Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mediterrano




Our final stop for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week was last Sunday evening at Mediterrano. It's on Babcock Blvd not far from Ross Park Mall. Our reservations were for 6 pm and we got there just a few minutes early. We were seated right away. There were only 2 other tables occupied but within minutes, the place was full of people sipping their BYOB wine, laughing, talking, and enjoying themselves.
The interior is cozy and inviting. Deep orange walls, square tables covered with white tablecloths, some lively (presumably Greek) music playing. Our server was very friendly. She brought iced tea for SP and hot tea for me and then took our orders. We both chose the PRW menu and additionally we ordered the Saganaki:
Fried cheese, with lots of oil and lemon and brandy sauce. Quite tasty. We also started with a complimentary basket of red pepper-hummus dip and pita:
I only tried a wee bite of the dip since I figured it had garlic in it. The pita was warm and tasty. It didn't take SP long to scrape out every last bit of the dip with his pita. He really liked this. I don't think it was too garlicky, but other than that, it was a pretty standard dip of red pepper & hummus. SP said it was mild, with a decent red pepper taste, and it was fine.
SP's first course was soup: Avgolemono, silky egg, lemon, and rice soup. He said it had a very nice lemon flavor, it was smooth, and it was warming on a cold evening.
My first course was salad: fresh spinach, toasted walnuts, Fuji apples, and dried cranberries, tossed in a walnut vinaigrette. I really enjoyed the thick, walnutty dressing. I really like salads of spinach-apples-nuts so this was a hit for me.
My entree course was the Roasted Lamb Shoulder Stuffed Ravioli with lamb gravy and fresh mozzarella. There were six, huge, rectangular shaped ravioli stuffed with shredded lamb. The lamb was delicious, the pasta was delicious.
There was a lot of gravy, and while it was good, it proved quite messy for me. Every bite I took resulted in gravy all over my face! After about 1.5 ravioli, I found myself wishing there was another flavor component to this dish, something besides lamb and ravioli and mozzarella. Maybe some rosemary, some olives, something. It was good, but it could have been great with another ingredient. When I reheated the leftovers the next day for lunch, I scraped off  a lot of the gravy and that made it much easier and neater to eat.
SP's entree was Wild Sockey Salmon, Pan-Seared and Topped with a Roasted Leek & Pepper Sauce over Wild Rice. He said it was very good and flavorful. The salmon was crispy on the outside and still moist on the inside, a wee bit salty but not so much as to be inedible or unpleasant. The sauce was ratatouille like, the rice a nice mix of textures, and it all worked well together, making a tasty dish.
The third course, dessert, was baklava, a choice of original, raspberry, or chocolate. SP chose raspberry, I chose chocolate. Both were interesting and tasty variations of baklava/ I really like the chocolate one, but towards the end, it got a little too rich, a little too chocolaty, and I found myself wishing that we had cut our baklava in half and shared with each other. I could have used more than just a taste of the raspberry and less than an entire chocolate baklava.
We both enjoyed dining at Mediterrano. Service was good, food was tasty. We would come back to try the regular menu.


Mediterrano on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week: Habitat

Several months ago, we made the pleasant discovery that our friends S & A also subscribed to the PNC Broadway Across America Series. The difference is we chose the Saturday matinee while they chose Saturday evening. Happily, there is a nice amount of time in between the matinee and evening shows for us to meet up with fellow food lovers and enjoy a tasty meal. This past Saturday was Les Miserables (terrific show!) and it just so happens that it was also Pittsburgh Restaurant Week. So we all perused the participating restaurants near the Benedum Center and finally decided upon Habitat, located in the Fairmont Hotel.
Les Miserables was one of the longer shows (running until nearly 5 pm) and our reservation was for 6 pm. We took our time leaving the show, but it's maybe at most a 5 minute walk to Habitat. After using the restrooms and checking in on the score of the Pens-Flyers game and being smartphone dorks for a while, we decided to go on in and relax with a cocktail. It's dark inside, lots of brown colors, lots of glass windows for gazing out at the city, and in general, it says 'upscale dining.' Our server came over and poured us water from an adorable frog shaped pitcher which, after I commented on it being shaped like a frog, he informed us was designed by a local artist for Habitat and is sold at the restaurant for $150. There is a photo of the pitcher here on Sabor Pgh's blog.

