Monday, February 05, 2007


Point Brugge

We went to Point Brugge Cafe in Point Breeze last week, after hearing from umpteen people about how great it was. Finally, we had a chance to eat there and it was well worth it. It was a perfect little weeknight escape to Brussels.

Layout = C-

I liked the smallish size of this place because it made it cozy. The lighting was low and complimentary and the whole feel of the place was pleasant. I remember noticing the tone of the bathroom, kind of a brownish-gold, it was warm and inviting like a candle's glow.

What made it cozy, also made it cramped. The two tops were seated so close to one another that I could clearly hear what the two ladies next to me were talking about (her daughter's horrible new boyfriend if you're curious). The booths behind us and along the walls all the way down toward the front door looked more spacious and private, but where we were was a lot like that Frog and the Redneck restaurant they used to have in Richmond, Virginia - I *think* they call it New York style seating, although I've been in plenty of places in New York where there was enough room where you didn't feel like you were sharing dinner with the people next to you.

Service = A+

So great there are no minuses. She was just perfect - not overbearing with just the right amount of friendly. She gave us time to enjoy our meal, and almost instinctually knew when we wanted another beer. As a result the dinner proceeded at the perfect amount of leisurely pace for a weeknight. And even though the place filled up with people waiting at the bar seemingly for our table by the time we got our dessert, she never rushed us, not even a teeny bit. Great stuff.

Food = A

Because we were craving them and because we wanted the full Belgian experience, we ordered the full dinner-size portion of the Mussels prepared the classic way with shallots, garlic, white wine, and cream. These came with a portion of Belgian frites here called "Brugge frites". Drinks were Belgian beer, of course. First a glass of Urthel Hop-It a tasty golden ale, then Le Fin du Monde, an equally tasty Tripel. Both were terrific against the garlic brineyness of the mussels and the hot crispy saltiness of the frites. I couldn't decide which beer I liked better, both were terrific and ones I've never had anywhere else in Pittsburgh. At $7 a beer, it's a little cheaper than you pay for Belgians in other places as well.

The mussels were great - perfectly cook, tender, with just the right amount of wine and garlic. They were probably the best mussels I've had outside of New York City. We finished off the pound and a half quickly, and probably could've eaten more, but dessert beckoned.

We ended the meal with probably the richest, yet lightest chocolate mousse cake I've ever eaten. It was so good that instead of sharing, after a taste my husband ordered his own slice. I ate the entire thing and yet didn't feel gross, like I sometimes do after such a rich meal accompanied by two glasses of rich Belgian beer.

Two picky things - the beer isn't draft, which ideally, a Belgian should be. Of course if you had ever asked me this prior to moving to Pittsburgh I would've denied it. But the people at The Sharp Edge have spoiled me for beers in bottles I guess. But as a result, both beers were a little on the cold side so I had to wait a few minutes for them to warm enough to taste the hoppy goodness. A minor point really.

Also, the frites were soggy - a positively sacreligious thing to do to such a worthy beer "friend" - I was expecting crispy salty potatoes, and while they were crispy in parts, they sogged up. Not good. Again, I've been spoiled by the frites vendors I've been to in Paris - that serve up these yummy critters with mayo and they're so hot and crispy you feel as if you've gone to french fry heaven. Of course, we still ate up all of the Point Brugge frites anyway - they were pretty damn tasty after all.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006


McCormick & Schmicks

My husband and I met some of his work colleagues at McCormick and Schmicks for Happy Hour Thursday, 3/2. What I experienced warrants a review.

Layout = B+

Lots of parking really close by. This is a must in the Southside Works area, where you can end up circling for hours. But here there is a parking garage right across the street. Which we really appreciated as it was pouring down snow!

I like the lighting and ambience of this restaurant. It's very "New York Steakhouse" with a little Art Deco thrown in. It's spacious without seeming huge. The dark wood is inviting, the booths look cozy and intimate, and the lighting is just right, low without seeming "sudden power outage".

Like Six Penn Kitchen, McCormick’s has coat racks, except here they are placed above each booth. So no accidental bumping, yay!

We hung out in the bar which is long and roomy, with not only barstools along the bar, but little bar tables around and high stools lining the windows so you could conceivably sit and look out at the chi-chi shoppers strutting around Southside Works. Call me shallow, but I like it when a bar has lots of glass and wood and mirrors, where you can see the bottles lined up high like little soldiers. It makes you think, "Aaaah, the possibilities!"

It was crowded, which isn't a complaint by any means, it's Happy Hour on a Thursday for chrissakes. However, we were tucked in to the extreme right corner of the bar, and behind us was a very unfortunately-placed plant. Until the bar emptied out somewhat, we kept bumping into it. Also, the plant caused the guy sitting behind us at the window-lined seats I mentioned, to keep bumping into this plant.

