What are the best tapas dishes in Pittsburgh?
We've now got a fairly decent variety of tapas places here - half dozen at least - and wanted to ask which specific dishes at which tapas restos you thought were best.
Maybe we even get together for a moving tapas feast sometme this year?
Before moving here I was spoiled by a great place in Norwalk, CT called Barcelona. It remains my favorite tapas place to this day (although San Jose's Thirsty Bear has my all time favorite plate - fish cheeks in garlic). The tapas scene here is getting better, but in reading online reviews of the different restos, it seems very hit and miss (or maybe that's just Pittsburgh trying to get used to small plates?) So we're thinking that if we local CHs compiled a list of favorite plates for each tapas bar we could do some kind of crawl and try them all instead of being locked down to one.
As an aside, we went out to Tusca for 1st time this week. It does lean to Italian or at least a more broader Mediterranean concept than simply Spanish. I was a bit surprised to see a lack of mushroom-focused plates, which to me is a staple of tapas - used to seeing two or three shroom treatments at tapas places in other cities. Only appearances at Tusca were in a risotto (didn't order) and a small dot of them atop polenta (wife enjoyed, I thought it was OK).
We started with the tapenade. Was surprised at the presentation - three crostini piled high with 3 different tapenades. Was expecting something more like three separate ramekins with more pieces of crostini. The tapenade was fine, but was piled so high you couldn't avoid spilling some. Also had the pear/blue cheese salad, mostly to counterbalance the other flavors we were trying. Baby greens were fresh and crisp, pears had a good texture. Also had the beans and greens (I loved it, wife doesn't care for chorizo) and the spicy seafood (the shellfish was good, sauce was almost cloying - think a sweeter shrimp cocktail sauce), The garlic bread was unremarkable. For the sake of simplicity we went with the red sangria which was fruity and refreshing. Normally we'd go for a wine flight, but the wine list seemed to concentrate on one importer/vintner that with whom we were not familiar.
For me, the beans and greens was the winner that night.
All in all, not perfect, but enjoyable and I'd say, worth the price. Service was attentive and knowledgeable. We've seen reviews to the contrary, but our experience was pretty good.
But.... they have to lose the music. There was a guitar duo playing covers ranging from Beatles to Led Zep to Bon Jovi. No rock during dinner, please. Now, if they put in a Flamenco act on their little stage, they'd have something!
Ibiza on the south side is good, but La Casa in Shadyside is much better. They have an outdoor patio which is nice in the warm weather, and excellent nightly specials. They bring the bread with a plate of the best balsamic vinegar I've ever tasted. The shrimp fondue, which I was skeptical about originally, was creamy/tangy/dip-a-liscious. In fact, any of the seafood dishers are highly recommended.
Not sure these would count as tapas, but the mushroom bruschetta and grilled calamari at Dish are fantastic.
I haven't been to Tusca or Ibiza yet, but are the tapas "true" tapas? What I mean is...when I was in Spain, tapas were listed on a chalk board and you would just pick a few at a time. More of a bar setting than sit down restaurant. And of course, each bar is known for a particular tapa...a lot of bar/tapas-hopping going on.
I get that - been to a couple of places myself where the concept of 'small plates' meant 'REALLY small plates' and the enjoyment/value ratio wasn't worth it. Tusca's not like that nor is Ibiza. But I'd guess that for a party of two, you'd probably need to order 5-6 different dishes to be sated for $50 or less (food only, before tax/tip).
Tusca (and Ibiza) has more filling (and expensive) plates (e.g. short ribs), which we didn't have because we were looking for the most different tastes for our $$. With six dishes (~$8 each), five sangrias and the $4 garlic bread, it came to about $110 all in. Had we known we were going to down that much sangria, we would've saved a few bucks and had a pitcher. Is it the best value? Nope. Can't recall if China reviewed it, but on her scale I'd think it a 2 on basis of creativity and execution.
Anyway, we felt the quality was good enough where we think it's on par with places serving $25 entrees, so in a relative way, we were satisfied and were able to taste more varieties of things. Plus we enjoy the type of pacing you can do in a tapas place - more sociable and relaxing.
Too late to edit the OP, but I confused myself... the beans and greens had prosciutto and was good. There was a separate chorizo dish with cannellini, potatoes and garlic that I really enjoyed.
re: Panini Guy
That beans and greens with chorizo hit me in the eye. I’m glad you cleared that up. Got me to think maybe beans and greens would be good with pancetta.
I haven’t gotten to any of the Spanish style places, but now that “tapas” is generic for “small plates”, I’d throw Bado’s Cucina into the discussion. Thank you for that rec, Mr. Panini Guy. We were there Wednesday. I thought it was a little pricey, but, strangely enough, not over-priced. The only thing that wasn’t really creative was the Oxtail Soup. But it was really, really good.
jumbo lump crab cake - served over our house salad with dijon herb vinaigrette 16
Not really a “cake”, but more a loose pile of crab in the center of a 12” or 14” plate of salad stuff – chi-chi beans, shredded cuke, shredded onion, etc. etc. etc. They did not scrimp on the crab and she said it was the best ever, she thought.
I had a cup of soup which was outstanding.
Also ordered other stuff to share (a little):
jumbo lump crab cake - wood oven roasted to perfection This was served loose in an oval All-Clad soufflé pan (about 7” or 8” I’d guess) with mesquite remoulade 13
brasciole - flank steak stuffed with a mixture of bread crumbs, fresh herbs and imported cheeses,wrapped with prosciutto and bufala mozzarella served with polenta and gorgonzola and a red sauce 12
Two sausages – one duck and one buffalo. Served with grilled pear slice and a little pile of green stuff.
Bread pudding made with biscotti. After heating in the oven drizzled with chocolate. I never thought of this, but I will remember!
Some of these descriptions are straight off of the menu with a few of my own comments added.
BYOB , right. We took along a Lailey chardonnay and a VitaLuce Super Tuscan.
Including $5 each corkage for two bottles, the tab before gratuity was $80. And the little server was a delight.
re: Panini Guy
I thought Ibiza was very mediocre. Most of the dishes were boring. It seems like they opened a wine bar and threw in the food as an afterthought. Kind of like a high class tavern.
Sonoma Grille also has tapas style eating, and the quality of food is much higher (as is reflected in the price)
Wish I could help Panini, but I just can't get into the tapas thing. I tried it in DC, spent $60 on lunch for two, left a little hungry and unimpressed. Admittadely I didn't do any research so I may have picked a bad place, but nonetheless that left a bad taste in my mouth ever since.