I ordered a glass of Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier and SP chose a Lechthaler Pinot Grigio. Habitat is one of those 'upscale, fancy' restaurants where the bottle is brought to your table, you get to confirm the label is what you want, and then you get to have a taste of your wine and approve of it before an entire glass is poured. This happens so rarely for us that I am always a bit surprised! I think this is the third or fourth restaurant we've ever been to that does it that way.
I debated for a long time about whether to order the PRW meal or to order off the menu. Habitat is into local, sustainable food when possible, and we both were happy to see organic, grass fed, happy meats. I also liked that tucked into the menu is a card with dining options listed under categories like Gluten Free, Diabetes, Raw, Vegan, Heart Healthy, etc.
In the end I ordered off the menu, choosing to start my meal with a side of Lobster Mac & Cheese.
It was good, but I wasn't blown away. The pasta was delicious, spiral pasta, it was cheesy & moist without swimming in cheese sauce, there were tiny diced bits of red pepper and tomato throughout, but while I expected little bits of lobster throughout, I found only one huge hunk in the middle of the dish, so after I popped that morsel in my mouth, it was just mac & cheese.
SP opted for the PRW menu so his appetizer was an Artichoke Risotto with Trout. This was one reason I didn't order the PRW menu - I'm not a huge fan of fish. I sampled a tiny taste of risotto, too tiny to really get a sense of the dish. SP says it was creamy, tangy, there was a hint of smokiness, and while he enjoyed it as an appetizer he doesn't think he would like it as a whole meal (if it were to be offered as a meal).
My entree was Braised Shirt Ribs with pumpkin gnocchi, vegetables, and maple sauce. The short ribs were very tender and moist and easily pulled apart. The gnocchi were not at all what I expected. They were shaped like little barrels, or little marshmallows, and seemed a bit dry; there wasn't any sauce/moisture on my plate save for the moist meat. I did like that one end of the gnocchi barrel had been browned and had a nice crunch. There was a tiny amount of carrot and perhaps parsnip thin coins but not what I expected. I expected the usual gnocchi shape with pieces of roasted/cooked carrots/onions/parsnips in a bit of the braising liquid with either a hunk of short rib on top or already shredded short rib bits mixed throughout, similar to the roasted lamb gnocchi I had at Bistro 19 but with short rib.
S ordered Honey Glazed Duck duck confit and goat cheese puff, wilted arugula, pear, puree of carrot & orange. When asked how he wanted his duck prepared, S said however the chef recommended/did it best. It looked rare to me, but since I do not order duck, it might have been more medium-rare and just looked pink because of the color of duck. He said it was tasty.
SP's PRW entree was Chicken Leg, red wine marinade, winter vegetables, bacon, braised onions, toasted white bread. I assume the lacy looking bit in the top right is a super thin piece of toasted white bread. He said the chicken was moist and easy to pull off the bone and it had a sweet tasting glaze. The veggies were a little crisper than he expected but still tasty.
R chose Pan Roasted Golden Trout artichokes, almond streusel, roasted walnut cream. Her fish was perfectly cooked and she said she enjoyed her meal.
I was too full for a dessert, plus nothing on the dessert menu really grabbed me, so I settled on decaf coffee, which was quite good. S chose the German Chocolate Cake, above, flourless cake, coconut pecan zuckerguss, milk chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce. It was beautiful. He said it was good but somehow he had spaced on the coconut part it's not one of his super favorite flavors.
SP's PRW dessert, and R's dessert choice, was Citrus Cheesecake, orange mascarpone cheesecake, Meyer lemon curd, lime gel, poppy seed meringue, toasted graham cracker. Both SP & R really like tart citrus flavors. I like citrus flavors, but not when they're too tart. I found my tiny bites of lime gel and lemon curd too tart, as expected, but SP & R said the dessert was delicious.

Our server was attentive and friendly, knowledgeable about items on the menu. Tables were very nicely spaced, I barely noticed the other people dining there.

