Bona Terra - a Hidden Gem straight from your local Market!
Full review with Pictures in Blog:
Text As Below:
Our final meal in Pittsburgh – literally, we drove back to Columbus after dinner – would actually be in Sharpsburg. A BYOB located in a rather blue collar part of town the restaurant may seem an odd choice to the unfamiliar – everything about its location, size, and layout seems to say “locals only.” What those paying attention would realize, however, is that Chef Douglas Dick has twice been a Beard Award Semi-Finalist, thrice been named Pittsburgh Magazine’s Chef of the Year, and has been embracing the “Farm to Table” movement since before most had American’s even heard of it. Locally sourced foods prepared by an internationally educated chef and a menu that changes daily (because Dick goes to the market daily for his products) everything about Bona Terra sounded fantastic.
Contacting the restaurant in advance to make certain photos were allowed I was assured that they were, provided no flash was used – I was also given helpful information on parking, the alcohol policy, and asked if anyone in our group had allergies or intolerances. With reservations made for 6:00pm, the restaurant’s opening time we arrived just moments early and found free parking without difficulty. Making our way into the restaurant we would soon be greeted by the Maitre D’, a young man named Adam, who informed us that the daily menu was being printed at that time but he’d be glad to get our drink orders – an iced tea for mom and water for my sister and I.
The first table to arrive we were quickly joined by three other tables and the restaurant would later fill to capacity – not a difficult accomplishment considering there are less than 20 tables in the entirety of the space. Browsing the simple décor – yellow walls, fresh flowers in glass vases, and paintings of “mourning” flowers along the walls…tasteful and fitting the feel generated by the excellent soundtrack of Band of Horses, Motown Classics, and Classical played softly overhead. Greeted next by our server carrying the nights fresh menus I will note that the service at Bona Terra was refined yet whimsical, pleasant and punctual, present but not hovering – it was excellent.
After a short perusal of the menu our orders were placed – our server commenting that we’d ordered “very well.” Sitting back and enjoying the setting, music, and each other’s company it would only be a moment before our first taste of Douglas’ culinary skills would arrive. Described as Soy Glazed Heritage Farms Chicken over Coconut Rice the single skewer arrived and smelled heavenly. Clearly Asian in influence the tender and juicy breast meat was clearly marinated in soy and grilled until caramelized. Served over a smooth and nutty rice with a fatty texture that led me to believe it was boiled in coconut milk the whole dish worked nicely, albeit somewhat large for an amuse.
Given our large lunch and long drive ahead it was decided that we would share a couple of small appetizer plates prior to our mains – and given the fact that neither appetizer required cooking they would arrive quite quickly after our amuse. Starting first with a cheese plate, Cypress Grove Lamb Chopper with poached Bartlett Pears, Mixed Berry Infused Honey. Brought forth by the same company who makes my favorite cheese of all time, Humboldt Fog, the Lamb Chopper was described as a sheep’s milk Gouda imported from Holland. Smooth as butter and fragrant without being as pungent as many sheep’s milk cheeses the fromage was accompanied by impossibly sweet pears, water crackers, local strawberries, and a clover honey blended with what tasted largely of blackberry. A very well composed plate and a great cheese.
Having heard of Chef Dick’s daily shopping treks we decided a taste of his hand selected produce was in order – our second appetizer being a light salad of Penn's Corner Romaine Lettuce with Vermont Chevre, Poached Pears, Cucumber, Local Strawberries, Toasted Almonds, and Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette. Crisp and fresh, a beautiful balance of sweet and savory, crunchy and smooth – simple, but excellent.
Following our appetizers would be a short delay – but a delay with the most unexpected treasure of the night…a bread and butter combo that still leaves me weak in the knees. Served singly (thank goodness or I’d have invariably eaten ten,) and piping hot from a wooden basket were “Brioche Rolls and Salted Peach Butter.” Warm and buttery on their own the rollswould have been suitable without any topping – they would have been every bit as delectable as the rolls at CityZen or Craftsteak or The French Laundry – but paired with a peachy sweet mélange of butter and cream cheese, they were heavenly. All told I ate four…in retrospect I still wish I would have eaten ten.
