Last night we spent 8 straight hours at the movies watching the first two Twilight flicks followed by Eclipse at midnight! Between showings, we went the Loews Club above the theater where one f.o.r.t. ordered yummy looking Southwest Chicken Egg rolls, and another opted for a delicious looking burger and the best seasoned french fries I've tasted in a while. I ordered a cocktail appropriately named the "New Moon:" Pear vodka, blue curacao, sours and sprite.
Almost as delicious as Jacob!
Drink: (@ $6.50)
Movie: (@ $30 for all three movies and a $10 AMC gift card in return)
So I know I've said it before: I'm typically a huge advocate for locally owned and operated Pittsburgh establishments that are unique to the area, but I can't help but admit something to you.
I love me a good steak.
And personally, I believe that Morton's the Steakhouse in downtown Pittsburgh has good -- no, GREAT -- steak (I also adore their Oysters Rockefeller with a large portion of my heart, soul and stomach).
So I can't help but share with you the fact that a huge part of my past revolving around the pride and joy I have for my Alma Mater, the University of Pittsburgh will be lunching at Morton's this afternoon and YOU AND I both have a chance to join them thanks to a little ongoing program hosted by ESPN called Lunch with a Legend.
Here are the details:
Lunch is served from 11:30pm - 1:30pm (this is, on it's own, a big deal since Morton's Pittsburgh does not typically serve lunch!)
One of the things I love about this city -- and my beautiful friends who occupy it -- is the abundance of opportunity to find hole-in-the-wall delights like the one I experienced this weekend.
One of the most appealing things about my group of friends is the fact that they're always on the hunt for new and exciting places that are far from the hustle and bustle of the typical chain establishment. "BYOB" is often the word (or acronym) of the day when it comes to choosing a destination to visit as a group. This is due to the fact that my friends are a lot like me in that they have a deep appreciation for wine. This appreciation, while celebrated, has a tendency to significantly increase the total our already outrageous tab. When we have the opportunity to bring our own wine, we tend to order based on ingredients and hunger level rather than price.
This weekend, one of my "friends of the round table" was celebrating her CENSORED birthday. At the suggestion of yet another f.o.r.t. the birthday girl chose Cafe du Jour on Pittsburgh's historic South Side. The restaurant is elusive in it's own right. It has no website so I was forced to look up reviews beforehand. Yelp revealed a heavy-up on 5 star experiences with a few scattered 3's and 4's which had me excited. But there is one woman I trust above all others, and she is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's China Millman. To my dismay, her review was less than excellent, but it did give me an idea of what to expect.
I, thinking I was going to be late, was the first to arrive. The restaurant is not easily identifiable in and amongst the boutiques and bars of Carson Street (like I said, elusive). I examined the space as I waited for my party (who I later found out were late only thanks to the impossible parking situation on the South Side. If you read my review of DISH you know that parking is a bear any night of the week in the South Side. I fully advise taking the bus if at all possible if you're headed there).
A sign on the door read "Reservations only, please" which I found initially shocking. A Carson Street establishment was turning walk-ins away? This place must be elite! I immediately realized why this was the case, however. Another Pittsburgh staple, the dining room was narrow. But the difference with Cafe du Jour was that half of this dining room was taken up by the kitchen and did not extend very far back. This left room for only four or five tables inside. I sat and waited at the table reserved for us in an unbearable sweltering heat when, luckily, the manager on site (maybe he was the owner?) noticed me waiting (and possibly schvitzing like a shmendrek) and asked if I wanted to move our party outside. Seeing as it was a beautifully sunny Saturday, the gorgeous patio was a welcomed adjustment.
When the rest of my f.o.r.t.s arrived, the candles were lit and the mood was set. And it was time for the wine.
We had (not surprisingly) each brought our own bottle. This may sound a bit excessive, but we like to do things lavishly. Sadly, one bottle lost it's life on 11th Street as it slipped through eager, hungry fingers and shattered on the sidewalk. Its a good thing my f.o.r.t.s came prepared with more than enough to supply replacement.
