Restaurant Review: Rapid Fire Edition, Part 2

If you missed Friday’s post…well, you don’t actually have to read it. But you should! Otherwise my feelings might be a little hurt.

I’ll wait.

 

 

…Okay! Here are the other five capsule reviews, as promised.

Mercurio’s

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While most of the pizza shops in Pittsburgh are pretty lousy, there are some quality pies to be found here, and Mercurio’s is definitely one of them. After splitting a good but not great pesto pistachio flatbread for our appetizer, Dana and I got the bianca and prosciutto pizzas, respectively. Wood-fired pizza is just so far beyond any other kind. I do the best I can at home with an oven that maxes out at 500 degrees, but you simply can’t achieve this kind of crust at anything below 800. As much as I wanted to keep eating my pizza, I knew I needed to save room for gelato, and I’m glad I did. A medium grants you up to three flavor choices, so I went with the tiramisu, vanilla caramel cashew, and dulce de leche, all of which were fantastic. Shadyside isn’t exactly my favorite neighborhood, but you can bet I’ll be visiting here again soon. Rating: 9/10

Piper’s Pub

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Another neighborhood I’m not overly fond of is the South Side. Since I’m not much of a drinker anymore, this makes sense. But amongst the never-ending stretch of shitty dive bars, there are some good places to eat. Again, Dana and I needed to each get an appetizer to hit the $30 dining card minimum, so she got the artichoke red pepper hummus, and I opted for Piper’s version of French onion soup. Both were quite good, although I prefer a non-Stilton cheese. For the main course, I decided on the chorizo mac and cheese, which I enjoyed, but ultimately I regretted not going a little more British Isles and trying the lamb and smoked chestnut or the Guinness stew. Dana’s order was even less British than mine – a Thai chili seitan wrap. I didn’t see bread pudding on the menu, sadly. It wouldn’t have mattered though, because in addition to being quite full, we had to rush to the hospital to meet baby Opal (AKA Lil’ Jim). Rating: 7.5/10

The Porch

For many years, I refused on principle to eat here or at any of the food kiosks that sprang up in Schenley Plaza when I was an undergrad. This is because I viewed them as the direct cause of the demise of Scotty’s cart. Scotty was an incredibly nice, funny dude in his fifties who grilled fantastic barbecued chicken and sausage sandwiches outside of Hillman Library, right across the street from the plaza. The sandwiches were three or four bucks, and usually he’d throw you a free drink, whether you were a regular or not. While he apparently didn’t have express legal permission to grill in that spot, he’d been there more than a decade when I arrived at Pitt as a freshman in 2005. But just a month (and a dozen or so chicken sandwiches) into my first semester, suddenly the Man could no longer look the other way, and Scotty was forced out. The kiosks were open a few months later. This is what is known as “not a coincidence”.

Nonetheless, scars do fade, and armed with another dining card, I let go of my grudge and ate at The Porch. To start, we got the cast iron cornbread and an order of crispy taters, both excellent. The potatoes were served with a delightful curried ketchup. I never use ketchup anymore, but this stuff was different. Unable to decide between the Porch burger and the prime rib sandwich, I asked our server for his thoughts, and took his recommendation of the former. While it was a tasty burger, I didn’t find it terribly impressive given its $16 price tag. Dana had the veggie burger, which she liked a lot. Scotty, wherever you are – this place ain’t got shit on you. Rating: 7.5/10

Round Corner Cantina

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I’d only been here once before our double date with Alyssa and Brian, and that was just for drinks the night of Dana’s departmental graduation ceremony. A cursory glance at Yelp reviews told me to expect solid, albeit overpriced, food and lousy service. Fortunately, we got only the former, as our server was capable. After getting the chips with all three types of salsa they offer (two of which were middling at best – not a great return on nine bucks), I had an order of brisket tacos. They were decent, but nothing exciting. Perhaps the lamb barbacoa, which I strongly considered, would have been more satisfying. On the whole, I feel like this is one of those notorious “more popular than it has any right to be” Pittsburgh establishments. Rating: 6.5/10

Tin Front Cafe

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Cam had promised to take us to brunch many moons ago, and we finally got around to going toward the end of the summer, on what ended up being a double date with him and Jess. Tin Front has a buffet brunch for 13 bucks wherein you receive an entree and access to a small buffet, which included breakfast potatoes, mini muffins, and a few other items. I ended up going with mac and cheese for my main dish (good, not mind blowing), and ate my weight in potatoes and corn muffins (both amazing), with a mimosa to wash it all down. I also tried a bit of Dana’s Bloody Mary, made with habanero-cilantro infused vodka, and reconfirmed that I fucking hate Bloody Marys. Dana forced everyone at the table to help her finish her banana Nutella French toast, which makes her just the worst. Rating: 7.5/10

Zoo Diares: Rascalisms

Now that we’ve gotten some updates about me and Kyle out of the way, let’s move on to a more important topic: What has Rascal been up to?!

