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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Muddy Waters Oyster Bar


When I approach a new bar, I generally have three major concerns. Where will I sit, what shall I eat and what do I drink?

So here is the straight up dope on Muddy Waters Oyster Bar. For happy hour you can get $1 east coast oysters or $2 west coast oysters. The $2 oysters were noticeably better, however, they were not an entire $1 better. How would I quantify such a thing you might ask? It was easy, I simply made an off-the-cuff determination that I would rather have spent my $1 on an extra oyster as opposed to a marginally better oyster. The oysters were fresh, flavorful and presented in a lovely manner. A vast improvement over Revel and Roost. Keep in mind that the raw bar menu changes daily, but always come prepared with a solid game plan. Now that you have a dining strategy, let's talk drinks.

During happy hour, you can get $10 off any selection under "Bubbles" on the menu. Your selection is a no brainer. You're going to go with the Lamberti Prosecco which comes to roughly $18 a bottle after the happy hour discount. Not only is it entirely acceptable, it is also the cheapest bottle on the menu. Here's why you are better off ordering the cheapest bottle of wine on a menu as opposed to the second cheapest:

"Avoid the second cheapest bottle on a wine list as, in most restaurants, this is the one the restaurateur pays the least for. Safe in the knowledge that customers don’t want to appear tight, owners tend to put the cheapest wine at a price slightly higher than the house wine – thus making the most profit. In most cases, the house wine will be better and cheaper."

If you aren't the sea-faring type, go with the hot chicken. You will be treated to some delightfully succulent chicken served with collard greens, sweet pickles, dirty rice and white bread. It didn't pair particularly well with the prosecco, but who cares. Pictured above was my small taste of a happy hour guest's half chicken, it was remarkable. A perfect amount of heat and oh oh so moist.

So now we have just one last inquiry: where should you sit?

Outside Seating
You will, of course, be arriving early to snag the outside seating. In addition to the excellent service you will receive as the coveted face of the bar, you will be the talk of the town as you slam Prosecco and oysters with your friends. Happy hunting restaurant-goer! 

Muddy Waters Oyster Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

SCRATCH - Troy Hill

Mushroom Crostini
Scratch is one of the newer Pittsburgh restaurants that I've seen mentioned as an up and comer time and time again. I've probably dined with them about half a dozen times now and the most impressive aspect of the bar has to be the owner's commitment to using locally sourced ingredients. The menu changes routinely and I've even seen it change multiple times in the same week. 

On my last visit Scratch had decided to go vegetarian for Earth Day. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed as I had a craving for a greasy burger. (Earth day be damned. Sometimes I just want a burger.) The mushroom crostini was my consolation prize. I thought that the goat cheese and mushrooms were excellent, but I was a little surprised by the amount of parsley. (The easy fix was to throw that parsley in the garbage.)

Leek and Potato
 The leek and potato appetizer has a base of pureed purple potatoes and it is topped with sauteed leeks, crispy fingerling potatoes and a healthy serving of brie cheese. This was absolutely without a doubt one of the best dishes I've tried this year. The picture simply cannot do this creation justice. The combination of flavors and textures was simply outstanding.

Also, I should mention that Scratch has some great beer specials and a wonderful staff. Overall, I think it is one of the best bars to open in Pittsburgh in the last year.

Scratch Food & Beverage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, April 22, 2016

Poros - Market Square

Lamb Kibbeh
Poros is a newer addition to Market Square that you basically can't miss. The glamorous facade and beautiful restaurant interior bring a certain elegance to Market Square -- an elegance that was certainly lacking back in the 90's when Market Square was a haven for drug addicts, miscreants and women of the night. The new Market Square has become a family friendly playground boasting public art installations, fun activities, a number of bars and fine restaurants and of course, Poros.

Poros will break your wallet. Their only happy hour special is on Wednesday, fish is literally sold by the ounce and the prices are comparable to restaurants found in much larger cities. That being said, I believe the food is worth every penny.

Pictured above is the raw lamb kibbeh ($11) which is served with egg yolk, fennel, onion, farro and capers. The only place that I have ever seen raw kibbeh is at the mercy meals held by my Lebanese family after funerals. As a child I was totally put off by the dish, as an adult I wish I could indulge in raw kibbeh every night. The Kibbeh from poros had a magnificent texture and the various flavors and ingredients created a memorable dining experience. I'm certain that I will order this dish every time I visit. It was really that good.