My choice poison that evening was a Cab Sav purchased from my local state store. I have to be honest about two things right now: 1.) I chose the wine based solely upon it's label. It had a funny name and a twisted tree on the front which I found oddly beautiful. 2.) I can not, for the life of me, remember what the name of that wine was. I searched the internet but "Cabernet Sauvignons that start with F and have a tree on the label" does not yield many accurate Google or Bing responses. I will do some homework and update you later!
We each passed a glass around trying each others' wine until it was time for the appetizer.
Though the baked brie and shrimp crepes both caught my eye, we -- as a table -- opted for a double order of the Spinach &Asiago Dip which was served with cherry tomatoes and basil and a warm French baguette. The dip came straight out of the oven and was still bubbling when it was brought to the table.
One word: ADDICTING! We ended up spooning it directly in to our greedy little mouths as we waited for the extra baguettes we were forced to order thanks to the heaping servings.
And then it was on to the entree.
If you're considering Cafe du Jour you should note that not only is it BYOB, but it's also a cash only establishment. Luckily there was an ATM across the street, so I withdrew $30 for the evening. Most entrees are between $17 and $25 so with bringing my own wine and splitting the appetizer (all were portioned perfectly for sharing), so I hoped to be in fine shape with $30. However, when our waitress rattled off the daily specials, one dish piqued my interest. Not listed on the menu was a featured small plate of asparagus with a creamy lemon caper mousse wrapped in alfalfa sprouts and lightly smoked salmon. This was by no means an entree, but I'd already had my appetizer and it sounded far too delicious to pass up. So I forwent my original choice of the Pan Seared Scallops (at $21) and opted for the asparagus and what sounded like an equally delicious salad in order to remain in budget. I worried this would turn in to a sacrificial decision, but as it turned out I was pleasantly mistaken.
One of my favorite combinations happens to be goat cheese, beets, spinach, vinaigrette and really, any kind of nut (PID not included). So when I saw their beet salad, I hoped it would satisfy me to the point that I forgot about my scallop option. Both it and the absolutely outstanding and creative asparagus did just that. The salad was a bit lacking in terms of ingredients. I wanted more beets, more cheese, more nuts and more spinach. But I'd already had enough carbs and starch in me from the earlier consumed French baguette. However, I've never been so pleased with a dish as I was with the asparagus. I considered myself very lucky to have come on the day they were testing it! If it's not on the menu when you get there, PLEASE request this dish. We need to make it a permanent CdJ fixture! I've attempted to recreate it since, and while I consider myself a decent cook, I couldn't come close. The salmon was extremely fresh, the lemon caper mousse was light and fluffy and there were just enough sprouts to add texture and not take away from the taste (which was outstanding).
The birthday girl opted for the scallops which she so generously let me sample and I must say, I'd recommend them any day of the week. Perfectly seared with the right amount of infused herbs, it melted in my mouth as a scallop truly should. And the couscous pilaf timbale that accompanied the scallops? Se magnifique!
Though I was spent, my f.o.r.t.s moved on to dessert.
We were told the desserts change daily, much like an assortment of the appetizers, which fits appropriately in to the restaurant's name and theme. Last night's dessert du jour (yes, "dessert" in French is, boringly enough, still "dessert") was a flourless chocolate cake with a raspberry puree. I tried a mini mouthful and was in flourless heaven.
Drinks: Unknown Cabernet Sauvignon, BYOB @ $2 per stem (I originally paid $16.99)
Appetizer: 2 Spinach & Asiago Dips (grande version) @ $7, divided by 8 of us = $1.75
Entree: Salmon Asparagus special @ $9
Spinach & Beet Salad @ $7
Dessert: 2 Flourless Chocolate Cakes @ $4, divided by 8 of us = $1
Tax: 7% sales tax (Allegheny County only) (I'm guessing around $1 for each of us)
Tip: $5 (a little over 20% of my portion) for good service
MY TOTAL: $25.75 (I stayed within my budget!)
