Home » SCN Hospitality Blog » restaurant

Tag: restaurant

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/

 

 

BRGR with Mark Pavic

BRGR with Mark Pavic

How do you spell it? B-R-G-R…

For a restaurant that removed all the vowels from its title dish, the same certainly doesn’t apply to any other aspect of the place.  If anything, BRGR (pronounced as you would say each individual letter), is a restaurant that only adds the flavorful, the unexpected, and the unique to its menu items.  The entire menu is artfully crafted, with signature and classic burgers topped with the likes of foie gras, bbq-chipotle aioli, or marinated feta cheese.  And you can rest assured that the milkshakes aren’t missing anything either, especially with names like “Death by Chocolate” or “Oatmeal Cream Pie” (or my favorite, Salty Caramel!)  Overall, what BRGR lacks in vowels, it makes up for in so many other ways.  Of course, a restaurant like this is worthy of only the best of friends, so my pal Mark Pavic was my go-to for this burger paradise.BRGR with Mark Pavic

AtmosphereBRGR with Mark Pavic

The atmosphere of BRGR is very flexible: sliding garage doors can be opened, letting in cool breezes across a display of desert art during the summer.  During the winter, the doors can be closed, and the music turned up for a cozy club-like space.  Either way, the comfortably spaced seating, and plentiful bar space is perfect for a variety of occasions.BRGR with Mark Pavic

Service

The service was friendly, but much too prompt and overwhelming for us to enjoy our meal in enough time.  By the time we were two bites into our appetizers, our main course was already out!  Timing is something the staff needs to work on for sure.

Quality

The quality of nearly everything was superb.  My Salty Caramel (spiked) milkshake was rich and delicious.  The appetizer (poutine) had a perfect ratio of cheese curds to gravy.  And my burger (The Steakhouse), in addition to being very tasty, held its weight without being too big to bite.BRGR with Mark PavicBRGR with Mark Pavic

Price

For a gourmet burger, fries, and shake, the price is what you expect, although not necessarily what you would want to pay.

Rating

8.1/10

Translation

BRGR is an exceptional hamburger restaurant, spinning a unique take on classic dishes.  I would highly recommend a visit to anyone of their locations (even in PNC Park!)

Mark’s TakeBRGR with Mark Pavic

I’m not sure if it’s because I was starving or because the shake was really that good, but the Death by Chocolate Shake was the best milkshake I’ve ever had.  The chunks of brownie mixed in really added to it—I definitely plan to go back just for the shake.

When it came time to order food, we order the Grilled Cheese Bites as one of our appetizers.  Compared to the rest of the food, these weren’t the best—but that could have just been because everything else tasted really good.  Overall, I can’t really think of anything else that needs improvement.BRGR with Mark Pavic

I would call BRGR an “upscale Burgatory” [another local burger chain, review coming soon].  Really it can be a restaurant for anyone looking for a good burger and hangout joint, but it fits really well into the college/young adult vibe that East Liberty has been attracting recently.

For my meal, I ordered the Smokehouse Bison burger.  I requested it be cooked medium with the jalapenos on the side.  Burgers are usually my go-to when I go out to eat, so I have a lot of burgers to compare it to!  This burger definitely falls into my top five.

Mark is originally from Johnstown, PA and is currently a Junior at the University of Pittsburgh pursing a double major in marketing and supply chain management with a certificate in digital media.

