Elements Contemporary Cuisine during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week was full of great dining options.  Being we didn’t want to favor any 1 restaurant during the week, we decided to let a couple of friends decide where we should go on Wednesday night.  After reviewing the online menus posted on PittsburghRestaurantWeek.com, our friends decided on Elements Contemporary Cuisine.  It had been awhile since we’d been to Elements before with some out of town co-workers and enjoyed ourselves, so we thought it was about time to return.

Flat Iron Steak

We made our reservations early through the PRW website – and it was a good thing – because the restaurant was quite busy.

The Restaurant Week menu featured a three course meal for only $30 per person.  Everyone happened to get something different, which was nice because we all had the opportunity to have a taste of each other’s dishes and get a real feel for the culinary style of the restaurant.  (Three diners ordered the PRW special and the fourth ordered off the regular menu)

The table started with the chef’s choice 6-item cheese board as we waited for our meals to be prepared – yes, even though of us getting the three-course meals..  The others at the table really liked the array of cheeses, though I (TasteBudB) am not a seasoned cheese-lover.  I could admire the varying textures, dryness, and pungency of them, but wasn’t head over heals about anything in particular.

From the Restaurant Week menu, I ordered the Salmon, TasteBudA got the Flat Iron Steak, and our friend Mark had the roasted chicken, we all had the squash soup as our starter course and our dessert was a chocolate, candy and more tasting.  Our other friend Mary Lou ordered a Cajun Pasta dish.

Elements Contemporary Cuisine on UrbanspoonEach of us very much enjoyed our meals – with the exception of one of the items from the dessert menu.  One item, which the PRW three got had a very bitter taste, which not even wine could remove from our mouths.  Despite ending the meals on a bad bite, we had a great time and think it would be very nice spot to dine outside during the summer months.  Plus, it didn’t hurt that we went on un-WINE-d Wednesdays and took advantage of the half-price bottles of wine.

[More pictures coming soon]

No-Lie, NOLA on the Square offers great lunch

With the rebuilding of Pittsburgh’s Market Square, several new restaurants have popped in over the last year, one of which, NOLA on the Square is a niche cuisine for Pittsburgh.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find any Louisiana-style French cuisine anywhere else in Pittsburgh.  Based on many of the other reviews of the restaurant, it seems as if NOLA has had a very welcome response within the city of Pittsburgh.

TasteBudA and I found ourselves looking for a lunch spot over the holiday weeks and wandered over to market square to get in on some downtown grub and check out the Christmas Tree displays at PPG Place.  We settled on NOLA for something a little different.  We were greeted quickly and seated near the front of the restaurant, which made for some great natural-light picture taking of our food.

Our appetizer of Fried Artichokes (right) were a new taste for me and were served with a creole mustard ranch.  Because they were served hot, the dressing was a nice cooling factor that was quite delicious.  Being we were there for lunch, we each ordered a Soup and Half a Sandwich with Voodoo Fries for only $12.

TasteBudA had the “best French Onion Soup [he’s] ever tasted” with half of a Croque Monsieur.  The soup was Trio of Caramelized Onion, Vermouth, Rich Veal Broth, French Bread Crouton, Gruyere.  The Croque was Hand Carved Smoked Ham, Grilled Rustic Bread, Gruyere, Homemade Local Apple Butter, Dijon.  Sadly, the soup sang on TasteBudA’s palate and the sandwich and fries took a backseat as he finished all of the soup, but could not finish the fries or sandwich.

I (TasteBudB) got half of a Shrimp Po Boy accompanied with a the Gumbo soup called “Gumbo Ya-Ya”.  Being in a cajun/creole restaurant, I figured the gumbo would be the ultimate sign of my interest in this cuisine.  It contained Organic Chicken, Andouille, Okra, File, Steamed Rice.  I’ve read about the horrors of cooking okra and how slimy it can get.  This soup tasted great – even the okra, which was quite tender.  The Shrimp Po Boy was a nice pairing as it too had its own spicy cajun notes.  It was the cajun slaw itself (on the sandwich) really made the sandwich a hit.  Though the bulky pieces of shrimp didn’t hurt either.

