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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.

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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. 

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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.) 

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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. 

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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

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Springtime in Pittsburgh

Springtime in Pittsburgh

I grew up in Southern California. In the “High Desert” to be precise. We had plenty of sunny days, plenty of clear days, plenty of warm days, yet I have very few memories of being excited about it being a “beautiful day.” I remember a few days surrounding the local Almond Blossom Festival, and that the weather was always pleasant when that festival came around, but I didn’t have true appreciation for a beautiful day until I moved to Pittsburgh.

We don’t have many beautiful days in Pittsburgh. It’s either cold and snowy and hot and rainy. It’s cloudy cloudy cloudy all the darn time. I’ve heard that we’re second to only to Seattle in cloudy days in the USA.

Pittsburghers appreciate a beautiful day. When it’s sunny, warm and clear, there’s an energy to the air. It buzzes. People are happy. Joggers fill the sidewalks, people cheerfully eat their lunches on outside benches. Everyone is cheerful. It is absolutely wonderful.

After an unwelcome cold snap, it was lovely on Wednesday. I picked Baby Beez up from daycare and she begged to go to the playground (note: this child is not playground deprived, they go to the playground every day at daycare…she just really really loves the playground), so we made our way to the Blue Slide Park. (That’s a picture of the eponymous blue slide up above. That’s not Baby Beez though. It’s a picture I randomly found on the internets).

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Baby Beez is, and is intended to remain, an only child. From time to time I worry that maybe she’ll end up shy without siblings. This is so not the case. In the back of my mind, I know it’s not the case, because she’s so loud and bossy around her friends at school, but it was so enjoyable and reassuring to see her stomping around the park, unabashedly approaching the big kids, and asking “WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” and trying to boss them around. A few of the big kids shot her confused looks when she would yell “COME ON! WE HAVE TO GO!” but they were kind and friendly enough to her.  This child is definitely not an introvert.

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She was very unhappy when it was time to go, but I promised her we would return to the playground on the next nice day.

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Green Pepper, YUM YUM

Green Pepper has a funny little hold on Mr. Beez and my hearts, because it is in the location that formerly housed Sweet Basil (a Thai & Filipino restaurant), where we had our first date. Misplaced nostalgia aside, Green Pepper holds its own with delicious Korean fare and a friendly neighborhood vibe.

I feel the need to get this out of the way early on:  Green Pepper’s website and menu are peppered in weird disclaimers.  I totally get that they are trying to be upfront, but being that upfront can be off-putting.  Don’t let that scare you away.  The proprietors are friendly and normal, and hope that you will be a courteous diner.

Now lets get to the food:

We left a party early that evening and still had time before the babysitter had to go home, so we were thrilled to get a chance for a grown up meal.  Mr. Beez opted for the spicy bulgogi.

He loved it.  I can’t ever get enough of the millions of side dishes that seem to come with every Korean meal, and I chowed down those tasty noodles before he had a chance to tell me to go away.

I went for my usual–the bi bim bap. Oh how I LOVE bi bim bap.  I’m not a “the usual” kind of diner.  I want to try something new every time I’m at a restaurant. I just love bi bim bap so darn much that I can’t help but order it when it is an option.

The food was prepared quickly and was fresh and tasty. And that kimchi? Made in house. And delicious.  It was tangy and a little spicy. Not that gummy jarred nonsense.

Although we didn’t have more drinks that evening, the one thing I want to scream from the rooftops about Green Pepper is that they are not BYOB, but they do not rip you off with the wine prices either!  I should probably be ashamed of this, but I drink enough cheap wine that I can usually spot it right off when a restaurant is trying to charge me $40 for a bottle that costs $7 at the state store.  Green Pepper doesn’t serve fancy wines, but they don’t try to charge you like they are fancy wines either.  A bottle of good ol’ Yellowtail only runs you $15 at Green Pepper.  Sure it’s a markup, but the place has to make a buck, and I respect that they’re not trying to go hog wild in the process.

Green Pepper also has karaoke set up if you’ve got a mind to belt a few tunes.  Mr. Beez was not (and is never) up for such things, so we gave it a pass that evening, but next time! Next time! All of Squirrel Hill will share in my vocal stylings.

Green Pepper has all the elements of an awesome neighborhood hangout.  It’s a shame that it was so quiet there on the Friday night we visited.  It’s a great place, and it deserves to be hoppin.

