Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Birthday Dinner Surprise

This post comes to you two weeks delayed.  I've been a busy 'burgher!  But I have a story to tell about the second half of my beautiful birthday adventure with PID.

After a fun filled morning in the Strip District and a delicious trip to DeLuca's, we weren't quite done!  It was on to my first trip to The Warhol and my third to Phipps before my big dinner surprise!  Oooooh the anticipation was building!!

So, though the soles of my feet were sore, my soul was filled with joy after a beautiful day with my beau.  But it STILL wasn't over!  PID assured me I had time for a quick siesta before our fiesta.  So I took serious advantage before we headed out to dinner.  Luckily, he HAD let me in on a part of the secret:  there was a formal dress code.  So I'd purchased attire for the occasion.  Formal dress code? WHERE ON EARTH WERE WE GOING!?

Why Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, of course!  I'd been hinting to PID for ages.  I love Seafood and I love Mount Washington.  This was definitely the place for me!

Valet parking was convenient, but $4 plus tip. Who charges for valet anymore when the minimum your diners are paying half a month's salary on dinner?  But PID tells me it wasn't a big deal and he's the one who paid, so I digress.

I  half expected to walk directly in to the restaurant from the bottom floor -- that's how the other Mt. Washington restaurants are.  But Monterey Bay Fish Grotto is not located directly on the mountain.  It's on the other side of Grandview Ave on the top floor of what appears to be an apartment complex.  So you have to take an elevator all the way up.  Though yes, the valet booth is right there the elevator boasts no direction -- we even had trouble finding the button. I was confused and it had nothing to do with my being blond.

Anyway, we made our way to the top.  An absolutely breathtaking elevator ride (Literally. I'm scared of heights so I held my breath the whole time...but it was beautiful) with a perfect view of Heinz Field and downtown Pittsburgh. But when the elevator doors opened on the top floor, the view got even better!

The dining room was festive and beautiful with impossibly high ceilings and painted columns depicting palm trees reminiscent of the real Monterey Bay.

 (I'll tell you now that in a dress on the arm of a man wearing a tie as we're paying $54 for a $17 bottle of wine -- I was a little too intimidated to take a lot of pictures.  So many of these will come directly from their website and not from my lens.)

I felt welcomed immediately as we passed the bubbling fish tanks.  By the hostess and staff, not the fish.

Our waiter was a bit on the slow side.  Non alcoholic drinks came 10+ minutes after we'd ordered them and went dry on a few occasions.  But the manager on duty was extremely pleasant and helpful in choosing both a wine and an entree.  She was very conversational and seemed genuinely happy to have us.  US, not just our money. Which she was certainly getting.

And so, it was on to the wine...

We ordered a Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cab Sav.  I love Mondavi wines. At $54 for the bottle it was the cheapest on the Cab Sav portion of the extensive wine menu, but it was better than anything I'd had in a long time!

And then the appetizier...

My FAVORITE part of the meal, I have to say.  Though I hate raw oysters, I sure am a sucker for Oysters Rockefeller. So far, oddly enough, the best O.R. I've had was at a tiny middle-of-nowhere roadside diner just east of Seven Springs.  Until now.  I of course gasped in elation when I saw they were offered and had to think no further, while PID seemed far from indecisive as he ordered his staple: calamari.  The apps came almost as fast as the drinks (this would be a good thing if it hadn't been because the drinks took so doggone long to arrive).  The cheese was still bubbly and after one bite I discovered the hard way that "bubbly" was synonymous with "not quite ready to eat."  My tongue was burned and I actually wished it'd taken a bit longer to arrive. But once they cooled down, they were DELECTABLE.  Absolutely impeccable balance between the spinach, cheese, garlic and whatever else was thrown in there. It was a hefty portion as well with 8 on the plate.  I even let PID try one. Ain't I sweet? His calamari was good, but not the best I've had.  I suggest getting an appetizer you can't get at Red Lobster if you go.

Next, it was time for the entree...

Here, I was stumped.  I stared at the menu for what felt like hours, battling back and forth between the Sashimi style Ahi Tuna entree and the Caribbean style Chilean Sea Bass before finally settling on...neither. Instead, I went with the Jumbo Sea Scallops.  PID was once again conventional in choice, but I let him slide on this one.  Apparently their crab cakes are highly acclaimed, so he went with those.

My scallops melted in my mouth as they should and while some places scallop entrees leave me wanting, Monterey Bay's portions were just right. I felt satisfied, but not over served.  They were stuffed to perfection with fresh shrimp and crab meat with a delicious Lobster Newburg Sauce and coleslaw-esque garnish.  I have to say, I loved the garnish and wanted more.  It redefined edible-art in to "art I want to keep eating." I have nothing bad to say about this entire dish.  From first bite to scraping my plate I was in heaven. All too often I find myself wondering "what-if" after I've made a difficult menu decision.  My mind was nowhere near my other alternatives at this point. I was, simply put, satisfied.

PID's crab cakes were excellent as well.  Large chunks of fresh crab (flown in that afternoon like the rest of their fresh fish on the daily menu) drowned in a light and sweet remoulade with a perfect brown crust.  Not a hint of char in sight.  I still gave him heck for ordering calamari and crab cakes at one of the most elite restaurants in the city -- but who was I to criticize the man who gave me this beautiful day?

Finally, as we were waiting for our check, I caught our chatty manager whispering to our waiter and moments later, he appeared at our table with a HUGE slice of what appeared to be their chocolate truffle cake!

And would you believe it? The raspberry sauce spelled out a special message, just for me!

 (this one was really mine -- I didn't steal it.  I snapped the shot with my phone before quickly throwing it back in my purse...slightly embarrassed but mostly over excited to try this cake!)

They made up for charging for valet by not surprising PID with an involuntary dessert fee.  I've seen it happen: you mention your birthday but don't ask for a cake. They bring it anyway and BAM!  $12 on your check (Ahem....Red Lobster rises again). But not at Monterey Bay!  They really treat you on your day.

It was a sweet conclusion to a perfect evening. I could not have asked for more.

Cliffs Notes:

Drinks:  2 diet cokes @ $1*
           Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon @ $54
Appetizer: Oysters Rockefeller @ $11.95
                    Fried Calamari @ $11.95
Meal:  Stuffed Sea Scallops @ $35.95
           Maryland Crab Cakes @ $34.95
Tax:     @ 7% (Allegheny County only) $10.45
Tip:     $35
Total for two: $195.29
*i'm still checking on that $1 drink thing. after adding everything up that's certainly what it looks like to me!

Overall Opinion? 
Extremely delicious -- if I could afford to eat here once a week, I would.  But I can't.  I say LET THIS BE A LESSON TO YOU SIGNIFICANT OTHERS OUT THERE:

Don't forget about the other end of the Grandview block.  Monterey Bay is the perfect romantic dining option if your sweetheart likes seafood.  Of course it's pricey.  What did you expect? It's Mount Washington! You're paying for the view, the ambiance and some of the most sought after chefs in the city.  In this instance, I say it was worth it.  But you should ask PID. His wallet took the hit.  I'd love to take PID here on my dime sometime (anniversary? holiday? promotion?) but I'm sure we'll visit infrequently.  Definitely a special occasion type of joint and rightfully so.  Might wind up being too much of a good thing if it wasn't...

Monterey Bay Fish Grotto on Urbanspoon

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