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Gettin’ real at Sichuan Gourmet

Gettin’ real at Sichuan Gourmet

Although I’m not tripping over myself to devour scorpions and fermented shark meat, I do think I qualify as an “adventurous eater.” When encountering a new-to-me cuisine (or variation of a cuisine), I’m eager to pick random things on the menu, no idea what they are, and be surprised by the outcome. This is how I ended up paying 15 Euro for a plate of hash browns in Switzerland. “Roesti” sounded like something FUN, but no, it’s just potatoes. Good potatoes, but not 15 Euro potatoes.

The buzz on the street about Sichuan Gourmet is that it features “authentic” Chinese food. I find the description somewhat troubling, as China is so massive that there is certainly more than 1 “authentic,” and also, I’ve never been to China nor do I have any other such cultural exposure to qualify me to judge what is “authentic.” I noticed when we walked in that maybe 20% of the dining room was speaking English, so I took this as an auspicious sign for a good meal.

Sichuan Gourmet

I like that they’ve got 2 menus: a Sichuan menu and an American menu. The Sichuan menu has all kinds of traditional dishes. The American menu features the typical American “Chinese” dishes, such as General Tso’s chicken, lo mein, fried rice, etc. We, of course, ordered fairly blindly off the Chinese menu. I am pleased to say it worked out very well.

Chicken hot pan
Mr. Beez ordered a chicken hot pan, which sizzles and cooks right on the table top. It looked very good, but it was full of hot peppers. I am a wimp and can’t take the heat, so I didn’t eat any. He did report that he enjoyed it thoroughly.

Basil Chicken
The Basil Chicken was sweet and strong with garlic and basil. All around excellent.

Baby bok Choy and black mushrooms
I loved this dish of baby bok choy and black mushrooms. The bok choy was steamed and the mushrooms had a sauce, but were not heavy with it. It had the saltiness I expect from Chinese food, but without so much oil and heaviness.

Steamed Whole Fish

We also went all out and got a steamed whole fish, which was just fantastic. If I’m going to order fish, I want a head on my plate. I don’t eat the head, I just want the satisfaction of staring into my opponent’s eyes. This fish was flaky and flavorfully stuffed with ginger. The sauce was not overpowering. My mom and I shared the dish, but I am a glutton and probably could have eaten the whole thing.

The meal was more expensive than our usually Chinese take out bill, but the quality was high and the service attentive. The servers are all business and not very chatty, which is just fine with me. I like that they have some huge tables and also a private room, this could be a fun place to take a book club or just go out to dinner with a big group of friends.

Sichuan Gourmet on Urbanspoon

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Contemporary Cocktails and Dishes at @TenPennyPgh

Contemporary Cocktails and Dishes at @TenPennyPgh

Ten Penny describes itself as “A Comfortable Culinary Experience,” and I couldn’t think of a more fitting description. They have a gigantic bar area, comfortable cushy dining tables, and space a-plenty. We went to Ten Penny for dinner with friends, and I quickly listed this restaurant on my “favorites” for downtown happy hours.

TP No. 1 Cup at Ten Penny

Ten Penny’s cocktails and small plates are their strengths. The visit was long ago that I don’t recall the cocktail I ordered, only that it was great. We started the meal off with an order of the giant cheese-filled meatball and crispy brussels sprouts. Both were excellent, and are perfect, filling bar snacks alongside a few cocktails.

Meatball Appetizer at Ten Penny

Crispy Brussels Sprouts at Ten Penny

I selected braised beef cheek ragout for my entree. Pasta’s not usually my jam, but the noodles were lightly al dente and the sauce hearty. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Beef Cheeks Ragout at Ten Penny

The scallops were another delight. I can’t say I’ve had bad scallops anywhere (I’m sure it’s a possibility), but scallops are fairly straightforward, and if made correctly, consistently good. These did not disappoint.

