Friday, May 28, 2010

Fresh Baked Friday: Back to Blueberry

Happy Friday!  So it's time for "Fresh Baked Friday" already -- I feel as though I just FBF'd it yesterday!  My how busy weeks fly!

Today's fresh baked feature is an old friend of mine and personal favorite.  I was still in college back during my days of working the Walnut Street retail circuit which meant no toaster or stovetop and therefore no omelets or toast for breakfast.  So when I was scheduled to open the store, it meant one thing: a stop a Prantl's Bakery on the way.

Prantl's is a small but stacked baked-good paradise complete with handmade delights from Cannoli to sheet cakes. If you can dream up any type of sweet, chances are good that they have it at Prantl's.  My tendency was to ask whoever was tending the case to simply grab a box and walk with me as I picked and chose from a plethora of these goodies. But my favorite? As always, the blueberry muffin.

I made a very exciting discovery upon recently starting my new job in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh: Prantl's has a SECOND glorious location in Market Square (just below an insanely fabulous Mexican restaurant that I'll be sure to blog about soon...)!!   I was delighted this morning to discover  that my team members had a a box full of treats ready to share when I made it in to the office.  And, was it my lucky day? The infamous blueberry muffin had not yet been swiped...

It may look funny, but believe you me -- this muffin will knock your socks off.  Prantl's muffins are the lightest, fluffiest, softest, freshest muffins in town. They don't crumble, they melt apart.   I've got to assume -- and will one day remember to ask -- that they are made with fresh berries.  Nothing once frozen could taste that sweet and juicy.

So if you're looking for a cake to please a crowd, pastries to cure a hunger pang, or a muffin to start your morning, be absolutely sure you don't overlook Prantl's.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week!

Happy Restaurant Week, everyone!

This week is what I'm all about.  Local eateries getting the recognition and foot traffic they deserve. After reading their mission statement on their website, I am fully behind this cause.  My purpose as a blogger is to introduce local Pittsburghers and tourists alike to the beauty that is the locally owned and independently operated restaurant.  While I enjoy an outing to the Cheesecake Factory now and again, I can't help but hold a special place in my heart for the places that originated and thrive (or strive to thrive) here in our own back yard.  Bravo, Pittsburgh Restaurant Week for helping me to celebrate that.

In a nod to 2010, a plethora of local Pittsburgh dining destinations are offering exceptional meal deals to local consumers for $20.10 a head.  For example, X restaurant may be offering soup, salad, app, dinner, dessert and wine for only $20.10.  Most are offering 3 course meals and wine which -- in many cases -- are valued at double the cost, any other week of the year.

Joe Harvey of is the mastermind behind bringing Restaurant Week, a branch of Local Restaurant Week which has roots in Buffalo, NY and according to has been notably popular in other cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia, to Pittsburgh in 2010.  You can follow them on Twitter @PGHRestaurantWk or become a fan on Facebook by clicking here.

I must apologize for getting this blog out in a tardy fashion.  This post should have hit news feeds Sunday evening to prepare you for the week ahead.  Shame on me!  But you still have six glorious days of opportunity in front of you -- go out and seize them!  There is no need to sign up, no coupons to print.  Just pick your poison from their impressive list of 45 locations, and tell them you want the $20.10 deal!

PID and I are absolutely taking advantage of this completely delightful week of deals starting tomorrow evening.  Stay tuned to find out where we went and what we thought!

In the mean time,  go out and enjoy!  I can't visit 45 Restaurants in 5 days alone so I'll need your help!  Write to me at and tell me about your experiences and what you thought and I'll make you a guest blogger!

Bon Appetite!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fresh Baked Friday!

Do you own/know of/absolutely adore a local breakfast joint or bakery you feel is worthy of sharing with the rest of the 'Burgh?  (C'mon, don't keep those baked goods all to yourself!)

Feel free to e-mail me your experiences, photos, feelings or suggestions.  Downtown Pittsburgh locations are best, but if I can't make it in to try it out myself, I can always make you a guest blogger!

Today's edition: The Crazy Mocha Muffin.

I've chosen Cranberry today, which is a daring move for me -- the blueberry queen of America.  But alas, there were no blueberry muffins this morning.  While I was a bit nervous initially as the last one in the bunch didn't appear to have many (or any) cranberries on the surface, I was more than pleasantly surprised upon first nibble to find a more than sufficient amount waiting for me inside!

HOWEVER -- anyone who knows me will tell you I cannot and will not eat or smell or even look at an orange or anything flavored that way.  So morning munchers beware:  the Crazy Mocha Cranberry Muffin is, in fact, the Crazy Mocha Cranberry with-a-slight-bit-of-orange Muffin.  It was not so much that I had to toss it (who would do such an awful thing), but it was enough that I had to close my eyes mid-nom and think of a marsh full of cranberries and nothing else.

