Monday, August 2, 2010

Breaking the Habitat

Well hello friends.  It's been a while, hasn't it?  Budgets and workload have prevented me from bringing you my opinions on local restaurants for far too long, at least in my opinion.  I have to admit, I miss my addictive dining-out habit! I desperately need to get back in to the routine.

So we'll start today.  This afternoon I finally made the two-block-trek across 5th Avenue to check out the somewhat new sophisticated dining experience located in the Fairmont Hotel called Habitat.

Though I'd strolled by a number of times I'd never had a strong enough urge (or deep enough wallet) to stop for lunch.  But a few weeks ago I snagged a Groupon (no, I am not a paid spokesperson for Groupon, I just happen to think it's the smartest thing any Pittsburgher can be a part of) and decided it was time.

I'd been scoping out the menu for a few days, weighing my options and I have to say, I was beside myself with excitement.  It all came down to finding a day that I had an entire free hour to sneak out of the office and finally have a lunch away from my desk.

I decided, in order to assure a quick trip, that I would go early. I arrived around 11:30 and was the very first one in the restaurant.  Keep that in mind if you're in the mood for a quick and intimate lunch.  I was happily seated next to a window.  It was quite a pleasant view of the new PNC courtyard.

But my table had another interesting view.  The open walled kitchen allowed me to watch my meal being prepared right before my very eyes.  I love this approach to a dining experience.   Not only is there is no chance of any funny business going on in the kitchen (not that I thought there would be), but being a foodie I am completely enamored by watching people cook.  Just over the group dining table (which I was told is available to reserve for private parties, but also seats individuals over lunch hour when things get busy) was a wide open gaping hole in the wall with a view to the Habitat Chefs.

Once I was done ooh-ing and ahhh-ing at the set up, my waiter Raj greeted me with a fresh glass of ice water and a smile.  As I'd mentioned, I'd been studying the menu for a while and was already well aware of my order.  What had really impressed me was that this high end restaurant had a passion for sustainability.  They seemed to support locally grown products which has a special place in my heart.  I made a point to ask Raj what items from their Executive Express option were fresh and locally sourced.  To my satisfaction, he'd mentioned the wild beets which were native to Greensburg and drizzled with honey straight from Pittsburgh beekeepers.  I'd had my eye on that anyway, so I ordered up.

But first, came the bread.

I was given a beautifully whipped sweet butter with a choice of sourdough or a raisin walnut multi-grain of sorts and it really hit the spot as I waited for my beets.

I have to make a note that the diet coke that I ordered was poured fresh in front of me from an ice cold glass bottle (my favorite source).  So that pleased me as well.

Finally came the appetizer.

So, does this delicious root make anyone else think of Nickelodeon's Doug? Killer Tofu anyone?

Anyway... the combination of lettuce, goat cheese and beets is my new-found-not-so-guilty-pleasure. I've been obsessed with it since I threw the two together on a salad with almonds in a desperate attempt to finish off my perishables before a vacation in May. The beets came roasted and drizzled with the most delectable and obviously fresh honey I've ever tasted.  It was sweet as expected, but not too thick and not remotely overpowering. I assumed it was a combination of chard and typical red garden beets, but they melted like butter beneath my fork. I WILL go back and get this small plate again. Without a doubt.

But wait, there's an entree.

Now, the Executive Express lunch comes complete with four courses on one plate: soup, sandwich, salad and dessert.  However, even though the beets were one of my options (as a a salad substitute), the sandwich I'd been dying for was not.  So since I had my Groupon, I went for the gusto and ordered both. I have to say I wouldn't suggest this, but I had $30 to burn on my own since Groupons can't be re-credited. Doing this took a bit longer than expected and for the typical lone luncher would not have been a very economically sound decision.  I chose the grilled chicken breast sandwich with tomato, avocado, red onion, sprouts and a chipotle aioli.  Served with fries, this sandwich could (and likely should) have been a stand alone lunch option.  But you know me, I love to eat.  And eat I did.

The chicken was grilled to absolute perfection.  I haven't had juicy chicken in years.  Chicken is such a generally standard option, that it's so often overlooked and typically overcooked.  But not this breast!  I could taste the flavor in every bite.  However, it was an awful lot and the fries were sadly undercooked and soggy.  Also -- I have to say it.  WE ARE IN PITTSBURGH.  To NOT serve Heinz ketchup is a cardinal sin.  Some may say ketchup is ketchup, but I say no way jose.  Heinz is ketchup. The rest are only imitators.  Luckily the fries were the least important part of my lunch so I wasn't too disappointed.  However anyone who comes in ordering only a sandwich and fries would likely be left wanting.

I asked for my bill and Raj let me know that I still had a few dollars left on my Groupon.  He suggested I order dessert to go since I had the credit.  And when Raj makes a suggestion, by jove you listen.

And so it was on to dessert.

I ordered a chocolate nut cake which was not on the typical menu.  It sounded delicious and I'm sure it should have looked something like this:

But it ended up looking more like this:

 and tasting even worse than it looked.  Granted no food is ever nearly as good 5 hours after it's ordered, but I tasted more nut than chocolate and to me, the two didn't mesh overly well together.  It was also slightly chewy, which I guess I could blame on the refrigerator. You may have better luck. I would have chosen the Panna Cotta if I hadn't already reviewed a nearly unbeatable panna cotta.  So I say give that a shot!

Restaurant Info:
Address: 510 Market Street (downtown in the brand new PNC building)
Phone: 412.773.8848
Hours:  Breakfast
            6:30am - 11:00am 

           11:00am - 2:00pm

Reservations: Suggested

Price: $$$

Cliffs notes:
Groupon:   $30 worth @ $15
Drinks:     1 Diet Coke @ $2
Appetizer:     1 Roasted Beet platter @ $10
Meal:      Grilled Chicken Sandwich @ $11
Dessert:      1 Chocolate Nut Cake @ $6
Tax:     @ 7% (Allegheny County only) $2.03
Tip: (20% because I liked Raj and Grouponers always tip on the real total) $6
TOTAL FOR ONE:      $22.03

Overall Opinion?
I liked it quite a bit.  Sustainability and taste all in one place?  I'll take it.  It was kind of pricey, but certainly an outstanding option for a client lunch, dinner or after-work drinks.  With a friendly staff and an inviting atmosphere, it's definitely a place I'd suggest.  Just steer clear of the french fries and please, if you get dessert, eat it there!
 Habitat on Urbanspoon

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