Also, the path to the bathrooms cuts right into the path out of the kitchen. I bumped into waiters twice. They were rushing out of the open-air kitchen just as I was "crossing the street" to go to the restroom. The way it's laid out, a major collision almost seems imminent.

Service = A

Our drinks were brought quickly with a smile. The food was delivered the same way. I was particularly impressed when the waitress attempted to pour our martinis while balancing them on her tray. Even though she wasn't successful (it was way too crowded for such theatrics) the effort was a nice touch. We ended up moving, but she found us in the crowd no problem. I asked if I could hang my coat in the dining area, and this wasn’t fine with them, even though I was just there for drinks.

I like the way the wait staff is dressed as well. Again, very steakhouse, with white shirts and ties, long aprons, etc. It made for a crisp, professional appearance.

No minuses here to speak of. Once we moved, we had to wait some placing our orders with the bartender, but it was crowded, so no real complaints.

Food = A+

Wowie wow wow! McCormick and Scmick’s has an awesome Happy Hour menu. Usually when we go out for drinks and food, your options are pretty limited. Chicken wings, fried mozzerella sticks, french fries, fried, fried, and more fried. Or it’s a buffet that is touted as top-of-the-line or “Free! Free! Free!” and just sits there because it looks tepid, boring “leftovery”, and like it’s been sitting there for hours.

Here, everything is fresh, and everything is $1.95. You can get a ½-pound burger for $1.95. That seemed a little daunting for us, so we ordered the Baja Fish Tacos, Buffalo Chicken Wings, and Parmesan Fried Zucchini. Okay, okay yeah, there are wings and fried stuff, but these were YUMMY. The zucchini had been peeled into long, thin strips, and the breading was mixed with parmesan cheese. Really good. I didn’t have the wings, but “the colleagues” gave them a thumbs up.

And then there were the fish tacos. This was not run-of-the-mill, quickly-thrown-together bar food, but real food, like something you would order off the menu and actually sit down to eat. The fish was I think mahi-mahi or tilapia. Anyway, it was flaky, flavorful, and mixed with fresh tomatoes, some kind of slaw and wrapped in crispy breading that was easy to eat standing up in a bar at Happy Hour. Truthfully, I was not expecting something this good, and so was very pleasantly surprised and grabbed the second taco from my husband before he could eat it all. Hell, he could order two more, they’re only $1.95, right? That’s right, you get two huge, delicious fish tacos for $1.95.

Minor stuff. Since three of us ordered martinis, they brought the shaker so we could refill our glasses. And we would need to because the martini glasses were on the small side. Fine right? Well, no. Any martini-drinkin’ fool knows that a martini sitting in a shaker is going to get watery, so we found ourselves chugging our drinks so we wouldn’t end up drinking watered-down gin later on. But all in all, they were acceptable, and served with three olives. My way. A little meal with your drink.

Overall Grade = A

I thought this place was great for Happy Hour, and the experience I had makes me want to come back and try it for dinner. Husband and I have already made plans to meet up here right after work so we can try out the rest of the bar menu. At $1.95, we can’t go wrong. Maybe next time we’ll tackle that burger.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Six Penn Kitchen

The review that launched the blog! My experience here was such a mixed bag, it actually gave me the brainstorm to start “edible pgh” in the first place. Located at 6th and Penn, downtown.

So the husband and I went to Six Penn Kitchen Saturday 2/25. It was our yearly sojourn out for “Valentime’s” always done a few weeks after, because dining out on the actual day is for amateurs. Inevitably, the restaurant has some special “Lover’s Menu” which means there are only 3 or 4 choices, and the dessert is usually middle-of-the-road, so as to please every palate. And the whole thing is overpriced, and you leave feeling ripped off.

I had read two good reviews of this place, so was expecting a pretty great meal, in a space that was described as cutting-edge and trendy. By all accounts, I figured it would be a great night. I had watched over the summer as the place came together, walking across the Clemente Bridge to the Pirates game. It looked cool for want of a better word, and I was eager to try it.

I always grade a restaurant on three things: Layout/Ambience, Service, and Food. I do think the combination comes together in the most ideal of circumstances to create something wholly wonderful on its own. This can be magical. But when one thing is missing, the whole thing can fall apart. At the same time, one aspect can “hold up” what is missing in the other two. For example, great service can make up for mediocre food.

Layout/Ambience = C

The space is huge, and they are planning to open a rooftop deck soon. In a city lacking al fresco dining, this is always a plus. The mixture of glass and wood throughout gives it a “city” feel. I kept thinking it would be a great place for after-work drinks, or to bring the girls for a night out. Windows completely line the entire restaurant, which I bet makes it very bright on sunny days. A big plus.

