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.

Dining out at Bistro 19 for PghRestaurantWk

Bistro 19
Bistro 19 was packed on a Wednesday night. Is it because of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week?

Sure, we may be a couple a boys living on the northside, but we have no qualms about traversing bridges or tunnels, especially for a great meal during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week. For my fifth meal of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2013 we went to Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon. The restaurant is located nicely across from a public parking garage, and there is surrounding street parking. Upon walking in, we noticed why street parking wasn’t an option on this Wednesday night – we arrived to a packed house!

After enjoying a glass of Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc (California)  wine at the bar, we were seated at a table for two and greeted by a wonderful waitress.  She promoted the restaurant week special menu well and talked me into getting the wine pairing – okay, let’s face it, I had been eyeing it up since they said they would be offering it.  While my before dinner wine was white, all of the wine through the courses were red.  I wish I would have taken closer notes on what they were by name.  I thought it was slightly odd that the wine selection was not dependent on your menu item selection, but rather presented as a pre-set discounted wine flight through the meal.

Braised Pork Mac and Cheese
PghTasteBudB Appetizer: Braised Pork Mac and Cheese

Despite having tweeted leading up to restaurant week that I was going to have the three coffee courses of (1) Pumpkin cappuccino bisque, (2) Coffee rubbed mahi mahi w yucca purée, coconut rice and candied kumquats and (3) Coffee panna cotta, I made the split second change after I was seated.  Suddenly, I wanted to try the Braised Pork Mac and Cheese for my first course.  The course was extremely savory and paired with a very strong, full-bodied red.

Pan seared scallop w local golden beets, leek fondue and toasted hazelnuts
PghTasteBudA Appetizer: Pan seared scallop with local golden beets, leek fondue and toasted hazelnuts

TasteBudA opted for the pan seared scallop and was immediately jealous of my appetizer.  Though his was cooked well, he didn’t feel the delicate scallop paired well with his bold wine.

The ambiance was wonderful, despite being so crowded.  PghTasteBudA was very happy with our table location because it put him in perfect view of the Pittsburgh Penguins Black and Gold scrimmage.

White balsamic marinated chicken breasts w red wine rosemary risotto and truffle butter
PghTasteBuB Entree: White balsamic marinated chicken breasts w red wine rosemary risotto and truffle butter

My entree was a white balsamic marinated chicken breast with red wine rosemary risotto and truffle butter. The risotto was divine, but the chicken came out blackened and a little dry. I wished there was some white balsamic on the plate to add back to the chicken and give it some moisture.  Eating risotto and chicken in one bite took away from the beautiful risotto. The vegetable that I received with it was some well grilled zucchini.  I noticed looking around that some folks appeared to get some asparagus.

Roasted lamb gnocchi w braised vegetables and sage butter
PghTasteBudA Entree: Roasted lamb gnocchi w braised vegetables and sage butter

TasteBudA got a lamb gnocchi.  My guess is because of the Penguins game, he was a man of few words, but he seemed quite happy with the lamb.  I don’t recall anything left on the plate when he finished, so Chef Jessica Bauer should consider that a success!  The wine with the second course was a much more delicate red wine.  Personally, I would have swapped the first course and second course wines to achieve a different progression.

Coffee panna cotta
PghTasteBudB Dessert: Coffee panna cotta

For dessert, the wine was a very sweet port wine.  It made me laugh when TasteBudA took a hefty first sip and almost choked on it.  Don’t worry, he lived.  As he ate his rice pudding, I think the wine provided the desired sweetness from the dessert, while the rice pudding was a nice smooth finish to his meal.

Butterscotch rice pudding
PghTasteBudA; Butterscotch rice pudding

Because I couldn’t completely give up on my original goal of three coffee courses, I did get the Coffee Panna Cotta as my dessert.  It was a wonderful creamy dessert, which looked and tasted like heaven.  To my own demise, I thought it was so delicious, I ate it very slowly and ended up feeling too full before I could finish it.  TasteBudA helped put a larger dent in the dessert with “just one bite” which turned into several because he too couldn’t resist.

Bistro 19 on UrbanspoonBistro 19 was a great restaurant week meal, and the classy atmosphere would be perfect for a romantic engagement, birthday or anniversary.  Weekdays are usually much more calm for the after-work crowd.  When I asked the waitress if it was normally packed on a Wednesday, she said “No, it’s restaurant week.  I wish every week was restaurant week.”

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.”

Lunch at Meat & Potatoes for PghRestaurantWk

Autumn Salad
Autumn Salad from Meat and Potatoes during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week

Today on the third day of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, I had my third dining experience of the celebration at Meat & Potatoes for lunch. The special for the day was an Autumn Salad, Chili-crusted Grouper Tacos and Tiramasu.  The special at M&P changes each day, so it’d be difficult to send anyone back to have an identical dining experience.

Grouper Tacos
Grouper Tacos from Meat and Potatoes during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week
Tiramasu from Meat and Potatoes during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week

Autumn Salad. The salad was good, even though I ate around the blue cheese since I’m not crazy about that. The dressing was a blackberry vinaigrette, which came atop the salad. Though you can’t tell from the picture, the candied nuts had rolled to the bottom of the bowl and were a nice crunch after eating my greens. The beets were sliced thin, which frankly made them difficult to wrangle with a fork. Overall, a nice salad, but would probably opt for something else next time.

Chili-Crusted Grouper Tacos. The tacos themselves were grouper, pico de gallo with a light slaw. Very nice flavor profile and a light but filling entree. The fries came as a surprise, or I missed when the waitress read the menu to us. They were a nice compliment to the taco, though if I had to choose between fries and a third taco, i’d choose taco every time.

Tiramasu. Dessert was served in a cute little mason jar, common for desserts at M&P. However, this dessert was either frozen and let melt too long, or the cream never set. The dessert was soupy. Did it taste bud, oh heck no. It was delicious. But I think it lacked a little on execution. M&P is certainly a hot spot downtown and my lunch may not have been their finest hour, but it won’t stop me from going back. The place has a nice ambiance which any office worker would welcome as an escape midday.

Meat & Potatoes on UrbanspoonThree courses in the lunch hour is tough. (Habitat knows what they are doing with the Executive Express lunch which is four courses on one plate.) Since it was a lunch meeting, it didn’t break my heart that it ran over the hour.

Latin-american “soul” food at Alma in Regent Square

Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen
Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen features several rum-based martinis. Pictured: Caribbean Martini (Alma)

Nestled in Regent Square at the corner of Braddock Avenue and Forbes Avenue is a restaurant which adds a new tropical dimension to the Pittsburgh restaurant scene – Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen. This locally-owned restaurant strives to bring an authentic Latin american presence to the Steel City with dishes and drinks from many different latin cultures.  Alma means “soul” in spanish.

Instagram: Mojito Diablo
INSTAGRAMMED: A devilish twist on the traditional mojito. Blanco tequila, Chambord raspberry liqueur and turbinado sugar enhance the traditional taste of the mojito to form this explosion of flavors.

For Pittsburgh Restaurant Week – Summer 2012, the TasteBuds took the prime opportunity to visit this up and coming spot for the first time. Starting off with some latin-inspired drinks.  TasteBudA had the Caribbean Martini, a house creation.  I had the Mojito Diablo, a Cuban-inspired drink.  Ensuring we got the most out of restaurant week, we each ordered from the restaurant week menu – three courses for $25.  TasteBudA had the Soup of the Day and the beef-entree, while I opted for an arugula-mango salad and the chicken entree.  We both decided to finish the night with the same flan caramel dessert.

Alma - Soup of the day
First course for TasteBudA - Pink bean soup

While waiting for our first course, we sipped our drinks which opened our eyes to the beauty and flexibility of rum. Just when you thought that a martini had to be made with gin or vodka, TasteBudA was very pleasantly pleased with his rum martini.  Personally, my mojito didn’t last long.  The mint and berry flavors were a devilish combination that had next to no hint of liquor taste, a dangerous thing for a pre-dinner drink.  Thankfully our first courses arrived just after I finished the drink before I started feeling the affects of the rum.  The arugula-mango “Ensalada sencilla con mango y rucula” salad was refreshing and plentiful (photo coming soon) – perfect for a summer evening.  TasteBudA’s soup was smooth and rich.  The flavors melded so beautifully that it wasn’t hard to look beyond the warmth of the weather outside  and enjoy this warm first course.

Alma Dinner - Vaca frita con arroz y gandules
Slow-roasted beef brisket with rice and pigeon peas

As our night flowed smoothly, our main courses arrived, both looking somewhat similar each on a bed of rice, though tasting very distinctly different.  TasteBudA’s slow-roasted beef brisket melted in his mouth.  After his first bite, the flavors of the beef drew his focus so intently that he even lost his train of thought and the rest of the dish our conversation was all about what we were eating.  I’m not sure we even finished (or even remember) the conversation we were having when our entrees arrived.

Alma Dinner - Seco de pollo
Braised chicken in an aji and cilantro sauce with savory rice

My entree was braised chicken with a spice mix which made my mouth water.  The chicken literally fell off the bone.  The sauce which covered the chicken and was soaked up the rice was an aji-cilantro mix which perked up my taste buds.  The pickled onion atop the chicken added the perfect contrast bringing the focus to the meat and spices – a very similar effect that a little lemon juice has on fish.  Needless to say, I cleared my plate and the thought crossed through my head to ask for a piece of bread to sop up the rest of the sauce, but I didn’t knowing I still had another course to go.

Alma Dessert - Flan de coco con caramel
Flan de coco con caramel for dessert

Dessert ended the night for me with a very sweet pleasure.  Though the texture of custard isn’t always something I enjoy, the toasted coconut that surrounded my caramel-topped flan added a complimentary crunch.  For TasteBudA, dessert was bittersweet, because as he tried to take a picture with his new smartphone, he dropped his phone right on top of the flan resulting in a very sticky mess – and an indented dessert.  After he got beyond the mishap, he was able to fully enjoy his dessert.

Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen on UrbanspoonFood-wise, the place was a huge hit.  The flavors aren’t something you can just go to any Pittsburgh neighborhood to find.  In fact, TasteBudA has since recommended the place to a former native of Latin america who has been in search of “food that tastes like home.”

Sure the food was great, but the highlight of the entire night had to be the service.  Our waitress was extremely knowledgeable, friendly and always smiling.  The restaurant was busy, inside and out, and she never lost her cool.  Her attitude and the ambiance of the restaurant will certainly ensure that the TasteBuds return in the near future.  Perhaps we’ll check out the live music on Wednesday nights.  I’ve never heard Flamenco music, but think it would only add to the cool Latin-vibe of the restaurant.

TasteBuds attend Pittsburgh Food blogger dinner during restaurant week

Blogger Dinner at Porch at Schneley
Fixed-Price Three-Course Meal offered during all of restaurant week

During Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Summer 2012 celebration, the Pittsburgh TasteBuds joined fellow bloggers from across the city for the second food blogger dinner from the new Pittsburgh Restaurant Week program. This dinner was at the Porch at Schenley. Attendees were able to choose from either the restaurant week special, or the full restaurant menu.

The Porch at Schenley
Front of The Porch at Schenley

The Porch at Schenley is a member of the Eat n Park Hospitality Group of restaurants.  Nestled at the entrance to Schenley Park from Forbes Ave, diners can take advantage of both the lovely view and the free park wi-fi connection.

If, like me, you’ve hesitated in the past going to the Porch because you have it in your head that it will be anything like Eat N Park, then hopefully this post will change your mind as it has mine.

Chef Kevin Hermann produces wonderful food, most of which is locally sourced.  I’d describe the menu as “fine dining with a farmer’s touch.”  It is clear that the chef and the restaurant management take great pride not only in what they produce on the plate, but how it got to the plate.

For the meal, I got the restaurant week menu.  Here’s a peak at the three-courses.

Porch Restaurant Week - Entree
Chocolate Blueberry Pie with sweet cream and hazelnut brittle
Porch Restaurant Week - Appetizer
Keystone Farm Beef Tartare with wild flower, capers, picholine olives and tomato gastrique
Porch Restaurant Week - Entree
Cunningham Farm Pork Saltimbocca, wild sage, Porch prosciutto, roof top tomatoes, sweet corn and heirloom beans

Each item on the menu was some combination of flavors that I have never had before, though all enjoyed.  Throughout the meal, I sipped on Engine House wine (a new winery open in the Strip District).

After our meal, as an exclusive food-blogger dinner opportunity, we received a tour of the roof-top garden and beehives where Chef Kevin tends to his own crop of ingredients.  It was quite awesome to eat an impressively assembled meal and then say “oh, here is where he grew the tomatoes that went into that dish.”

It was a great night and I think the Food Blogger Dinner will remain a staple-event in the Restaurant Week Celebration for seasons to come.  Here are some additional photos from the event:

Crispy Sweet Corn Cake, Butter Poached Crab Meat & Roasted Chili Coulis (TasteBudA's Appetizer)
Various Pre-Dinner Snacks
Various Pre-Dinner Snacks put out for all bloggers to enjoy during a Harvest Happy Hour hosted by Buy Fresh Buy Local


The Porch at Schenley on Urbanspoon


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]