Foie Gras from Twisted Frenchman

Our Twisted Date Night for Restaurant Week

With adventure in his heart and a grumble in his stomach, one night TasteBudA decided that Wednesday would be the best opportunity for a date night during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2016 edition. His top choice after browsing the menus was The Twisted Frenchman, and so he made the reservation.

The Twisted Frenchman is located in the space formerly of Abay, a past favorite of ours. The interior was chic and the clientele dressed up. TasteBudA made mention that the neighborhood feels plucked from DC and not the East Liberty he grew up with.

My cocktail, the Vogue, was a vodka, white cranberry and lime martini/Cosmo with an orchid ice ball floating.

the Vogue, was a vodka, white cranberry and lime martini/Cosmo

Across the table, The Frenchman cocktail was served with billowing clouds flowing down the martini glass. Apologies for not capturing the magical display.

TasteBudA was very pleased with the Potato and Leek Soup, course one from the PRW special.

Potato and Leek Soup

I had the most delectable piece of foie gras that I’ve ever tasted. Both dishes were plated wonderfully and explained in detail upon delivery.

Foie Gras from Twisted Frenchman

For our main courses, TasteBudA had the duck while I had Salmon.

Rohan Duck, parsnip, sweet potato, grapefruit, foie emulsion

The pomme purée stole the show for me. The applewood smoked purée paired with the braised leeks were a match made in heaven. The salmon was, in my opinion, a little undercooked to my standard liking. But since salmon is a safe thing to eat raw, I ate it as the chef intended.

Salmon, béarnaise, braised leeks, potato nest

TasteBudA wishes we had saved this destination for a Valentine’s Day affair as it was quite romantic. Alas, I get to pick the restaurant for that occasion. The $90 8-course chefs tasting menu from Twisted Frenchman sounds great, but I have set my sights on somewhere else already. More to come on that later!

Tavern Food Refined – Discovering “Fine Tavern Dining” in Mount Washington at Bigham Tavern

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week started strong at Bigham Tavern as we met friends for dinner on Monday night. The three-course offering was available for $20.14, which was quite the steal. Go!  It will surpass your expectations with some of the finest quality food that I’ve ever had at a “tavern.”

Appetizer: BLT heirloom caprese
A lightly fried green tomato, topped with layers of locally grown heirloom assorted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, spinach and fresh basil, bacon, blue cheese crumbles, and topped with a honey balsamic reduction drizzle

So, I got the appetizer without the bleu cheese – it just isn’t my thing.  The friend green tomato was hot and from the assembly of the dish, I knew I was in for a fine meal.  The dish was remarkable. The salty bacon complemented the balsalmic drizzle and fresh ingredients below.  The slightly crunchy fried green tomato topped the dish well.   To be honest, I would have eaten this on a hamburger bun as my meal.  But it’s restaurant week, so you splurge.

Main Course: Bayou burger
Aged sirloin burger, stuffed with pepperjack and jalapeños, topped with fried pickles, crispy onion straws, siriracha mayo, side of house made chips

The burger was the highest quality burger I’ve ever had.  The burger was stuffed, as the menu listing indicated and cooked to absolute perfection. A steak knife was used to hold the masterpiece together.  It was a little tough to get your entire mouth around the burger, so as you can see, the fried pickles came on the side. The burger was spicy, but not over the top. While I didn’t measure it, I bet the burger was a 1/3lb of meat. It held together remarkably well.  The bun was soft and slightly toasted, I believe.  The chips that came on the side were also delicious, but I left many of those on my plate and set forth to conquer this burger.

Frankly, the burger was too good not to finish!  After the burger, it was time for a break. We sipped our beverages and enjoyed conversation, asking the waitress to hold off on delivering the desserts for about 20 minutes.

Dessert: The Bigham signature sundae
Seriously, you didn’t expect it to not have bacon on it, did you? You need to try this to believe it.
Ok, ok. This is where things got a little rough. The caramel sea salt gelato was great. It was creamy and a perfect mixture of salty and sweet. My first bite was heaven. However, I caught the buffalo seasoning on my second bite – that wasn’t so heavenly. The entire table agreed, that we were on board with the gelato and even the smoky, salty bacon bits on top, but the buffalo seasoning was quite strong. We assume the seasoning they used was from one of the multitude of offerings on wing night (Wednesdays). Less seasoning may have been okay, but no seasoning would have probably been preferred. None of us finished the dessert – though we weren’t that hungry by that point anyway.

I commend the chef for thinking outside the box and taking a risk. I would absolutely get it again without the buffalo seasoning. I suggest if you go there for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, that you do the same.

Restaurant Week at Butcher and the Rye

One of the hardest restaurants to get a reservation for for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week was Butcher and the Rye. From the creators of Meat and Potatoes, initial feedback on Butcher and the Rye involves a surprising menu. Considering the “Butcher” name, you would think it would be a steak-heavy menu, but in fact it is the vast array of meats that compliment the whiskey selection (the Rye). Beef, pork, duck, rabbit … if you can hunt it, I bet it will probably appear on the menu at some point.