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This puppy seems to get more affectionate everyday. Since the new cat, Shrek, has arrived, I’ve been noticing how well he and the other cats interact. Don’t get me wrong, he still tries to hump them at least once a day and bothers them when they’re sleeping, but on the whole they get along so well. They clean each other’s ears, and Godiva and him still play-fight constantly.

Shrek and Rascal are slowly building their relationship. Shrek is terrified of Rascal, but also loves to terrify Rascal by running at him, swatting, and running away. Rascal is scared of Shrek, but also really wants to play with him. Some days he just stands there and barks at him. On Friday Shrek meowed loudly at Rascal, and Rascal jumped into my lap.

But back to that affectionate thing. Rascal wasn’t a cuddlier until about 6 months. We maybe kind of forced it on him. Now, I fall asleep most nights with him pressed against my shins. He’s also a bed hog and sleeps as soundly as Kyle. So when I get up in the middle of the night to pee and he takes my spot in the bed, I literally have to pick him up and move him. But sleepy Rascal is best Rascal so it’s kind of okay.

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Rascal has also taken to sleeping under the covers- but only after 5 a.m. or so. He nudges me awake and I let him in because I’m a pushover. On Friday morning he mistook my t-shirt for the covers, got stuck in my shirt, freaked out and scratched the shit out of me as I tried to get him out. I was so mad when it happened, but now just thinking about it makes me laugh.

He is the epitome of a lap dog. Even when lap is occupied, he wants to be in it. One day last week he managed to nudge himself under my laptop. He has finally stopped trying to fight belly rubs (we used to get nibbled if he willingly rolled over) and enjoys between the eye pets as well.

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After that time Rascal ate a whole pack of gum, we started putting a little more effort into his training. Dog training is such a bizarre thing to me. Mostly because I’ve never had a dog, I’m sure. Rascal usually gets the concept withing the first 10-15 minutes. But it then takes another ~2 months for him to do it consistently. So just now are we really seeing the returns of what we started in July.

I also never realized how much of dog training was practical training. Potty training, obviously. But commands like “off” (to stop leaning on the counter/ jumping on someone), “leave it,” and “stay” come in handy pretty much every day. My other favorite command is a tongue click to keep him moving when we’re on a walk, because he’s a curious pup and wants to stop and smell everything. We’re slowly starting the process of teaching him to be off the leash. We’ve only taken a few test runs, but so far so good.

All is well in the world of Rascal.

We might be a little obsessed with him. Don’t tell anyone, k?

Restaurant Review: Rapid Fire Edition, Part 1

Hi, everybody! (Hi, Dr. Nick!)

As Dana already covered, we pretty much abandoned the blog this summer in the interest of spending as much time as possible outside. No regrets there. However, we have been to a bunch of restaurants in the last couple of months that I’ve meant to post reviews for, since we decided a while back to make Friday our “dinner date” night. I figured it would be easiest to do a capsule on all of them in one post. Then I decided to milk it for all it was worth split it into two posts, because it was getting long. I expect to return to the usual format going forward (beginning with tonight’s visit to Cornerstone), but here are short and sweet critiques of five different restaurants in the Burgh, with five more coming in my next post.

Blue Dust

In order to reach the $30 minimum to use our discount from City Dining Cards, Dana and I got separate appetizers – though, as usual, I helped her finish hers off. After all, can’t review what I haven’t tried, right? (Really I’m just a glutton). The red bean dip had a nice flavor (I detected a good amount of curry, among other spices), but the texture was a little too mushy for me. I mean, it’s bean dip, but still. My smoked drumsticks could have used some sauce – they weren’t bad by any means, just a bit bland. For entrees, Dana went with the caramelized walnut salad (goat cheese, red onion, arugula, balsamic vinaigrette), while I opted for the Hot Italian sandwich. Dana loved her salad. My sandwich was decent, but I regretted not going with the brisket instead, and I found the salsa that came with the side of chips to be massively disappointing. Service was good, and when it turned out that Dana’s app was half off during happy hour and brought us below the $30 threshold, they took the discount card anyway. Rating: 6.5/10

