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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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/