TasteBuds Seven Fishes Cioppino

Cioppino, our Feast of Seven Fishes

Our Feast of Seven Fishes has been a tradition since TasteBudA and I have been together. Even though neither of us are Catholic where this tradition stems, on Christmas Eve we gather and enjoy our version of a Feast of Seven Fishes, but we do it in one pot – a Cioppino.

Read The Making of a New Christmas Eve Tradition >>

TasteBuds Seven Fishes Cioppino
Pittsburgh TasteBuds Seven Fishes Cioppino

So, after 4 years of making it, it’s time to document the recipe.  In 2013, this resulted in the best recipe because we made the broth, then went to a candlelight Christmas Eve mass.  Upon returning from mass, heated the broth to boil and added the fish.  The more time your broth has to simmer, then sit, the better the flavor develops.

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Avenue B for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2014

During Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, Avenue B offered an unpublished lunch special of a “Main Dish” plus a “Beginning” or “Dessert” for $20.14.  Because many items on Avenue B’s lunch menu aren’t pricy, you could feasibly be under $20 without the special.  So in all honesty the $20.14 combination is subject to what you choose.  Today for lunch I chose to sit by the window which provided for great lighting for photographs.

Avenue B Lunch Menu
Avenue B Lunch Menu for January 15, 2014

My dining partner couldn’t resist ordering the Pork shoulder poutine as a beginning. She twisted my arm asking that I partake.  So as a good friend, I obliged. The pork was so tender and juicy as a result of the braising process. Like many of the other items on the menu, this is served with sweet potato fries which appear to have a light dusting of sea salt for seasoning.    The onion straws were better to eat with your hands as they didn’t wrangle easily with a fork.  If we knew the portion size, I may have likely ordered a smaller entree for lunch.  Definitely a steal for only $10.

Pork Shoulder Poutine from Avenue B
Pork shoulder poutine, BBQ Demi, cheddar and fried onions.

Though the poutine had my stomach beyond 50% capacity, the burger arrived looking stellar.  You can see from the pictures that plating is a strength of Avenue B.  Ordered medium, the burger arrived cooked well and still hot.  The juices poured from the burger with each bite.  Luckily the bun was soft because I needed to pinch the sandwich together to fit it in my mouth.  After having sweet potato fries with the poutine, I opted to pick lightly at them and save room for dessert.

Burger from Avenue B
Burger with cheddar, arugula, truffle aoili served with sweet potato fries

And the dessert …

Blondie Torte from Avenue B
Blondie Torte dessert with a salted pretzel ice cream and crisped apple slices and caramel sauce

A whole-hearted fan of blondie brownies, I enjoyed the deconstruction / reconstruction of the blondie elements into this sweet dessert.  Officially listed as a torte, the item was basically two squares of a caramel-chocolate-shortbread cookie with salted pretzel ice cream between served atop some crisped apples covered in a lighter caramel sauce.  Don’t you want to just eat the picture?  I didn’t leave a trace on the plate and immediately needed some water to wash it all down.  Ideally, this would replace my afternoon coffee if the sugars carry me through the day.

Avenue B on UrbanspoonIn the end, a very positive experience at Avenue B.  My dining companion shared an adversion to goat cheese and her flatbread was served with goat cheese, even though it wasn’t listed in the description.  The waitress gladly removed the item from the bill and offered to correct it.  Luckily the poutine was filling and our minds were tuned toward dessert, so she opted not to get another dish.  The flatbread was visually delicious, though I can’t speak to its taste.  The service was great, the food was great and the company was great.  Great new restaurant experiences is what Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is all about.

5 Must-Try Meals for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2014

300x250_GeneralPittsburgh Restaurant Week has become a heralded celebration of great meals with more restaurants participating with each season.  On Monday January 13, the Winter 2014 celebration starts lasting through Sunday, January 19.  The list of restaurants currently has 76 registered to participate, so selecting what restaurants to go to with only 7 days of these special menus is key. Here are my top 5 picks from me, PghTasteBudB, for this winter.