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: To hit the $30 minimum, Dana and I got separate apps – bean dip for her and wings for me. This time it was a white bean dip, which Dana liked but I found kind of gross. My honey sriracha wings were tasty, though. They were a bit small, but there were eight instead of the half-dozen specified in the menu, so it probably came out in the wash. Because we are clearly old people (cf. opening sentence of this capsule), Dana and I ordered the same thing for dinner…well, sort of. She got the vegetarian version of the banh mi sandwich, while I got the pulled pork, because this is America. I forgot to ask for mine without aioli (aioli is something that I always find more appealing in theory than practice), but I liked the sandwich a lot anyway. Except for the part where I managed to get three jalapeños – a strange addition to a banh mi, frankly – in a single bite and nearly died. That sucked more than the bean dip. But everything else was good. Rating: 8/10

Double Wide Grill

Dana and I had been here several times already, but with my brother bringing his family out for a weekend in Pittsburgh (a visit long-awaited and eagerly anticipated by yours truly), I realized that there is a startling lack of non-chain restaurants with kids’ menu in our area. Double Wide was one of the few places I could think of that could accommodate Chris’s carnivore diet, Dana’s vegetarianism, and my nieces’ innate, insatiable lust for chicken fingers and macaroni n’ cheese. Perhaps recalling my earlier error at Blue Dust, I went with the brisket sandwich with sweet potato fries, while Dana enjoyed her usual vegan pulled pork. I’m not as big of a fan of the Memphis sauce (used for beef and chicken) as the Carolina (pork), but that didn’t keep me from inhaling my sandwich – the level of hunger that can be achieved when you spend the day trying to keep up with little girls is astounding.  The fam all seemed to enjoy their food as well. We finished the meal by sharing a slice of chocolate peanut butter pie. Rating: 8/10

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Fiori’s Pizzaria

As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a high standard when it comes to pizza that most joints in this city don’t come anywhere close to satisfying, but this place is always mentioned in discussions of the best pizza in the city, and was vouched for by a native New Yorker. As was the case with Slice on Broadway back in May, I went with my buddy Ryan, after we attended an awesome cooking class (a birthday present to me from Dana, and one which I will further discuss in a future post). Noticing that roasted red peppers were a normal topping, rather than a double-priced deluxe like at most other pizza shops, we decided to get a pie with those and capicola. Our girlfriends, who were spending the day hooping, asked us to bring them one with onions (like Dana, Eva doesn’t eat meat). I’m pleased to report that Fiori’s lived up to the hype. Rating: 9/10

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Gaucho Parilla Argentina

I’ve been here four times since Ryan introduced me to it in the spring, and that is not enough, because this is bar none my favorite restaurant in the city. I quit the job I had in the Strip District before they opened last winter, which is probably a good thing on the whole, because I would have been broke and morbidly obese from eating lunch there every motherfucking day. A filet mignon sandwich? On really good bread (a rarity in Pittsburgh)? With roasted red peppers and sauteed onions? And chimichurri? With three other bomb-ass sauces (ajo, cebolla, and pimentón) freely available on the counter? For 12 bucks? Fuck and yes to all of that. As a bonus, unlike a lot of restaurants, there is a palpable sense that the employees enjoy their work and are having fun. How many other places have you seen with a cumulative five-star Yelp rating after 200+ reviews? I haven’t even tried any of their other stuff, apart from the roasted potatoes (which are excellent, but the sandwich is so filling that you don’t need to order anything else). It’s not because I don’t want to; it all sounds amazing. I just can’t pass up the filet. On my next visit, I should probably get something else to go. I should probably get everything else to go. This place fucking rules. Rating: ∞/10

Enjoy the weekend! Ours is looking pretty busy, so the second part of this post probably won’t be up until Monday at the earliest. But hey, at least we’re posting again.

Ground Cherry Cake

I’ve gotten a lot of weird things in my CSA box this summer. Mostly good weird. Watermelon radishes, kolkrabi, romanesco… the list goes on. This past week’s week veggie was this thing called ground cherries.groundcherryhusk groundcherryI think of them as a cross between a tomatillio, a cherry tomato, and a berry. They taste as weird as they sound, but in a good way…I think. Ground cherry coffee cake came up in the first results of my recipe search. I haven’t done nearly enough baking with produce this summer so I figured I’d jump on it.

It’s a pretty basic coffee cake recipe, complete with crunchy topping. There aren’t any weird ingredients besides the ground cherries. Butter is cut into the flour sugar mixture as it is in scones and biscuits. The ground cherries require no prep besides washing – you just plop them on top of the cake batter and then cover them with the crunchy topping mixture.

