A Christmas Story

6th Annual Pittsburgh TasteBuds Holiday Wine Exchange

December 2014 Wine Exchange

As per our annual tradition, where the Pittsburgh TasteBuds really got started, we are gathering our friends and followers for the 6th Annual Holiday Wine Exchange.  This year, the venue is going to Sake Asian Cuisine and Sushi Bar in South Side Works.

Just like when Ralphie and his family go out to eat when the home-cooked turkey plans go awry in the movie A Christmas Story, we will be dining at our first sushi restaurant for a wine exchange.  Brush up on your movie knowledge before the exchange, if for no other reason then to get you in the holiday spirit.

Don’t forget to bring a new, unwrapped toy for the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.


Pittsburgh TasteBuds Wine Exchange
Your $5 RSVP will be your pre-paid corkage fee for the event. The wine exchange menu is available below and includes tax, tip and corkage.

$30 Per Person
Paid as $5 Online RSVP and $25 Dinner Bill at Restaurant

What’s Included:
· Appetizers (Tango Spicy Tuna, Stuffed Jalapeno, Edamame, Shumai,,Summer Roll, Harumaki, Yakitoti, Crab Rangoon)
· Soup, Salad
· Entrée (Select from choices below)

Entrée Selection:
· Two Sushi Rolls Dinner
Signature Roll (Shrimp Tempura topped with spicy crabmeat and black caviar)
Dragon Roll (Eel and cucumber topped with tobiko and avocado)
· Sashimi Dinner
· Sushi Dinner
· Teppanyaki (New York Steak, Shrimp, Chicken, Salmon, or Scallop)
· Thai Mango (Chicken or Shrimp) (Fresh sliced mango in spicy and sweet mango glaze.)
· Thai Seafood Combo (Jumbo shrimp, scallops, bell peppers, shiitake mushrooms, eggplant, asparagus, sweet peas served in special Thai brown sauce)
· General Tso’s Chicken

** Entrees requiring a protein selection (ie: Beef, Chicken, etc) will be fulfilled at the restaurant.


What is a Wine Exchange? A wine exchange is a dinner at a BYOB restaurant in which attendees (optionally) bring 2 bottles, one to accompany their meal and the second to be exchanged in a white elephant gift exchange at some point during the meal. The method for selecting exchange wines changes each event to correspond with the theme of the event. The average participant typically exchanges a bottle ranging from $10-20.

Sushi from Original Fish Market

Downtown Pittsburgh Sushi from the Original Fish Market

Sushi from the Original Fish Market
Sushi from the Original Fish Market

When I’m craving sushi before a Pittsburgh Penguins game or a show in the Cultural District, I typically get discouraged and table my sushi cravings for another night, because when I think of sushi it usually means going to a Japanese or Chinese restaurant – neither of which are prevalent in downtown Pittsburgh.  Thus my mind passes over The Original Fish Market and Penn Avenue Fish Company – both which would also have access to fresh, high-quality fish on a daily basis.

Updated Post or Revisit:
May 7, 2012 – Hook, Line and Sinker – The Original Fish Market making a comeback

So before going to a recent Penguin’s playoff game, TasteBudA and I ventured into OFM and had sushi and beverages to gear up for the game.  Heck – if you are going to watch penguins, why not eat like one! On the heels of going to Sushi Tomo, we had a fresh sushi mindset.  Looking at the picture – you can see we ordered the OFM Roll with spicy tuna, avocado, cucumber(top left), Alaskan Roll with salmon, crab, ikura, tobiko (top right) and the Rainbow Roll with crab, avocado, and 5 types of fish.  The OFM Roll at only $8 per roll was the highlight of the spread.  The tuna was spicy, so I caution anyone sensitive to spice.  The Alaskan Roll was good, but the texture of the roe wasn’t something I particularly liked.  The Rainbow Roll was good, but not as good as the rainbow roll from Sushi Tomo.

Our service was great and there was even an interesting table to people-watch.  I recommend sitting in the area off the bar-section and not in the main dining room, because it is more bright and inviting.  We had a nice time, and it wasn’t busy.  If I were in the area and in the mood for seafood, I would go back, but since Sushi Tomo is closer to home – it will likely be more of a go-to place for us.

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.


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.


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.


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

Crystal Bonsai Sushi, “Bonsai Grill”

Bonsai Grill on Urbanspoon

Looking for dinner Crystal City? Venture outside of the Crystal City shops and across Route 1 along 23rd Street South for a series of diverse restaurant options.
On my most recent work travel to Crystal City, I had the pleasure of traveling with another co-worker that I had never met in person before, so I was happy to take the time to have a sit down dinner with her and get to know one another. Not knowing what she’d be in the mood for, I directed us down to the 23 St S block where we decided on sushi. (Which is a treat for me, because TasteBudA doesn’t care for sushi). To our amazement, we were seated immediately and our night began.
Sushi Boat for only $42
The Bonsai Grill staff were attentive and the sushi boat really is plenty of food for two people. Though, we didn’t know that upon ordering so we piled an additional Spider Roll onto the order. We wished for a more diverse wine selection, though became agreeable to the Yellowtail wine that is their standard (and only) option.
Our pre-sushi course

Dinner was very nice and I spent time not only getting to know a new co-worker, but also someone I can truly call a friend.