  1. Terrace Room: For a full $35.14, the maximum PRW price, the Terrace Room is locked in at my #1 spot for a fine dinner during restaurant week.  The thought of a Roasted Pumpkin and Smoked Maple Bisque sounds like the ultimate first course for a brisk winter restaurant week meal.  Completing the course, I would select the Jurgielewicz Farm Duck Breast as an entrée and the Crème Brûlée for dessert.Never having dined at the Terrace Room, restaurant week seems like a great time to get all three of those courses for only $35.14.
Christmas Eve Cioppino 2012

P(Gh)osts of Christmas Pasts

Christmas Eve Cioppino 2012As I searched the Pittsburgh TasteBuds blog history today for the recipe that I used for our traditional “Feast of Seven Fishes” Cioppino that TasteBudA and I have adopted as our Christmas Eve tradition.  The only remnant was The Making of a Christmas Eve Dinner Tradition. I’m puzzled. I have taken pictures of our Cioppino each and every year.  Have I been slacking that much?  Apparently, yes.

Each year I think I’ve gone through the same motions: Find recipe.  CHECK! Select 7 fishes. CHECK!  Combine and cook. CHECK!  Take a photo. CHECK!  Post about it.  Oops.

This year will mark the 4th year that we will have made our Cioppino, but apparently we never really blogged about our experience making it.  As I go back through the timewarp that is my photos folder, I share with you what little I found today.


Benjamin’s Western Avenue Burger Bar, the good, the bad and the ugly

Benjamin’s has been subject to the prophecy “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.” Each time we go we have a different experience, which typically discourages us from going back. Alas, because we live so close, it’s always on the top of our minds. This results in repeat visits of ranging happiness.

Overall, I’ve been to Benjamin’s about ten times. The notes below represent experiences, but may also be contradictory.

The Good:

  • I love the decor and ambiance.  The fireplace adds a level of calm, casual and cozy to the room.  There is something about eating to “fire-light” that is almost romantic, but in a platonic sort of way.
  • Happy Hour prices are great.  Every drink is discounted during happy hour and all of the appetizers are as well.  I also enjoy that there is no fryer, so I can avoid the greasy unhealthiness that bar-food typically is.
  • The BLT is served with an egg.  a BELT? a BLET?  Regardless, the B(acon) L(ettuce) and T(omato) sandwich is amazing because the bacon is cooked just right and there is no lack of it either.  Dare I saw there is borderline 1/2 a pound on one sandwich?
  • A meeting room is available if you need to meet with a group for a post-work pow wow.  It’s very nice and private. but is available with pre-reservation only.

The Bad:

  • The service is only good if they are either not busy, or you are with a large crowd.  It’s almost as if you need to make it a point to get yourself noticed by the bartender/waitress (usually the same person).  Most times they could use an extra person working.  I don’t dislike the people working there, they just have too much distance to cover and they have a hard time providing equal levels of quality (or not) service.
  • Twisted sides.  Mind you that their menu is mainly burgers – the sides don’t seem to pair well with the burgers for me.  The coleslaw is curried, the broccoli is asian-fied with soy and wasabi, homefries don’t hit the spot when you want french fries and potato salad has blue cheese.  While I understand the lack of a full kitchen limits the menu, most burger eaters are more traditional with their palates.  Can I get a bag of local potato chips or even just carrots and celery?

The Ugly

  • The place has two rooms – the bar with the fireplace and a lounge with a few tables, a couch, TV and pool tables.  When the bar area fills up, the waitstaff has point blank indicated “we don’t serve in that other room.”  With other walkable options on the block, it’s unfortunate that they’d limit themselves to serving just one room and not strive to reach their full serving capacity/potential.  The rude attitude we got when we asked (and denied) to sit in the couch area and watch the penguins game caused us to flat-out leave.
First batch of pretzels was extremely salty.
The appetizer basket of pretzels was extremely salty.
Benjamins BLT
Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato … and Egg. It is amazing.
Rosemary-Balsamic Goat Cheese & Green Apple
The Rosemary-Balsamic Goat Cheese & Green Apple Burger always has too much goat cheese for me, but the apple is a great burger topping that I now use at home.

