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@umi_Pittsburgh Birthday Times

Yesterday was Mr. Beez’s birthday, and birthday means birthday dinner.  His pick was Umi, which if you are not already in the know, is the absolute best sushi restaurant– if not absolute best restaurant all around– in Pittsburgh.  I don’t know what to say about Umi, other than the food is absolutely beautiful and the service impeccable. That place is the best.

Mr. Beez’s birthday wish was to eat ALL THE ROCK SHRIMP TEMPURA.  Ok, we didn’t eat all of it, but we ordered it twice.  This is no ordinary tempura.  The batter coating is a little thicker than usual tempura, and the sauce is ever so spicy. There’s some substance to the shrimp, they are a little meatier than usual shrimp.  If you try it, it will be easy to understand why Mr. Beez loves it so much.

Umi Rock Shrimp Tempura

I do love that dish, but my absolute favorite is the miso blackened cod. It’s so buttery, with a touch of umami taste, and the texture is so tender.  The miso blackened cod is absolutely the most perfect dish ever.  Of course, we ate it twice.

Umi Miso Blackened Cod

Oh that dinner. I can’t even.


This dinner and my meal at Jaleo were the only detours from my vegan trajectory as of late.  I’ve been doing a lot more cooking, and Mr. Beez got me a whole stack of amazing vegan cookbooks for Mother’s Day.  You can expect some upcoming posts about the delicious and unexpected things I’ve been whipping up in the kitchen (with the assistance of the wisdom of Isa Chandra Moskowitz). We’ve been eating very well in this family lately.

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The Best Things I’ve Eaten Lately with @OhioCityPasta @OutTheFireCafe @LeonasLLC @BlowfishBBQ @BeatrixChicago

The Best Things I’ve Eaten Lately with @OhioCityPasta @OutTheFireCafe @LeonasLLC @BlowfishBBQ @BeatrixChicago

I’ve had some good eats lately, both in Pittsburgh and while traveling. What is “good” or “best” is completely subjective, but these things have completely knocked my socks off.

Sweet Potato Blue Cheese pierogies from Ohio City Pasta in Pittsburgh Now that Baby Beez is back in ballet on Saturdays, an after-dance stop at the Pittsburgh Public Market is usually on the agenda. Ohio City Pasta has a stall there, vending pasta and pierogies to take home as well as hot cooked dishes. These sweet potato blue cheese pierogies are beyond. They are starchy, buttery and sweet, but that blue cheese gives them a little funk in an excellent way. I have an enthusiastic appetite, but 4 pierogies filled me up nicely.


Honey and Cinnamon Latte from Restaurant Beatrix in Chicago. This is the coffee drink of my dreams. The sweetness is so subtle, and the espresso so smooth. It was a few blocks away from our hotel, and I snuck back over several times to pick up more of these beautiful lattes. I just could not help myself.

Beatrix Cafe

Pasta with fresh vegetables and langoustine at Harvest Moon Cafe in Sonoma, California Setting aside our dinner at the French Laundry, this pasta dish at Harvest Moon Cafe was my absolute favorite meal of our trip to wine country. Saying that I am picky with pasta is not quite the right description, but I usually just do not care for pasta dishes. But every once in awhile, I am treated to a pasta dish that impresses me, and does it ever impress me.  This pasta was all things summer in one delicious meal. The vegetables, including corn, were sweet, crisp and crunchy and the pasta was deliciously hearty.  Although it is nice that Harvest Moon is a local/seasonal kitchen that focuses on the produce that is available and best, it is sad to know I could not just show up at the cafe again and expect this dish to be offered. I suppose it will have to live on in my memory.

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Grilled Oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. in Napa.  After being entirely squicked out by oysters for many years, I gave them a try a couple years back, and quickly acquired that acquired taste.  More recently, I was introduced to grilled oysters and they changed my world. Grilled oysters have a denser texture, alleviating the texture issue for anyone who is afraid of slimy foods. They are also grilled with various sauces, which adds a kick of flavor. Especially if you like oysters (or even if you don’t), try them grilled. It will change your world.