Cafe du Jour is one of Pittsburgh's best kept secrets. As much as I truly respect her opinion and am well aware that she, and not I, is the expert, I have to strongly disagree with China's review. Our service was punctual, the atmosphere (once we moved outside) was elegant and the food was by far the best I've had in quite some time. It seems from the reviews I'd seen that the Trout is not the way to go, so I suggest steering clear of it as I did. But for a group of eight giddy, wine filled friends this experience was one for the books. I would say if you're going to make the trip, do it in the springtime so you can experience the patio and avoid the heat of the adjacent kitchen. I have already recommended this place and will continue to do so and I can't wait to take PID there to share my enjoyment. It was Cafe Du-licious!
*a special thank you goes to f.o.r.t. Derek Reighard for taking these great pics for me with his lovely camera as well as post-gazette.com for letting me steal two shots of the restaurant which were much better than the ones I took.
Just had a refreshingly delicious lunch outside at the PPG Place Fountain and wanted to share it with everyone.
#4 Turkey Tom, e-z lettuce add avocado with barbecue Jimmy chips (I threw in a cookie for good measure. It's waiting for me in my purse). I spent $10.74 and it was worth every penny just to sit outside and enjoy a refreshing gourmet sub in the sun!
The smoke from the BBQ pits, the peanuts, the hot dogs, the grease, the grass, the sand, the guy who forgot to shower sitting two rows in front of you...I love it all.
As I'd mentioned, last evening PID and I jaunted across the river to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the ChiSox. Now let's get one thing straight. I'm a die hard Yankee fan at heart. I was born wearing pinstripes and may or may not know the middle names of the entire starting line-up (and a few choice pitchers). However, being a former softballer, I can't help but love the game wherever I can get it. Which, sadly, happens to be Pittsburgh.
Have we had a winning team since I've lived here? No. Have we had a winning team since I was 9? No. But that's OK! We have an absolutely amazing ballpark with a breathtaking view (I always say it looks like we're sitting on a green screen, it's too perfect to be real!) that serves OUTSTANDING food.
I know, I know. You're thinking "ballparks serve hotdogs, nachos and beer, right?" And you would be correct. But OUR ballpark just happens to serve it up a notch by scattering two of Pittsburgh's local favorite eateries throughout the park. The hardest choice upon arrival is not which over ecstatic vendor from whom to purchase beer, but whether to get Quaker Steak or Primanti's to accompany said beer. And by jove, they make it even harder by slapping them right next to each other so the coleslaw and pickles taunt you and each other simultaneously.
PID and I were lucky enough to be seated in section 108, DIRECTLY in front of these two culinary gems. When we decided it was time to indulge we, quite literally, stared at these two signs for 4-5 minutes, mouths agape, in contemplation.
"Awguehwine?" We heard and ignored.
"EXCUSE ME -- ARE YOU TWO IN LINE?" a clearly perturbed woman repeated. We snapped back to life and replied "No...wait yes! No, I think not yet."
Finally we decided on Quaker Steak & Lube to cure our hunger pangs and stood in line awaiting a stadium bucket o' wings.
After arguing with both self and PID, I decided to forgo the $8 beer and stick to diet Pepsi... still putting us back a pretty penny since I require a large beverage when it is above 70 degrees outside.
PID and I are suckers for onion rings, so we threw on an order of those as well. It may seem steep, but at QSL you get 5 rings for $5. I will never argue that that is a fair price, however I will say that, considering the price of ballpark food in general, the size of these monster rings are quite favorable and ridiculously delicious. I'm a dipper by nature (ranch? BK zest sauce which I've stolen bags of specifically so I can use it for everything other than BK? ketchup? you name it, I dip in it). However, I realized by the time I'd returned to my seat that I forgot to ask for ranch and had less than zero desire to navigate back through the sea of kneecaps, thighs, beer cups and nacho cheese for a measly cup of Hidden Valley. So I sucked it up and took a bite. To my pleasant surprise no dipping sauce was needed for these puppies AT ALL. They were massive and tasty. (Save the "that's what she said jokes. Leave them for PID.) I was in onion ring heaven.
Then it was on to the wings.