Green Pepper on Urbanspoon

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Pastries Savory and Sweet at Bubble Pi Baking Arts

Bubble Pi baking arts is a tiny Asian bakery on a somewhat unfortunate stretch of Murray Avenue.  I say unfortunate because parking is tricky around there and it’s on the steep slope of the hill.  I am lazy and don’t want to walk far to my car, much less up a hill.  I had an appointment at Eyetique, two doors away, and it was perfect timing to check out Bubble Pi.

Many of the pastries were unfamiliar to me.  I have been told that Lin, the owner, is Taiwanese, but that her baked goods cover many different Asian countries.  Basically, I didn’t know what a lot of the stuff was, and I was shy about asking her a lot of questions.  She happily suggested that I try the fresh out of the oven cookies. I did get one (and I swear I took a picture of it, but I have no idea what happened to the picture…), and it was chewy and chocolaty and very delicious.

Wanting to branch out into something less familiar, I picked this pastry.  I have no idea what it was….

It was DELICIOUS.  It was like nothing I have ever tasted before, and I loved it.  It was a savory pastry with a little tang to it.  This pastry for sure was worth the hassle of parking on that annoying sloped section of Murray Avenue.  Sometimes a blind leap of faith has great results.

In chatting with friends after my visit, I’ve been told that the Japanese Cheesecake is also excellent.  I’m going to have to stop in again soon and just buy a bunch of stuff.  Who cares whether I know what it is? It’s bound to be good.

Bubble Pi Baking Arts on Urbanspoon

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Sakura Teppanyaki & Sushi in Squirrel Hill

After having tried decadant, amazing sushi from Umi, my tastebuds now only recognize 3 categories when it comes to sushi. Amazing (see: Umi), good enough, and grocery store refrigerator case. There are massive distinctions between each of the 3 categories, however inside each of the 3 categories, I don’t make many differentiations. Sakura falls into the middle category– which is not a bad place to be, mind you. I’d say most of the sushi restaurants I’ve ever visited fall into this category. I’m thinking New Dumpling House, Chaya, Sushi & Roll, etc. They all have decent sushi, perfect to fill a sushi craving, but honestly if given a choice between them, I don’t have strong feelings about one over another.

After reading an enthusiastic review for Sakura online, I decided that a sushi carry out night was in order. I love that Sakura offers online ordering. This may be a strange comment coming from a lawyer since so much of our work is done through phone calls, but I hate being on the phone. It always makes me happy to see online ordering, because that’s one less phone call for me to be miserable over. The downside to online ordering is that it takes twice as long. This is not an issue unique to Sakura. I find consistently that online orders take significantly longer to fulfill (or are overlooked entirely), probably because the staff is up hopping around the restaurant and not surfing the internet. However, if I’m not about to gnaw my arm off in starvation, I’m generally happy to wait a little longer for my order just so that I don’t have to do the dreaded call in.

I ordered a basic sushi combo, containing a couple of rolls, salad, and soup.  Both the quantity and quality were good.  The meal did not stand out as uniquely memorable, but rather nestled comfortably in that middle category of “that’ll do” sushi restaurants.

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Baby Beez loved the salad with ginger dressing.  Yes, she eats salad.  I did not realize this is unusual for a 2 year old until the day Baby Beez was in the hospital and the attending about hit the ceiling because she was AMAZED to see a 2 year old eating salad.  I’d like to take credit for this as some sort of superior parent influence, but we don’t eat salad all that often, and I have no idea how to “teach” a kid to like food other than to just stick it on her high chair tray and see if she’ll eat it.  Honestly I think credit for this goes more to her daycare.  They often give the kids salad with their lunches at the daycare, and I assume that’s where she acquired a taste for it.

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The miso soup was also a big hit with Baby Beez.  Oh, and me too.

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The final verdict on Sakura: Sure I’d get take out from there again, or go there for dinner.  I doubt I’ll find myself doubled over with a craving that only Sakura’s sushi will satisfy, but if Sakura is the dining option for the evening, sure I am game.

I am loving all the new and different Asian restaurants opening in Squirrel Hill.  A Ramen shop is opening soon on Forbes, and a Vietnamese cafe is slated to open on Murray.  Bubble Pi and Sumi’s Cakery are respectively Chinese and Korean bakeries that have each opened in Squirrel Hill in recent memory, both of which I’ve been meaning to try.  The new diversity of cuisine in this small commercial district is making me happy and hungry!  So who’s up for noodles and cakes?
Sakura Teppanyaki & Sushi on Urbanspoon