Hog Island

Mushroom Bread Pudding from Out of the Fire Cafe in Donegal, PA. Even if you don’t have a visit to Seven Springs booked, it’s worth the drive to get dinner at Out of the Fire. I had dinner there with my friends during a girls weekend in the spring, and it was one of the most fun and delicious meals I have had in ages. The mushroom bread pudding is so unique and decadent, it is by far the star of the menu.  It is kind of like stuffing, but covered in a rich bechamel sauce. Unlike so many other mushroom dishes where the mushrooms are flavorless bits of sponge, these mushrooms have real flavor. Bonus–if you are like me and your heart breaks to see food thrown out even though you are stuffed, go ahead and bring the rest of this home in a doggie bag. It reheats very well and I bet would make great breakfast alongside some eggs.

Mushroom Bread Pudding from Out of the Fire

Brisket & Mac and Cheese from Blowfish BBQ. Pittsburgh has had quite a few new bbq options lately.  We discovered Blowfish by accident, and it absolutely blew us away. Blowfish is a mobile operation. You can find out their location from their twitter feed, or, if you are like me and can’t handle keeping track of one more thing in your life, just remember: they are at the Brew Gentlemen in Braddock every Friday NIght.  As I write more and more in this post, I’m running out of adjectives. And anyway, you know what BBQ brisket and mac and cheese taste like. So I’ll just say this: Best.

Blowfish BBQ

Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches.  I have to admit, my obsession with Leona’s is twofold: (1) they are delicious and I like to have them in my belly; (2) finding them in stock or with flavors I have not yet tried is always a crapshoot, so there is a thrill-of-the-chase element in working to get my next ice cream sandwich fix.  A number of their sandwiches feature cinnamon, ginger or speculoos, which is just about perfect in my book. They go perfectly with a hot cup of coffee, which is why Zeke’s coffee shop in East Liberty is one of my favorite places to stop for this treat.  I especially like that the fruit flavors in the ice cream are fairly mild. I had a ginger cookie and plum sandwich recently, and the plum was nice and subtle, not beat-you-over-the-head overwhelming plum, which was lovely. I did reach out and ask Leona’s if there’s any possibility for them to publish info about what flavors are stocked where. They replied “no can do,” so it looks like the hunt will continue.

Leona's

Breakfast burrito from Kelly-O’s in Pittsburgh As a Southern California girl, I take breakfast burritos very seriously. Very. Seriously. For the record, the breakfast burrito of my dreams is served at Primo Burgers in my hometown. Several places in Pittsburgh now serve breakfast burritos, but none have proven to be “the one.”  Every once in a while, I have a breakfast burrito CRISIS, and I need one immediately.  I had such a crisis last week, and Kelly-O’s breakfast burrito, while not a Primo Burger breakfast burrito, did hit the spot. I recommend ordering it with extra salsa. I snagged one through carry out around 10am that day, and was stuffed all the way through dinner.


And now, a completely gratuitous picture of the now-5-year-old Baby Beez, who is hoping for a win for the Bucs this afternoon. Let’s Go Bucs!

Let's Go Bucs

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Cozy and fancy night out at Arlecchino Ristorante @AllaFamiglia

Cozy and fancy night out at Arlecchino Ristorante @AllaFamiglia

For New Years Eve 2012, our double-date dinner was held at the delightful Alla Famiglia restaurant in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Due to our delightful experience there, I was thrilled when my friends and colleagues suggested we have a Clark Hill “Ladies Night” dinner out at its sister establishment, Arlecchino Ristorante. The restaurant is technically in McMurray, but if you’re planning a trip there, it’s just a little bit south of the South Hills Village mall.

For starters, the venue is super-cute. It’s a converted old schoolhouse. It’s absolutely darling, but this also means it’s absolutely tiny, so reservations are a must. You might be able to squeeze in a dinner for two up in the bar area, but it is also tiny, so you are probably better off playing it safe with a reservation. Arlecchino offers complimentary valet parking, which is excellent because the parking area is also tiny and unworkable for self-park.

Arlecchino Ristorante

Arlecchino offers a long list of wines by the glass, and when I asked for a recommendation based on my preference (white, as dry as it possibly can be), the bartender came up with a perfect match.