That being said, I must admit that I am very rarely disappointed in any baked good (or Chai Latte for that matter) that Crazy Mocha serves up, and with more and more popping up around the county (I believe I counted 26, now?!) it's becoming a Pittsburgh staple!

Cliffs Notes:

1 Cranberry with-a-slight-bit-of-orange Muffin: $1.97
Tip: (I go there a lot and rarely tip, it was time) $1.00
TOTAL for one:  $2.97

Overall Opinion?

Of course I love Crazy Mocha.  It's my first Fresh Baked Friday blog for a reason!  It may not be a bakery or even technically a "breakfast joint" -- it's more of a coffee oasis -- but I'm going to start with what I know and what I love.  CM is the only place I order coffee or tea as it just tastes more fresh than the others.


MOVE OVER STARBUCKS!  The goat is barreling through!


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thirsty Thursday, First Edition

So after my Tuesday post about Willow, I can't stop thinking about the delicious wine.

I want to go back -- if for nothing but the wine!  And tonight it's HALF PRICE! 

So that, in turn, got me thinking about drinking.  As I'd mentioned before, my wallet is, at the moment, uncomfortably thin so when my friends and I decided it's time for a beer or a margarita or a glass/bottle of wine, I like to find the places that can quench my thirst without drying up my finances.

In the spirit of helping others with the same problem, I will supply you with a list of my very favorite "drink specials" every Thursday.  I'll list a special for every night of the week starting, of course, with Thursday so you can plan ahead!

THURSDAY: Willow (NORTH HILLS). There is a select list of wines available for the deal, but I took a look and it's nothing I can't handle! What's nice about Willow's Uncork'd Thursdays is that you can order half price by the stem OR the bottle.  With the relaxingly lush atmosphere, this is a great place to bring an intimate group of girlfriends for a quiet evening away from the kids but is also great for a romantic first (or 32nd) date.

FRIDAY: Carson City Saloon (SOUTHSIDE).  This is one of my favorite bars on the south side -- when I actually make it out to the chaotic south side. Happy hour is your typical 5-7 p.m. with half off all appetizers (try the beer battered pickles. They are truly a uniquely appetizing experience) and $1 off all drinks.  $2.25 bottles and $2.50 wells run from 9-11 with live music and occasionally my personal favorite, Karaoke!

SATURDAY:  Claddagh Irish Pub (THE WORKS). I'm a soccer player.  So anywhere that shows EPL all day on the big screen by the bar is my kinda place. I also enjoy anywhere that calls them "pints" rather than "drafts."  Speaking of which its $4 "pints," $3 Call drinks, $2 domestic bottles, $4 House wine (typically not for the Saturday soccer fan) every Saturday.

SUNDAY: Redbeard's Tavern (MOUNT WASHINGTON). $5 Margaritas on the patio ALL DAY all summer long?  Yes please.

MONDAY:  McFadden's Pittsburgh (NORTH SHORE). $0.25 wings and $3 you call its.  Great for Monday night Pirates games when we're losing 10-1 in the 4th inning and you just want to get the heck out of the stuffy awkward ballpark...

TUESDAY: Shadyside Saloon (ELLSWORTH). $2 Tuesday (all domestic drafts and well drinks) plus one hell of a good looking group of guys during dart league season!

WEDNESDAY:  Shady Grove (WALNUT). Half price wine bottles and the nicest (not to mention cutest) bartenders in Pittsburgh.  Need I say more?

HAPPY PLANNING (and drinking)!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monday Night Raw (Tuna)

Let me start off by saying that PID and I are not millionaires.  We're far from making Pittsburgh's Finest lists of any kind and it's a rare occasion that we get out more than once a week, especially to a fancy establishment. So while this may be my second post about a schwanky restaurant in two days, don't let it fool you.  I do not have the income to supply posts of this caliber at this frequency. But it just so happened that last night was one of those evenings where the stars aligned (and by "stars aligned" I mean it was a miserable boring Monday that we wanted to spice up, we'd been holding on to this groupon for quite some time, and I was jonesin' for some TarTar).  So we bit the bullet, printed out our groupon and headed to Willow on Camp Horn Road. 

