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fl. 2 with Camila Kauer Garcia

Fl. 2 with Camila Kaurer Garcia

Fl. 2: Where the Culinary Magic Happens

fl. 2 with Camila Kauer Garcia

When the Fairmont Pittsburgh decided to close their restaurant, Habitat, which opened at the time of the hotel’s opening in 2010, I was surprised but understanding.  I was told by the Fairmont’s director of operations, Meghan Earnshaw, that 7 years for a luxury hotel restaurant concept is a long time, and that a new restaurant is necessary to stay competitive and profitable.  I find this to be especially true in a market like Pittsburgh, where competition in the Pittsburgh restaurant scene has been fierce over the past few years after dozens of new openings throughout the city.

fl. 2 with Camila Kauer Garciafl. 2 with Camila Kauer GarciaWith the closing of Habitat in June, the Fairmont spared no time or expense in getting their next concept up and running.  The entire space closed from June to late October, and all hands were on deck to get “fl. 2” (pronounced “floor two”, the location of the restaurant on the second floor of the hotel) up and running.  The result is a beautifully sophisticated space with a delicious menu to match and a lot of local collaboration.  I’m glad I could share the experience of fl. 2 with veteran reviewer Camila Kauer Garcia.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere of fl.2 is both gorgeous and at the same time a little confusing.  The space has a lot of simplicity and modernity in its fixtures, with lights, mirrors, and soft colors like beige and cream that don’t distract yet from the experience.  However, some choices like the floral-patterned plating and the color of the upholstery reminded me more of my grandmother’s house than a luxury restaurant.  That being said, there was obvious intention in these choices, I just wish the story that fl.2 was trying to tell would have been a little clearer.fl. 2 with Camila Kauer Garcia

Service

The service at fl. 2 was of course excellent, and even with the high expectations that I had set for the Fairmont, they managed to meet and exceed them.  Our server was prompt and pleasant, engaging us in conversation and entertaining our questions effortlessly.  I also need to do a huge shout-out to Meghan again for being an excellent host and channeling true hospitalitarian vibes in the style of Danny Meyer and Union Square Hospitality.  Top marks!

Quality

fl. 2 with Camila Kauer GarciaOnce again, top marks for quality on pretty much every level.  There is a fairly robust raw bar available and on the whole, everything was tasty.  I probably went a little overboard with the raw bar, but I did want to try a variety of dishes.  The beef tartare was good, but you definitely have to be in the mood for it.  I also really enjoyed the flavors of the cured kampachi.

In my mind, the stars of the show lie in the main courses, and between pork belly and the chickpea fricassee, they were both packed with flavor and extremely pretty to look at.  The weakest of the bunch was the pork terrine, but I suspect that was due to overloading on the raw bar items.  It was just a little bland in my mind, despite the pesto and mustard sauce, which instead of adding flavor, made the dish a tad salty.fl. 2 with Camila Kauer Garcia

In addition, I would like to say that there were several dishes I wish I could have tried, including the cast-iron ribeye, which has been praised as one of the best items on the menu, and some of the desserts like the Japanese cheesecake.  Overall the menu is eclectic enough to have variety but not so broad that it doesn’t communicate a modern flavor palate.fl. 2 with Camila Kauer Garcia

Value

fl. 2 with Camila Kauer Garcia

Dining at the Fairmont isn’t a cheap experience, but the value is pretty impeccable: superb service, quality food at fair portions, and in a setting that exudes luxury without the hoity-toity attitude.

Rating

8.4/10

Translation

Once again, for a new restaurant with certain kinks to work out, this is a great score.  Advice from me would be to work on the story that fl. 2 is trying to tell, and once the themes of that story are established, weave them into the “plot” (the specific dishes and interactions with guests which create their experience).  Fl.2 can only get better in my opinion.

Camila’s Take

Best part of the experience?

I absolutely loved the attention we received.  From the minute we walked in and the staff took our coats, to the waiter being super personable and speaking Spanish to me, to the staff walking over to our table to check in and see how we were doing, it was all fantastic.

What needs the most improvement?

fl. 2 with Camila Kauer Garcia

Nothing stood out to me as needing improvement!

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

Fl. 2 is a posh place.  This is the kind of place you take people who appreciate food and are willing to spend a little more for the attention in service and culinary innovation that you experience and taste.