Arlecchino Ristorante

With every meal a hearty bread basket with “holy oil” delicious dipping oil is offered. We also went with a few starters: a fresh caprese salad, and my personal favorite: the truffoli, a mix of sauteed mushrooms in a sweet sauce with raisins. Amazing.

For my dinner option, I selected the Cottoletta del Monzu (or simply: veal). Each meal comes with the house salad, full of fancy toppings like beets, goat cheese and sunflower seeds, and the pasta del dio, both served family-style. The veal was buttery and savory. The pasta, topped with vodka sauce, was also delicious, and this coming from someone who isn’t a big pasta fan. The house salad, with all its fancy toppings, was fresh and a welcome departure from the typical iceberg-tomato-onion house salad.

A few people in our large group opted for the signature veal chop, which is ENORMOUS and quite a sight to behold. I wish I took a picture, because it is just crazy. They reported that it, too, was very tasty.

Cottoleta del Monzu at Arlecchino

The portion sizes are enormous, and unless you share an entree, you are sure to have extra to take home. The enormous size is very appropriate, given that the prices are, shall we say, special occasion prices. Very special occasion. Coupled with the restaurant’s small size and romantic atmosphere, this would be the ideal venue to propose to your significant other or celebrate a very special anniversary.

For dessert, we all shared the marble cake with salted-caramel icing. It was light and the icing had the perfect salty-sweet contrast. It was entirely too enormous for one, and it was a great option for us to pass around. It is also nice that Arlecchino offers a full coffee bar of cappucino, lattes, drip coffee, a variety of teas, and dessert wines and cocktails.

Salted Caramel Frosted Marble Cake at Arlecchino

While I may have had some reservations about hauling all the way out to McMurray after a workday, I was ultimately thrilled to visit this special restaurant. Like it’s sister restaurant, Arlecchino is sure to become widely known for its quality through excited word of mouth, rather than flashy advertisements.

Arlecchino Ristorante on Urbanspoon

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The sushi that will ruin you to all other sushi: @umi_Pittsburgh

The sushi that will ruin you to all other sushi: @umi_Pittsburgh

My first visit to Umi was at some point after I graduated law school. It was not my first experience eating sushi, by a long shot. I generally like sushi, but would not consider myself a sushi snob. Then I visited Umi. It ruined me to all other sushi.

Soba Pittsburgh 1

Umi’s offerings are so fresh, so melt-in-your mouth delicious that after eating Mr. Shu’s wonderous creations, sushi from any run of the mill sushi joint will taste grainy and sad.

It is a very small establishment.  Reservations are a must. There is first-come seating at the sushi bar, but it is a small bar and only seats a couple of people. It is worth calling ahead to secure a table.  If you reserve through OpenTable, it does not give you the option to select regular chairs vs. the tatami tables.  When I learned we were seated at a tatami table (and there were no regular tables available to switch), I almost cancelled the reservation. However, there is a big open space underneath the tatami table, so you are not seated cross-legged, but rather seated just like you would in a regular chair, with your feet below in the open space. It’s hard to get into and out of, but while you are sitting there, it is just fine.

Soba Pittsburgh 2

Oh the salmon mushroom sashimi. So velvety and savory. There just isn’t any substitute for the quality and care Mr. Shu devotes to these dishes.

Umi’s prices, not surprisingly, run on the “very special event” end of the spectrum for us. This is why I was never able to go as a student, because I did not have disposable income to eat. Of course, we cannot now visit nearly as much as I would absolutely love, either.

Soba Pittsburgh 3

In this last visit, I ordered lots of sushi rolls. This really was a disservice to Umi’s brilliant menu, and the quality of the fish does get lost in all that rice. The next time I visit, I will absolutely order the Omekase (chef’s tasting). Our dining companion, Anthony, did order the Black Cod with Miso (which is part of the omekase). I failed to snap a pic, but it was so buttery and amazing. It just melts in your mouth.  I do like Big Burrito Restaurant Group, but Umi is a special shining star in the bunch.