Arriving minutes before our main courses the table would next receive a palate cleanser in the form of a ball of Pineapple Sorbet made the previous evening. Light, creamy, and the very essence of pineapple.
For our main courses there were three fishes and four meats offered that evening and aside from the beef every single one of them sounded excellent; I imagine those who are lucky enough to enjoy a tasting menu at Bona Terra leave quite impressed. Starting with my mother’s selection, not wanting anything heavy she opted for the Marinated and Grilled Tiger Prawns over Greens and Tomato-Cucumber Gazpacho, Marinated Avocado and Balsamic Reduction. An ample dish for a mere $14 the four shrimp were large and clean, snappy with a sweet taste. Served over boiled greens and surrounded by a chilled tomato broth with ample notes of balsamic the shrimp were then topped with creamy avocado forming a “shrimp tartare” sort of flavor. Nicely plated – and indeed not at all heavy.
For my sister’s main course the choice was Oven Roasted North Atlantic Cod over Israeli Cous Cous and Sauteed Green Beans, Tarragon Infused Butter-Wine Pan Sauce with Grilled Black Mission Figs. Having never seen fig meets fish on a single plate I was intrigued by this dish from the start and only moreso when it arrived. A substantial slice of mild and buttery cod over a toothsome cous-cous and pan-crispy green beans, the fish was topped with a halved plump and juicy Fig clearly soaked in wine and butter while a sweet/savory reduction of butter, wine, and chopped figs circulated the plate. While the plating, in my opinion, could have been dressed up I’m rather certain the flavoring and quality couldn’t have been improved.
While my companions’ dishes were good mine was unreal – and only improved from the menu listing when Chef Dick informed us that he’d just gotten in a lobe of foie gras and if it “met his approval” he’d like to add it to the dish. Arriving with the smells of cinnamon, cherry, allspice, and thyme the “chef suggests medium rare” Seared Maple Leaf farms Duck breast and Hudson Valley Foie Gras over long grain Basmati rice, Sauteed Zucchini, Local Sour Cherry Compote, Sweet and Spicy Tropical Jamaican Jerk Reduction was fantastic. Smooth and supple with a clean layer of fat ribboned beneath the crispy skin the duck was potentially the best quality duck meat I’ve ever had. Topped with a velvet and ample slice of foie gras a presented over a benign rice and vegetal zucchini mélange the dish was brought to a peak by the addition of poached black cherries and a reduction that added heat and spice without overwhelming the multiple nuances of the dish – on par with the duck dishes in New Orleans, potentially better.
After a meal so stunning dessert was a must – a short list, made in house and unprinted - our waiter recited them all off in great detail. Discussing a moment amongst ourselves while he went to the kitchen to prepare my second La Prima Coffee of the day we came to consensus – as usual, all different orders with lots of sharing. Arriving after approximately 10 minutes, along with a coffee refill, was Mom’s option – the Meyer Lemon Tart with Whipped Cream and Blackberries. Sweet and sour the creamy custard met the buttery crisp crust nicely – not a fan of lemon desserts in general I thought it was good while mom felt it was the second best Lemon Tart she’d ever had.
For my sister’s selection she targeted the “newest item on the menu” – the Bavarian Chocolate and Hazelnut Tart with Local Strawberries. Served in a buttery crust similar to my mothers, Erika’s tart would consist of a creamy whipped dark chocolate mousse loaded with what I can only describe as “Chunky Hazelnut Butter.” Something like a “dark” Nutella pie the simplisticy of the tart was matched only by its decadence.