BRGR is a funky and refreshing take on the hamburger restaurant, serving up delicious burgers, fries, shakes, beers, and more in 5 different locations around the Pittsburgh area.  To learn more about the menu, check out their website: http://brgrpgh.com/

The Porch with Teresa Leatherow

The Porch at Schenley with Teresa Leatherow

It’s a Beautiful (Restaurant) in the Neighborhood…

I go to school at the University of Pittsburgh, and for those who are not familiar with the area, the encompassing neighborhood of the school is Oakland.  The neighborhood is a cross between your traditional college town, with dive bars, cheap fast food restaurants, and university buildings, and a suburban business district, with hospitals and technology startups on every block.  This eclectic mix of old and new, professional and, dare I say, trashy (if you’ve ever been to some of the bars that is), means that a nice restaurant might not find its market here.  However, one concept certainly has found its groove, smack dab in the middle of Oakland.  The eatery includes wine and beer on tap, locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, and even a roof-top garden!  Unheard of in a college town but The Porch at Schenley is paving the way for a new dining establishment in urban-esque areas.  I am certainly no stranger to The Porch, but for this review, one of my best friends and just an all-around amazing human being Teresa Leatherow gives you here take on this Oakland favorite.The Porch with Teresa Leatherow The Porch with Teresa Leatherow

Atmosphere

A bright and open space welcomes you into the main dining area of The Porch, where the atmosphere is casual and the conversations aren’t too loud.  The space is overall very comforting, since The Porch isn’t trying to be anything it isn’t.  On top of that, diners get beautiful views of the Schenley Plaza area, making people watching a very tempting activity.The Porch with Teresa Leatherow

Service

The Porch has always done a fantastic job with service, potentially due to the amount of staff on hand at any given time.  Everyone is quick and friendly, and while the flurry of activity would create chaos for most restaurants, The Porch controls this chaos.  The attentiveness did waver toward the end, so if anything prolonged consistency of service needs work.

Quality

When I mentioned above that The Porch isn’t trying to be anything it isn’t, the food might be somewhat of an exception, but in the best way possible.  Chefs at The Porch get creative with some dishes I’ve had, including the Bianca, a pizza with fig jam, goat cheese and arugula or the crispy taters with a curry ketchup. The Porch with Teresa Leatherow

The Porch with Teresa LeatherowBecause Teresa and I went for brunch, we had the best of both worlds: we split a cast iron skillet of cinnamon rolls, followed by an Eggs Benedict for myself and a grilled chicken sandwich for Teresa.  I’m usually a sucker for the cinnamon rolls, but they always seem to come out a bit too dry for my liking.  As for the Eggs Benedict, the dish is definitely one of my favorites, always artfully done and full of flavor with each bite.  The accompanying taters and curry ketchup are also very good, and the different textures of my whole meal, from the crunch of the taters to the smooth béarnaise sauce, creates a great sensory experience.

Price

A $14 Eggs Benedict, with taters, plus $2.50 for coffee (unlimited refills) and $5 for cinnamon rolls makes for an incredibly valuable $20 brunch.  You’re hard pressed to get such a great deal anywhere else in the city, let alone Oakland.The Porch with Teresa Leatherow

Rating

8.2/10

Translation

The Porch creates simply elegance.  It focuses on excellent service and unique takes on comfort and healthy food without the price.  For a college town, The Porch is a jewel to have, and makes any day in the neighborhood that much more beautiful.

Teresa’s Take

1) What was the best part of your experience?

– the company I had

– consuming a meal that could be enjoyed in an atmosphere above the level of where an average college student usually dines

– feeling more “sophisticated” and sitting down to eat a meal for longer than five minutes

2) What needs the most improvement?

– as one of the better dining options in the Oakland neighborhood, brunch is a popular meal to go here for; in terms of improvement, staff could have been slightly more attentive considering the price point (relative to a student budget)

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

– a date, a good friend, someone visiting the Oakland area; it is a good representation of the neighborhood

– it is likely to have a desirable menu item for each customer

– modern atmosphere

4) Describe your meal

– I had a grilled chicken sandwich served with a side of roasted potatoes- it was delicious!

– the portion was perfect (also having consumed a cinnamon roll) and made it so I did not need to eat much beyond a snack for the remainder of the day

Teresa Leatherow is a rising junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying business (supply chain management and business information systems) and engineering (sustainability, industrial and environmental applications).