But I'm torn in my opinion of Habitat. I was unsure of our choice in PRW restaurants going into our meal. The average rating on both Urbanspoon & Yelp is just so-so, and usually I avoid places with that kind of so-so rating. I was a little disappointed in my appetizer but I did really enjoy my short ribs, even if I was a little... taken aback by the gnocchi. The plates were beautifully presented, service very good, atmosphere was great, and the price point for this kind of places does not surprise me nor do I have an issue with it BUT if I'm going to pay $100+ for us to dine out, I can think of several places we've been to where I enjoy the atmosphere just as much, the service is just as good, and I enjoy my food just a little bit more. On the other hand, it is located conveniently close to the Cultural District. Would I go back? Yes.


Habitat on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week: Bistro 19

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week started this past Monday. A week of special dining deals at 50+ restaurants. But... we didn't get to our first restaurant until Thursday evening. And it is a place we have dined at many times before, one of our favorite places: Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon.

I happen to love the cozy, dimly lit interior, especially when we have a seat near the huge windows and we can watch the people and traffic out on Route 19. Our reservations were for 7:30 pm and we were seated right away. It was busy, but not as busy as some of our past visits, which are almost always a Saturday evening.

We went because of the PRW menu we had seen posted. This means that I didn't even open the regular menu. I was not going to look at the Black Tiger Shrimp on the menu. I was not going to read the description - stuffed with artichoke & spinach deliciousness, nestled atop a bed of creamy risotto, a creamy tomato parmesan sauce, wilted spinach. I was going to finally try something other than the Black Tiger Shrimp.

We ordered iced teas, selected our PRW courses (the PRW special was a 3 course meal for $30), and then enjoyed some tasty warm bread:
It wasn't long before our first courses arrived. For me, the Braised Pork Mac & Cheese:
Mmmm. Creamy, cheesy deliciousness, spiral squiggle pasta, onion straws, tender shredded pork, and BBQ taste. Not a strong cheese or too sharp cheese, but not a bland cheese, either. Not too runny. Filling. It took me a lot longer to finish my first course than it took SP to finish his:
Pumpkin Cappuccino Bisque. Served in a cappuccino glass! I had a small taste. Lots of pumpkin and cinnamon flavors but with a definite coffee taste in the background, making you want to keep spooning bites into your mouth. Just enough coffee taste that it didn't taste like liquid pumpkin pie filling, but not so much coffee taste that it was like drinking a pumpkin spice latte.
For his second course, SP chose the Coffee rubbed mahi mahi with yucca purée, coconut rice, and candied kumquats. He said the candied kumquats were delicious, the fish was nicely cooked with just enough of the rub that it wasn't overpowering, and he ate everything on his plate.
It wasn't too surprising that I chose the Roasted Lamb Gnocchi with roasted root vegetables and sage butter. I love when I order gnocchi and they taste yummy not gummy or like very heavy blobs that are mushy and tasteless and will sit in my stomach like a ton of bricks. These were so good, they kind of melted in my mouth, if that's even possible for gnocchi. The lamb was so tender and flavorful, delicious roasted veggies. I, too, cleaned my plate, sharing a few bites with SP.
Third course was dessert. SP loves rice pudding, so I knew he would select the Butterscotch Rice Pudding. He said it was rich and delicious. I didn't try any. In my world, rice does not equal dessert. Ever. Not even if mixed with chocolate.

They were out of the Chocolate Mousse Turtle dessert so I went with the Coffee Panna Cotta with blueberry compote:
I don't think I had ever tried panna cotta before. I have tried flan, which I always figured was the same as panna cotta, but a quick search today revealed that panna cotta is gelatin based while flan is egg based. This had a very nice coffee flavor and was so creamy and soft and delicious. I was a bit skeptical of blueberries with coffee, but it worked.

There was an optional wine pairing for the PRW menu, and I chose to try it. I shared the 3 wines with SP - I didn't want a glass of wine, but small tastes/pairings with each course and shared with SP was just the right amount for me. The first course was paired with a Pinot Noir, the second was also a red but I forget what kind, and the dessert pairing was a port. I don't like port, so I let SP drink it! Port is always too strong for me, or maybe I should say too concentrated? It makes me shudder, even when I just put the tip of my tongue in it for a wee taste!

As usual, we really enjoyed our food and the service was terrific.Still one of our favorite places, plus, we don' have to drive into the city, which is nice because sometimes we just don't want to deal with the Parkway West!

There are 3 more days of PRW and if you are looking for a place to try, I suggest Bistro 19.

