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Sienna on the Square with Camila 2

Sienna on the Square with Camila Kauer Garcia

Market SquareMirroring the Italian Piazza with Sienna

The Italian piazza is famous for bringing people together.  It combines the traditional safety and logistical aspects of a town square, protecting pedestrians from motor vehicles, with the comfort and refinement of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues surrounding the square.  The Piazza itself can make a beautiful atmosphere where one can enjoy a great meal, which to me conjures images of the great side walk cafes of France or Britain.

Unfortunately, I’m not currently in the great cities of Paris or London, but Pittsburgh happens to have its own wonderful piazza in the form of Market Square.  The entire piazza was redesigned and redeveloped in 2009 after years of neglect and now is flurry of activity throughout the year, hosting farmers markets, concerts, and even a pop-up holiday market in the German style.  And of course, the entire square is encircled by great restaurant concepts like the one our featured reviewer Camila and I visited, Sienna on the Square.

Sienna on the Square with Camila

Atmosphere

As I mentioned in the introduction, a piazza is the perfect backdrop to a restaurant, especially an Italian restaurant where the fit is both cultural and atmospheric.  Sienna is perfectly positioned on the corner of the square, with enough seclusion and distance from the main activity of the square as to no experience sensory overload but with the full view of the plaza as to enjoy people watching and other visual spectacle.  Sienna made use of what was already right in front of it to create a great experience, and they were rewarded for this move by our feelings of good will from the moment we sat down.

Service

Sienna on the Square with Camila

I rarely do a shout out to the name of our server at a restaurant, mostly for the reason that very rarely am I so blown away by the standard of service set that I even remember the name.  This time is different.  Our server Anthony was funny, knowledgeable, professional, yet approachable.  He was able to fluidly bring and remove dishes while seamlessly conversing with either one of us and not miss a beat.  This is a hospitalitarian who knew his job inside and out and loved every moment of it.  Anthony’s service was a conversation with us, a dialogue that we both benefited from and left one of the most positive impressions in my mind of a server ever.  There was a small issue with a plate that was brought to us with bacon on it (Camila is a vegetarian) but other than that I was utterly delighted.

 

QualitySienna on the Square with Camila

The quality of the food at an Italian restaurant can be very uninspired, especially since it is my opinion that many Italian restaurants in the United States are a dime a dozen.  While Sienna wasn’t something completely original or mind-opening, it was a solid menu with some great choices.Sienna on the Square with Camila

There was a delicious bread and butter provision (the butter had a creamy tomato and spice flavor) and I enjoyed my gnocchi with asparagus, pancetta, and creamy corn sauce very much.  The stuffed meatball was also very good and something I would go back to have again.  But I wasn’t dazzled by anything.  The fact that everything is made “fresh and in-house” shouldn’t be the bar to reach; that should be the standard.  Nevertheless, Sienna still has one of the best Italian menu’s in the city, and the seasonality of the menu keeps things fresh and interesting.

Sienna on the Square with Camila

Value

Again, the value for what we received was adequate but also not shocking.  If your standard is 60-70 dollars a meal for drinks, appetizers, and entrees, then you won’t bat an eye after dining at Sienna.

Rating

7.7/10

Translation

Sienna’s rating in my opinion relied slightly more on the service and the atmosphere than the food, drink, and overall value.  The food was good, but if I’m going to return, I am coming back for the service of Anthony (and hopefully anyone else who works there) and the feelings of relaxation which come from the piazza of Market Square.

Camila’s Take

Best part of the experience?

I felt like I was in Europe.  I loved enjoying every bite of my food, with great company, and everything from the aesthetics of my food to the atmosphere around Market Square was great.Sienna on the Square with Camila

What needs the most improvement?

The only thing perhaps was that the vendor didn’t remember I was a vegetarian after we had joked about it and brought out my salad with bacon on it.  So although I should have paid more attention to the special description, to improve as a server, he could remember the small details like having a customer who can’t eat meat.  That way mistakes are kept at a minimum and his careful attention would have been noticed.

What kind of place is this (who would you bring here, for what purpose, etc.)?

This place is definitely fine dining.  I would come here for a romantic date, to reunite with a friend and make it special, or come with a loved one.

Describe your meal for us.Sienna on the Square with Camila

I had vegetarian pasta with carrots.  I though it would be such an odd combination, but it was one of the most unique pasta dishes I ever had!  It was fantastic!

Camila is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh who hopes to learn as much as she can in the business school.  Once she graduates, Camila wants to work in the nonprofit sector to make this world a better place…one delicious meal at a time of course!

Sienna on the Square is an ode to classic Italy with seasonal dishes, an extensive wine list, great for pairings, and located in the scenic Market Square area of Downtown Pittsburgh.  You can check out their menu and make reservations here: http://www.siennaonthesquare.com/

 

Lydia and Samson at Streets on Carson

Streets on Carson with Lydia Grubic

When one thinks of street food, I dare say to ask what he is thinking about: it is usually either lukewarm hotdogs being dispatched from a metal cage on the streets of New York or some very suspicious nuts being moved around a large metallic bowl and disbursed via the smallest Styrofoam cups you’ve ever seen.  Conclusion: not at all appetizing and certainly that was the image I had in my head.  However, the game has forever been changed with a restaurant located in the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh called Streets on Carson.  Quite simply, the restaurant offers street food from around the world, and by that I do not mean any of the potentially graphic images described above.  This restaurant is all about a modern take on the world’s classic street food, with exotic yet reassuring flavors and dishes to satisfy any palate.  My friend Lydia was kind enough to recommend and invite me to experience this gourmet street food extravaganza, so naturally I had to review it!