I chose the Arizona Ranch breed while PID had been pretty excited about his Louisiana Lickers. I told him he only liked it for the name. We each tried eachother's and surprisingly decided that we'd made the right decision, although both were quite appetizing we were happy with our individual choices. PID is pretty cute when he's sloppily shoving a LA Licker in his mouth, isn't he?
Drinks: 2 LARGE diet Pepsis @ $4.75
Appetizer: 5 onion rings for $5
Meal: 1 single order of AZ Ranch Wings @ 9.75
1 stadium bucket of LA Lickers @ $18.75
Dessert: PID's company and a fabulous view of Garret Jones' rear @ $0 Tax: Tax included at the ballpark
TOTAL FOR TWO: $43
I can't say enough good things about date night at the ballpark. But I can say two bad things. First, we are all well aware of "ballpark prices" which run in the ballpark of WAY TOO EXPENSIVE. But hey, you're paying for the experience, right? Oh wait... you already paid for that with your ticket...
Second, sadly, I can say that I've lived in Pittsburgh for 8 years and I honestly can't tell you if I've been at PNC Park for a Pirates win more than two times. It's sad, but I still have love for the black and gold, no matter which pitch they swing at or unnecessary diving catch they miss.
But while date night with the Pittsburgh Pirates may not be overly romantic, we sure enjoyed ourselves and our meals. We'll be back next week and the week after. We've already got our tickets. All you can eat seats? HERE WE COME!
Today, once I finally depart from my second consecutive 11+ hour business day, PID and I will be attending the Pirates game....likely to witness their 11th consecutive loss. I do believe I'm going to need a drink.
Thank you so much to Living Pittsburgh for enlightening me on not only the things I can do for free in this town, but for breaking down local Happy Hours by region. I simply clicked on "Central-Downtown" and found a list of great places that I can sneak in and grab a quick drink (for a cheaper price) before heading in to the game (and paying $8 for a crappy light beer).
Tonight I think I'll be headed to Olive or Twist on 6th street where I can sip a signature martini like the French Twist (vodka and raspberry Chambord with a splash of pineapple - oooh la la!) for only $4.
If anyone cares to join me I'll be at the bar...
..at 6:15, but only for a few minutes. It doesn't take me long to savor anything involving raspberry AND pineapple. After that, look for the girl shaking her head in shame in section 106. No... the other girl shaking her head in shame in section 106.
So last week was 2010 Local Restaurant Week here in Pittsburgh. Locally owned and operated restaurants throughout the region were offering dining deals -- anywhere from three to five courses -- for $20.10. With 46 restaurants to choose from and only five days to participate, PID and I were in a real predicament. Which to choose, which to choose...
After weighing our options and remembering that we still had a few Groupons floating around for participating restaurants, we narrowed it down to three top choices:
1.) NineOnNine downtown on Penn Ave.
2.) Bistro 16 on Washington Rd. in Mt. Lebanon
3.) Tamari on Butler St. in Lawrenceville
Believe me, all will get their review in due time, but for this particular evening we battled it out over a glass of homemade Pino Noir and finally landed on Tamari on Butler street in Lawrenceville. Tapas is the new, hip thing now, isn't it? And I find it difficult to turn down anywhere that offers fresh Sashimi. Tamari was recently voted not only among Pittsburgh Magazine's Top 25 Restaurants, but the Best New Restaurant in the region as well. I thought I would see if it deserved the title.
Let's start with the not-so-obvious reason I liked Tamari. I am a public transporter. I work downtown and rely heavily on my bus pass to get me from point A to points B, C and D on a day-to-day basis. On this particular date night, I was working late and it was far more convenient for me so simply hop on a bus and meet him in Lawrenceville. Tamari was right on a number of convenient bus routes (the 64 from both Squirrel Hill and Shadyside, 77F & 77D and 81B from downtown, 500, 71A, 54C from Oakland etc.). I simply hopped on the first 77 that came my way and off I went to meet PID for a fancy dinner.
The restaurant is quaint. An intimately enclosed outdoor dining patio greets you as you arrive with black steel tables and chairs.
