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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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A Spot of Tea with Dobra Tea and @missbritt

A Spot of Tea with Dobra Tea and @missbritt

The late afternoon calls for a shot of caffeine, whether it’s coffee, tea or (my favorite) chocolate, and this is best enjoyed with some friendly conversation. Britt Reints, the happiness advocate behind An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness, and I had been running into one another at recent events, and decided it was time to sit down and get to know one another better.

I suggested Dobra Tea in Squirrel Hill, mostly because I’d driven by it and never been inside. I expected a basic coffeehouse style outfit, just with tea. It turns out, Dobra is something quite different, in a unique and special kind of way. First off, Dobra’s tea menu is huge. It’s not just a menu, it’s a whole book. There is also a good selection of food, including PIE! Who doesn’t like pie? The pies are supplied by the Pittsburgh Pie Guy, and the featured pie is chai pie. I had never had chai pie before so I tried it out, and it was really good. The filling is a sweet but mild custard, and it’s topped with lovely candied nuts. The graham cracker crust was especially delicious, as it was very chunky and perfect to pair with tea.

Dobra Tea

I had oolong tea and I think Britt had green. Both of us like tea a lot, but we are not highbrow tea sippers. We are both proud to report that we liked our teas quite a lot. We were flying a bit blindly when we picked them, since the menu offered a selection beyond our zone of familiarity. For those who do not enjoy the “pick the option with the funniest name” approach as much as I do, the back pages of the menu contain a number of house recommendations. The staff also seemed pretty friendly, and would likely give you their take on good picks.

Dobra is an excellent option for hanging out, sipping tea and casual conversation. We did not feel at all rushed, and all the pillows and comfy seating make it welcoming for a leisurely visit. The architecture of the space was my favorite thing about Dobra. The space is separated into little semi-private alcoves with all kinds of seats and pillows. It has the feel of a hookah lounge without all the hookahs. Does that even make sense? Anyway, I’d love to show up with a bag with magazines and hang out there for a few hours of reading alongside a piping hot mug of chai.

Dobra Tea on Urbanspoon

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Nu Modern Bistro, or OMG THAT SANDWICH

Nu Modern Bistro, or OMG THAT SANDWICH

For once, I let Mr. Beez pick a restaurant. His selection: Nu Modern Bistro, a Squirrel Hill Deli with a contemporary twist. My attitude was ambivalent, but hey, a sandwich is a sandwich, so I went along without complaint.

Nu Modern Jewish Deli

Our outing was on a snowy winter night. I can’t remember a night in these parts when it wasn’t snowing, but the old folks tell me there was a time, long ago, where the temperature was above 40 degrees. Seeing as we have descended to the next ice age, soup was a necessity, and we selected Nu’s signature “Jewish penicillin.”

Nu Modern Bistro

A couple local dining reviews have raved over the soup. I thought the fried wontons were a fun twist, but overall it was good enough. I was brought up with matzoh ball soup that is full of chunky vegetables and chicken, so Nu’s version felt sparse. Still, I considered it decent.

Nu Modern Bistro Latke Tots

We ordered the Latke Tots for Baby Beez, because she has been very three lately, and three year olds will (usually) reliably eat fried potatoes, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, chocolate, and the tears of their frustrated parents. On this particular evening, Baby Beez was only interested in the tears, so we invited ourselves to sample her Latke Tots. I found them to be fairly typical fried potatoes. They were more latke than tot (meaning that the texture was shredded, not chopped), but otherwise they were salty and greasy and exactly what you expected. That is a good thing, but not a particularly “modern” thing.

This review so far has been rather boring, but then we got to my main course:

Nu Modern Bistro

DANG THAT’S A GOOD SANDWICH. I got the Upstreet Dip, heavy with brisket, caramelized onions, horseradish sauce and jus for dipping. The bread was soft but crusty. The meat just the perfect level of salty and fatty and so full of flavor. OMG THAT SANDWICH. I didn’t even bother with the pickle or coleslaw, because I was enjoying that sandwich so stupid much that I did not want to sully my tastebuds with any other flavor.