Seared Sea Scallops at Ten Penny

The veal osso bucco and the blackened ahi tuna were both solid choices as well. Ten Penny does a nice job with the entrees, and is a good choice for diners who like predictability. The offerings are fairly standard on contemporary American menus and are prepared nicely, although with little surprise. I err on the side of whimsy and surprise, so for me, Ten Penny is a more desirable happy hour destination than a dinner location.

Osso Bucco at Ten Penny

Seared Tuna Steak at Ten Penny

While the cocktails and small eats are Ten Penny’s true strength, the desserts are Ten Penny’s weakness. Several of the desserts involve hazelnuts, which are a no-go for me. My dining companion picked the chocolate pretzel torte, and did like it.

Chocolate Pretzel Torte at Ten Penny

However, the s’mores gave me a big sad. The marshmallows and graham crackers are both house-made, but both are very dense and hard. I tried roasting the marshmallows over the provided little fire, but they wouldn’t roast in any reasonable amount of time. The Hershey Bar served to add a level of nostalgia, but this dish would be better presented the other way around, with store-made graham crackers and marshmallows and house-made chocolate truffles.

Smores at Ten Penny

Like any new restaurant, Ten Penny has a few hiccups to work out, but it shows strength and a lot of promise. The space, cocktail menu and small plates selection are all excellent. The quality of the dishes is impressive. It’s at a great location for pre-event eating both for events in the Cultural District and at the Consol Center.

Ten Penny on Urbanspoon

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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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A Square Meal with @TheSquareCafe

A Square Meal with @TheSquareCafe

Square Cafe has long been a favorite of mine in the East End, but on weekends has an inescapably long line. This is not such a problem when you’re with a group of grown ups (plus- you can order your coffee drinks a la carte at the coffee bar while you wait), but it’s a dealbreaker when you have small ones in tow. The only thing worse than waiting in line is waiting in line with a small kid. I, as per usual, saw Square Cafe’s deal on Groupon and decided OMG I MUST HAVE THIS. But when it came down to using the Groupon, I realized that weekends were just not workable.

Luckily, I have a lot of flexibility in my job, and was able to work out a weekday where I could venture out for breakfast and show up in the office a little late (which is a nice trade-off considering how many nights my work keeps me tied to my laptop late at night). Since Sandy of OrangeChairBlog and I share a love for all things brunch, and our daughters are good buddies, we were naturally a perfect match for this breakfast date.

Square Cafe in Regent Square

Square Cafe is a go-to spot for the GLBTQ community, and during our visit, their walls were adorned with simply gorgeous GLBTQ family portraits. The artwork itself was worth the visit, the portraits were just lovely. Square Cafe is truly a neighborhood restaurant. The owners foster a sense of community, and more than anything, they want their visitors to have a lovely visit.

The breakfast menu is ample, but every time I’ve been there my attention immediately gravitates to the 2 hash dishes offered: a brussels sprouts hash and a butternut squash hash. I picked the brussels sprouts hash for this visit, and it was so salty and filling and all things amazing. Underneath that egg is a bed of cheesy grits. Basically it is everything I love in a breakfast, on one plate. So good. Square also has an ample coffee bar menu, with all kinds of flavored lattes and other caffeinated treats. The gingerbread latte is my usual go-to. It is exactly as it sounds and simply delightful.

The Brilliant Brussels Sprouts Hash at The Square CafeSandy went for the special of the day, which was a ricotta-filled blood orange crepe. I generally do not order crepes of any sort, because I am a HUNGRY LASS, and crepes are a surefire recipe for me to be hungry about 20 minutes after breakfast is over. Sandy reported that the crepe was delicious and filling, and she was extremely happy with it.

Blood Orange Crepes at The Square Cafe

Breakfast is reliably a good meal to take Baby Beez to a restaurant, because she sure as heck likes eggs, pancakes, cottage cheese, pretty much every breakfast food. Square Cafe is very skilled in serving kids– their meals are served on plastic plates with favorite cartoon characters and their meals always come out quickly. Rachel had plenty of scrambled eggs, bacon and cottage cheese and she was quite a happy girl.
Square Cafe on Urbanspoon

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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