It was a hot, sticky evening so we thought about opting for inside dining -- although our reserved table was apparently set indoors anyway, so we weren't even faced with the decision. In typical Pittsburgh fashion, the restaurant was long and lean, extending back past the bar and open kitchen with seating all along the left wall.
I'm typically not a fan of multiple tables sharing one bench, however tables here were spaced at a comfortable enough distance apart that I didn't feel as though I was a part of our neighbors' dining experience.
And it was time for the wine:
It was with the wine that I was sorely disappointed. All of their wines (aside from the reserves, of course) are equally priced at $7.50 per glass and $28 per bottle. While that may be superb news for someone ordering a robust, aged red, I was planning on ordering seafood -- with which a nice, soft (typically less expensive) white would go quite nicely. So I settled on the Ste. Chapelle Riesling (Ste. Chapelle IDAHO mind you -- not France.)
Upon closer examination, I noticed that half of the listed labels seemed less than extravegant. Later that evening I went home and revisited the menu and searched online -- most of the bottles made available at Tamari (again, not on reserve) sold for between $9 and $20/bottle retail price. To charge $7.50 per glass for a US 2009 Riesling to me is preposterous.
Then on to the appetizer:
PID and I were intrigued by their Robata Grill selections -- a variety of meat selections served on skewers (loaded with three bite sized cutlets) accompanied by three unique dipping sauces: ponzu butter, ginger & chimichurri.
They were reasonably priced at $2-3 per skewer. PID opted for Lamb with Jalepeno, Shrimp and Bacon & Quail egg.
And finally, the main course:
We showed up completely prepared to order the $20.10 Local Restaurant Week deal: Panko Crusted Oysters served with Yuzu Aioli on a bed of a Jicama Slaw to start followed by Pan Roasted Chicken with Fingerling Potatoes and Wasabi Chimichurri. Don't speak that language? That's what I'm here for.
Panko: a variety of flaky bread crumb used in Japanese cuisine as a crunchy coating for fried foods Yuzu: a tart Japanese citrus fruit (tasting similar to a grapefuit or mandarin orange) used to flavor dishes much like a lemon is used in the US -- yuzu know what I'm sayin? Aioli: a garlic and olive oil based sauce which is often added to/flavored and has many variations Jicama: pronounced HICK-kah-ma. the red-headed-step-child of the produce section, Jicama is, essentially, a high carb sweet flavored root. I like saying Jicama, don't you? Fingerling Potatoes: small potatoes.
After careful consideration (and as a shock to both of us), PID and I veered away from our original plan to order the dining deal. .I can cook chicken any night of the week -- I want something unique when I'm paying someone else to cook for me! But those oysters sounded delicious, so I ordered them special (she charged me $9). From there we decided that, since we were in the Japanese version of a Tapas bar, that we would order Tapas style: little bit of a lot of stuff.
I was giddy with excitement when I saw that they had Tuna Tartar. I chose that and an order of the Tempura Calamari with tomatillo salsa, chipotle mayo & nuoc cham to accompany the oysters. PID went with an order of the Tuna Sashimi and the braised pork belly as his "entree" which our server immediately questioned. She shared with us some insight on the dish, that the flavors are intense and far from diners' typical expectations. PID quickly changed his order to the Beef Tenderloin.
My Tartar arrived with our skewers which was a hassle. We had to perform a balancing act on our table to fit all of the plates and it made sharing difficult. I suppose I understood since only one thing ordered between the two of us was classified as an "entree." I shouldn't have assumed our waitress understood our plan of edible attack. I started with PID the skewers first, letting him have two of the three of each selection. They were DELICIOUS!
(Let's get one thing out of the way -- I NEED A BETTER CAMERA. I know this, I apologize in advance, it will happen someday. SOME day.)
Perfectly proportioned, they provided a wonderful amuse bouche. I tried each sauce and complemented the meats in a very different, but very appropriate way. The shrimp and ponzu butter, however, stole the show for me.
And now I got to dig in to my tartar! I've mentioned before that I try tartar everywhere that serves it to experience unique recipes and accompanying attributes. Though I can't say it was the best I've ever had, I was beyond impressed with their inventive take on the dish.