The seats and tables are comfortable and large enough for your appetizer, wine, and beverage. The fireplace upstairs is a nice touch, and on the night we were there it was lit and welcoming. The artwork is pleasant, not too distracting for the space, and the lighting was very nice. I could actually read my menu without the “granny glasses” which always puts me in a good mood.

The place is huge. Yeah, I know, make up your mind. But I kept thinking that the largeness of the space might contribute to its lack of choreography in service (see below). The front entryway is way too crowded. There is a huge lounging area beyond the reception desk, but reception itself is crowded into such a small space that I found it difficult to push past the people waiting for tables to even get to the lounge area. There is no coat check (big no-no in a place so upscale). Instead, there are numerous coat racks throughout the restaurant, which made for an awkward moment when I went to put my coat on later that night. My sleeve almost ended up in a guy’s soup! The tables are way too close together for this kind of arrangement.

Also, the TINY bar is directly in front of the reception desk. It’s all just way too crowded. There is another tiny bar and lounge upstairs, which just made no sense to me. Why not have one large bar to accommodate everyone? Who wants to go up all those stairs or wait for the elevator (also right in front of the reception desk) to stand at an identically tiny bar? Blech.

And not to split hairs, but sitting upstairs and gazing out at the beautiful parking garage next door did not add to the romance of the evening. There has got to be something the designer could do without sacrificing all the light and airy feelings those windows bring.

Service = C

We were seated quickly, only waiting at the bar for a few minutes. As the bartender made my husband’s martini, he made a point of telling us about their specially-marinated olives. As we walked upstairs, a hostess carried our drinks on a tray. The host who was seating us made a point of telling about all the special cocktails on the menu. Our waiter, Dominic, was attentive and friendly. Our water glass was kept full, and our cocktails were brought promptly (yes, we had two). I had to laugh, at one point a male waiter ran past us so quickly he threatened to run into a waitress. He threw up his hands, laughed, and said, “Hey, why don’t we just crash and make a baby!” Everyone working here at least seemed to be having a good time.

This wait staff seems very young and inexperienced. The whole night, I felt like maybe the restaurant had just opened that week. The whole “choreography” was off. It wasn’t anywhere near busy, but the whole staff appeared harried or unprepared.

For example, the bartender didn’t have cocktail onions, which my husband enjoys in his martini, and no oranges (for my orange vodka, chilled, straight up). He had also run out of Bombay Sapphire. As a former bartender, I understand the importance of keeping the bar stocked on a Saturday, especially at a bar so near the theater district. In my head I was thinking, “Maybe it’s the layout of the place?” After all, the bar is so damn small; it may be hard to keep backstock.

They gave us one of those glowy, red things that looks like an overblown coaster, so we’d know when our table was ready. Ewwwww. God, I hate these things with a passion. I never know what to do when that damn thing starts going off. Is it going to explode? Or did I just win a prize? I suppose in such a cavernous place they need to keep track of everyone, but good grief. I’ve been to restaurants where the hostess makes it her business to know where her customers are, and doesn’t depend on contraptions. It’s a little thing, but it adds to the service when they know your name and where you are.

I’m not sure why we had to wait at all, since we had a reservation, and when we reached our table upstairs, almost the entire second floor was empty! This was at about 8:30. Even though there were several tables for two available, the host seated us between two other couples. Not very intimate. Okay, maybe they were being held for reservations, but they were never used until shortly before we left, and the “after theater crowd” began to arrive. That was at least 2 ½ hours later.

Not only that, as we were leaving and said “crowd” was arriving (really only about a dozen people tops), I saw several people waiting around even though most of the tables for four were empty. Are you telling me there were reservations at 11pm? Okay maybe, but please! There is no excuse for tables to sit empty while people crowd into an already tight space waiting. They really need to step up their hostess/seating skills.

During the meal, even though the waiter took our silverware after the appetizer course, he never brought us new, and we had to ask. Big no-no. The entrée was brought out while my husband’s appetizer was still on the table. Again, the “dance”, the choreography that is the hallmark of great service just wasn’t there. When the people next to us left, we pointed out to the busboy that a napkin had been left on the floor. I wouldn’t have wanted to sit down and find that at my feet. Yuck.

Food = B+

Finally I can say more good things than bad! This is where Six Penn Kitchen is at its strongest. Chris Jackson used to work at Millie’s in my hometown of Richmond, so I expected great things the minute I walked in the door.