Describe your meal for us.fl. 2 with Camila Kauer Garcia

It was here that I tried beef tartare for the first time.  It was excellent.  I tried it with a kind of cheese and crackers which was a type of appetizer I could see myself coming here for regularly.  I also had a hummus dish and I was blown away that I was tasting garbanzo beans in a whole new way.  They were the best chickpeas I had in my life and its creamy and smoky flavor my favorite dish that night.  I also had the pork belly, which is a dish for people who don’t think twice about eating a layer of pork fat.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t entirely for me, and I wasn’t able to enjoy the flavors that the pork fat provided because there was simply too much of it.

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!

fl.2 is one of the newest and hottest restaurants in Pittsburgh, taking residence in the Fairmont hotel in downtown.  A local, seasonal menu is the focus, combining the best of the region with bold deviations that reinvent traditional American fare.  Check out fl.2’s menu and make reservations here: http://www.fl2pgh.com/

 

 

or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Moby Dick; or, The Whale?  Definitely The Whale.

Restaurants have an important first step in choosing the name they give themselves.  To an extent, a restaurateur build’s his concept around the name: what food is going to be served, what furniture and fixtures are going to be utilized, even what the uniforms are going to look like and how the staff is going to interact with the guests.  A name can command respect or bring on instant derision if the restaurant is tied up in bad food or service.or, The Whale with Lydia Grubicor, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

However, setting the right tone with a name can make all the difference.  Or, The Whale does this brilliantly.  Anyone familiar with the famous American novel by Herman Melville will understand most of what the restaurant is about from its name: fantastic seafood, set in a nautical-themed atmosphere with hearty service characteristic of the book’s protagonists, quiet and approachable Ishmael and brazen Ahab.  This is at least what I had hoped the goal of the name would be, to set the tone for the experience in but a few words, and with Lydia Grubic as my featured reviewer, I suppose you may call me Ishmael as I recount for you my dining experience.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere of or, The Whale, recently built in the new Distikt Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, is quite magical.  You walk in to a terrace with seating surrounding the main dining room.  Staring you in the face on the wall opposite is a giant mural depicting the famed battle between Moby Dick and the whaling ship Pequod.  It’s quite a sight to behold, but what I appreciate even more than the flashiness and grandiosity of the space are the subtle touches that bring the nautical theme together.  The ceiling’s draped ropes, the menu written with and including excerpts from the book, plus, as one would expect, a lot of whales, all tie the theme together without being tacky.  Presentation wise, this is one of my favorite restaurant spaces in the city.

Service

Of the four categories I looked at, service here was the weakest.  It wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but for a restaurant of this caliber, I did come in with higher expectations.  There wasn’t the connection that I had hoped to have between our server and us, and our interactions with the maître d’ were limited and somewhat distant.  As I keep emphasizing with my last few reviews, there just wasn’t a dialogue in place between us and the staff.  On a technical level everything was well executed, it’s just missing the charm and warmth of truly great service.

or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Quality

On the whole, everything we had was of superb quality.  I ordered a mixed drink, the Broken Arrow, which I thought was very tasty and strong enough to have one and be done.  I then chose two seafood dishes which are some of my absolute favorites: escargot and scallops.  I thought both were very well done, with the escargot being done exactly right in butter and garlic, and the scallops trying something new with a butternut squash sauce that added a sweet and zesty flavor to what would otherwise be somewhat underwhelming alone.or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

My only grievance I thought was the dessert which Lydia and I split: a bienenstich cake, which resembles a crumb cake but made with a very sweet yeast dough.  I simply thought it was too dry, but on a second visit I would try it again to confirm and compare from the prior experience.  Overall, a really good showing for a new restaurant.

Value

Slightly expensive, but the flavor and atmosphere was worth it.  I did not necessarily think the service paid for itself but I think that can always be a work in progress to any restaurant, and I do factor that into this value category.  However, I’m willing to be lenient to a new restaurant in Pittsburgh, especially one that I think has the right intentions.or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Rating

8.1/10

Translation

For a first go, I think this is a great score.  There is lots of room for improvement, since I think any deductions were due to the easily rectifiable category of service.  If you haven’t been to or, The Whale in 2017, I would make it a 2018 priority.

Lydia’s Take

or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Best part of the experience?