I hadn't heard much about this place, to be honest the first I'd heard about it at all was the moment I received my daily groupon e-mail alerting me of the 50% off deal.  But the moment I clicked on the link which drove me to their website, I was intrigued.  I'm in PR.  A good website speaks volumes to an overall first impression and ultimately impacts your potential diner's decision making process.  At least that's what happened with PID and me. I was sold on the general appearance and Chef Rudman's rap sheet before I'd even glimpsed at a menu.  I will say I've been fooled by magical photography and/or Photoshop in the past, but let me assure you that Willow uses no such trickery.  The website gallery barely comes close to doing justice to the ambiance at Willow.  It's truly a beautiful atmosphere.

As the website promises, the restaurant is nestled safely in a bed of trees, hidden from commercialized society and free from the chaos of evening traffic. Though we opted to forgo the seemingly beautiful patio due to the cold front and drizzle, we could tell upon walking in that things tended to remain quiet regardless of it's proximity to I-279. Though I can't speak to it directly, I'd definitely suggest taking advantage of outside dining here during the summer. 

We had made reservations on and the hostess was waiting for us when we arrived.  She showed us through a few rooms (though the restaurant seats up to 300, it maintains an intimate setting by hosting multiple dining rooms, all with a different yet equally appealing feel)...

...until we reached our destination. PID and I were seated by the fireplace, but not before first being asked if it suited us.  It did. We sat. 

And so it was time for the wine.

When our waiter arrived with water in hand, he was slightly nervous, but extremely friendly.  He reminded me of a friend from college and made both PID and I feel comfortable and welcome.  I ordered a stem of one of my favorite vices, Rhein River Reisling for $8,  while PID went for the Chilean Veramonte Merlot for $11.  We were overly pleased with the wine list.  We had the option of ordering by the glass, 1/2 bottle or full bottle and the choices went on for 12 pages. There was also a reserve list at which, sadly, we couldn't even afford to tease ourselves by taking a peek.

Then came the bread.

Always an exciting amuse bouche.  Though I only indulged in a half a slice, we were quite pleased with the oil and herbs.  But that's not what I came for.

Then on to the appetizer.

I'd been excited about this for a while.  Without boasting, I would like to shamelessly proclaim that I consider myself a connoisseur of tuna tartar.  It is, by far, my favorite dish.  You'll learn quickly that if tuna tartar is on the menu, I will order it and tell you what I think, whether you like tartar or not!  Willow's Hawaiian Tuna Tartar (for $14) looked promising; a different take on a classic dish.  I wasn't at all disappointed, but you'll learn something else about me quickly: I consider cucumber a cop-out.  Though refreshing, to me it's less of a flavorful component and more of a cooling agent. I've rarely found it to be particularly appealing in use in salads, sandwiches, kabobs, and especially not tartar.  While I do appreciate the palate cleansing affect it has on odorous raw fish in some Maki, tuna is far from an odorous fish. I personally feel the crunch and cool of the cucumber took away from the overall texture and taste of the tuna, avocado and sirachi.  Some, especially those who have a greater appreciation for cucumber, may disagree.  However, pieces were easy enough to navigate around and the remaining tartar was fresh and flavorful.  Another thing I love about ordering tartar at different restaurants is seeing how creative they can be with what to serve with it.  In this case, we were served large crispy wonton chips.  As I'd suspected, we ran out of chips before we ran out of tartar, but our waiter was quick to bring us more (without us even requesting them) and I was pleasantly surprised!

And finally the main course.

This took us a while on our own accord.  Our waiter was very patient, continuously allotting us more time to read the menu (repeatedly) and answering every question we had.  I tend to ask for a waitstaff's opinion only if I deem them a reliable source.  PID and I both agreed that ours was "normal like us" and thus, reliable enough.  After asking us about our tastes and mood, we both, surprisingly, went with his recommendations.  PID ordered the Lamb Osso Bucco for $23, and I the Willow Shellfish Trio (entree version) for $25 (what can I say, it'd been a fishy couple of days).

Sadly, after all the hemming and hawing over my abundance of delicious looking options, I was brought the wrong order.  The waiter admitted the mistake was his and not the kitchen's -- which I very much respected -- and promised to put a double rush on my replacement.  I encouraged PID to dig in, and so he did.  

I ordered another glass of the Reisling while I waited.

His meat instantly fell off the bone which we learned was because it had been braised for 5 hours.  He was so kind as to let me try a forkfull.  I thought the herb demi-glace complimented the salty meat perfectly.  He admitted he could have used a bit more meat and potatoes (he's a man, what do you expect), but overall seemed genuinely satisfied and pleased with the meal.

When my originally ordered meal arrived, I had been so pleased with the service, wine, atmosphere, appetizer and PID's delightful company that I'd barely noticed my 8-10 minute wait (or was it longer?).  I dug right in and immediately realized it was worth the wait, however long it was. I was half tempted to ask for the recipe right then and there of the Korean BBQ Sauce in which they marinated the shrimp, and the red onion caper sauce
was a perfect complement to the all natural crab cakes.  Bravo to Chef Rudman and his very apparent 22 years of experience.