Would I return to Nu? It wouldn’t be the place I’d use as a Pittsburgh introduction for out of towners, but I sure as heck would stop in for that sandwich. Their Montreal-style brined meat also seems like it could be good, and although I usually like to try all different things on a menu, I loved the Upstreet Dip so much that I can’t see myself straying from it. Nu has some work to do to get itself more widely on the dining radar. There were several aspects of the experience that I found to be just “ok”, including the service and the ambiance. But even with those weaker aspects, if they can get a following for a few of their excellent and special menu items, the place could have long-term promise.
Nu Modern Jewish Bistro on Urbanspoon

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Every Day Comfort Food at Everyday Noodles

I watch too much Travel Channel. WAY too much Travel Channel. And ages ago I saw one of those millions of programs that features someone traveling around and eating things, and they ate soup dumplings, and Immediately I knew OMG I NEEDED TO HAVE THOSE.

Except soup dumplings were nowhere to be found in Pittsburgh. We have pretty a pretty diverse food culture, but soup dumplings were nowhere to be found. And I had a big sad. I did briefly contemplate driving to DC or NYC or wherever might have them, because yes, I am that kind of person who will drive long distances for a specific food item. Before I got around to planning out a trip, TA DA, Everyday Noodles opened in Squirrel Hill and SAVED THE DAY!

Watching Noodles Being Made at Everyday Noodles

Dinner and a Show: Front Row to the Noodle Making


All of Everyday Noodles’ noodles are made in house. This means 2 things: (1) they are super fresh and delicious, and (2) they won’t sell you take-out. Wah.  Apparently the owners don’t want you to have anything less than a stellar noodle experience, so you’ve got to go to them to get what you want.  This gave me a big sad one day when I was feeling sickly and noodles and broth would have made it all better (but given that Squirrel Hill is just covered in noodles eateries, Mr. Beez was able to easily find an adequate substitute).

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup at Everyday Noodles

Everyday Noodles is a small venue with lots of two-seater tables (that can be combined to seat 4, 6, etc) and one large table.  They had a brisk business when we were there, but it wasn’t crazy packed. If you’re a party of two, it’s easier for them to get you to a table.  Because we were three, they had to do some seating acrobatics to get two 2-tops together so we had to wait a little bit (maybe 10 minutes).  The hostess was very conscientious and communicated well with us to explain why some parties of two got seated more quickly, etc.  Those kinds of seating difficulties are inherent to the restaurant business, and I did appreciate that the hostess communicated with us about when tables were expected to free up and in what order.  In general I found the service to be kind, attentive and friendly.

Mr. Beez ordered a spicy beef noodle soup.  He likes spicy food, but this was spicy even for him.  He was very happy with it, although he had to eat it slowly because it was spicy spicy.

Minced Pork and Rice at Everyday Noodles

We ordered the minced pork & rice dish for Baby Beez.  I was SUPER THRILLED to see the marinated egg on her plate because I love those things (even though they look yucky).  Boo hoo for me, she felt the same way, and she gobbled it all up.  I guess she gets first dibs since it’s on her plate and all.  The minced pork and rice were good, but the noodles are truly the specialty of Everyday Noodles, so it would be a shame to pass over those delicious noodles for a good but unexciting dish.

Tofu Nuggets at Everyday Noodles

We ordered a side of the tofu nuggets with our meal as well. I expected this dish would be trying to be chicken nuggets, but it really wasn’t.  The tofu was actually silken tofu that is coated and fried.  The result is a crispy, thin outer coating and the nugget itself is creamy.  The sauce is salty and sweet, and the texture a little strange but addicting.  It’s weird but good.

Crab and Pork Soup Noodles at Everyday Noodles

Crab and Pork Soup Noodles at Everyday Noodles

And the star of the evening: the soup dumplings!  I expected these to be little more than a novelty.  I imagined biting in to one, soup spraying everywhere and scalding my throat, and me chewing and gasping “Aren’t these things crazy?!”  It was nothing like that at all, actually. These were not a novelty food, they were a solid, delicious belly-warming comfort food.  OMG they were good.  I did let them cool a few minutes before chowing down, so when I bit into one my throat didn’t get all burned up.  But the soup and the crab and pork filling and the ginger and the sauce together were like taking the best, super-chunky bite in a bowl of soup.  I need more soup dumplings in my life. I am not the kind of person who orders the same dish every time I go to a restaurant.  I’m the one who always likes to try something new, so even if I really like a dish, I rarely order it multiple times.  I loved these soup dumplings so much, though, that I can’t imagine having the opportunity to eat soup dumplings and picking something else instead.

Everyday Noodles on Urbanspoon


EDITED TO ADD:  I have been informed that the no-carry-out policy they had when they first opened (the experience described above was in the first week or two the place was open) has since been repealed, and now they will allow you to order carry out.  I can’t imagine soup dumplings would hold up too well on a drive home, though.