I really liked the atmosphere of the restaurant and the décor.

What needs the most improvement?

I think they could be more adventurous with their food.

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

I would recommend it for special occasions since it’s on the pricer side!

Describe your meal for us.or, The Whale with Lydia Grubic

Overall I really enjoyed my meal and would order it again.  Both dishes I got, the macaroni and cheese and the mussels, were flavored very well and nothing was too strong or overpowering.

Lydia has been featured before but she is now a graduate at Case Western University who is always up for a culinary adventure!

Or, The Whale is one of Pittsburgh’s newest and hottest restaurants located in the Distrikt Hotel.  They feature fresh farm (and fisher) to table fare with great seafood, chops, and drinks with seasonal flare.  You can find their website with menu items and reservation instructions here: https://www.orthewhalepgh.com/

 

 

 

James and Samson at the Hotel Monaco

The Commoner at the Hotel Monaco with James Mitchell

Any fan of my blog will know that I love hotels.  I love the atmosphere of boutique hotels, the world class service of luxury hotels, and even the economics and business models behind some of the world’s biggest hotel chains.  One of my first experiences with boutique hotels came with the opening of the Hotel Monaco in downtown Pittsburgh, since I would walk past it every day during the summer of my freshmen year on the way to and from my internship.  The outside is striking, almost intimidating with huge columns of concrete and steel bars on the lower windows.  However, the inside is, as the website describes it, “vibrant and whimsical, with bold pops of color.”  It’s no wonder U.S. News and World Report ranked it among the best hotels in Pennsylvania for 2016!  However, this isn’t a hotel review, it’s a restaurant review, which was no less suburb than the hotel itself.  What’s even better, I had a very special guest in the form of my best friend from high school, Mr. James Mitchell, who accompanied me to lunch at the Monaco’s amazing tavern-style restaurant, The Commoner:

Atmosphere: Harkening back to Pittsburgh’s industrial past, The Commoner delights in taking advantage of the city’s history and turning it into a theme.  Old maps were highlighted on the walls behind us and we were surrounded by steel girders and copper light fixtures.  It was a modern take on an older style but it worked so well for a hotel as imaginative as the Monaco.The CommonerThe Commoner's bar

Service: The service was exactly what I was expecting from a 4-star hotel: friendly, courteous, and attentive without being overbearing.  We were even greeted by the manager, a mark of exceptional customer service which you don’t see too often any more.  Our only critique here would be that the courses came out far too quickly between each other; only a few minutes into our appetizers did the entrees come out!The Commoner's kitchen

caramelized cheeseQuality: I’ll also have to steal a line or two from the Monaco’s website, because the food was exceptional, coming from a kitchen “that excels at adding modern flourishes to classic comforts.”  We shared a caramelized cheese plate with warm “squid ink” bread that was indescribably gooey and delicious.  My main meal was a smoked brisket sandwich, one of the very few I’ve had where the meat had the perfect amount of moisture without dripping with sauce.  For the finale, we each ordered a sticky toffee pudding, which took me back to London after only one bite.  I only wish James and I would have split one; we were so full by the end that we couldn’t finish them!  brisket sandwichsticky toffee pudding

Price: This is not an everyday place (and I forgot to mention my cocktail, mostly because the price would shock you!)  But The Commoner does have a lunch counter which is slightly cheaper if you’re not having three courses like we did!

Rating: 8.5/10smoked chicken salad sandwich

Translation: “Rusticity in the most delightful way.” I have to agree, The Commoner had an old-fashioned charm with the modern essentials of a classy restaurant in the heart of the Steel City.

James’ Take: My favorite aspect has to be the food.  My smoked chicken salad sandwich was very good and the sticky toffee pudding was some of the best I’ve ever had.  The spacing between courses needs definite improvement; it was just too rushed for what should have been a relaxing lunch.  This is definitely an elegant place, great for family or close friends visiting Pittsburgh!Islay Have What He’s Having cocktail

 

 

James is graduating in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in American S tudies from Washington College.

The Commoner is a modern American tavern serving upscale dining fare in a rustic environment.  I would suggest checking out both the restaurant (http://www.thecommonerpgh.com/) and the hotel (http://www.monaco-pittsburgh.com/) for anyone looking for an excellent stay in downtown Pittsburgh.