And to Voodoo Fries.  No where on their menu does it explain what voodoo fries are and instead of asking our waiter since we were set on the combo, we decided to wing it.  Come to find out they are garlic fries with some light cajun seasoning.  Based on the quality of the rest of the meal, I think the fries were a little flat – Assuming they are made in mass quantities in the kitchen, I think we just happened to get plated a poor handful.

NOLA on the square on UrbanspoonOverall the meal was great and I’d definitely go back and try some other things.  NOLA even participates in LoyalTree, a new smartphone app I’ve downloaded.  It’s a loyalty-rewards program where you scan QR codes at the restaurant along with your bill to earn free gift certificates.  I’m not sure if I’ll frequent enough to earn anything fun, but I’ll keep track anyway, because it couldn’t hurt.

Kicking off Pittsburgh Restaurant Week at Habitat

Habitat on UrbanspoonFor any Pittsburghers looking for Habitat Restaurant, it is located on the second floor of the new building known as PNC 3.  Also known as the Reed Smith building (due to their naming rights) and on the second floor of the Fairmont Hotel.  Depending on who you talk to, they may tell you any of those three.  But, just because it’s location is somewhat mysteriously vague, the food at lunchtime is anything but.

To kickoff Pittsburgh Restaurant Week (Winter 2012) on January 16, 2012, I corralled several coworkers, made reservations and went to Habitat to try their “Executive Express” lunch, which is four courses on one plate – usually $16, but offered for only $10 during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week.  The restaurants has many 2- and 4-seat tables, but not many for more than that, so I highly recommend lunchtime reservations for any more than 4 people.

The heart of the dining room is also the heart of the kitchen.  The open kitchen allows diners to see their food being prepared and provides a nice clean atmosphere to dine.  The kitchen counter is also plentiful with pots of fresh herbs which I loved to see.  Five at our table ordered the Express lunch and the chefs created an assembly line for preparation of our meals.  Each day the Express Lunch has half a sandwich, a side salad and a cup of soup, plus dessert – served all together, creating a four-course one-plate meal.

The items on the Express vary daily, and no, there aren’t options to choose from.  They are a set lunch combination.  Not knowing the proper ettiquette for this sort of meal, I decided to start to the left of my dessert and work my way around.  First, I enjoyed a very filling turkey club wrap which was hearty and full of fresh veggies.  Secondly, I spooned a creamy potato, corn and crab soup.  The soup was creamy but not heavy, with only light hints of crab so as not to be fishy.  The salad was a frisee salad with cubed cheese and a vinaigrette dressing.  The dessert was a chocolate mousse cake with a rich fudgy top, garnished with gold foil.  I eagerly enjoyed each course though some of my co-workers took the dessert with them to-go as an afternoon snack.

Lunchtime at Habitat is a very pleasant experience.  I urge you to give the restaurant a try for lunch, despite the low approval rating on Urbanspoon.  I plan on visiting again for lunch, maybe even during Restaurant Week before the $10 special ends.

Holiday Cheer at Cornerstone, Toys for Tots Fundraiser success

For our 3rd Annual Holiday Wine Exchange, the Pittsburgh TasteBuds hosted a joyous, festive night in their return to Cornerstone Restaurant and Bar in Apsinwall.  Sixty attendees reached within their hearts to support the Pittsburgh TasteBuds and the United States Marines Toys for Tots Program by donated over 70 toys.  The toy drive was even more special with a US Marines representative in attendance to receive and personally thank each donation as we filled the entire dining room corner with toys.