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Unexpected Date Night: Tearing up the Town @almapgh @cakecookiespot and @clubcafelive

Unexpected Date Night: Tearing up the Town @almapgh @cakecookiespot and @clubcafelive

On Mother’s Day Weekend, we ended up with an unexpected date night.  My mother –in-law already had plans to watch Baby Beez while we were out on our roller skating adventure, but when we dropped her off that afternoon,  she asked if she could please keep Baby Beez for an overnight.  We didn’t have anything planned with the kiddo for the night, so what the heck, spending more time with her Grandparents is a win all around (they took her to Chuck-E-Cheese, by the way, so I’m sure she was very pleased that we acquiesced to this request).  After living out our childhoods on the rink, we ran some boring grown-up errands (which included buying new couches. Yay new couches!)  Since we hadn’t planned for an evening out ahead of time, we went with the old standby: FOOD!

 For dinner we went to Alma, Regent Square’s innovative pan-Latin establishment.  We’ve been there several times before, but this time the starters really stole the spotlight.  I had an avocado and grilled chicken soup that was hearty but not too thick for the warm weather, and the fried yucca was amazing.  I’d take that yucca over French fries any day.  It was crispy on the outside but much denser than the common potato.  It was hearty and filling.

 soup

Mr. Beez went for steak and was very pleased with his dish.  Many of the dishes here are some variation on protein/rice/beans, but they are all skillfully seasoned and carefully prepared.  I find that Alma doesn’t provide any surprises, but that its strength is in its consistency. 

 steak
I had the vegetarian tangine with tofu.  The vegetables, fruit and rice within the tangerine were a colorful mixture.  They actually forgot the tofu initially and quickly brought it to me on a separate plate, but I didn’t even notice it was missing, because the dish was quite excellent without it.  In fact, I didn’t think the tofu was really necessary (I certainly won’t turn down a serving of tofu, though, I like that stuff.) 

tangine

Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

We passed on the dessert at Alma in favor of exploring an establishment in Squirrel Hill.  We visited the Cake & Cookie Spot. Its offerings are exactly like its name—cake and cookies. They are awesome. 

awning

Their signature offering, and my favorite of the ridiculously huge gluttonous order we placed, are cake shots.  This is cake layered with filling and frosting.  I feared that the cake might get soggy, but it did not. Not in the least.  This cake was so light and fluffy and the fillings and icing so perfect.  I picked the S’mores cake shot, but they had many, many flavors including red velvet, vanilla, grasshopper, etc. I need MOAR.

 lizard

I also ordered a 7-layer bar, which was delicious and buttery and chocolaty and rich.  So delicious, even the sea mammals are trying to steal the treats!

 layerbar

Mr. Beez and I also split a bunch of cookies.  Like the other desserts, they were exquisite.  He had ordered a brownie, and we discovered that they didn’t hear that part of our order, and Mr. Beez was heartbroken.  I guess that just means I’ll have to make another visit back there soon!  The Cake & Cookie spot is the perfect place when you’re having a hankering for skillfully baked but homey-tasting baked goods.  It’s like a Pittsburgh cookie table in a storefront!

The Cake and Cookie Spot on Urbanspoon

The following day was Mother’s Day, so we had plans to spend most of the day hanging out with my in-laws.  I was hoping for an opportunity for a grown-up brunch, complete with cocktails, so the timing of Baby Beez’ overnight was impeccable.  Mr. Beez and I were able to pay a visit to Club Café for a sophisticated, grown up brunch.  The last time I was there I had the steak & egg croissant and it was awesome.  I wasn’t in the mood for that on this visit, but I pressured Mr. Beez to try it out, and he loved it.  The combination of the buttery croissant from Jean-Marc Chattelier’s bakery and the meaty steak is delicious and filling.

 clubcafe

I started off with a salad that was perfectly dressed with arugula, walnuts and goat cheese.  If only every meal started this way!

 salad

Next were the shrimp & grits.  I love grits. Love them, love them, love them.  These were dressed with turmeric and a little kick, and delightfully lightly charred shrimp.  It was delightful.  Absolutely delightful. 

shrimpgrits

Club Café is a decidedly grown-up brunch spot.  It’s laid back, not fancy, but it has an abundant cocktail menu and sophisticated dining option.  It’s not as well known as some other big-name brunch spots, so that means there’s often a table open.  Club Café s on my short list of places to bring out-of-towners when they’re seeking a taste of the ‘burgh.
Club Cafe on Urbanspoon