Benjamins Western Avenue Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Reaching beyond Pittsburgh humbles me

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week has become a great passion of mine.  As a food blogger, I always wanted to be in the business of sharing all of Pittsburgh’s great restaurants with my friends.  That circle of “friends” grew further than I could have imagined when I started Pittsburgh Restaurant Week and had the first celebration in 2012.  Just today I had the pleasure of speaking with a restaurant week organizer from another city.  She belongs to a large organization where Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is just one of many things they do.

I want to share that I am humbled by the way in which not only Pittsburgh has embraced the program that I’ve put my time in to grow and foster, but further humbled to hear she has been monitoring the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week program and looks to use Pittsburgh as a model to improve her own celebration.

Anyone who works with me on Pittsburgh Restaurant Week knows how much effort I put in and that I’m always trying to make thoughtful decisions to further the program’s success.  With that, if you have any ideas on what I can do to improve PRW, never hesitate to send them along.  You can think of your idea not only helping your local community, but helping restaurants weeks across the nation.  Just one idea can go a long way.


TasteBuds Pick: Best New Restaurant 2013

October 2013 Wine ExchangeMaybe we’re still on the high from a great wine exchange event last night, but I think it’s safe to say that the TasteBuds Pick for Best New Restaurant in 2013 is Matteo’s in Lawrenceville.

Last night, we gathered with friends, new and old, for our 23rd Wine Exchange at Matteo’s where we enjoyed one of Lawrenceville’s newest gems. Matteo’s staff and kitchen went above and beyond to ensure that we had a wonderful time. The wine exchange left folks learning about the parts of a boat and hopefully also introduced folks to new wines and varietals.

Pork Osso Bucco
Pork Osso Bucco
Bruschetta Tilapia
Bruschetta Tilapia
Matteos Pumpkin Tortelloni
Pumpkin Tortelloni
Extra Sauce for the Osso Bucco
There was even some extra sauce for the pork osso bucco, so it was offered to us tableside.

TasteBud Rosy Sangria

Pitcher of red sangria at Kaya
Pitcher of red sangria at Kaya

It has come to my attention that I have a great Sangria recipe that I’ve morphed into something special and I’ve been requested to share my secret to my “rosy” sangria.  It’s “ROSY” because it uses both red and white wine.  Note that this makes a fairly large batch, so I serve it from my Creativeware 3-Gallon Unbreakable Beverage Dispenser.

2 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, or similar
1 bottle of Pinot Grigio, or similar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup triple sec
1 pt fresh berries (blueberries recommended)
2 granny smith apples
1 or 2 oranges
1 liter lemon-lime soda

  1. In a small container, prepare your apples and berries into similarly sized chunks, about the size of a whole blueberry. Pour triple sec over cut fruit and set aside.
  2. In beverage dispenser, add all three bottles of wine together. Add sugar and mix thoroughly until dissolved. Thinly slice oranges removing all seeds. Stir the soaked fruit and triple sec into the wine mixture carefully.
  3. Layer the orange slices on top of the wine mixture. Pour the lemon-lime soda over oranges and refrigerate covered until ready to serve.
  4. Serve as-is or over ice.

Twists and Tips:
– Don’t forget to wash your berries thoroughly. You don’t want the small seeds floating in your sangria. I typically use blueberries because they are simple to clean and pair well with the sangria bath.
– More soda can be added to stretch the mixture to serve more and reduce the potency of the drink.
– Have spoons handy to make eating the alcohol soaked fruit easier. Consider using Spoon Straws