Sunday, January 20, 2013

Restaurant Week - A Delicious Tour of Delightful Pittsburgh Dining

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is like Christmas all over again. All these new, fun menus and restaurants are like shiny packages just waiting to be discovered...all over town.  It's like a fine dining scavenger hunt or a culinary tour de force of da 'Burgh. Even favorite and familiar spots have new and special delicious temptations awaiting your discovery.  

And the event lasts a whole week! Unless, like me, you jump the gun and start a day early.
Sunday - Verde MexicanKitchen & Cantina, Garfield
Verde Mexican Kitchen &Cantina in Garfield, one of our favorite brunch spots in the 'Burgh, was the official kickoff of Restaurant Week for us. It was Sunday. Sunday is the first day of the week. I ASSUMED the week's festivities began on a Sunday....wrong. So what the heck...we got an extra day to celebrate.  

Both Mark and I started off with one of Verde's very special, spicy Bloody Marias. Instead of typical vodka, tequila is the spirit of choice along with a housemade mix using guajillo peppers and garlic to kick up the flavor factor. May I just say OLE!

Although not officially restaurant week, we still observed the spirit of the event.  Verde's version of eggs Benedict was a new-to-me dish so shouldn't that count? 


Sauteed escarole and their scrumptious house-smoked bacon were the base for beautifully poached eggs and crowned with a guajillo hollandaise. To accommodate my gluten issues, instead of the usual English Muffin they were kind enough to serve them with a side of corn tortillas AND a trio of salsasWord of advice.  Never, NEVER hit up Verde's brunch without getting the bacon.  You will thank me. 

Thanks, Verde! (Bonus!  Verde has a gluten-free menu!)
Tuesday - Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen, Regent Square  
Now THIS was a real treat! Not only was I visiting Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen for the first time, I was there as one of an invited group of Pittsburgh food bloggers. The Restaurant Week people (hi Brian & Andrew!) gathered we blogging "foodie" fiends (and friends) to kick off the week.  

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sponsored Happy Hour to really get things started right for the night!  We tippled, dipped and schmoozed with fellow bloggers while meeting the driving forces behind the new Post-Gazette food blog, PG Plate

If you haven't checked out the PG Plate, do it! With info about restaurants and dining, bars and libations, ingredient sources and cooking and everything related, it's food news you can use.

Once happy hour was over, we moved to the dining room.  That's where I met up with an old Latin friend.  The arepa. What's an arepa? A Latin delight made of masa harina that's made into dough, shaped into discs and griddled on both sides. They are crispy outside, creamy inside, naturally gluten-free, usually split and deliciously stuffed with cheese and/or chorizo.

You can find them (or their cousin, the pupusa) all over the country, even Cleveland! But in Pittsburgh? Not to be found. Until Tuesday in this lovely Regent Square restaurant.  

Alma's preparation was different than what I'd had before.  The arepa itself was nestled under a salad of beets, avocado, cabbage and cilantro and accompanied by the most delicious fried plantains I've ever had.  A very fresh saute of asparagus, red bell peppers, carrots and zucchini shreds graced the side of the plate. SO good!


Wednesday - Habitat, Downtown Pittsburgh  
What a surprise! Restaurant Week was actually happening in Downtown Pittsburgh with a lunch special at Habitat in the Fairmont Hotel.  Well, sign me up!

The RW special was an Express Lunch  consisting of soup, salad, a sandwich and dessert...all for $15.  Sandwich? Er...gluten issue? Not a problem.  Habitat accommodates food issues of all ilk and actually had gluten-free bread for my muffaletta. 

Can I tell you I almost cried with gratitude?  That's the first muffaletta I've had in eight years. It. Was. Wonderful! The soup of the day was a light, not creamy, rutabaga puree studded with peas and chunks of said rutabaga. The salad was kissed with a light, lemony dressing.  Perfect. 

Dessert? A cupcake. No, not gluten-free, but they kindly substituted a fabulous rich, DARK chocolate double-scoop of ice cream. My dining companion had the cupcake...she decided I won the dessert round.

Thursday - Up Modern Kitchen, Shadyside  
This visit to a new-to-me restaurant in Shadyside came courtesy of a Yelp Elite event at this cozy little bar/restaurant upstairs of their sister restaurant, Shady Grove. (Hint for finding this spot...although the address says Walnut Street, the entrance is on Bellefonte. Why?  This is Pittsburgh, there are imponderables.)

Up Modern put out a beautiful variety of sliced charcuterrie as well as smoked olives (addicting - smoked olives WILL be on my smoker the first time out in the spring!), jerky, mushroom risotto, fried cheeses and even that Pittsburgh favorite (drum roll, please) dippy eggs. We didn't go hungry!

Nor thirsty. Their version of a Moscow Mule, though non-traditional, was quite refreshing. It was made with gingerale instead of ginger beer, but at least the mint sprig was present.  Bonus for the mint sprig in my book. 

Saturday - KaleidoscopeCafe, Lawrenceville  
THIS was a lovely find! No, I wasn't the first to discover the gustatory joys to be found on a side street of Lawrenceville. But, when walking from Industry Public House on Butler Street to our Paint Monkey evening a couple of months ago, we did "find" this colorful gem of a building just begging to be visited. 

Three Yelp friends (Hi Rachel, Jenn and Michael!) and I met up for lunch. Again, the Restaurant Week menu wasn't available for lunch, but (again) trying new foods there wasn't a problem.  Oh, the choices! 

Have I mentioned how I love dining via "small plates," appetizers or tapas? Well, I do. Little smatterings and tastes are right up my alley. 


I'd heard wonderful things about the chicken and apple sausage small plate at Kaleidoscope- so of course, that was part of my order.  Slices of house-made sausage sautéed with apple, red onion and walnut in a spicy maple-rum sauce, topped with melted brie and a mixed berry coulis were presented in a gratin dish. It was a spicy, rich, crunchy, sweet combination of tastes and textures that was an alluring beginning to what was to come.  

Crab dip?! In Pittsburgh? I knew I was taking a chance ordering a crab dish. Fortunately, my fears went out the window with the first bite. I honestly would have preferred a higher crab to sauce ratio, but this IS Pittsburgh after all.  Chef Dan hit the creamy delight right on.  Not only that, to oblige the old gluten issue he subbed in top notch fries to dip instead of pita bread.  

Only one thing could make this afternoon delight better...dessert. Specifically, a CHOCOLATE dessert. Hello Flourless Chocolate Torte, you certainly are looking beautiful today. AND delicious!  And you were


Rich, dense, decadent dark chocolate with white a chocolate rum ganache ended the meal and my Restaurant Week perfectly.

I'd intended to cap off the close of Restaurant Week with my own celebration called "Bar Night." I had Carson Street's Acacia in my sights as the perfect spot to toast a very fine week. Alas, Restaurant Week left me yearning for a quiet night at home and a simple dinner of homemade minestrone.

Until next time, Restaurant Week! It was fun! Now when is that next date so I can put it on my calendar NOW?!
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