The yuzu crème fraiche (which tasted like a fancy twist on cream cheese) provided an excellent texture addition to the soft, chewy tuna but took away from the taste, for me. It was almost a numbing taste rather than a complementary one. My favorite part, however, were the banana chips! Bravo, Tamari for your creativity with the tartar!
Though our waitress checked back with us with some frequency (my Pepsi only went dry for about 5 minutes), it took an absurdly long time for us to get our next round of food (which was odd since we had about 14 rounds of food and there were only about nine people total in the restaurant).
When it finally arrived, PID's sashimi was extremely fresh and, according to him (or what I could gauge from his full-mouthed mumbles) was extremely tasty. His Beef Tenderloin "entree," however, was left wanting.
Barely larger in circumference than our bite sized skewer pieces, his beef looked and smelled charred. PID admitted that it tasted delicious, but couldn't initially pinpoint what it reminded him of. We later realized it was beef jerky.
The Yuzu Aioli on my oysters was the saving grace. They were far too fried for my liking, all I tasted was Panko crumbs and the crunch was hard to overcome!
Though the Jicima provided a fresh taste to accompany it, the oysters aren't on the menu, and I would keep it that way.
Finally, our waitress brought out the calamari served in a tipped "Chinese takeout box" and overflowing in to the three sauces.
This calamari was the lightest, tastiest I've ever had. The tempura batter was not heavy and we found ourselves enjoying more squid than fried shell (which is ne'er too often the case). I couldn't even tell you which was favorite sauce. I was sneaking finger dips in what was left of all three by the time the calamari was finished!
Drinks: 1 Ste. Chapelle (IDAHO) Reisling @ $7.50 (I'm a lush and drank alone)
Tip: (a little less than 20%, we sat for a while) $15
TOTAL FOR TWO: $94.72
We spent WAY too much money. At no fault but our own, I'm sure. We suffered from what I like to call EBS (eyes bigger than stomach syndrome). We said "hey, everything's small here let's just get a lot" when I didn't realize half of my items were fried which filled me up incredibly quickly, and PID didn't realize half of his items were sized for field mice which left him hungry. We planned poorly, but ate well. I would recommend Tamari strictly for the atmosphere and Robata Grill items to anyone looking for an intimate dinner setting, but not for large parties. Heavens, I have no idea where you'd sit if you came with a party of 5 or more! I also will not likely go back unless begged by out-of-towners or local newbies who are jonesing for a hip hot-spot. My income isn't suited for that kind of spending on that amount of food.
Looking for a less-than-obvious place to find great food? Just look for great art.
I skipped across the Blvd of the Allies for lunch outside on Monday.....there were a few choices.
I settled on something called "edible salad bowl" $10 (plus $1 per extra meat). Edible salad? I certainly hope so... but start with a freshly baked taco bowl, add a few tongfuls of this HEAPING bowl of salad, top it off with a mix of grilled veggies, chicken and shrimp and throw in a dollop of light sour cream and it's more than edible. It's delectable. Look for them on the Point side of the festival.
Although it was quite satisfying, I was not satisfied. And so the only logical solution was to go back on Tuesday. But this time I was determined to dig deep and find something....exciting! And that is exactly what I did. I was distracted by amazing photography, vivid paintings, metal welding and some really cool clocks...but hidden deep in the depths of the arts fest (between the back of the Hilton and the KDKA newsroom) lay a treasure.....
LOBSTER BURGERS?!?!?!?!!! Sign. Me. Up. I ordered one for $8 (want a combo with fries and a salad? tack on $2) and, just to test my stomach, an order of -- wait for it... -- coconut shrimp! (also $8)
I refuse to exaggerate, but I must tell you this was, by far, THE VERY BEST LUNCH I have EVER eaten. EVER. I threw in a $5 freshly squeezed lemonade and snagged a bench in the park to make it an authentic "arts fest" meal.
Personally, I was spent. I couldn't have been happier with my meal. But if you've got a sweet tooth, you will not be left wanting. A few parting photos to tickle your tastebud fancy...
See you at the Three Rivers Arts Festival! (Hurry!! Only 5 days left!)