Discovering a new Thai BYOB in the North Hills

New BYOB restaurants aren’t always easy to come by these days, so when I suggested to TasteBudA that we check out Red Orchid in the North Hills and to pick a bottle of wine out to take, he was excited.  Red Orchid is located in a small plaza of businesses on Babcock Boulevard near the juncture with 3 Degree Road.  The restaurant boasts just 24 seats, so you feel as though you are getting a personal experience with the restaurant.  Being small, it would also make for a nice date night, or private party restaurant (assuming you could rent the entire space).

Being new to Red Orchid, we started with a Red Orchid Combination Sampler of 2 steam dumplings, 2 fresh spring rolls chicken, 2 crab Rangoon, and Red Orchid style bread.  The sampler came with a trio of sauces for dipping.  As usual, the spring rolls were my favorite of the sampler.

Appetizer Sampler from Red Orchid
Appetizer Sampler from Red Orchid served with a trio of sauces

For my entree I decided not get a Basil dish, because that would make me predictable. Instead I ordered Spicy Pad Ka Prao. It’s not too far a leap from my usual basil dish, but the fried egg was a welcome new texture and paired well with the spiciness of the dish. The dish tasted as great as the photo looks. The vegetables were super fresh and with a medium-level of spice, I was content to finish the plate – against my diet of course.

Spicy Pad Ka Prao from Red Orchid
Spicy Pad Ka Prao from Red Orchid

I’m glad we have a new North Hills BYOB gem, since Stoke’s Grill is no longer BYOB. We will certainly go back. It was interesting to see the bulk of people getting takeout. For anyone looking for at-home Thai, you will need to pick it up, because delivery isn’t available.
Red Orchid on Urbanspoon

Stoke's Grill Beer List

Stoke’s Grill adds bar, no longer BYOB

Stokes Grill Beer List
Stoke’s Grill Beer & Wine List

It is with a heavy heart that I report Stoke’s Grill has expanded to add a bar and liquor license to their business. Diners who attempt to bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) will likely not be allowed to open it. Pictured above is a beer list from a recent visit. As you can see, those who enjoyed pairing wine with their Stoke’s plates will be disappointed at the lack of wine selection. The house wines (Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay) are not at the caliber many people opt for when selecting their own bottles.  For beer drinkers, their beer selection is reasonable.

Stoke’s Grill had formerly been known as one of our best kept secrets.  While the food menu has not yet changed, the overall experience will never be the same.  Stoke’s had been on a list of wine exchange venue possibilities for their consistent quality, however the time has come to take them off the list.

Does Sushi Tomo have the best Sushi in Pittsburgh?

For years, our friend Sarah has told us that the Best Sushi in Pittsburgh is on McKnight Road at Sushi Tomo. Despite that we live just minutes away and drive by all the time, we had never been until recently. It’s possible that we overlook Sushi Tomo because of its location – it’s on the side of McKnight Road that no one pays attention to – and drab exterior. Rest assure, the interior is not as drab.

We were promptly greeted and sat. Our waitress has a great understanding of the menu and was very upbeat. In my experience, upbeat waitstaff mean one of two things (A) they are putting on a face to get a great tip and it’s all just an act or (B) they thoroughly love what they do. For our server, it was certainly the latter.  She made us excited to try things and frankly did a good job with her upsell to the featured roll of the night.

For an appetizer, I ordered the lightest option on the menu. Spring rolls weren’t an option so I opted for the Gyoza, a pan fried pork dumpling. While prepared differently, they were certainly preferential to the steamed vegetable ones we had at Lin’s Asian Fusion. TasteBudA and I split the order and awaited our sushi, which was delivered in no time.

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Our sushi arrived on two plates. The first a special rainbow roll that was being featured for the evening.  The fish was fresh and had all of our favorites on it – tuna, whitefish, salmon and yellowtail.  With 8 pieces, TasteBudA and I each got 4 pieces and shared each of the fishes equally.

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Our second plate was a modified “Rock & Roll maki combo”.  Since the Rock & Roll had eel which neither of us are fond of, the waitress allowed us to substitute the Allegheny Roll for just an extra $1.  Of course, I didn’t explain the components to TasteBudA, who has only recently taken a liking to sushi.  Luckily the caviar didn’t both him and he enjoyed the roll.  It was a little saucy for my liking, but had good flavor.  Also in the platter were two other rolls – a spicy California roll (Crab meat, cucumber, avocado, & caviar) and a Village roll (Yellowtail, avocado, & caviar).  Both of the accompanying rolls were good, standard items.  In the end, the maki combo proved too large for us to finish. Perhaps I need to start ordering more conservatively and progressively add-on items over the course of the meal.