The drinks we had were terrific. That bartender pours a tasty, soft martini. He talked about how special the olives were, and although they tasted like regular ‘ol green ones to me, they were huge, and the drink itself was mixed and poured perfectly, as was my orange vodka with a twist (yes, he did manage to find some orange peel behind that teeny bar). What do you call orange vodka straight up anyway? Someone let me know so I can sound like a cosmopolite! (half-kidding).

My crab cake appetizer was crabby, not mixed with too many fillers, and had a great taste of cilantro. The accompanying mash of avocado and pico de gallo was light and a great complement. My husband’s noodle salad was a HUGE amount of rice noodles mixed with sliced red peppers, zucchini? pineapple, herbs, and other delicious nibbles in an asian-inspired dressing accompanied by a sliced spring roll. It was yummy; I kept thinking it would be the perfect lunch.

I ordered one of two fish specials: Mako shark served with a garlic hummus, wood-roasted fennel and a tomato compote with roasted potatoes alongside. It was succulent, peppery, and the fennel gave it a delicious licorice aftertaste. The hummus and roasted potatoes set off the meatiness of the shark in a nice way. I loved all the flavors together. It’s so hard for restaurants to cook fish to doneness, and not overdone. This was deliciously done.

My husband got the wood-grilled bone-in New York strip with potato gratin and grilled asparagus. A standard, but it was prepared completely, totally, perfectly. Medium-rare, juicy, tender, astounding in its simplicity. The buttery gratin and nutty grilled asparagus were a comfort to this dish. It’s like one of those things you see on the menu and think, “Oh, it’s steak, big deal.” But this was just simply scrumptious. I’d rather have this combination of woody, meaty tastes than anything I could order at some overrated chain like Ruth’s Chris.

Minor quibbles, but quibbles nonetheless. I found the menu strange. Lobster Mac ‘N Cheese right up against an exotic risotto? Asian Noodle Salad next to Pork Chops next to some exotic fish like Mako Shark? Pizza? Burgers? No matter how “upscale” they may be, they seem out of place next to Jumb Scallops. I have a feeling they are trying for “upscale comfort food” and since they advertise themselves as a bistro it would make sense. But the menu just seems all over the place to me, like they’re going in too many directions. Kind of like the service.

I wanted to order the porkchop, which sounded awesome, but they were out. At 8pm on a Saturday? And I discovered this from the couple next to us, not the waiter (Oops, maybe that’s a quibble with the service). The “Cracklin’ Pork Shank” just didn’t speak to me as a substitute.

The Pumpkin Brulée just tasted like pumpkin pie to me with carmelized sugar on top. I have had this in the past where it tasted like a custard, a true brulée, and not just whipped-up pumpkin pie filling. I’m not saying it didn’t taste good, it did, but it wasn’t custard.

The focaccia bread and flatbread they served with the meal were tasty enough, but the tomato purée accompaniment literally tasted as if they had spooned tomato paste out from a can and plopped it in a ramekin. That or some purée of sundried tomatoes. I’ve just tasted better.

I do think Six Penn Kitchen has the potential to be a really great meeting place, they just need to redesign the layout and work on their choreography. As we were leaving, my husband mentioned they were owned by Eat N’ Park, which would explain how anyone could afford such a huge space. It has a friendly atmosphere, and would be a perfect place to get a good meal after work with friends. It had a real trendy, “Seattle-like” feel. It’s a good gathering place for large groups or for people meeting up after a show. I just think that for a more intimate, romantic meal, I’ll head somewhere else.

Overall Grade = B-

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Another Restaurant Review? Why?

So I'm an admitted foody. I've read Tony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" and follow his TV show travels religiously. He's a god to me. I worship Jacques Pepin and adore Paula Deen. I eat at restaurants every chance I get. I cook, I've worked in restaurants. My favorite job was as a bartender. In short, I love, love, love food. I love eating it, I love being around it, I love creating it. So what makes me think I can offer better restaurant advice than the next guy? Not one goddamn thing.

But I do think the reviewers in Pittsburgh are just too damn nice. I read their opinions in their many reviews and when I go to these places I don't have the same experience at all. Granted, I might be there on a "bad night" but I do think they gloss over key items that are essential to making to making a meal out a memorable experience.

I'm a laid-back person, even sloth-like, in every aspect of my life except two: food and travel. In these things I'm a total curmudgeon, a total bitch, a complete asshole. I have high expectations. That's all.

Part of me is disheartened that I've become this way. I used to tease my father-in-law for being so picky, but not anymore. I've had some incredible food in some incredible places. Is it too much to expect this kind of experience all the time, every time? I don't think so.

And so here are my reviews, without apology. Take them or leave them, but I'll always be honest, and I'll always be impartial. At times I'll be totally heartless, but I also won't hesitate to give credit where credit is due.

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