The Porch at Schenley is a modern Americana bistro in the heart of Oakland, serving an “eclectic mix of familiar food with things that are altogether surprising and new.”  To see their menu and find out when the best time to go is (they don’t take reservations) visit their website: www.theporchatschenley.com

 

Gaucho with Caroline Collopy

Gaucho Parrilla Argentina with Caroline Collopy

“Steaking” our claim in the Strip District

When I think of a tender steak, I think of your traditional steakhouse.  I suppose that’s just the culture of America, where the steak as we know it was something born out west with the pioneers and brought to the four corners of our country in traditional consumerism fashion.  What we don’t necessarily think about is that the term “steak” is not particular to America, but is rather defined as any cut of meat (although most often cattle, as in the beefsteak) sliced perpendicular to the muscle fibers.  This definition broadens the use of this style of meat to many cultures and countries, few of which come close to the flair and pervasive use as Argentina.  Argentinians lay claim to one of the highest consumptions of beef per capita in the world with over 244,000 independent producers in the country.  Armed with this superfluous knowledge of beef, my friend Caroline and I decided to head out to Gaucho Parrilla Argentina, a stylized Argentinian steakhouse in the Strip District.

Gaucho with Caroline CollopyAtmosphere

Gaucho’s atmosphere was very lively, without all the craziness and chaos of a restaurant that doesn’t maintain control.  The space is slightly compact, but not loud, and the way that they’ve designed the space (you stand in line to order, looking at a gigantic chalkboard menu before placing your order and finding your table to have your food delivered straight to you) creates anticipation.  Just make sure you’re not at the back of the line, which can get quite long if you come during the weekend or later at night.

ServiceGaucho with Caroline Collopy

The service here is interesting and therefore unique to critique.  We placed our order at the cash register rather than with our server.  This process, while efficient for the kitchen, forces the customer to wait an inordinate amount of time to eat.  Everyone must wait in line to order at one open register, creating a bottleneck of orders.  At the same time, the register was training a new staff member, and combined with the noise from the kitchen right behind them, the process of ordering our meal took far too long.  Other than that, we were served promptly (and in fact almost too promptly, since there was little time between our appetizers and entrées) and of course everyone was very pleasant and polite, but nothing exceptional.

Quality

All around, the quality was very good.  The empanadas were crisp with no soggy bottom and paired with delicious sauces.  We ordered a selection of two (they change daily) and I have to say even though I was more of a fan of the chicken, the veggie empanada gave it a run for its money.Gaucho with Caroline Collopy

My entrée (steak, naturally) was the NY Strip, which I ordered medium rare but I definitely thought one side looked particularly rare.  This is most likely due to the assembly line nature of the kitchen, which I noticed while ordering, but the steak was nonetheless seasoned well and the taste was very good.  I ordered two “acompanamientos” – oven roasted red potatoes (nothing special) and then something that absolutely blew me away.  The Zanahoria Bebé, roasted baby carrots with herbs, goat cheese, and smoked honey was absolutely one of the most amazing side dishes I have ever had. I would highly recommend pairing it with any steak, no matter what.Gaucho with Caroline Collopy

For dessert, Caroline and I shared a very tasty bread pudding, which was surprisingly warm even after coming out quite literally after our entrées arrived.Gaucho with Caroline Collopy

Price

Some of our meal items were appropriately priced (including the steaks and carrots).  However, the empanadas were a tad pricey, so make sure they are dishes you really want with your meal.Gaucho with Caroline Collopy

Rating:

7.5/10

Translation:Gaucho with Caroline Collopy

The hype that Gaucho has and creates while you stand in line didn’t last long for us, especially as key aspects of the experience like the service and the steaks’ preparedness took away from our overall experience.  Gaucho is still a really great restaurant, but not without fault.