We decided against dessert as we're amidst a rigorous diet plan (yes -- this past Saturday was our cheat day, hence the pasta and Panna Cotta) and called it a night.

Cliffs notes:

Groupon:     1 @ $20
Drinks:     2 Reisling @ $8
                 1 Merlot @ $11
Appetizer:     1 Hawaiian Tuna Tartar @ $14
Meals:     1 Lamb Osso Bucco @ $23
                1 Shellfish Trio @ $25
Tax:     @ 7% (in Allegheny County) $5.67
Tip:      @ 20% for excellent service $17
Groupon discount:     - $40
TOTAL FOR TWO:     $78.67


In my less-than-professional opinion:

I was thoroughly delighted with our entire dining experience in both taste and setting.  I'd not only recommend it, I'd recommend it to people who owe me dinner because I plan on coming back sooner than my wallet might allow it. Though PID and I are far from wrecking the planet by reproducing, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the restaurant offers a separate children's menu, making this a family friendly destination (though I'd still recommend your first visit to be of the 1:1 date variety).

I don't even think PID minding me forcing him to miss a Monday Night Raw...


Willow on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 17, 2010

Date Night, Revisited

This Saturday, my boyfriend and Partner-In-Dine decided it was time we revisited our once-weekly outing known as "date night."  We used to look forward to "date night."  We'd alternate weeks of covering the check so neither of our bank accounts went overly depleted in the course of a month.

Recently we let the tradition slip through our fingertips as unexpected expenses such as break pads, 4 new tires, gutter replacements and vet bills popped up to surprise us.  For over a month we ate salads and Giant Eagle sale steak on the grill as we patiently waited for paychecks which we didn't immediately have to sign over to someone else. We looked at each other this past Friday night -- as we sat on the couch in sweatpants sharing a bottle of Jacob's Creek Cabernet Savignon (which I also purchased on sale for a whopping $6.99) -- and said "it's time."

So we did a bit of research and considered a few friends' suggestions and landed on an outing to DISH Osteria and Bar located on 17th and Sarah Streets in Pittsburgh's historic South Side. The place had always appeared cozy and appealing from the outside, and according to the 11 reviews on, this place was a can't-miss.

We'd decided to meet each other there, given that it's almost exactly half way from each of us.  I wound up being 12 minutes late -- but not because I didn't get there on time.  Finding parking at 6:30 on a Saturday evening in the South Side proved nearly impossible as I passed PID waving on the corner about 13 times during my dismal and redundant search for a spot. When I finally arrived, we made our way through a quaint barroom... get to the dining area where I experienced my first surprise.

Warning: Diners seated at these tables are much closer than they appear.  The seating you see above, plus possibly 2 or 3 more tables behind the photographer and one in the bar area, is it.  The setting is very intimate which can occasionally work to the advantage of the diner offering more personal service.  But in our case, it was a deterrent.  To be truthful, I was not overly interested in the educational path that the newly enrolled Duquesne student was describing to her oh-so-proud family of 6 directly to my right.

We, had reservations, but wound up seating ourselves after awkwardly hanging around the doorway in wait of a hostess. Once we sat down it was about 10 minutes before anyone acknowledged our existence, another 5 before our waitress took our drink order, and another 10-15 before any food was ordered at all. Throughout the course of the meal our waitress was repeatedly neglectful.  I drink a lot of diet soda (I mean, A LOT of diet soda) and my glass remained empty over half the time we were there.  To me? That's not OK.

But I digress. First came the wine.

The menu was very Italian which we'd expected this thanks to our culinary confidants.  Our server was, in the very least, accommodating when it came to "translating" and telling us exactly what to expect. I'd been very excited to try authentic Italian wine, but was admittedly ignorant when it came to anything that I couldn't find in my Brentwood State Store.  I asked our server what she would recommend to pair with a seafood dish and what might satisfy someone who likes an oakier aftertaste.  She looked at me like a deer in headlights, and settled on recommending me the House red: Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo Citra 07 for $6.50 a glass (which wound up being delicious for being the cheapest wine on the list, I will say).

Then came the bread.

When she brought out the bread and oil, I was in heaven.  I have to say this was my favorite part of the entire experience.  Normally I'm a one-two slice kind of girl, but I'll admit it.  I asked for more bread.  The herbs infused in the oil were completely perfect.  I was salivating while waiting for the next plate!

Then it was on to our appetizer.

