Back on the Road of Eats: PITTSBURGH

Back on the Road of Eats: PITTSBURGH
Staff Writer

Finally, my long-overdue first post since my 6-month stint in Miami last year with the musical "In The Heights" at Actors' Playhouse on Miracle Mile. I took a brief hiatus from work as I resettled back home in NYC (for another 6 months) before heading back on the road (Rebe's Road!).

In case you are not up to speed, I joined the 1st National Tour cast of the Broadway musical "Wicked" about a month ago, starting off 2014 with a fierce punch! So now that I am back to my gypsy inclinations of travel and exploration, I have much food-finding to attend to. As I navigate the US on my second national tour, I am once again performer by night, eater by day. My duty to excavate and devour the interesting (and not so) things happening in gastronomy commences city by city. Follow me on this journey.

FIRST STOP: Pittsburgh, PA

As my last day in this below-zero-temperature city begins, I write to reflect on the past 4 weeks here. In addition to a solid 6-floor Andy Warhol Museum, a nifty but shifty installation gallery called the Mattress Factory, and an art-house single-screen cinema which screened 2 quality films ("The Armstrong Lie," and "The Great Beauty"), Pitts surprised my tastebuds with some stellar culinary offerings. Though my exploration/free time was overtaken extensively by rehearsals for my new job (which I am thrilled to have), and limited to the downtown area (no car!), I was able to squeeze in some  sensible dining. The notables are as follows:
Meat & PotatoesWith a Williamsburg industrial-rustic aesthetic, and a mixologist's wet dream of a cocktail list, this restaurant delivered delicious nouveau American comfort fare. Mussels are a specialty of which they have many variations, so of course, I had to order them. My Thai curry-coconut broth was perfectly piquant and silky smooth, all the better to stew the mussels in, my dear. No doubt I dabbled in the bites of my fellow diners, which included a ridiculously generous (but much-appreciated) portion of gelatinous bone marrow, crispy fried Brussels sprouts (a-must for me), and a well-balanced pot roast that appropriately fell to shreds with every fork prod.

SevicheForever a skeptic of "Latin fusion" cuisine (a bias caused by my Cuban genetics), I was fearful this place would fall into the trap of not only trying to blend Hispanic flavors with other cuisines, but also allowing the menu to be a Latin American free-for-all: a sad hodge-podge of carelessly selected foods from different countries. Empanadas with quesadillas with ceviches with salchipapas with mofongo, etc. (This, I have experienced and it's not pretty). But here, Asian and Latin do fuse, with a little farm-to-table folded in as well. Save for the unnotable "Cuban Sushi Roll" - which didn't have any Cuban cuisine ingredients and didn't have the taste of sushi either - everything else was satisfying. The mix and match Ceviche spoon samplers, wherein you choose your seafood and the type of preparation, were light and fresh - the most innovative winner was the octopus in a puttanesca sauce, applying an Italian flavor profile to a Peruvian dish. Bravo. 

My Scottish Salmon was seared to my ideal rare center, and was rounded out with the melting bite of warm orzo and tangy guava glaze. What most impresses me is when something so simple can taste so damn good, and that was the Ensalada de la Casa (house salad) - which customarily takes home the prize for most boring, lackluster excuse for a menu item. But this layered bed of deep green leaves coddled a medley of julienned calabaza (really, butternut squash but shhh), sweet corn kernels, pickled ginger (oh yes!), and tomatoes, all diced and gorgeously swirled with smokey-sweet chipotle lime vinaigrette. Can I get an Amen.

Grit & Grace
This little place expertly melds Asian sensibility with rustic American farm-to-table flare. In addition to delicious dim sum-style variations on staples like beef carpaccio, celery root salad, and Brussels sprouts (the best of the three!), bold grit does grace the menu with innovative and reconstructed dishes.

Take the hearty but light faro grain salad, served cold and soaked in an all-too pleasing goat's milk yogurt sauce with the perfect innuendo of green curry. Buttoned with sweet butternut squash, fresh frisee and tissue paper-thin rolls of apple, a satisfying bite this does make. 

Equally excellent were the three day boat scallops, plump and seared, resting on pillowy lobster dumplings, wedges of parsnip charred to a tender touch, and wilted greens, all swimming in a well-balanced, deeply flavorful lobster hoisin broth I would most gladly keep in a flask, to swing at my heart's desire. Also brothy and bold were the al-dente rye noodles swirling amidst melt-in-your-mouth shreds of confit duck leg, a gloriously runny egg, and pickled mustard seeds. Another balancing act that scored a 10 on the tongue.

Though, the most daring and taste-provoking goes to the chef's brilliant deconstruction of a hot and sour soup, manifested as a gorgeous graveyard of all of the ingredients, sans the broth (in liquid form)! Rather, it makes its appearance as a snowy foam dotting carefully arranged braised daikon, crispy tofu, baby bok choy, earthy mushrooms, green onion slivers, and roasted carrots. The depth of flavor is surprising and all of the elements simultaneously stand strongly on their own, as well as elevate each other when gulped in the same heavenly bite. Hats off (bras and panties, too) to the chef for putting my tongue in a tizzy and expanding my food-loving heart.

Pittsburgh, you kind of rocked my culinary socks. And while you were close to being that one night stand one would like to quickly forget, I will instead remember you fondly for the fine food that you fed.
NEXT STOP: Appleton, WI...

All you need in life is good food and good company.

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