Caroline’s Take

The best part of my experience (besides the company of the lovely Samson and the food) was probably the employees.  The man taking our order double checked that we were aware one dish had bacon in it (I’m Jewish so no bacon), and asked if it was ok.  I wear a Star of David necklace, so that’s probably what made him think to ask, but no one else has done that before.  It may seem like a small thing, but it made me feel really taken care of.

What needs the most improvement is the timing of the food being brought to the table.  I appreciate that we didn’t have to wait long for our food, but two bites into our empanadas, our main courses came out.  Then, two minutes after we’d finished the empanadas and moved onto our steaks, the bread pudding was out.  It was hard not to get overwhelmed/feel rushed, not to mention how crowded the table was once everything was out.  Also, we got there early enough where we weren’t affected by this, but the place is small for the business they bring in.  Finding a bigger space would make it lose some of the charm, but I imagine they lose some business by people leaving the line to get in (which was out the door and halfway down the block by the time we left around 8:00 pm on a Wednesday).Gaucho with Caroline Collopy

Overall, I’m going to be bringing my parents here first thing next time they are in Pittsburgh.  Same deal with my sister.  Hopefully next dinner date with my boyfriend too.  Anyone who appreciates good food.  There’s no kids menu, so I think there would be better picks for families.  Since you order in line and then sit down, rather than experience full service, I’d say this wouldn’t be a restaurant conducive to a very productive business lunch.

As for my meal, I got a 6-ounce Sirloin, medium rare.  It was cooked *perfectly*.  The chimichurri sauce was just the right amount.  There was a heap of caramelized onions which I had a bit of with each bite of steak and they both paired perfectly.  The grilled ciabatta toast was best when dipped in the garlic sauce.  I also ordered a side of the cremini mushrooms, which, like all the other produce, was very fresh.  Did I mention the steak was perfectly cooked?

Born and bred in Philly, Caroline is now a Junior Mechanical Engineering Student with a related area in Computer Science at the University of Pittsburgh.  In the future, she hopes to work in the robotics industry or run her own start-up tech company.  In her free time, she loves to sing, run, cook, and obsess over puppies.

Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is a unique Argentinian steakhouse in the Strip District.  A cozy but active environment awaits guests for lunch or dinner, with no reservations or corking fees (BYOB).  Check out their menu here http://eatgaucho.com/

 

Talia with Amanda Deitch

Talia with Amanda Deitch

Mambo Italiano in Downtown Pittsburgh

It’s amazing what you discover when you’re just walking around without a plan or any direction.  I had intended to meet a good friend downtown for dinner, but we really couldn’t decide on anywhere to go.  I decided to get down there a little early and just started to walk around, strolling around the Union Trust Building with its beautiful Flemish-gothic architecture and sitting patiently in the quiet plaza of Mellon Square.  Indeed, I was surrounded by restaurants, and I was looking for something modern but not stuffy and expensive.  I finally settled on a restaurant in the old Alcoa Building, one that I had my eye on for some time as it was being constructed but that I never had the opportunity to experience until now.  And so with this discovery that Talia Cucina & Rosticceria had opened and fit my criteria, my good friend Amanda and I decided to check out this sleek new establishment.  Of course, the discovery paid off handsomely.

Talia with Amanda DeitchAtmosphere

The atmosphere of Talia was very dark and very loud and differed significantly from what I would normally be comfortable with.  However, I understood the modern style and essence Talia was trying to convey, and after my eyes adjusted to the light and the din subsided as people left, the atmosphere became quite enjoyable.  I particularly enjoyed looking at the interesting fixtures and art pieces around the room, including jarred oranges and twinkling lights of all different sizes above the bar.

Talia with Amanda DeitchService

Talia had some of the best service I have ever received in Pittsburgh.  Definitely a grandiose statement but any uneasiness about the atmosphere was put to rest by our server, Ben.  He was funny, personable, caring, and knowledgeable in all aspects necessary, a perfect ribbon to tie our entire experience together.  That is, after all, the point of great service: to facilitate all other aspects of the dining experience.  This Ben did with grace and precision of an experienced and authentic waiter.

