Monday, March 3, 2014

Butcher and the Rye

Water bottle with logo
This past weekend we got have another 'date day.' We had tickets to see Porgy & Bess at the Benedum and it was terrific. I had seen it once before, many years ago, but I had forgotten how amazing and bittersweet and sad yet uplifting it is.

Then we got to go to dinner at another 'new to us' place: Butcher and the Rye. It's located across from Heinz Hall and opens at 5 pm, which was when we had made reservations, but since the show ended around 4:30 pm, we walked around for a bit and then huddled out of the wind in the 'entryway' waiting for the restaurant to open.
Butcher and the Rye is from the same guys (Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik) who opened Meat & Potatoes. I love how the two places seem similar, and yet so different at the same time. The lighting inside is very low, so even with the fancy 'better in low light' camera, the photos are still pretty darn dark. I tried to use our little table lamp guy as a flashlight for photos but with very minimal success!
In addition to a dimly lit interior, it's pretty eclectic inside. We were seated on the first floor (wheelchair) though up one step - when SP made the reservation, he was asked if this was OK, and said yes. When we arrived, the hostess again asked if it was OK, and several employees offered to help lift the wheelchair up the step. SP is pretty good at one step, but this is a bit of a big step, so we just had someone 'spot' us to make sure I didn't fall out of the wheelchair!
I wasn't quite sure how I felt about the mounted deer heads gazing down upon me! Lots of mirrors, which reflect the candles and table lights. Above our table was a huge antler chandelier - the above photo is the camera on the table aimed up at the underside of the chandelier. Below is the chandelier (and the wall of whiskey/bourbon) reflected in a mirror on the wall of the area in which we dined, plus a candle and bottles of wine on a wine counter.
Here's the thing about drinking alcoholic beverages: it can be a budget buster! In the past, we've usually limited ourselves to a glass or two of wine on special occasion dinners (birthdays, anniversaries, vacation dining) or maybe SP had a beer somewhere (I don't drink beer). For various reasons, we find ourselves in a happier budget place these days and are more likely to have a cocktail when dining out. Plus, the cocktail scene in Pittsburgh is changing. Some might say it's already changed and I am late to see this (or write about it), but I was limiting myself before. I wouldn't even look - I'd avoid temptation. That has changed. I allow myself to be tempted. With places like Meat & Potatoes, Grit & Grace, and Butcher and the Rye (and places we have not yet been but have heard about, like Livermore and others) there seems to be a movement toward more attention to cocktails and better crafted cocktails. I never much liked drinks like cosmopolitans, margaritas, Long Island iced tea, etc.
I've always been a whiskey & bourbon girl. It always got me funny looks when I was out with my girlfriends going to bars in my 20's - they'd order cosmos or fruity girly drinks and I'd get a whisky & soda. It might be because my parents always drank Old Fashioneds and Whiskey Sours when I was a kid, and those are the first cocktails I sipped. Put me in a place like Butcher and the Rye and I'm all 'oh my gosh give me all of the drinks!' But I am a lightweight, so I settled for 2. I started with a Butchers Bride which had Wigle rye, lime, grapefruit, and, I think, campari. SP opted for a Manhattan. They arrived in what I think of as my grandma's old time champagne glasses! They were beautiful cocktails. And tasty. I loved the favor of the Manhattan. My Butchers Bride was amazing! Dry (a wee bit sweet) - just lovely.
A bit later on, I decided to try Lions Tail - Buffalo Trace, lime, allspice dram. It, too, was a delicious cocktail, but I prefer the Butchers Bride.

The food. Um, we kind of wanted to order one of almost everything. But we settled for ordering what we figured would be too much food and we'd take some home for lunch. We ordered 5 small plates and 1 large plate.
First up: Sunday Gravy - tomatoes, lamb neck, olive oil, ricotta, warm country bread. So good! We both love lamb and lamb simmered in a tomato sauce, topped with cheese and served with bread - well, our high expectations were met. We fought over the last bit. Used the bread to mop up every last drop of sauce. And admitted that last week's lamb ragu we made didn't come close to the deliciousness of this.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts - brown butter, dill, parmigiano reggiano, preserved lemon aioli. Brussels never photograph well. Again, so good. Maybe better than the ones at Meat & Potatoes. We asked for the aioli on the side but it didn't smell/taste garlicky, so I ate a bit. I never thought I'd be scraping up every last roasted bit of Brussels from a bowl. Or making sure I got my 'fair share' before SP hoovered them all up.
There was never any doubt that we were going to order the Mac N Cheese. Taleggio, fontina, goat cheese, cheddar, parmesan. Five cheeses! And bread crumbs! And no discernible garlic! Creamy, cheesy, delicious bowl of heaven. I used some bread from the Sunday Gravy to mop up all the cheesy goodness.
The above 3 dishes arrived together to start. Next to arrive, after we had finished the first 3, was Crispy Pig Wing - Thai chili sauce, pickled mango salad, cilantro. Not my kind of flavors, but SP pulled off a bite of meat for me and it was yummy. He was surprised and impressed at the tenderness of the meat inside given the crispy exterior. I think I read somewhere that it's braised first, then fried. The pickled mango was nicely tangy and still crisp even though it was pickled.
Next the Country Ham arrived - honey lime creme fraiche, orange marmalade, and buttermilk biscuit. There were 3 biscuits topped with thinly sliced ham, dollops of orange marmalade, and pools of honey lime creme fraiche. This is an example of a pretty simple, usually kind of boring, idea taken to a really yummy next level. The biscuits were flaky and yummy, the ham was thin and hammy, but the marmalade and sauce elevated this to 'oh my gosh this is amazing' level. There was a hint of cinnamon, I think, in the marmalade, a nice tartness from the lime. The biscuits were great for mopping up the sauce! Yes, there was a lot of mopping up of sauce.
Our large plate arrived last: Seared Scallops with Blue Crab Risotto with kale and mushrooms. I was pretty full by the time this arrived, but I remember the scallop being nicely seared and so buttery smooth inside. There was a lovely flavor of crab in the creamy risotto. We both were full so we ate the scallops and risotto and did our best with the kale/mushrooms, etc., but ultimately left a bit of the veggies on the plate.
The bill comes in a cute little notebook - with a rabbit holding a cleaver! I'm calling it the homicidal bunny.

We will definitely be back. The drinks and food were terrific. Our server was great - I asked for her opinion on some cocktails, she answered my garlic questions. She brought our many plates of food at a nice pace. Water was kept filled, finished plates removed. When we left, an employee 'paved the way' for the wheelchair through the bar area, which wasn't super crowded but just crowded enough, and that was much appreciated.

I kind of wish Butcher and the Rye hadn't been so darn good because now I'm going to have a hard time deciding between all the delicious places we've eaten in the Cultural District. We have 2 more shows left in this season, reservations already after one of them, and now I have a tough decision for the one remaining dinner! I guess we'll have to subscribe to next season's Broadway show series so I can check out all these places again -- or we'll just have to change our thinking from "restaurants in the area are 'after a show' places" to "restaurants in the Cultural District are anytime places."

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