With the largest wine exchange crowd to-date and the second consecutive sell-out event, the night was a resounding success.  The TasteBuds gave each attendee an ornament as a small token of appreciation.  The food was wonderful and the restaurant staff did a great job handling such a large crowd.
See the main courses that were served below, or visit our Facebook Page to view photos from the entire night.

 

Cornerstone Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Gastropub & Speakeasy adds new vibe to Northside

Being local to the northside of Pittsburgh, it is always nice when a new place opens up in the area.  Over in the Deuschtown area, the local formerly occupied by Serendipity is now back in business.

James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy on UrbanspoonThe James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy is the newest addition to the neighborhood.  We stopped by to check it out on New Year’s Eve before heading out for our night of planned activities.  The vibe is very calm and nice, but it also wasn’t too crowded in there either.  The place hasn’t really changed inside, but there are some cool small things they do to add their own personal touch to the place.  For instance, old record covers have been covered and serve as the binding for the menus.  It was a cool swanky touch.

For an appetizer, TasteBudA ordered the pierogis and found them to be extraordinary.  It was easy to tell that they were fresh, never frozen, though it wasn’t clear if they were truly homemade.  What set them apart was the carmelized onions and infused sour cream that covered them.  It was a great combination of flavors and has earned TasteBudA’s honor of being the best he’s ever eaten.

I ordered the “Sweet Meat” as my lunch. It is a hamburger with candied bacon, served on a bun with a drizzle of doughnut glaze. Though I’m sure the burger wasn’t great for my heart, my stomach was signing praise to this sweet entree. As I was eating it, all I could think of was Paula Deen’s episode “Lady’s Brunch” [Video (see 7-min mark)] [Recipe].  On the side of my hamburger were large homemade potato chips.  The potato slices were very large and even a little fun to eat.

TasteBudA had himself the Fish and Chips. The fish was a nice battered tempura fish.  The french fries were also good.  The plate was only served with ketchup – no tartar, lemon or vinegar.  TasteBudA asked for vinegar to go with them and the kitchen sent out a white vinegar.  We assumed the restaurant did not have any malt vinegar, which is a more traditional pairing for fish and chips.  We recommend they add another condiment to make this dish a success.

Pittsburgh TasteBud Bests from 2011

The year 2011 was a great year for the Pittsburgh TasteBuds.  After hosting our 13th, wine exchange in December with a waiting list of attendees, we feel honored to have such a great following and a beautiful city to do it in.  Throughout the year, we’ve highlighted many different types of food in our reviews.  Here is a recap of the Pittsburgh TasteBud Bests from 2011:

Breakfast:

  • Omelette – Square Cafe – Regent Square
  • French Toast – Dor-Stop – Dormont
  • Diner Coffee – Pamelas – Millvale 

Sides:

  • French Onion Soup –  NOLA on the Square – Downtown 
  • French Fries – Potato Patch at Kennywood Amusement Park – West Mifflin
  • Hummus – Christo’s – Downtown

Entrees:

  • Gyro – Mike and Tony’s – Southside
  • Rueben Sandwich – West End Cafe (in Rivers Casino) – Northshore
  • Fish Sandwich – Wholey’s – Strip District
  • Bahn Mi – Vietnam Pho – Strip District
  • Monte Cristo – Stokes Grille – North Hills
  • Pizza – Pasta Too – Northside
  • Fried Chicken – Carmi Family Restaurant – Northside
  • Burgers – Burgatory Bar – Aspinwall
  • Meatloaf – Cornerstone – Aspinwall
  • Mussels – Solstice – Greensburg, PA
  • Hanger Steak – Bite Bistro – Bellevue
  • Pierogies – James Street Gastropub – Northside

Desserts:

  • Milkshakes – Burgatory Bar – Aspinwall
  • Cupcakes – Priory Fine Pastries – Northside
  • Baklava – Meditterano – Millvale
  • Tiramisu – Mia Madre – Bellevue

Heading into 2012, we look forward to sharing more of our experiences with our readers, celebrating more wine exchanges and making new friends.

Cheers.