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Oct 3, 2007 03:30 PM

Chef Incoming

So, I might be moving to Pittsburgh.

I am a chef - I've worked in the South, New England and Italy ... looking for a city to land in, to grow with and call my home (in both the real and culinary sense).

I buy wholeheartedly into the modern movement of local, quality ingredients presented with skill and style ... but my cooking is traditionalist at heart.

Is Pbg for me? I would love a few insights into the restaurant scene from a diners point of view ... What restaurants rock? What's missing? I am all ears.

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  1. Local food isn't an issue, except for produce in winter and spring. Meat, dairy can be had, as can fresh water fish. There's a healthy Slow Food chapter here.

    Pittsburgh could be the next Portland - if the citizens allow it. Unfortunately we straddle the mid-American mall/chain resto environment. Lots of that around here and to this day lots of unworthy chains (and institutions past their prime) get voted onto "Best of" lists. But novel things work - Dish is a Sicilian osteria that's been great for a few years. Bistro 19 is a newcomer that's always packed - it's is the first bistro in the South Hills (heretofore known only as red sauce capital of the suburban world). There's a molecular gastro place (Alchemy) a Thai tapas joint, good microbreweries, some excellent Neopolitan pizza, a smattering of fine dining (Eleven, Nine on Nine), some excellent hidden neighborhood spots (Vivo, Bona Terra).

    What's missing is traditional bistro - not California bistro. We don't need more American0zed Italian (although there's always room for seasonal risotto). Nobody really does affordable lamb dishes well, there isn't any foie gras in town, next to nothing for organ meats or non-choice cuts. Other than Vivo, I can't think of anyone who even uses fiddleheads or early spring local veggies. So there is certainly room for someone like yourself.

    Welcome to town and we hope to hear more from you. And FWIW, I'd be more than happy to train your coffee service people, since other than Mojo Bistro, nobody but nobody has a decent after-dinner coffee/espresso service in town.

    1. PG gave a good overview. It's only recently that I've seen duck on any menu here. If you want to serve sweetbreads, think of an appetizing euphemism. But some of the places that have been around a while, Monterey Bay and Cafe Sam, for instance, have gotten better. I guess all that means that it is a changing and improving market. And there is good local farming. Does that give you an idea?

      4 Replies
      1. re: yayadave

        I personally find myself wishing we had more places like Cafe Richard. There does not seem to be enough of the high quality, reasonable price type places around for breakfast and lunch. I'd love a place like Cafe Richard that also did dinner in the same style they currently serve breakfast and lunch. Over the counter, but still with real plates and most things made to order.

        (It's Pgh, not Pbg.)

        1. re: Rick

          Yeah, a strong diner would work.

          1. re: yayadave

            Good point. Somewhere where a lunch sandwich or panino is about tastes and interesting flavor interplay and not overstuffed hoagies or piles of fries. But I'll tell you from experience, location is everything if you do that - don't expect people here to go out of their way to get to a lunch place. Has to be a strong concetration of customers right nearby.

            Then again, the minute Cosi comes to town, they'll be the new darlings.

            1. re: Panini Guy

              Cosi probably spends more on knowing what makes a great location and finding one than most unsupported owners spend to furnish their whole joint. That would certainly help them "be the new darlings." Which proves your point.

      2. You really need to do your research - the neighborhoods are all very different and people tend to stay in their area. As an East End resident, I never go to the South Hills or North Hills. Also, most of the chains are in the suburbs. A good example of an affordable restaurant is Point Brugge in Point Breeze - always crowded, always consistent.

        1. Research an area like Sewickley where more people can afford and want specialized restaurants with great local ingredients, small but inventive and changing menus, and you can profit from it. Not to mention whatever "stars" there are in Pittsburgh would be seen in the place.

          1. I am curious to know what kind of places you have worked in the past? It is great to get some new blood in town and bring some different ideas and regional influences. Unfortunately I think there are way to many chefs in town that haven't really worked elsewhere. Maybe for a year or two to get a name on a resume or do an externship through their culinary school, but nothing really tangible.
            I was surprised about the lamb comment from someone, because Western PA has the best lamb in the world. Jamison Farm and Elysian Fields is as good as it gets. Personally I have had some tremendous lamb in a select few restaurants here. What I am sick of though is the rest of the chef wantabe's that do the same old herb crusted lamb chops and put on their menu for $40 that I could do in my sleep at home.

            4 Replies
            1. re: mcharles

              All of which says that the area is growing-improving, and has great potential for further upscaling.

              1. re: mcharles

                Thank you all for the responses so far ... exactly the type of information I was hoping to get from CHounds.
                Jamison Farms is very well known ... even out to Maine ... for its lamb.

                Without getting too specific, most of my experience is with mid-to-high end regional italian and french (not red sauce joints). I worked at three restaurants in N-Central Italy and have worked with three James Beard winners. - It is true that a lot of restaurant communities can get bogged down by people who haven't stepped outside , but it is very important to me to feel out a city first and provide more of what is desired than to impose a too-foreign sense of what is right.

                1. re: mcharles

                  mcharles - what I said was there is a lack of "affordable lamb" done well. Didn't say anything about the supply or quality - as you state, our lamb is well known even by the likes of Keller.

                  I think that your last sentence more or less stated you're in agreement with my original assertion.

                  1. re: Panini Guy

                    I do agree with you. For the quality of product we have in our backyard we should be able to find great lamb at more than just a small handful of places in the city.