Umi on Urbanspoon

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For Regina: BeezusKiddo’s List of Essential Pittsburgh area restaurants

For Regina: BeezusKiddo’s List of Essential Pittsburgh area restaurants

My friend Regina is looking to expand her restaurant familiarity in the new year. She asked me to put together a list of essential restaurants to try.  Tonight, with the assistance and review of Mr. Beez, I put together such a list.  I included only restaurants I have personally visited. By no means is this an exhaustive list of all restaurants in the Pittsburgh area that I have visited or that I like, this is the list of the ones I like best, and get excited about visiting.  I have not included my usual Chinese take-out place or the run of the mill places I pick up a sandwich, because most of those are places that are just fine with me, but not ones that make me extra happy. This is my completely subjective list of favorites.  Do we have similar tastes? What would you have added or excluded?

Essential Pittsburgh Restaurant List, broken down by neighborhood but otherwise in no particular order:

Downtown

  • Sonoma Grill
  • Bluebird Kitchen
  • Nine on Nine
  • Il Pizziolo
  • Diamond Market
  • NOLA on the Square
  • The Carlton
  • Franktuary
  • Andy’s Wine Bar
  • Habitat
  • Sienna Sulla Piazza
  • Winghart’s Burger and Whiskey bar
  • Hanlon’s Café
  • Speakeasy
  • Perle

Northside

  • Nicky’s Thai Kitchen
  • Max’s Allegheny Tavern
  • Penn Brewery

Southside

  • Club Café (for Brunch)
  • Yo Rita!
  • Piper’s Pub
  • Grand Concourse (for Brunch)
  • Fathead’s
  • Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar
  • Big Dog Coffee
  • Pi Coal Fired Pizza (husband’s pick)

Oakland

  • Legume/The Butterjoint
  • Spice Island Tea House
  • Tamarind Flavor of India
  • Mad Mex
  • Oishii Bento
  • Uncle Sam’s Subs
  • Joe Mama’s
  • Dave & Andy’s

Bloomfield

  • Thai Cuisine
  • Tram’s Kitchen
  • Orient Kitchen

Strip District

  • Lucy’s Banh Mi cart
  • Taco Cart at Reyna’s Foods
  • Mung Bean pancake stall
  • Eleven (for Brunch)
  • Lidia’s Italian Kitchen
  • Kaya
  • DeLuca’s
  • Colangelo’s
  • Café Raymond
  • Thin Man Sandwich Shop
  • Primanti Brothers
  • Sushi Kim
  • Bar Marco

Lawrenceville

  • Cure
  • Tamari (for Brunch)
  • Coca Café (for Brunch)
  • Industry Public House
  • La Gourmandine

Regent Square

  • Square Café
  • D’s Six Packs and Dogs

Point Breeze

  • Point Brugge
  • Café at the Frick (for tea)

Highland Park

  • Park Bruges
  • Food Glorious Food
  • e2

Squirrel Hill & Greenfield

  • Moonlite Express Food Truck at CMU
  • Szmidt’s Deli
  • Big Jim’s in the Run
  • Hough’s
  • Wafflonia
  • Rose Tea Café
  • Everyday Noodles
  • Ramen Bar
  • Bangkok Balcony
  • Mineo’s (husband’s pick)
  • Coriander India Grill
  • Commonplace Coffee
  • Green Pepper
  • Sun Penang

Shadyside

  • Umi
  • Soba
  • Casbah
  • Noodlehead
  • Crepes Parisiennes
  • Avenue B

East Liberty/Garfield

  • Salt of the Earth
  • Union Pig & Chicken
  • Station Street Hot Dogs
  • Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina
  • Spoon
  • Voluto Coffee

Other

  • Burgatory (Aspinwall)
  • Cornerstone Café (Aspinwall)
  • Marisquera Mediterranean Bistro (Aspinwall)
  • Smoke Taqueria (Homestead)
  • Tin Roof Café (for Brunch) (Homestead)
  • Blue Dust (Homestead)
  • Azul bar y Cantina (Leetsdale)
  • Bistro 19 (Mt Lebanon)
  • Jioio’s Pizza (North Huntingdon)
  • Alla Famiglia (Allentown)
  • Rey Azteca (Monroeville)
  • Oakmont Bakery (Oakmont)