Bistro 19 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Soup Or Stew?

Two weekends ago, we threw the ingredients for chicken noodle soup in the crock pot and went out to see a movie and do a few errands. It was great to come home to chicken soup smell and have dinner ready for us, it was almost as if we hadn't done anything and dinner magically appeared. So this past weekend we wanted to do the same thing - a crock pot soup. After much debate, some research for a lamb & barley soup, and then a decision to not leave the house on Sunday, we came up with a lamb & barley dish - but is it a soup or a stew?
We started  off by browning 2+ pounds of lamb stew meat. The last couple of times we made dishes with lamb and veggies and barley and/or potato, the dishes were a wee bit disappointing in flavor and texture. Given the cost of the lamb meat, I was adamant that we end up with something tasty, not something mushy and bland. So, brown bits. A key to flavor. Since we were staying home all day, we decided to make the soup on the stove and not in the crock pot.
After removing the browned lamb, we sauteed carrots (4), celery (2-3 stalks), and onion (2 small). Next, we deglazed the pot with the rest of our white cooking wine (probably a bit less than half a cup) and then added chicken stock (about 1.5 boxes of stock) and seasonings to the pot.
Lots of seasoning: parsley, oregano, rosemary, and several bay leaves, or I should say bay leaf bits as ours are now broken into many pieces.
The soup simmered for about 2~2.5 hours and then we added the barley (a bit more than half a cup) for the last 30 minutes or so. The result - a tasty soup/stew. It had a thin broth like soup, but it was very hearty and filling like a stew. Maybe call it a hearty soup? SP sprinkled some dried mint into his right before he ate it and said the mint was delicious in it.
When we re-heated it the next night, we added a bit of tomato paste and a dash or two of Worcestershire. Those two ingredients added a nice dimension to the hearty soup - I wouldn't necessarily say an improvement because the initial soup was very tasty, but a different delicious taste. We also added some more chicken stock because there wasn't a soup-like ratio of broth to goodies.

There's no recipe to share, we just looked up lamb and barley soup recipes to get an idea of the 'usual' ingredients and looked at our past lamb dishes on the blog and figured out what we wanted to add. Then we threw stuff in a pot, repeatedly tasted as it simmered, and ended up with a very tasty meal.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Osteria 2350

Last Friday I had a doctor appointment. It was one of those crappy ones, the ones that take 3 hours and involve tests that are uncomfortable and/or painful, the ones that are frustrating, the ones that make you realize that sometimes, no matter how advanced medicine seems these days, your body just cannot be fixed, or, if you want to fix something, there is so much risk that you just don't fix it and you learn to live with things. The ones where you discover that just when you think there can't possibly be another issue, there is. Sigh.

So I ended the visit by having a cry in the exam room. Just me & SP, with me silently letting tears roll down my face, because the alternative was another ranting outburst and I'd already had one of those in between tests. When we finally left Oakland, it was a given that we would go out somewhere for a bite to eat. My mood was such that I couldn't offer any suggestions on where I wanted to go, I just shot down or shrugged at every suggestion he made. Finally, sensing that I was making my dearest husband super frustrated when all he was trying to do was make me feel better, I pulled the deck of Pittsburgh Dining Cards out of my purse, SP flipped through, and he decided we were going to try Osteria 2350. OK.

So off we went, arriving at the restaurant around 6 pm. We had been at Osteria 2350 once before, back in June 2011 (that's what the blog tells me). I remember we liked it, and we liked it again this time, too. It wasn't very crowded when we arrived and we seated ourselves along a wall at one of the marble topped tables. Our server came over, introduced himself, and went to get our iced teas while we perused the paper placemat menus.

I didn't have my new fancy camera with me, nor did I have my old camera, so I had to resort to my cell phone camera in a dimly lit restaurant and then trying to brighten the images in Photoshop, which I really do not know how to use. So, here's the crappy photos of what we ate:
Warm Lobster Salad: lobster, wild arugula, Belgian endive, pan vinaigrette. Tasty. Very tangy vinaigrette. Peppery arugula.

Soup of the Day: Potato & Sausage. SP ordered this. It wasn't a creamy soup like we expected but instead it was a tomato-y broth. He said it had a kick to it, the sausage seemed spicy, and there were crushed red pepper flakes.
SP chose the special of the day, a Duck Rigatoni. There was a light cream sauce, al dente rigatoni, an earthy mushroom flavor, tasty chewy duck confit. He really liked it.