Atmosphere and Service: While the venue itself was fairly dark and mysterious from the outside, walking inside you find a quiet, relaxed yet really hip atmosphere.  There’s tasteful graffiti and subtle lighting fixtures throughout the space that give a really cozy feeling to the whole place.  The mixing of wood and metal furniture took me back to Pittsburgh’s roots, a subtle but meaningful throwback to the Steel City.  The service was actually a pretty interesting thing to note, since our server was aware from almost the very beginning of our presence as reviewers.  That being said, I think the “pressure” of me critiquing the whole process (I write “pressure” because my review has almost no impact on the restaurant and carries no weight and meaning, other than for my own enjoyment and the enjoyment of my guests), was handled rather well.  He joked with us about what I was doing, keeping the interactions light but direct.IMG_8110IMG_8108

Food: There were so many interesting dishes on this menu that it was difficult to narrow our choices down to only four, but we each chose two items that sounded the best and got to sample a little bit of everything from all over the world.  I will note that because of the focus on freshness and local ingredients, not all of the menu items will be available all the time, a worthy sacrifice for the sake of superior quality.  Let me take you on my food journey around the world:

 

 

IMG_8103

  • Duck Fat Fried Poutine- Cremazie Ouest, Quebec:  If this poutine could sing, it would carol a beautiful aria of delicious melodies with every bite.  Fanciful language for sure but there is something truly special in anything fried with a strong oil like duck fat.  It intensifies the flavor of any food, and using the potatoes as a base, the duck fat can bring out the flavors of the warm gravy and the fresh cheese curd like no other.  The dish certainly could have used more gravy, but it was nonetheless entirely satisfying.IMG_8101
  • Arancini- Ballaro Street Market, Sicily:  The adult version of Macaroni and Cheese bites, these rice balls pack a gooey, cheesy punch in every bite.  The tangy and only slightly spicy sauce gives more depth to the dish and allows for a differentiated tasting experience, depending on the quantity of sauce you use.IMG_8102
  • Pork Spring Roll- Longhua Road, Shang Hai:  This is your basic spring roll, so there isn’t too much to note here in terms of uniqueness.  However, you really get a sense for Streets on Carson’s emphasis on freshness here because unlike your typical Chinese restaurant, this spring roll is artfully plated, served atop a sriracha aioli, and has distinct flavors that don’t simply blend together in a bland, lukewarm mush in your mouth.  Quite the contrary, these spring rolls are the epitome of fresh cooking and the result is pure happiness.IMG_8097
  • Tapioca- Laranieiras Market, Rio de Janeiro:  Both Lydia and I have always heard about tapioca, but never really knew what it was.  Apparently, tapioca is a starch extracted from the Cassava root and native to northern Brazil.  Being the adventurous eaters that we are and wanting to pay tribute to the successful Rio Olympic Games, we ordered these small tapioca cakes with a chipotle aioli drizzle.  While not my absolute favorite dish (mostly due to the texture) I can still say that the tapioca takes on other flavors really well while still being a distinct grain with its own taste.  Not a bad combination in my book!
  • Beverage of Choice: 4 Seasons Brewing Company, 60 Degrees and Snowing: My drink of choice was a blonde Belgium ale from the 4 Seasons Brewing Company, located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  It is very light and smooth, making it an easy sipping drink and great for in between bites since the taste fades fast.

Streets on Carson food map

Price: Altogether, my bill came in at about $25 dollars including the gratuity.  I think one of the great aspects of this restaurant is that you can order a bunch of different plates to share and not break theIMG_8104 bank.  Most menu items are prices around the $7-$10 price range and they are certainly big enough to share.

The Verdict: 8.75/10

Translation: Streets on Carson has all the makings of a truly global restaurant for the Pittsburgh area.  It’s a fresh, inspired idea with much to offer Pittsburghers who need to escape the domesticity of Americana fare.  The location is a little out of reach for what I think a place of this caliber deserves; in saying that, however, Southside feels like a good match for this place, mixing well with the variety of bars and restaurants that make Southside so unique.

Lydia’s Take: Certainly the quality of the food for the price is unbeatable and the service is fast but not too overwhelming.  I actually found nothing immediately wrong with Street too, which is certainly a good sign!  This is probably the perfect place for a first date or any event where you need to meet new people because the different dishes offer plenty of topics of conversation.

Lydia is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in neuroscience and minoring in chemistry who lives just outside of Pittsburgh.

Streets on Carson, located on East Carson Street in the Southside Neighborhood of Pittsburgh,  has a eclectic menu “comprised of small dishes found in the most frequented markets, streets, and bazaars around the world.”  You can find the full menu and location here: http://www.streetsoncarson412.com/