Tomo-Sushi

When all was said and done, we were very happy with our experience.  We left our great waitress a generous gratuity and headed out to meet friends for drinks.

Was it the BEST SUSHI IN PITTSBURGH? It was the best we have had in Pittsburgh – but that isn’t with much of a sample set. Look for us to have more adventures with sushi before we start tossing around the “Best Sushi in Pittsburgh” title.
Sushi Tomo on Urbanspoon

North Hills Food Truck Roundup 2.0

North Hills Food Truck Roundup 2.0

North Hills Food Truck Roundup 2.0
Food trucks gather behind Coffee Buddha on Perry Hwy on March 30, 2013

Today was the second installment of the food truck roundup at Coffee Buddha in the north hills.  The sun was out and so were the people. Hundreds of people flocked to the back parking lot of the hipster coffee bar to get food served from the side of trucks. In addition to pack leader PghTacoTruck who calls Coffee Buddha home 4 days a week, they were joined today by Oh My Grill, Franktuary, BRGR Truck, Sweet Treats truck, Dozen Bake Shop, PghPierogi truck and Fukuda.

Tacos from PghTacoTruck
Gourmet street tacos from PghTacoTruck at the North Hills Food Truck Roundup

We arrived right at noon and took advantage of our early bird timing to get pierogis and hot dogs before heading into CB for coffee drinks.  The pierogis were only $2.50 for a trio of potato and cheese.  Though they fell a little short for TasteBudA on flavor, who typically only eats only his mom’s legendary pierogis, they got us going for the day.  The girl working the Franktuary truck was very excited that their 2013 debut was at this event.  TasteBudA got sauerkraut on a standard dog, while I opted for the fresh chopped onion.  Each dog was only $3 with topping.

Inside Coffee Buddha, the motif took advantage of the name buddha and had many ceramic and artwork to thematically set the mood.  I got the signature “Heartmender” which in reality is 2 shots of espresso.  TasteBudA got the Peanut Buddha Latte.  The latte had a little nut crumble atop the frothy cup. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a peanut butter flavor or a peanut brittle flavor.  Regardless, it perked up TasteBudA enough before we got in the longest food truck line at the event – the PghTacoTruck line.

PghTacoTruck Menu
PghTacoTruck Menu offered a little something for every taste

The menu for the PghTacoTruck was perhaps the most extensive of all the trucks in the roundup, offering everything from a standard taco to vegetarian (maybe even vegan) options.  WIth such a variety, it was tough to decide.  PghTasteBudA got the Korean Steak with truck kimchi for $5. I got the Juicy Pork with sweet thai slaw for $4 (both pictured above).  While I’ve had poor success using raw corn tortillas at home, the taco truck knows what he’s doing.  The tacos were served on a double tortilla base which was perfect to stand up to the juicy meat fillings.  We’d highly recommend the PghTacoTruck to anyone in the north hills throughout the week.  They can be found at Coffee Buddha every Wed-Sat from 12pm-8pm.  Follow @PghTacoTruck on twitter for special event appearances and variations in schedule.

A food court alternative, Cafe Nordstrom

Nordstrom's Marketplace Café on Urbanspoon

Every mall in America has a food court, but with the addition of Nordstroms in Ross Park Mall, shoppers have an alternative to fast-food fare called Cafe Nordstrom.
While doing some spring shopping, we decided to have a sit down at the cafe. I got the Roma Tomato Basil Soup and Horseradish Roast Beef Sandwich.  TasteBudA got the Soup du Jour of Chicken and Peppers with the Turkey Club Panini.
The menu doesn’t provide enough detail or indicate what dishes come with, so we were flying blind as we ordered.  My soup was creamy and delicious.  To my surprise, it was served with a crisp, cheesy toast that was great to dip in the tomato soup.  The flavors of the soup were well developed, and a cup was just the right size for lunch.

Horseradish Roast Beef Sandwich with side salad and dark cherry balsamic dressing

My sandwich was served on an onion roll which was soft and hearty – almost too much.  The meat was freshly sliced and was complimented with the horseradish spread.  The sandwich was certainly satisfying and I would recommend it.  To acccompany my sandwich, I chose to get a side salad.  The salad looked amazing and the unique black cherry balsamic dressing was to die for.  I could have had just the salad and been happy with my experience.
TasteBudA enjoyed his selections but felt that he could have had the same meal and experience at Panera Bread.  The food was quality and the atmosphere was warm.  When I tasted his soup, I thought the soup could have had more flavor, but was good.
Overall, the lunch was nice and a preferred option to the food court.  I wouldn’t visit the mall just to try the cafe, but its location is conducive to the shopping crowd.