Poros Chips
I think my server was much more excited about the Poros chips ($12) than I was. She was essentially bursting with glee when I ordered them and then came back twice to see if I liked them as much as she did.  They consisted of crispy zucchini and eggplant plastered with tzatziki sauce and mint. They were quite light in texture and perfect companion for a nice bottle of white wine. I would recommend sharing though, eating the entire plate by myself was literally a tall order.

Pro tips: Poros is expensive. An entree is going to run you upwards of $30 and don't expect any free bread or discounted drinks. (Also, don't bother with the hummus, I didn't think it was that great.) Skip dinner, go for lunch and get the $18 fixed price meal. The salmon I ordered on a previous visit ranks among the best fish I've been served in this fine city. 

Poros Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Farm to Table - Friday Night Food Tasting

The first time I attended the Farm to Table Conference was in 2010 and I wasn't sure it was my cup of kombucha. That's because, in very poor fashion, I wasn't in attendance for the Food Tasting Night! I believe the tasting event is more accessible to the general public and also an amazing bargain at $30 a ticket. Here are all of my favorite dishes from the event.

Pictured above are the deviled eggs from Footprints Farm. They also offered an amazing apricot curry chicken - this was one of the only places I demanded second and third servings.

Market District offered this remarkable pork shoulder along with a sriracha bbq sauce. There was a bit too much cornbread accompanying the dish, but that wasn't a real problem. Also of note was their caramel brownie sundae! If you are looking for an extremely interesting read, I recommend this piece of history equating the development of the sundae with state blue laws.

Monterey Bay was absolutely a crowd favorite. They offered a tuna ceviche taco that was orgasmic. I do not believe that the taco is offered on their regular menu yet, but keep an eye out in the future.

Quiet Creek Herb Farm was offering both a vegan kimchi and a traditional kimchi in addition to some other small samplings. I learned a lot about kimchi on this fine day. The fish sauce is everything! The difference between the two varieties was spectacular, I would never opt for vegan kimchi over traditional, even if I was a vegan.The layers of complexity added to the traditional kimchi by the fish sauce were truly astounding.

The Franklin Inn was one of my favorite Mexican restaurants growing up. Their Colorado green chili is unlike anything you will find on most Mexican restaurant menus in the Pittsburgh area. However, the real show stopper is the cilantro jalapeno vinaigrette. The dressing is perfectly balanced and wonderfully flavorful. This was basically the one item you had to take home at the Farm to Table Conference!

Franklin Inn Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Logan family farms offered one of the more interesting dishes of the evening. A naturally dry aged beef meatball. I am certainly not accustomed to meatballs being made with dry aged beef, but I could get used to such a special treat. The Logan family themselves were also a real treat with their welcoming boisterous personalities. 

Emerald Valley Artisans had my absolute favorite offering of the evening. A giant table filled with cheese! Of particular note was the grilled brick ricotta with truffle oil. Warm grilled ricotta with crusty bread featuring the earthy truffle oil - this offering forced me to eat until I was nearly incapacitated. I do not believe I could make a stronger recommendation.

Overall the conference is a must visit for anyone interested in the sustainable food movement, or food in general! It is probably one of Pittsburgh's single best food events. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Monterey Bay Fish Grotto

When you ride the glass elevator up to the dining area of Monterey Bay, you know you are in for a memorable evening. If you haven't been in a while, I recommend stopping by to checkout the new decor. They recently did a massive three million dollar overhaul and the space looks beautiful. It has a very elegant aesthetic that is not common in the Pittsburgh area. I doubt I need to mention the great view of the city from Monterey Bay, but it is astonishing!

Pictured above is the kobe beef tartar on crostini, the salmon ceviche roll with spicy mayo and the veggie roll for the losers. (Just kidding, it was pretty good - I'm just more of a fish man.)

I particularly enjoyed the salmon ceviche roll, but the beef tartar was my absolute favorite. Very flavorful and fresh, I think I ate about half of the platter by myself. In addition to the renovations, Monterey Bay has been making some additions to their menu as well.

It's nice to see that a restaurant that has been around for a while isn't afraid to try new things, just the other week they were offering a ceviche taco at the Pittsburgh Farm to Table Conference that was remarkably good.

The Ichiban skewers pictured above were one of my favorite dishes we tried at Monterey Bay. They made them with bite size pieces of marinated filet, tuna and swordfish. The dish had a great array of flavors and textures and I love anything that's slightly charred.