QualityTalia with Amanda Deitch

The quality in so many ways was fresh, unique, and artfully crafted.  The latter is definitely the case with the roasted octopus, displayed in whole tentacles with a spicy and tangy sauce spraying out on the plate like ink.  Another fantastic menu item was the fresh bread with a selection of butters, including one with mascarpone that just blew me away.  I ordered a pork chop for my entrée, and it was exquisitely cooked and easy to detect the freshness of the meat.  Finally, we shared a Torta Della Nonna, a cheesecake-esque Italian dessert with citrus, candied hazelnuts, and honeycomb.  Needless to say, I was over the moon about it.

Talia with Amanda DeitchPrice

I think for what we paid for, the value was fairly good.  My pork chop was a little pricy, but it did satisfy my appetite and each bite was truly enjoyable.

Rating

8.5/10

Translation

I’ll definitely be coming back again soon, if only in an attempt to replicate the fantastic service we had and the delicious meal we shared.

Amanda’s Take

The best part of my experience was definitely our awesome server, and of course the company too!  Turning down the sound system would do wonders!  Everyone was yelling the entire time, which does not help with hearing your company at all.Talia with Amanda Deitch

As for the type of venue, I would bring friends or someone special, but not kids.  It’s definitely an acquired experience so anyone over 21 would be perfect.  For my meal, being over 21, I had to order a drink, and chose the lovely Amari.  I would have preferred wine honestly, but completely due to personal preference.  I tried octopus for the first time!  It was good but a bit dry…maybe it is supposed to be that way?  The Ricotta Gnocchi was my main course choice.  I’m not a tomato fan but it was wonderful.  Besides, there is no rule that you have to eat the tomatoes!  Samson and I split the Torta Della Nonna and out of the citrus, honeycomb, and candied hazelnuts, the honeycomb complimented it the best.

Talia with Amanda DeitchTalia Cucina & Rosticceria is a modern Italian restaurant in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, serving up fresh food and inspired cocktails in the old Alcoa Building.  Find some incredible pictures of their stunning cuisine here http://www.taliapgh.com/social/ and make a reservation here http://www.taliapgh.com/home-1/

 

 

 

täkō with Camila Kauer

täkō with Camila Kauer

Pittsburgh has a lot of great restaurants, indeed some of the best in the country.  However, one of the most under-represented types of restaurants, as far as I know, is the Mexican and Latin American eatery in the city.  The closest one can usually get, without paying a pretty penny, is Chipotle (which we also know is delicious but definitely not traditional Mexican food).  However, if you have the cash to burn and are interested in a twist on the classic Mexican fare, täkō in downtown Pittsburgh is the place to go (and yes the “t” is not capitalized!)  My long-time friend and lover-of-food Camila joined me for a Sunday rendezvous to this tiny but flavor-packed establishment.täkō with Camila Kauer

Atmosphere: täkō has the atmosphere and look of a “hole in the wall” from the outside.  However, the inside has a young, hipster feel, with really cool murals, neon red lights, and neat little knick knacks and props to enhance the experience (like the “newspaper” menu).täkō with Camila Kauer

Service: Because we sat at the bar, the minutiae of the service we received were slightly different, which resulted in some miscommunication at times.  For example, someone took our drink orders while a different staff member took our food orders.  We were really confused if our orders were actually taken after waiting for a considerable time period for everything.  Other than that, everyone was attentive and pleasant, so I suppose there isn’t too much more we could have asked for!

Quality: Everything we had was prepared with a level of superb expertise and incredible freshness.  The tacos we had (Chorizo, Octopus, and Mushroom) were so delicate looking but were packed with flavors that combined in really interesting ways (the spicy chorizo and the chewy fried egg or the crunchy octopus and the sour lemons and cool lettuce).  My only complaint would be that the tortillas were much too small for their contents, which subsequently spilled out several times!täkō with Camila Kauertäkō with Camila Kauer

The chips and salsa we also ordered was warm and fresh, with a selection of three different salsas depending on how much heat you want.  Finally, I absolutely loved the drink I ordered, the Gunpowder Barrel cocktail, which wasn’t strong at all and had hints of cinnamon and mixes of two different types of rum.