 

Okay Service, GOOD Food!

Aladdin's Eatery on Urbanspoon

If you are looking for some good Middle Eastern Cuisine then you have to check out Aladdin’s Eatery in the North Hills on Mcknight Road. 
Now, to be completely honest, the overall experience was not great, but the food was very good so the down fall in service was highly made up by the excellent cuisine.

Starting off we had Hummos with Pita.  Hummos is one of my favorite dishes to start off a Middle Eastern experience.   I already have a place where I purchase my favorite Hummos in the city, so for me Aladdin’s Hummos was fine and met some expectations.

Tastebud B also ordered a side salad with a Zesty Sweet Tomato Dressing.  The picture makes the dressing look like a salsa but in fact the consistency of the dressing was similar to a vinaigrette.

For the main course Tastebud B ordered a Spicey Kafta Rolled Pita.  This was beef mixed with herbs and spices topped with tomato and onion with both Aladdin’s hot sauce and Tahini yogurt dressing.  The spices went very well in a pita format.  He mentioned that it felt like he was having a Mediterranean Burrito.

 

I (Tastebud A) had the Fatayer which is a a spinach and feta cheese pita pie topped with crumbled feta and scallions, Served a long with a side salad.   Normally I love having a meat as my main dish, but, this was really good.  My Fatayer came out warm which brought all the flavors of the spinach and feta together in every bite.  I’d highly recommend this to any of our vegetarian friends!
We recommend Aladdin’s and all of its other locations in the Pittsburgh Region just visit aladdinseatery.com for more details!

El Campesino new menu option, Cinco de Mayo

El Campesino on UrbanspoonCinco de Mayo, a Mexican celebration directly translated “fifth of May,” is just one of several new dishes offered at El Campesino on McKnight Road. Though I don’t believe there is any direct correllation to the holiday, I ordered this entree as PghTasteBudA and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary where we had our first date. Though we didn’t indulge in a pitcher of margaritas this time, the meal was a filling, delicious way to celebrate our occasion.

I can easily simplify the Cinco de Mayo into a “cut your own meat strips” fajita/taco dish with both chicken and beef. The unique treat was the fried jalapeño which did add a nice kick in the heat category. As you can see from the picture, it was a lot of food, which I did not finish, but it was a solid menu option.

Mediterrano Wine Exchange fit for the Greek Gods

Apricot, feta and walnut stuffed tenderloin
Ellinki Salad, served family-style
Lemon chicken
Arni Sto Fourno
Pastitisio (Greek Lasagna)
Domates Gemistes

Our wine exchange last night went wonderfully. Mediterrano could not have been a better, more generous host restaurant. The food was spectacular and folks seemed pleased with the gift wines they received.

For a $30 fixed price meal (all inclusive of tax, tip and corkage) the group enjoyed a light appetizer, a signature salad and a choice of four entrees. Much to our surprise and delight, the chef prepared a special additional appetizer of a feta-walnut-apricot stuffed tenderloin.

The father-daughter duo, Helena and Frank Erdeljac, orchestrated a great night and generously donated a gift basket including gift certificate, Greek wine and tickets to Electra, a production of the Pittsburgh Public Theater.

As the night came to a close, we were fortunate enough to thank our friend Grace who introduced us to the restaurant with a surprise birthday dessert. As coincidence had it, the event was scheduled on her birthday.

Thank you to all of our attendees for their continued support. We look forward to our third annual holiday event where we look to drink and be merry, whilest supporting the local Toys for Tots campaign through a toy drive on December 6 at Cornerstone Restaurant.

WINE EXCHANGE MENU

Appetizers:
Kalamata Tapenade with warm pita
*Meat and Vegetarian Grape Leaves available a la carte*
Salad:
Elliniki Salata – Classic Greek salad of crisp chopped tomaine, vine-ripened tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, caper berry, red onions, kalamata olives and feta, with garlic croutons, dressed with Mediterrano house vinaiagrette.
Choice of Entree:
(A) Pastitisio (Greek Lasagna) – Layered Greek pasta with aromatic meat sauce, baked with a bachamel sauce.
(B) Arni Sto Fourno – Roasted boneless leg of lamb with rosemary and other aromatic herbs.

(C) Lemon Chicken – Half roasted chicken marinated in lemons and Greek oregano.
(D) Domates Gemistes – Tomatoes stuffed with asparagus, feta and orzo with a cinnamon infused roasted red pepper sauce.