I chose the Cavatelli with pork confit, arugula, and ricotta. I asked for as little garlic as possible, and our server told me that except for the garlic in the cooking liquid for the pork, it could be garlic free, which I appreciated. The pork was shredded, tender bits which paired nicely with the peppery arugula, salty ricotta, and al dente pasta. The sauce seemed just like a light broth, just enough to add some moisture, which was fine, especially since these days I like less sauce on my pasta.

SP couldn't resist the Baklava Cheesecake. I have to admit this was quite tasty. The bottom crust and the topping was that lovely sticky, sweet, honey, cinnamon, nut flavor which was a great contrast with the cool and creamy cheesecake.

There were maybe six desserts and two had peanut butter and one banana, neither flavors I like, so I opted for the Chocolate Raspberry Torte. Somehow it looked less dense and less rich in the display case! This was very tasty, lots of chocolate and raspberry flavor, but very rich. I ate almost half before giving up!
We both again enjoyed our meals. Our server was terrific, answering questions, keeping our iced teas filled, friendly. I liked the casual atmosphere, and that it was on the quiet side. Before using any discounts, our meal was around $50, which seems pretty reasonable for how much we ate. Osteria 2350 validates parking, so we didn't pay anything for the parking garage in the same building.

I wish we'd remember this place more often when we're looking for a casual, tasty, not too expensive place for dinner.


Osteria 2350 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Holding Pattern

So. The holidays are over. 2012 is over. We're already 9 days into the new year. Yikes!

I am not sure that 2013 is off to a swell start. We dismantled the holiday decor right away - I was more than ready for things to get back to normal - so that made me happy. But then my stomach started having one of what I call my 'digestive distress' episodes. I have 2 existing medical conditions that can lead to digestive issues, or this could be something new (oh joy), and I haven't had an episode like this in 13 months, but oh does it stink. This time, I can't pinpoint what food is the root cause (usually I can) but since the second day of this new year, I've been downing various stomach/indigestion/acid medicines. As usual, nothing really works and I just have to wait it out, and usually it takes about 2 weeks for things to get back to normal. Hopefully by the middle of next week I'll be feeling better. It'd be nice to not have agonizing cramping every time I eat something.

So that means that we haven't cooked anything new & exciting. After all the holiday baking, we sure aren't doing any baking right now. Thanks to my digestive distress, we aren't going out to eat. I decided to skip the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week kick off party tomorrow because of my digestive distress. I am also skipping the food blogger dinner since I am not sure I will feel better. Right now, I'm eating a lot of crackers and working my way through a huge batch of Chicken Noodle Soup that we made in the crock pot on Sunday.

We went to see Flashdance last weekend, the second show in our season of PNC Broadway Across America shows. I wish I could say I loved it, but the truth is I didn't really enjoy it all that much. It seemed not as entertaining, not as polished, not as... special as many of the other shows I've seen. Coming up next: Les Miserables. I haven't seen it in 20+ years, not since my mom had season tickets and I went with her to a lot of the shows.

We are finished with the basement project, as in we are finished with the part where we have people come in and do work for us. Now it's a matter of finding some cabinets for storage and some furniture, plus we are looking for some new furniture for our upstairs living room. So that means weekend trips to furniture stores... again... and yes, we did just go to what seems like every single furniture store in the Pittsburgh area last fall in our search for a new upstairs couch. Neither of us is much thrilled about this new furniture search, but... We did a bit of it last fall when we were looking for the couch, but ultimately didn't find any pieces we liked so we decided to just get the couch and leave the rest for later. I guess now is later...! We do love our new couch, though.

And I have a new toy to learn how to use. Googer got me a lovely camera. Since we haven't been cooking or eating out, I haven't spent much time with it yet. It's a fancy schmancy camera (not point and click) so I might need to take a class!! One night my dad and SP watched me take 100+ photos of some loose leaf tea as I tried to figure out how to use the camera and then what the differences between the settings are.

So hopefully by the end of next week I'll be out of this 'holding pattern.' Hopefully I'll be able to eat normal food again, dine out again, and know how to use my new camera -- and the blog will get a bit more exciting!