shrimp typical of appetizers, this shrimp had been boiled in a seasoned broth and needed no cocktail sauce to shine – and the service was spectacular. I suggest that you get to the Hartwood soon and often. (They have a private room in the back which John and Linda had reserved – great place for a group of 20 or so.)

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