Monterey Bay also put together some great cocktails for us! My absolute favorite was the strawberry basil pepino with tequila, lime, strawberries and jalapeno. It was a total knockout. I can't thank the staff of Monterey Bay and Eileen French from Revive Marketing enough for such an awesome evening. I can't wait to go back. It's always nice to be pampered.

Monterey Bay Fish Grotto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Vallozzi's - Downtown

Our wonderful spread.

I believe this was my fourth or fifth visit to Vallozzi's for happy hour in the last year. Quite frankly, they have one of the best happy hour setups in Market Square. A spacious bar with plenty of high top seating and room for mingling. Without even taking into account how great their food is, here are some reasons why Vallozzi's should be one of your top choices for happy hour in Market Square if you have a large group.

1. The Oyster House really isn't that good.
2. Nola gets very crowded and it is hard to find a spot at the bar. (You have to be seated at the bar to get happy hour prices at NOLA.)
3. Perle has very strange older singles vibe. (So this might actually be your spot after all depending on what you are into.)
4. Los Velas is not quite as good as Taco Bell.
5. The Yard can be insanely noisy and crowded.

Some of the wonderful dishes we tried included the flat breads, the cured meat plate and the fried risotto balls. Although the flat breads were my favorite snack, I was remarkably impressed by the fried risotto balls. They had a wonderful creamy texture and were a perfect vehicle for consuming Vallozzi's marinara sauce.

I also have to tell you about my favorite drink from the Vallozzi's happy hour menu. It was an Italian drink I've never heard of called sgroppino. I was actually not sure how to say the word so I think I just pointed to it on the menu. Apparently it is a Venetian drink typically made with lemon sorbet, Vallozzi's served them up with lemon rosemary syrup, vodka and prosecco. Three of them is an excellent way to start and end your night!

Vallozzi's Pittsburgh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, February 12, 2016

Station - 4744 Liberty Ave

I've rarely had a satisfying dining experience in Bloomfield. Tessaro's is overrated. The last time I stopped by the sandwich shop there was a fist fight involving the entire restaurant and it took about two hours to get my runny omelet. Del's (now deceased) and Pleasure Bar always served their food with a great deal of Italian "gusto" but I've found the quality of the food to be very lackluster. Restaurant goers in Pittsburgh have always prized quantity and value over quality. I believe this trend is finally shifting.

Station is the brainchild of Justin Janosko. I've known Justin since he was pouring beers at Tad's on East Carson and saving up to start his catering business which would eventually springboard him into his wonderful new location in Bloomfield.

I was extremely skeptical of Station and quite worried that I would be writing a nasty review. After all, the cheapest item on the menu is the $8 chicken liver mousse and the cheapest entree is a $16 burger. By way of comparison,  $7 will get you a huge fried bologna sandwich and a side at the lovely Bob's Garage which we visited a few weeks prior.

Justin recommended I try the tagliatelle. I don't typically enjoy ordering pasta dishes at most restaurants. I generally believe that I can make pasta as well as the next guy -- I was wrong. The house made tagliatelle was perfectly textured with a wonderful thick sauce. It was very well complimented by the smoked pork shank as well as the one hour egg. (Read soft runny egg that adds a great deal of complexity to any dish.) After crushing the entire entree, I slurped the sauce like a goblin. It was really that good.

Somehow, I found myself entirely outside of my comfort zone on my visit to Station. My dear friend Ed suggested that I order the $11 chicken wings. Although this price seems criminal for just 5 chicken wings, I had no regrets. The wings were prepared in a tapioca coating and then flash fried. The resulting texture is almost too much to handle, especially when paired with the wonderful chili sauce and aerated parmesan cheese.  The wings basically seemed breaded and had a delightful crunch. I'll be going back just to get an entire order for myself. My friends PITTSBURGH TENDO REVIEW would either praise these wings or hang themselves. I really don't know which, they are kind of manic.  I would absolutely love to see their review.

My chief complaint about Station would be that some of the dishes are just a little too rich and too complicated.  I would have a hard time describing the beef tongue and the ravioli other than to call them "busy." There was just too much going on with each dish and too many competing flavors and textures. I believe that with the quality ingredients they are using some of the menu items could be simplified. I would also like to complain about the the price points, but I can't. Sometimes good food is absolutely worth the money.

Station Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato