A Casual June 2013 Wine Exchange

Many have asked “when’s the next wine exchange” and although TasteBudA was twisting my arm to take the summer off – I think it’s important to keep the tradition of the bi-monthly wine exchanges alive.  So, we’ve agreed on a happy medium.


Our next wine exchange will be a little more casual at Pho Van in the Strip District.  We’ve been meaning to get to a Vietnamese restaurant for some time, since we raved about our first experience. This will be a perfect venue for a more casual experience.  The average meal at Pho Van is well below the cost of our typical wine exchanges, so we’ll not be preparing a menu, but simply taking reservations for the crowd.  With the date only 3 weeks away, we hope that you’ll be able to join us for a casual night in the strip district.

Late Night craving at Kaya

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

In the strip district looking for a late-night snack?

Recently we browsed OpenTable for a spot to visit and we saw that Kaya’s kitchen was open pretty late.  So, we stopped by for a small snack before going to the bar. We love Kaya’s unique take on their dishes and I’m especially a fan of their sangria and salsa.  Cheers!

Plantain chips and salsa
Plantain chips and salsa


PhotoBlog: Cioppino Cigar Bar

Cioppino is an upscale seafood and steakhouse located in the upper strip district area, on the Railroad Ave side of Right By Nature building. One feature that sets this restaurant apart from many of its competitors is that it offers a restaurants, bar and cigar bar. While many restaurants that allow smoking don’t allow cigar smoking, Cioppino embraces the cigar crowd offering a closed, well ventilated room for aficionados to drink some high-class drinks and smoke their stogies. In the cigar room, you also have the option of ordering from the restaurant menu or bar menu. This PhotoBlog features items from the bar menu.

Buffalo Wings from Cioppino
Buffalo Wings served on an artist palette style plate. 12 wings, only $6.
Braised Beef Chef Specialty
Braised Beef Chef Specialty (PghTasteBudA found it salty)
Crispy Fish Tacos
Crispy Fish Tacos
Lobster Roll Sliders
Lobster Roll Sliders with hush puppies in between

Cioppino on Urbanspoon

Roland’s Famous Lobster Roll falls flat, poor service

Roland's Seafood Grill on UrbanspoonLast evening we began a celebration for a close friend’s birthday with a dinner at Roland’s Seafood Grill in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.  I had never been to Roland’s and was excited to go to what some call a staple in Pittsburgh. 

It was a big group of people for the birthday dinner, about 20 people and I was one of the last guests to arrive.  As I was saying my hellos I could tell the server seemed overwhelmed with a party of our size.

The first thing that I was annoyed about was the other end of the table said they didn’t want any appetizers, so she started taking the dinner orders, and when she got to us she said “That end of the table doesn’t want appetizers so you guys are out of luck, what would you like for dinner?” As the evening continued, our waitress was forgetting people’s soups or salads, even forgot to put bring out somone’s dinner, stating that “Someone in the kitchen must have taken your plate.”   Meanwhile, the restaurant wasn’t busy, even the the main bar wasn’t full.  

I got the New England Clam Chowder, which was served hot and hearty.  TasteBudB got the Maryland Crab Chowder which had an overwhelming aroma of Old Bay the whole table could smell, but he said it was delicious.  Both TasteBudB and I both ordered “Roland’s Famous Lobster Roll“.  Sauteed lobster and garlic on grilled mancini’s bread with french fries and coleslaw…14.99.  Sadly, it was anything but hot.  The roll was warm but the lobster was kind of cold which doesn’t taste well together.   I would have told this to our waitress to see if I could get the lobster heated up a bit, though I decided not to when I overheard her mention to a friend 2 seats down that “We have been the most stressful table she has had all night…”   Yup, and that is a quote!  

Overall, neither the food or service was impressive.  There was a good beer selection, but that can only make up for so much.  The menu appeared to have a good selection, but we were left disappointed with their most popular item.  The waitress didn’t give us much confidence in the overall service quality of the restaurant.  Let’s just say she is lucky I gave her the 10 percent tip that I did. 

Pho Van – our first vietnamese experience, a success

Pho Van on UrbanspoonDespite rising parking costs in Pittsburgh’s strip district, TasteBudA and I decided to overlook the parking costs and venture into a new cuisine for us – Vietnamese.  Awhile back I had purchased a Groupon for Pho Van to ensure that I’d take the time to try this new cuisine.  After a recent review of my already purchased Groupons, I decided Pho Kim had to be the one to use next.  So, on the day of its expiration, we took the time to go.

Spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce ($3)


I loved the fact that it was BYOB, because that makes any restaurant dinner more affordable – and after the preceeding work week, I was happy to have a glass of wine.  Upon arriving, I was impressed at how busy this restaurant was and the diversity of clientele – varying ethnicities and ages, even kids.  I immediately thought that if this cuisine was approachable to children, that it would be something I shouldn’t be afraid of.
For my meal, I ordered an order of spring rolls and the pork Bahn Mi (Note: the bahn mi is not on the printed menu, but available if you ask for it by name).
Pork Bahn Mi ($4)


The spring rolls were light and refreshing.  The fresh mint leaves left me craving a mojito as an after-meal drink.
What I was most taken back by was the hot spiciness of the bahn mi sandwich.  My first exposure to the sandwich was the FoodNetwork show Great Food Truck Race where the Nom Nom truck served bahn mi across the country our of their food truck.  At Pho Van, the sandwich was only about $4 and worth every penny.  Now I see how Nom Nom was able to win over Americans with their vientamese take on a grilled hoagie.

Being a BYOB restaurant, could Pho Van be a TasteBuds Wine Exchange destination? Perhaps.  But we have some great events lined up through December of this year, so maybe in 2012 we could host something and share our experience with the rest of our loyal wine exchange group.

Cioppino in the Strip

A few of us decided to try Cioppino in Pittsburgh famous Strip District.  I had heard so many good things about this place that I was highly excited to give it a try.   But, for me, I only saw a lot of negatives and not many positives.

I’ll start off with the positives:  Excellent Service.  Our server was really great, very friendly, highly informative about the food, well prepared for any questions we may have had and paid good attention to when our water or wine glasses needed filled.

Nice atmosphere. Cioppino offers a nice atmosphere while dining.  Its comfortable, relaxed and a nice place to enjoy a meal.

Presentation: Everything we ordered was presented nicely to us and looked amazing.

Now the negatives:  When entering, you enter in between the dining area and the bar.  The bar had a band playing which was nice music but way too loud.  I’m not sure how anyone was able to even sit and enjoy a drink in the bar with the music that loud.  The sound carried into the dining area but wasn’t too bad in there.

The Food:  All in all, the food was just OKAY.  As a table we started off with the Antipasti Platter, we had a nice mix of meats, cheeses, redpeppers and olives.  This was really good and a nice way to start of dinner.

Then, we all took a little of our friends Caesar Salad that was also very nice and refreshing.  The dressing wasn’t overly strong and was good as well.
Then the disaster came.  I ordered the Scallops that came with risotto and a lobster cream.  Sounds amazing, right?   Wrong!  It was so salty!  I had to down water and my wine in order to finish my dinner.  Seafood is salty to begin with, we all know this, but to add more salt and seasoning than needed is overkill.  Even the risotto was highly seasoned and hard to get down at times.
The major disapointment with this is the fact that Cioppino is know heavly for their seafood.  I was expecting something so much better and satisfing.

Cioppino on Urbanspoon

All in all, I still believe that Cioppino is a cool place to go, but ill probably just go for happy hour for a drink and go someplace else for dinner afterward.   For the price you pay I would be very cautious on going to Cioppino.

Left Unfulfilled by Colangelo’s

Colangelo's Bakery on Urbanspoon
Colangelo’s has good ingredients, but if you are ordering takeout, don’t count on getting what you ordered.  Now, I don’t say this out of haste.  I’ve had two consecutive food orders messed up!  If you’d followed my posts on the blog, you’ve seen that I tend to be a fan of pizzas.  Colangelo’s pizza has all of the right elements of a good pizza; I’d even go as far as to say that the pizza is good.  But as a consumer, getting the pizza the way you ordered it, should be considered when reviewing a good pizza.

Arriving to work today, I was craving a good slice of a white pizza.  The “white” part of my order apparently was lost on whoever took the order because I received a red pizza, again!    Sure, I’ll eat the pizza, but my craving will go unfulfilled.  Oh, and the so-called hot peppers, aren’t hot at all.

Next time I resort to ordering takeout, I guess I’ll just stick to the pasta dishes from Colangelo’s.

Pizza in the Strip!

Bella Notte Pizza Pasta & More on Urbanspoon
Tastebud A Here!: Like any typical Tuesday I was working downtown and was hungry for something good and cheap. Many of my coworkers always told me that Bella Notte had really great pizza for a good price. And they were so right!

Pizza by the slice is 3 dollars, small additional charge per topping. For just over 5 dollars I had a single slice of Pizza with Pepperoni and Mushroom and a iced tea. The slice was HUGE! I could hardly finish it. I also added some ranch dressing with my pizza because face it…Ranch goes with almost anything! It was so good, the toppings were fresh, the pizza was cooked just right. I was afraid by doing a single slice that my pizza would come out over cooked but they were on there game during the working day lunch hour. If you also work in the strip they are pretty quick on getting your food out to you. I told the young woman who took my order that I had to be at work by a certain time and she made sure that my pizza came out fast and she dropped off the bill when my food came. There is nothing worse when you have to rush you food during your lunch hour.

This would also be a good place to sit outside and eat and to take the family for a good pizza. I did see they had some outside seating as well. They also have more than just pizza and if the pizza is good then im sure the rest of the menu items should be amazing.Make sure you stop in the next time you are shopping in the Strip District buying your yinzer gear or produce at Wholeys! I can’t wait to go back!