For my dessert the decision was between cheesecake and the dish our server described as the “house special.” With everything exceptionally special so far I went with the obvious – a simple and decidedly indulgent Rich Chocolate Cake with Peach Ice Cream. Served almost like Keller’s Bouchon dessert the thick, rich, and warm cake was topped with a large scoop of ice-cream that tasted like a melting peach without the fuzz. Focusing on the cake – the texture was almost that of a steamed pudding – a little wet, but “set” and hefty. Complimenting the dish with fresh berries, chocolate sauce, house made whipped cream, and sliced candied almonds rounded out a fantastic presentation and closed a wonderful meal.
With a long drive ahead of us our server brought us the bill – I was actually sad the meal (and trip) was over…if only we’d have had more time for a tasting. Settling the tab the Maitre D’ stopped by and asked how everything had been – we told him fantastic and he said he would pass the information on to the chef…whether he did or did not I can’t be sure. What I can be sure of, however, is that our meal at Bona Terra was one of those experiences that makes you realize just how good largely unmanipulated fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins can be when placed in the hands of a skilled chef. Great food, wonderful service, and a nice location without all the hype and frills – a “hidden gem” if there ever was one.
Bona Terra Restaurant
908 Main St, Pittsburgh, PA 15215
I have lived in New York City for the past 10 years but am a Pittsburgh native - I am equally a fan of Babbo and The O. I have been fortunate in my life to visit some of the worlds finest dining establishments . . . that said, I have never encountered the outright snobbery and "better than you" attitude as I found at Bona Terra last evening.
To be fair, I did not have a reservation for this restaurant as I was finding myself in Pittsburgh at the last minute. But,I read the reviews for this place and did my research and decided I should try to get lucky and find a way to eat there. When I entered the restaurant around 9:20pm with a party of 3, I was only hoping to wait to be seated for late dinner. The bartender and waitress behind the bar greeted us with a look that can only be described as "incredulous" as if the idea of eating there without a reservation and after 8pm was unbelievable. They told me they would have to look for the maitre de.
I checked out the restaurant (as much as I could from the front door) and noticed 3 empty bar stools sitting up front.
The maitre de arrived and smiled and quickly informed us that there was no way he could seat us. I then told him that we'd be happy to wait. He said it would be at least 40 minutes and he wasn't sure if the chef would be willing to work with us.
I then suggested that we sit at the bar. At this suggestion, the maitre de looked dismayed . . . keep in mind, this restaurant is on a nearly vacant street in Sharpsburg . . . yet the suggestion of "sitting at the bar" was anathema to this staff. Again, the maitre de explained he would have to check with the chef to see if it would be "okay."
My sister who was my guest that evening, has waited tables at Michael Psilakis' and Donatella Arpaia's Kefi. She was perplexed . . . in most NYC restaurants, you did whatever necessary to seat hungry individuals at your doorstep with the ability to pay!
He came back less than 2 minutes later and informed us that the chef would not be "okay" with a party of 3 sitting at the bar for a late dinner. When I pressed him saying, "there is nothing you can do for us?" he walked over to the console in the entry way and pulled a business card for the restaurant and said "Here, take this . . .next time I would recommend you call in advance." I informed him I didn't need the business card and walked out.
Come hell or high water, I will never return to Bona Terra. More over, this is the first review I have felt compelled to write on Yelp . . . I will share the same sentiment on Chowhound as well. while I live in New York, I do business in Pittsburgh with prominent Pittsburgh companies every quarter and I will do everything I can to circulate this story amongst my contacts.
Nothing irritates me more than being treated as a second class citizen. The irony of this experience taking place on main street, Sharpsburg, instead of Paris or San Francisco, is pretty rich.
No food, and I don't care how good it is, is worth this kind of snobbery. Congratulations Bona Terra, you just won yourself a hater.
Bona Terra Restaurant
908 Main St, Pittsburgh, PA 15215
Glad you choose to add this to my thread so people can see both sides of the coin.
Quite frankly, this isn't Babbo or a New York joint - it is a small space in Pittsburgh that does not offer a full menu at the bar. They book far in advance (like Babbo) but have about 1/3 as many seats.
Try walking into any number of the small well-established restaurants in NYC and ask to have the menu served at the bar - most do not and will not offer it.