I had heard great things about their Calamari alla Griglia (aka grilled calamari, for $8) and so PID and I ordered it right away.  Let me start off by saying one of my favorite things about eating is not so much the eating part.  I love the smell of freshly cooked food. The aromas produced by grills, herbs, marinates, fats, or even wine corks gets me all tingly (PID has taken note of this and has absolutely capitalized on it when he is the cook of the evening. God bless him).  So I was slightly disappointed when the calamari came out and all I could smell was char and strong lemon.  Although the calamari didn't appear to be overcooked, it smelled as though someone had left them on the grill a bit too long and attempted to cover up the burn by squeezing an entire lemon all over the plate.  To quote PID: "I dont think it was burnt so much as it tasted like it was cooked with a bic lighter." This then translated in to my overall enjoyment of the dish, which was far less than I would have hoped. If all I smell is char and lemon, then all I'm going to taste is char and lemon.  CASUAL DINER BEWARE: this is not your run of the mill calamari.  It is run of the grill. That means no cocktail or tartar sauce for dipping and no crunchy core. There are no "squiggle pieces" (as the tentacles are so lovingly called in my family).  It is, to the untamed eye, a slimy, floppy miniature squid prepared lightly grilled (or in our case, overly grilled) just for you.  I wasn't completely disappointed.  It was a unique culinary experience and the spinach was remarkable.  I feel I can't chalk my whole opinion up to one potentially improperly cooked attempt.

Then it was on to our meal.

Not that we're exactly the same or anything, but PID and I just happened to be in the mood for the exact same dish. So the exact same dish we both ordered.  This doesn't happen often. We typically order two different things and share (which I'm sure would benefit my readers giving them more options and opinions), but tonight we were both very hungry (given our wait) and that night, we were both very hungry for what DISH calls Linguine ai Frutti di Mare (which translates to Seafood Linguine, for $18.50). Personally I loved this meal.  

I immediately made a comment to PID regarding its perfect portion size.  I've been to so many restaurants that give you so much food and you're tempted (and thus attempt) to eat it all.  You leave either feeling stuffed with a strong desire to unbutton your pants, or you leave with an inconvenient doggy bag.  When I order seafood pasta and get a huge portion, I want to throw it at the wall.  On a sidenote: if you are one who reheats your seafood pasta PLEASE share with me the wisdom of your ways. I've never once enjoyed a restaurant leftover reheat involving seafood or pasta. So, back to my story.  At DISH, they portion it perfectly.  Not too much, not too little. But keep in mind this is my opinion and mind alone.  PID was left wanting.  He's a growing boy (and by growing, I mean those muscles of his) and he wanted substance.  The plate was a medium sized bowl without much depth placed atop a typical dinner round.  PID pointed out that, though smaller portions may be better, we're still paying $18.50/plate for 1 mussel, 2 scallops, 3 shrimp, a calamari ring or two and I think there may have been a clam in there.  Well played, PID.

Then it was on to our dessert.

I promise that next time I'll take photos of my meals on my CrackBerry... but for now you'll have to trust me that their Panna Cotta was not only delectable, but quite aesthetically pleasing as well. For $4, PID and I shared the dessert that, in both size and shape, was strikingly similar to that of a hockey puck.  A single leaf of mint rested atop the gelatin tart.  Their vanilla bean cream recipe was filled with a light but delicious raspberry coulis (strained, pureed fruit) which oozed out beautifully behind every spoonful. It was so light and fluffy yet full of flavor that I literally felt like I was eating heaven...and I wasn't sure whether or not to feel bad about it.

Cliffs notes:

Drinks:     1 House red @ $6.50 (I'm a lush and drank alone)
                 2 diet Pepsis @ $2.50
Appetizer:     1 Calamari alla Griglia @ $8
Meal:      2 Linguine ai Frutti di Mare @ $18.50
Dessert:      1 Panna Cotta @ $4
Tax:     @ 7% (Allegheny County only) $4.24
Tip: (around 17% for highly disappointing service) $11
TOTAL FOR TWO:      $75.74

Overall opinion? 

DISH did not live up to my expectations.  Given the reviews I'd read and heard, I had expected a much better overall experience. But though I was slightly disappointed, I was not remotely appalled. The wine, portion size and dessert were fantastic in my eyes!  However, for the price, parking difficulty and generally small size of the dining room, I will not revisit.  I can't say I wouldn't recommend it.  Many of the negatives I experienced could be one-time flaws.  You may not have our server, the calamari may be cooked properly, and you just might be more like me than PID and appreciate smaller portions if the taste is worth the price.  So here you have it.  My less-than-professional opinion (I have decided to scale on 5 stars, not 4):


Dish Osteria & Bar on Urbanspoon

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