High End Pittsburgh Restaurant
We're (from DC) visiting some friends in Pittsburgh this weekend. Been there before and weren't too excited about the restaurant scene. What's new and really good? Our friends have a baby so the restaurant must be able to accomodate the kid, and we'll try to go early so as not to disturb other diners. Figure the price to be no more than $100 per person for food.
We went to Soba for dinner on Saturday night. The reservation was at 5:30 but our friends remind us that's not considered early in Pittsburgh. Indeed, the place was quite full when we arrived and the downstairs dining room was packed by the time we left, around 7. We managed to sample quite a few appetizers - corn fritters (very good, similar to Korean pancakes), pork belly buns (pretty good), pork dumplings (pan fried like potstickers, good but nothing special), chicken springrolls (I didn't try them), and chicken ramen (they were able to give me a half order - the chicken was too dry, I don't understand why this dish costs $24). My entree was the whole bronzini. The fish itself was nicely fried, very tender and flakey. Overall a pretty good experience.
Sunday night we picked up pizzas from Il Pizzaiolo. The pizzas got cold on the 20 minute drive. They were good pizzas but they wouldn't been really good if we ate them hot. At $16 a pie (margherita + 1 topping), they're pricey.
First of all there are really no “high -end” restaurants in Pittsburgh, but there are some good ones.
If you are looking for the best food - than nine on nine nudges out eleven imho. However eleven has a more upscale feel to it.
Dinette is just a bistro that specializes in pizza - good but not high end
Legume is very good but is little more than a nice store-front bistro.
Casbah tries to be high end and they charge the prices for it but the food is underwhelming - I would never go back.
Church Brew Works is a converted church that is now a brew pub - food is pretty average but pricy.
Monterey Bay has good views of the city but you are paying for the view while the food is average at best.
Bona Terra is the rage right now, farm fresh products, local ingredients, etc. But they throw way to many competing flavors into one dish. It’s like a kid who sees that one scoop of laundry detergent gets the clothes clean so 10 scoops will work even better. Once this chef matures and realizes that farm fresh ingredients don’t need 8 different strong flavors competing this could be one of the burgh’s best restaurants until then it's hit and miss.
Mt. Washington has great views to impress people with and the only restaurant up there that I have found that has very good food is Isabella on Grandview, I am not a big fan of Italian and Pittsburgh has some very edgy Italian restaurants out there, but they do a excellent job.
Recommended Restaurants websites
If you want the high end feel
If you want a stunning view and great food
If you want the best food
Of those, Dinette is the closest. Eleven and Nine on Nine are the same distance away in the downtown area (10-15 minutes). Yo Rita is in a different area (South Side) but probably the same distance away as those other two. Il PIzzaiolo is in Mt Lebanon, a suburb that's a good half hour drive from Shadyside.
Better pizza is subjective. They're both good, but different. Dinette is all about using fantastic ingredients and many are atypical combinations. They do a few things and do them well. Il PIzzaiolo is all about being authentic Neapolitan pizza, complete with imported oven setup, imported ingredients and Vera Pizza certification.
Dinette is not in any way a high end restaurant, but it is a good experience IMO. Same with Yo Rita or Il PIzzaiolo. It's good and interesting food in moderate surroundings. Eleven or Nine on Nine are definitely at least trying to give you a higher end restaurant experience. I don't find either way better or worse than the other, just different. Although the first way, you get intriguing food without paying so much. ;-)
I would not suggest taking a child to nine on nine. This is a fabulous restaurant that I would consider high-end. It stacks up to high-end restaurants in other "major" cities. It is also an adult atmosphere. Do the six course tasting menu - you will love it.
Nine on Nine
900 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Taste is a highly subjective as is creativity in the kitchen. My biggest complaint (the hit or miss remark) with Bona Terra’s mission statement is to bring the very best from the fields to the table and to let the people taste the difference.
I think that is great, I live in the Pacific Northwest (WA State) where we have an abundance of fresh local products that are fantastic. I also have a large garden, and planted my own orchards on the 6 acres I own. Just picked carrots, grown naturally have a tremendous flavor to them compared to store bought ones. This goes for virtually everything.
I think we would all agree that mass produced produce simply lacks the superior flavor of a small hand produced product.
My difficulties with Bona Terra arise that they don’t seem to want to highlight the flavor difference of real produce; instead they cover it up with layer upon layer of competing flavors – drowning out what should be the star the plate – fresh, highly flavorful products.
These are items from their sample menu #2 – take a look at all the competing flavors.
*Roasted White Calimyrna Figs with Mountain Gorgonzola cheese, julienne Serrano Ham and raspberry infused local wildflower honey
*Seared medallion of Hudson Valley Foie Gras with port wine - local blueberry compote, brioche croutons, vanilla bean infused oil, sea salt
*Pan seared Swordfish loin over herbed Jasmine rice with Andouille sausage, braised Tat Soi, roasted poblano chili vinaigrette, cumin-lime yogurt sauce, papaya salsa
*Pan roasted Duck breast over caramelized onion-mushroom wild rice with sautéed snow peas and peppers, fresh Bing Cherry infused chicken glace
If you just look at the first item it looks like they decided what goes well with figs – (blue cheese, ham, honey) okay let’s throw them all together add some red color to the honey with raspberries and viola a masterpiece. [BTW, they are averaging 3.5 ‘competing’ flavors per dish]
Look at the swordfish it’s served “over herbed Jasmine rice with Andouille sausage”. A high quality Jasmine rice is sublime with it’s nutty aroma and flavors of pandan, why cover up this with more herbs and Andouille sausage? Why not just use regular long-grain rice? As you begin to heap more and more flavors onto each other you lose the actual taste of these farm fresh ingredients.