Price:  Definitely pricey for a normal meal, but then again, you’re paying for a better experience than Taco Bell.

Rating: 8.6

Translation: This is still one of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh, as denoted by many different sources (including Zagat: https://www.zagat.com/b/8-hottest-restaurants-in-pittsburgh) and I am a fervent supporter of such a culinary haven in the city.täkō with Camila Kauer

Camila’s Take: The overall ambience was the best part.  You can tell they take their food and drinks seriously but create a fun atmosphere.  The waitress was also fantastic and you know that bad service can really kill the mood.  Communication for seating and getting drinks was a little confusing.  Without the confusion of when to sit and if they had taken in my order, there would have been a smoother “entrance to the entrance”.  This is the place when you are tired of going to your local favorite place and you want to surprise your taste buds.  Definitely a place you want to take someone you want to impress!  This is a place all foodies try to check off their list. täkō with Camila Kauer

As for my meal, I ordered the mushroom taco.  I was very impressed because the presentation was delicate but what I found out as I took a bite of my taco was that the mushroom was meaty.  It wasn’t the typical vegetarian meal (I eat mostly vegetarian).  It was good but I wish I had ordered a meat plate.  The taco had different textures: a balance between the light greens and the mushroom with a slightly richer sauce.

Camila is Junior Global Management major at the University of Pittsburgh.  She is originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania but just returned from studying abroad in Paris, France  and is hungry to explore all the food that Pittsburgh has to offer!

täkō is a bohemian and “south of the border” inspired Mexican restaurant in the heart of the Cultural District of downtown Pittsburgh.  They have an insane collection of drinks, tacos, and other authentic but twisted Mexican dishes, so head over to their website to see the full menu and make reservations: http://takopgh.com/

 

 

Alexander's Italian Bistro

Alexander’s Italian Bistro with Mike Grott

Alexander’s Italian Bistro with Mike Grott

Italian food at its best should make you feel like you’re in your grandmother’s house: you feel the warmth of friends and family around you, there is a distinct smell of garlic and oregano in the air, and a fine Italian wine is a must at the table.  One definitely gets these feelings, smells, and staples at Alexander’s Italian Bistro, a pleasant and rustic little brasserie in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Little Italy, Bloomfield.  I had the pleasure of joining the Pathfinder Dining Club on their rendezvous to this adorable little spot, and our featured reviewer will be the founder of the club himself, Mike Grott!

Atmosphere: If anyone remembers the Italian restaurant from the movie “The Master of Disguise”, you will get the impression of what this place looks like.  It has an almost whimsical feel, very old fashioned in décor and furniture but with a genuine Italian musk and look to the whole establishment.Alexander's Italian Bistro

Service: While the service was nice enough, it seemed almost tired and a little insincere at times, as though we may have been an imposition.  Granted, we did have a large party, but not so large and so disorderly that we deserved insincerity in our service.

Quality: Overall, this was not my favorite Italian meal, but there were some noticeable winners on the menu.  The pesto flatbread was absolutely fantastic, and the combination of pesto, artichokes, and goat cheese created a really nice flavor with each bite.  I also enjoyed my wild mushroom ravioli, although it was very dense and I only got through a few bites of the dish.  On the other hand, the complimentary bread was quite dissatisfying (the butter was cold, one of my biggest pet peeves), and the bruschetta wasn’t that tasty either.

