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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Diamond Market

Diamond Market just opened in Market Square, which is quickly becoming the bastion of downtown happy hour mayhem. The establishment is owned by the folks who own Primanti Brothers, and it shows. A lot of the furniture is the same and the general layout and feel of the menu is also similar.

I struggled with the menu. I was trying to explain to a friend recently that I enjoy menus that are challenging. I personally like a menu that has some exotic food options including items I've never tried before and things that I cannot, or have not made at home. We all suffer some form of human weakness. I find that many eaters enjoy routine. They like the same meal, prepared the same way, with genuine consistency. (This is after all how McDonald's became the world's most successful restaurant.) Personally, I suffer from a condition where I desire that which I cannot have.

The Diamond Market menu was not exciting. It looked like a re-tooled Primantis menu minus the traditional sandwiches. Some items that caught my eye included the Pittsburgh poutine and the deviled eggs. Poutine because, well, I've never seen it on a menu in Pittsburgh. Deviled eggs because, well, eww. Despite my reservations towards the menu, I cannot deny that I really enjoyed the one item that I did try.

I attempted to tell one of the restaurant patrons that the grilled cheese was out of this world. He laughed at me. Grilled cheese is one of those timeless classics that is really good no matter what, unless you burn it. This grilled cheese knocked me out though. It had a delightfully crunchy exterior due to the use of home-style bread and a parmesan crust. The pairing of internal cheeses was even more delightful - cheddar, gruyere and cambozola. Cambozola was the dominant flavor, a combination of camembert creaminess and gorgonzola punch. I must admit that after being hesitant to eat based on the menu I cannot wait to get back to Diamond Market to see what their other dishes are like.

Also, this place was absolutely slammed for happy hour. We met a nice Japanese man, a Greek who insisted he knew someone in every region of the world and the mayor of Pittsburgh just happened to be there with a giant entourage. Like I said, bastion of happy hour mayhem.

Diamond Market on Urbanspoon

Olive or Twist

As myself and my happy hour companion Frank Larson sat in front of Olive or Twist, he politely explained to a bible pusher that I was Olive and he was Twist. He told her that we were hired by the bar to promote their fine services and that her presence was requested at the bar. (She was quite attractive.) The bible pusher then attempted to sell her own wares, neither party was interested.

Olive or Twist is easily one of the most popular martini bars in downtown Pittsburgh. I only drink martinis that are made by Chinese immigrants in Canada or my personal bartender at Jack's Rose Bar in the Southside. I opted for the pumpkin ale and a plate of pizza fries.

I didn't really like the fries, but the pizza part was OK. Waffle fries are a novelty wasted on me, particularly when they are frozen as I believe these had been. Overall they weren't bad, but is anything bad when it is covered in pizza?

The caprese salad is one of my personal favorites. I enjoy the simplicity, lack of lettuce and sharp contrast of flavors. The caprese at Oliver or Twist was pretty good, I found the mozzarella and dressing more than acceptable. However, I prefer when young tender basil leaves are used as opposed to the somewhat coarse leaves that were provided by either Olive or Twist.

If you like martinis I recommend trying Olive or Twist. Additionally, I should note that the waitress told me that the calamari is what they are known for. I find that most restaurants of the Olive or Twist caliber tend to serve frozen, pre-cooked calamari so I did not partake. Overall I'd say Olive or Twist was overpriced, overrated and pretentious, but I'm just a simple man of fine tastes.

Olive Or Twist on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Apostila - Prague

The food in Prague is different. For example, I was shocked when I went to the grocery store and found about one tenth of the regular vegetables I'm accustomed to. I suppose the old world could really use a Giant Eagle Market Place.

My hosts told me from the moment that I arrived that they would be taking me to their favorite restaurant, Apostila. The best thing about fine dining in Prague is that it is cheap. Our entire meal, with over six bottles of wine and multiple courses came to less than fifty dollars per person. About what you might expect to spend at Olive Garden. (Also, I like Olive Garden, just don't tell any of my Foodie friends that I eat there discretely.)

I don't usually bother mentioning the bread, but I even enjoyed the bread at this joint. It came with butter made from sheep's milk which was unusually rich and intense. I'm not even sure how to describe except that it was much more flavorful and salty than the butter I'm accustomed to. I loved it.

For my next course I enjoyed the pate. I know liver is a turn-off for lots of folks, but I am under the impression that they just aren't doing it right. This liver was fantastic and it benefited from the addition of the strawberry foam. Foam is all the rage these days, I'm not sure I get it, but that isn't to say that I do not get it. I just think they are better ways to explore flavor pairings than the use of foam.

Duck is perhaps the noblest of the foul. And my expectations were very high after everything else I'd enjoyed so far. I generally prefer duck in the French style more than the Chinese style which I find a bit greasy. The duck at Apostila was good, but I've had better. I think it was just a little overdone for my taste. Those were potato pancakes accompanying my duck, they weren't that special.

This desert was very good, baked chocolate with caramel ice cream, but then again I'm a sucker for anything with chocolate. (Please take note that I was the fat guy who ordered desert after the rest of the party declined.)

If you are going to Prague I highly recommend Apostila. Especially if you are in good company, like Ed's girlfriend who knocked over a bunch of stuff at dinner and caused a scene.

Friday, October 7, 2011

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood - Worst Fish Tacos Ever

I've always been a tired and weary sailor, particularly when it comes to chain seafood restaurants. McCormick's is just that, a giant seafood conglomerate with over 90 locations nationwide. (We have two in Pittsburgh, one Downtown and one in the Southside.) We set sail to the downtown location after our brief happy hour hiatus.

To their credit, McCormick & Schmick's runs a happening happy hour. The bar was packed with 40 somethings indulging in Chardonnay and chicken wings, we couldn't even find a seat! Additionally, I found the staff extremely accommodating. McCormick & Schmick's extended their regular happy hour for our group. This always makes me feel special, in the warm and fuzzy but non-weird way. Especially when other local establishments tell you that extending happy hour is impossible and then make up some lie about their elaborate computer system.

Unfortunately, this is where my praise of McCormicks must come to an end. Pictured above is the worst fish taco I've ever had. Not only was the taco bland and poorly textured, it was entirely too fishy. The contents of the tortilla included fish, cheese and iceberg lettuce. I find that fish tacos are a little more interesting when they are made with some Napa cabbage, a nice spicy sauce and a little TLC. For all I know this taco could have been made with cat food, that is how it tasted.

I needed something to get the decrepit taste of the fish taco out of my mouth, so I ordered this hansom hummus plate. I must say that both plates were well priced at $1.95 each. I believe the happy hour food menu is the reason that the 40 somethings crowd into every corner of this establishment on a nightly basis. The hummus plate was not bad, but the hummus was about what you would expect from a mid-range store bought hummus, that is to say it was nothing fantastic. Doesn't it look pretty though?

If by some off chance I end up at McCormick & Schmick's again, I will order a steak as I've been told that they have the same food distribution company as Mortons. However, I will avoid the seafood at a seafood restaurant that has not mastered the simple art of the fish taco.

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant (Downtown) on Urbanspoon