I fully understand wanting to cover up cheap products with competing flavors, you do this to distract the customer from realizing they are getting something inferior. But IMHO you should not do this when using high quality products.
Just before I left for Pittsburgh I toured my garden one last time. I picked a gala apple and a heirloom tomato. Both of these items were grown with care, the fruits of each were culled early to maximize flavor. As I ate the tomato, the explosion of flavors in my mouth was incredible and the complexity was outstanding, it needed nothing further to compliment its own fantastic taste, it’s competing flavors contained within was more than enough to excite anyone’s palette.
Inside I cut the apple and shared it with my wife, its flesh was crisp and it was saturated with almost syrup like liquid that tasted like mild honey. The refreshing malic acid was perfect to cleanse the palate of the almost too surgery/sweet taste. Again the competing acid vs sweetness was a fantastic orgasm of the mouth.
I have not given up on BT, I have seen this happen numerous times over, young chefs learn to mix ingredients to bring out complexity, they then go a little crazy (North Pond and Wood fire Grill come to mind), but in most cases as they mature and grow they come back to the basics of high quality products need very little added to them to make the flavors shine.
Compare the following menu items; they come from Trellis, Chester Creek Cafe, and Poppy Hill Tuscan Café, three of the top farm to table restaurants in the US.
* Baby Beet Salad Roasted beets, sweet pickled rhubarb, frisée & vinaigrette
* Alaskan Halibut Tagliatelle of vegetables, beurre blanc
* Young Manila Clams Crushed tomatoes & bruised basil
*Spaghetti with Forrest Mushroom, spaghetti, toasted Almonds, Lemon zest, Forest ‘Shrooms, garlic, olive oil.
*Balsamic Glazed Chicken Organic chicken, sweet balsamic glaze, parmesan orzo
Do you see the simplicity in their creations, [they average less than 1 ‘competing’ flavor per dish] they are letting the flavors of superior ingredients come through, yes they add extra dimensions, but they don’t cover up (compete with) the signature entree. With the exception of Sonoskus, the other chefs started out with overly complex food and have come to the realization that with Farm fresh foods are the highlight of the meal.
Why do I call them a hit or miss? – Because if I can’t taste the farm freshness only a mélange of competing flavors that drown out the food why bother going to a farm to table restaurant.
I like Bona Terra’s theme and goal; I just think they need time to mature.
First, Retired, I'm sickeningly jealous of your garden/orchard. Second, you make good points. My two experiences at Bona Terra were both excellent and while the dishes often had numerous components, I still felt like it wasn't being overwhelmed with too many flavors, that often, the variety of flavors mentioned were just hints, not full blown components of the dish.
That said, I probably would not order the fish or duck in that menu because they do sound like there is too much going on. Legume seems to take a more simple approach to its food. Hoping to make it back there soon. When you live in the northern 'burbs and have two young kids, getting out to good meals is truly difficult.
So do you just come back here to visit family or something?
You have a lot of good options...I'd consider either Soba or Casbah in Shadyside, but for guest from out of town I always like to go to one of the places up on Mount Washington, over looking the city. LaMont, which is kind of old school but impressive and Monteery Bay which provides the best view in the city are good choices. Have fun!
Usually don't equate "high-end" with "baby." Eleven in the Strip District is excellent and if you arrive early enough wouldn't think the baby would be an issue.
We have taken our young kids (7 and 4) to Dinette in East Liberty/Shadyside (www.dinette-pgh.com) and it has worked out well. Not high-end in its usual meaning, limited menu of apps and pizzas, but the focus is on using the finest, freshest ingredients possible, so everything is quite tremendous, and a great wine selection, everything available by the glass. Search this board for Dinette and you'll see plenty of raves.
Legume (www.legumebistro.com) in Edgewood also seems to be kid friendly. It's BYOB with a focus on local food. A more laid-back atmosphere than Eleven, but quite good in its own right.
I would agree that Eleven would be accomodating with an early reservation. Dinette is probably a better choice with a kid. I wouldn't call it "high end" but it is a great restaurant that does everything well (even the $1 can of Iron...ha ha!). Anyway - I would steer clear of anything on Mt. Washington. Go to the lookout if you want to see the view.
We visit our friends in Pittsburgh at least once a year. I must've been in Pittsburgh at least 5 times now, even been to a Pirates game. Was there the weekend Pittsburgh won its 5th Superbowl. Been to Casbah, Church Brew Works, and most edible places in Shadyside (where our friends live). We went out less after our friends had their baby. Heard that there are some new places so I thought I ask. Thanks for the replies.