Price: For the quality, I’m not sure if I was completely satisfied with the price.  I paid $18 for my pasta alone, a little pricey for what I would still consider average pasta.Alexander's Italian Bistro

Rating: 6.5/10

Translation: By any means not my favorite Italian restaurant.  However, there is something endearing about Alexander’s, like I was in a strange museum of fixtures and food that also felt so familiar.Alexander's Italian Bistro

Mike’s Take: While the bread was maybe the most disappointing part of our meal, as it was cold and definitely not homemade, all the other food was really good.  There was a distinct and near perfect balance between sauces and spices, especially in my Mafalda Alexander, where the al dente pasta, spicy sausage and mix of Alfredo and marinara sauces worked together in a superbly delicious plate.  Finally, Alexander’s is definitely a place with lots of flexibility in who you’re going to bring with you: the space works well for family, a date, or a casual outing with friends (of course!)Alexander's Italian Bistro

Mike is a Junior Economics and Accounting Major at the University of Pittsburgh.  While he’s originally from Irwin, Pennsylvania, he’s currently studying in London, England!

Alexander’s Italian Bistro is a family run restaurant in the heart of Little Italy, serving fresh soups, desserts, and create your own pasta dishes.  You can find Alexander’s menu and other information on their website: http://www.alexandersitalianbistro.com/aboutus.html

 

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.

Stack’d with Tim Li

It seems as though now-a-days the customized burger is what is on everyone’s mind.  One walks into a fast casual chain or a sit-down bistro and in addition to a selection of tried and true hamburgers, there is also an option of choosing toppings, buns, sauces and other inStack'dgredients to really make the burger unique to you.  While some restaurants operate in this manner quite successfully (and I hope to review Burgatory in a formal manner soon for that exact reason), other establishments have been less successful.  I can hypothesize on what the reasons are but to really understand why a burger restaurant is either successful or unsuccessful at the customized burger concept, I need to sit down and put the process to the test.  This is just what I did with my good friend Tim at Stack’d in Oakland.

Stack'd

AtmStack'dosphere: Like any true sports bar, the place was lively and hip with a lot of activity.  However, it felt a little more modern with the addition of large flat screen televisions and a sleek, stainless steel interior with simple metal furnishings, very different from a hometown burger joint.

Service: The service was adequate for the venue, nothing so compelling as to warrant a rave review but it definitely got the job done.  The most annoying aspect was how long it took the two of us to get our food, as we waited nearly 30 minutes after ordering to receive our entrees.  Granted, we did order custom Stack'dburgers, but the purpose of reviewing Stack’d was to see how the custom burger restaurant “stacked” up to Stack'dsimilar eateries in the area and I’m not sure that the concept worked here.

Food:  I also thought the food was good but far from exceptional.  I had a regular burger with my customized list of add-ons and toppings but it wasn’t anything that impressed me.  Tim’s chicken burger was also lackluster, even with the “OMFG” sauce.   But, even though there wasn’t anything outstanding about our sandwiches, the orders were nonetheless executed well: my burger was cooked to my specifications, there were plenty of toppings and fries to boot, and I was full by the end of the meal.

Cost:  The burger can be pretty cheap if you stick to what’s included with the initial price.  However, if you load up on the extras, you may find that a $10 burger and fries turns into a $15-17 meal piled so high you can’t see your friend across the table.

The Verdict: 6.5/10

Translation: Go to Stack’d if you want a decent burger, fries, and a shake with some friends on a weekend night.  If you’re in the mood to do anything else, especially if you’re stretched for time, I would head somewhere to a different establishment.

Tim’s Take: For a college town restaurant that serves your basic fast casual fare, you can’t go wrong with a decent burger and fries.  It’s a good place for hanging out with your friends or having a casual time with the family, especially since the environment is so lively.  The best part is obviously the burgers, but the speed and quality of service, which varies considerably from experience to experience, is not ideal.

Tim is a senior Finance major and Economics minor from Broomall, Pennsylvania.

Stack’d is a local Pittsburgh burger restaurant with locations in Oakland, Shadyside, and another one opening in Wexford in the coming winter.  Check out their website here: http://www.stackdpgh.com/