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Tartine: A Darling Brunch Spot in the West End

Tartine: A Darling Brunch Spot in the West End

Today is Easter Sunday, and Easter is always a good day to talk brunch! I’m at my in-laws today, and we’re having home cooked food, but given how Easter, springtime and brunch go so nicely together, I thought it a good time to talk about a new darling brunch spot in the West End neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

When my friend Amy invited me to brunch, how could I resist? Brunch is the best. The. Best. And with more and more restaurants opening up on Sunday mornings, my “to brunch” list is ever-growing. I’m always up for French baked goods, so I was eager to propose Tartine as our brunching spot.
Tartine

There are some important things to remember about Tartine:

1. It is very small. Going earlier is better, as near the end of our brunch the place was totally packed, and there were plenty of people waiting to be seated. Being small, it’s a better option for parties of 6 or fewer. The space limitations make it hard to accommodate huge groups.

2. It is cash only. I, however, never carry cash on me. So I had to make a quick (and embarrass) run up the street to an ATM. Plan better than me, folks.

3. They do not serve liquor, meaning if you are having a hankering for a brunch time mimosa, they cannot deliver (I am not sure whether you can BYOB. If you can, this may not be an ideal option).

4. The food is excellent. Keep 1-3 in mind, and you will be in for a fantastic meal.

Tartine Quiche

Quiche, a quintessentially French dish, is permanently on the menu at Tartine. Baby Beez loves quiche, so this gives Tartine extra points in picking a place for family brunch. Tartine’s potatoes are very similar to the kinds my dad would make for us on Sunday mornings, so this meal was served for us with a side of nostalgia.

Tartine Eggs Florentine

I picked the Tartine Eggs Florentine, which is an eggs benedict with spinach, and tomatoes subbed in for the English Muffin. The tomatoes took away the usual heaviness of the dish, so I enjoyed the tasty dish without a post-meal food coma.

Tartine Raspberry Torte

We absolutely could not resist completing our meal with Tartine’s gorgeous desserts. The Raspberry Torte was simply gorgeous, sweet and light, and perfect.

Tartine is one of Pittsburgh’s best-kept secrets. Selfishly, I hope it stays a secret, because I don’t want to fight a crowd when I’m in the mood for a lovely brunch. But really, it’s a wonderful place and worth a visit.

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It’s a spicy meata-ball at @SiennaMercato ‘s Emporio

It’s a spicy meata-ball at @SiennaMercato ‘s Emporio

When word came out that a MEATBALL RESTAURANT would be opening dahntahn, the litigation group got excited. I circulated a P-G article announcing its plans, and every once in a while someone would email me asking “Is it open yet?” “How about now?” “When will it ooooopen?”

Finally, it opened, and it was time to go to lunch! Because we go big or go home, we visited Emporio twice in one week. Both times, the chow was awesome. The service ranked “ok.” Our servers were friendly, but in our first visit the server was painfully slow. In the second visit, the speed was unremarkable, neither fast nor slow. I expect this is part of the growing pains of a new restaurant, and should even out.

Emporio’s principle is simple: They serve meatballs. You can pick from beef, pork, chicken, veggie or the special of the day. They have a long list of sauces to choose from, and you pick your presentation: slider (1 meatball), panini (2 meatballs), grinder (3 meatballs), or bowl (4 meatballs). They also have various salads and starters to round out your meal.

The lighting is pretty dim in there, so I wasn’t able to get decent photos during my first visit. For the first visit, I went the slider route, and picked pork with bolognese sauce, chicken with parmesan sauce, and beef with mushroom sauce. They were all excellent, but the pork/bolognese was super excellent. I’m admittedly not much of a red sauce person, but I loved this bolognese, and could chow down on it for every meal. My dining companions were all equally enthusiastic about their picks, which is of course why we went again a few days later.

On my second visit, I started things off with the wedge salad. This was much more than your typical wedge of iceberg. The salad delivers plenty of crisp iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, chopped egg, pancetta and croutons, with a creamy garlic dressing.

Wedge Salad at Sienna Mercato

Although I usually like to try something different at each visit to a restaurant, I loved that bolognese sauce too much to pass it up on my second visit. This time around, I opted for the pork panini. I expected that sauce would be baked in with the sandwich, but it was served on the side in a dish. This was even better, because I was able to heap generous spoonfuls on every bite.

Meatball Panini at Sienna Mercato

Because Emporio is so new, I expected it to be jam-packed each time we went. However, on both visits we were seated right away. This may be in part because it was so bitterly cold on the days we went that no one in their right mind wanted to venture outdoors. The restaurant itself, however, is quite large and has plenty of seating. It also has a garage-door front to open to the outside when the weather is more pleasant, and I have heard that they have a large balcony space. Emporio has a long list of beers on tap and many other drink selections, and with the meatball menu being just the right size for small bites, Emporio is sure to be a to-go place for summer happy hours.