So for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, a $35 tasting menu was the perfect way to get to know this new restaurant. Unlike some restaurants, it was great how Butcher & the Rye championed the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week celebration and hung a special banner near the entrance for all to see.

PRW Menu Wall Hanging

Because the items changed daily, new menus were printed each day with the tasting combination of the day.  On January 17, the courses were Salmon Crudo, Pumpkin Risotto, Skirt Steak and Carrot Cake.

Butcher and the Rye
Butcher and the Rye PRW Winter 2014 Menu, Friday January 17, 2014

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Executive Express Lunch perfect for downtown business people

Some restaurants have what it takes to put out multiple courses in a lunch hour and some don’t. Habitat Restaurant in Downtown Pittsburgh has it. Their clever 4-courses-1-plate approach is genius for the downtown worker trying to get in, get lunch and go during the lunch hour.  They call it the “Executive Express” lunch which is regularly priced at $18, but for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2014 is discounted to just $14.

Executive Express Lunch at Habitat Restaurant
Executive Express Lunch at Habitat Restaurant on January 14, 2014.  Only $14 for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week.

Pictured above, the Executive Express Lunch items are a chef’s choice selection of a cup of soup, small salad, small sandwich and small dessert. In my opinion, you may not find better portion control anywhere else in the city.  Four courses at other restaurants take over an hour to eat and contain large portions.  At Habitat restaurant, I think it’s actually quite refreshing to have all four courses served at once.  Have a rough morning at the office? Gorge on the dessert course first.

Best of all, Habitat takes reservations on OpenTable so you know before you leave the office what time you’ll be seated so you can plan – and if necessary shift – your lunch hour accordingly.

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.

Bocktown Beer and Grill for Restaurant Week

For my sixth meal of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, we met friends at Bocktown in Robinson.  It is located up on the hill in the same plaza as Target.  Bocktown may be one of the proudest members of the Pennsylvania Buy Fresh Buy Local program, as they proudly display the program information throughout the restaurant.  Plus, this week there was a strong presense of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week promotion going on.

For Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, Bocktown offered a three item tapas and beer pairing for $20.13.  Each tapas comes with a 4oz beer pairing.  For folks that like wine pairings, this would be a nice change from the norm.

Blackboard Artwork
Blackboard Artwork at Bocktown for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week
Spreading the word
Bocktown hung the simple restaurant week sign throughout the restaurant so folks knew that they were a proud participant

Though their special – called “Where Beer Meets Grill” – was enticing, one of the items was blue cheese covered in  chutney.  Since I’m not much for blue cheese, I opted to order off the regular menu.  I’ll certainly return for the beer-tapas pairings on a future visit.

Ordering off the regular menu, PghTasteBudA opted to share a Jalapeno Popper Dip with the table.  A coworker of his recently gave him a great recipe for this dip, so it was a great opportunity to see how the homemade version would stack up to a pub-style Bocktown version.  Bocktown did not disappoint.  The pretzel bites were perfect size — don’t you just hate when you get a dip and it comes with 4 huge slices of pita and you have to break it all up yourself?  Oh, and other than the homemade version has a crumbled topping, the dips were similar in nature.

Jalapeno Popper Dip
Jalapeno Popper Dip appetizer served with pretzel bites

The dip wasn’t really all that spicy, but it was reminiscent of eating a popper.  The pretzel was like the breading and the dip was a sour-creamy popper filling.  It went great with the beers too.

BackDraft Burger
BackDraft Burger, a hamburger with banana peppers and mozzarella cheese

For my entree, I decided to go with the BackDraft burger.  The burger came cooked to temp on a fresh bun with banana peppers and melted mozzarella cheese.  The burger was juicy and you could tell how fresh it was because the burger was not commercially shaped.  It gave it character and me the piece of mind of how fresh it was.  As the son of a dairy farmer, it was a nice change from the grocery store meat case.

The Live-a-Little
The Live-a-Little is a juicy 10 ounce thick-cut CAB served with Mash Tun Potatoes, fresh seasonal vegetables and a side of Untouchable Sauce for dipping

TasteBudA had the Live-A-Little, which is a 10oz steak.  Though I don’t remember his exact comments, other than that he liked Bocktown’s version of “medium,” there were no complaints coming from his direction.  I wish I would have asked him about the Untouchable Sauce, because with a name like that, it better be irresistable.

We’ll likely return in the summer to sit in the beer garden off the side of the restaurant.  The vibe and local beers served in an outside setting would be a great summer evening.

Bocktown Beer and Grill on UrbanspoonAnd I will be issuing a challenge to my food-challenge competitor, Matt, where we will faceoff in The Beer Belly Challenge.  “Take on our Mr. Potatohead timer, and receive a complimentary short sleeve tee (valued up to $20) when you finish a Beer Belly Fry with three toppings by yourself in under 30 minutes.”