Emporio: A Meatball Joint on Urbanspoon

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Things I am liking this Monday

    • On a whim during grocery shopping yesterday, I picked up some packets of Justin’s Honey Almond All-Natural Nut Butter. I spread it on my english muffin this morning, and OMG I want to eat Honey Almond Nut butter all day long.

justin-s-natural-honey-almond-butter

    • This weekend involved a few frustrating incidents of very not-good behavior from Baby Beez. This weekend also involved very focused efforts on QT with Baby Beez. We went on a nice long stroller jog on the Jail Trail, we dressed in costumes and had fun at our Temple’s Purim Spiel, we played dolls, we played with Play-Doh. But there was also lots of screaming, some hitting, and some general all-around unpleasantness. I keep reminding myself that this is a process. That Baby Beez is not instantly going to turn into angel child from me playing dolls with her once. But it still puts me in a hard and frustrating position when I want to do fun things with her, but I have to instead stick her in time out because her behavior is not acceptable.

Purim fun!

What do you have coming up this week?

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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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Sahside Date Night with @city_theater and Kassab’s

Sahside Date Night with @city_theater and Kassab’s

Mr. Beez and I take a neighborhood-centric approach to our date nights. By planning multiple destinations in one neighborhood, we cut down on travel time and parking hassles, and spend more time having fun than getting from place to place.

In January, we had a Sahside date night at Pittsburgh’s City Theater and Kassab’s Lebanese Cuisine. This is my third visit to the City Theater. While it is a small company, I am always blown away by the amazing quality of their performances. When my mom was in town a couple of years ago, we took her to a show, I don’t remember the name but it was about a pair of brothers, and she still brings up how amazing that show was. Two other big pluses about City Theater: (1) Their Greenroom events are an awesome deal, and while I have yet to actually make it there, I’ve heard they are rockin’. (2) Their annual gala is reliably one of the best events in the ‘burgh each year.

On to the show! South Side Stories is a one-woman show written and performed by Tami Dixon. It’s first run was last year and was highly acclaimed. I was extremely bummed that I didn’t get around to going, and was elated to hear that they were bringing it back for a second run. Dixon is a talented actor, and brilliantly weaves together a tapestry of the personalities, meek and overpowering, of the remnants of milltown Pittsburgh still living in the South Side.

South Side Stories preserves uniquely-Pittsburgh culture in a way that the thirty-somethings in Pittsburgh have only heard as memories from their grandparents, or if they are lucky, their parents. I say “they” rather than “we” because I’m a Pittsburgh transplant, and do not personally have the milltown history in my family, so I can only experience it as an outsider. Then I look at my daughter, and realize that although her dad’s family has steelworking in their history, those stories are going to be as abstract to her as they are to me. It’s a culture that is quickly fading.

Dixon’s play is, frankly, amazing and important to Pittsburgh culture. I hope City Theater brings it back for future runs.

City Theater South Side Stories

After the show, we shuffled our way through the snow and wind to a cozy dining spot a mere block away– Kassab’s Lebanese Cuisine.

Kassab's Lebanese Cuisine

I must admit that walking into Kassab’s, I had no expectations, because Middle Eastern food does not excite me. Mr. Beez loves it, but I am generally ambivalent. The only thing I usually have much interest in is pickled turnips.

Kassab’s, however, turned my ambivalence on its head. Let’s start with the hummus– it is so silky. We ordered the appetizer platter, which at around $15 and massive portions of their appetizer selections, it was intended to be shared by more than 2. But it was awesome. And yes. We ate it all. And there were lots of pickled turnips, ALL FOR ME, because Mr. Beez wouldn’t eat a pickled turnip if you paid him.

Kassab's Appetizer Plate

I ordered the grilled chicken flatbread sandwich. It, too, was amazing. It was warm and flavorful, and accomplished all the things such a sandwich is supposed to accomplish (which, I guess, is taste good and be filling. Which it was)

grilled chicken wrap at Kassab's

Mr. Beez had a shish kabob platter and was also extremely pleased. He did share a little bite of lamb with me, and it was so buttery and delicious.

Kassab's Shish Kabob Plate

The service at Kassab’s was casual but attentive. There was a large table nearby that was celebrating a birthday, and it struck me that Kassab’s really is a great place to get together with friends. I may not usually crave middle eastern food, but I now feel differently when it comes to Kassab’s. It is only 8:30 am right now, but all I can think about is that hummus and those turnips and all of that amazing food. Kassab’s has earned a well-deserved spot on this family’s short list of favorites.

Kassab's on Urbanspoon