The cake was a big hit here on Abbott Street. We had a bunch of friends stop by as it was coming out of the oven. We all proceeded to crowd in the kitchen, eating slices from pan to paper towel to mouth.

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Original Recipe from The Kitchn

I halved it since I didn’t have a whole lot of ground cherries. This allows the cake to fit in a 8 X 4 bread pan. I used an almond milk/ apple cider vinegar mix for the buttermilk, and replaced the chopped pecan pieces with pepitas and almonds.

Enjoy! This recipe will make your house smell like snickerdoodles!

Back to Sitting

I’m not good at sitting.

I can sort of handle it in the office. When I’m busy. But I still require at 30 minutes of walking at lunch. When I work from home I have to get up and poi or hoop for a minute every hour. Unfortunately, this last week both my back and leg have had me spending lots of time of the couch – not cool.

Let’s backtrack:

Last weekend Kyle and went to an indoor trampoline park called Sky Zone. It’s pretty much as awesome as it sounds – trampoline covered floors and walls, a foam pit to jump into, basketball nets, etc. I had been wanted to check out a place like this since before I broke my leg. And despite us going on a Saturday while the place was full and kids having birthday parties, it was awesome. I didn’t dunk a basket. I didn’t do an flips, but I got my fill of trampolines and loved every (exhausting) second of it.

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But as we walked out, my leg felt funny. Not like, “F*ck it’s broken,” just kinda funny. I forgot the next day (typical) and took a 3ish mile hike with Kyle and Rascal and it felt a little funnier. So I laid off the activity (by which I mean, I worked on foot hooping because it’s non weight bearing). I was still worried as the week started so I called my ortho office. And because they rock they called me back 45 minutes later and the doc said some tendons had probably rubbed against the plate wrong as I was probably fine.

As I’m continuing this “not moving” thing, nervously hoping my leg discomfort goes the f*ck away, my back starts up. Um, what? What started as a “Wow, I slept weird” pain turned in a “Sit on the bed with the heating pad and don’t twist at all” pain.

I’m becoming a veteran of random pains and potential injuries.

And simultaneously getting (a little) better at “not overdoing it.”

The trick, of course, is keeping myself occupied and comfortable. Easier said that done. But for once I was able to go into “resting” with a game plan (unlike when I was on crutches and pretty much panicked when they said, “Crutches now!”).

How to “Take it Easy” when you really don’t wanna:

One: Take a moment to worry and work out the worst case scenario. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I know I feel better after giving myself a moment to freak out. Once it’s out of my system, I tell myself I CAN handle the worst case scenario. And move on.

Two: Get Cozy. This time around this included propping myself up with lots of pillows with my heating pad and borrowed TENS machine nearby. It also meant being patient in prepping meals for myself. The process took a little longer, but was absolutely wort it. French pressed coffee and ground cherry coffee cake:

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Three: Get Amused. Make mental list of of things you can still do! Believe or not, there are a lot. I can blog! I can organize recipes (that’s not a weird thing to enjoy, right? :P), I can catch up on all the Boardwalk Empire I can handle.

Four: If you can, stretch! This is something I absolutely did not do when I was on crutches and I really regret it. I became so disconnected my body and just stiff overall. Since my back started hurting I’ve been keeping it simple with bow pose, child’s pose, very slow forward bends, and lots of cat/cow. I’ve also been “foam rolling” with a tennis ball.

On the hole my back is much better, though still not where it should be. And my leg is still making me hella nervous (but it always does – crutches are a real fear, folks). Hopefully I won’t be sticking to this plan much longer. But if I have to, I’ll be alright. And knowing that makes all the difference.

Summer 2014

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Well hello there folks.

I can’t believe it is September already. Though I am pretty sure I say that every year when September rolls around. Oh, well. On the bright side pumpkin spiced coffee is out and the air is beginning to smell distinctly like fall (anyone else notice that?) so things could be worse. If summer has to fade. at least it fades into fall.

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We had quite a few adventures here on Abbott Street this summer. Including, but not limited to:
-my first adventure with a weekly CSA box (many, many recipes to come)
-camping trips to Nelson’s Ledges and Summersville, WV
-countless late night flow jams (that drew quite some attention from the bar patrons next door)
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-an impressive increase in puppy training after Rascal ate a whole pack of sugarfree gum (Spoilers: xylitol is a main ingredient and crazy poisonous to dogs! Rascal was perfectly ok thanks to our resident Cam-bulence)
-traded out roommate ben for roommate rob, everyone say “hiiii rob”
-traded out kitten Chili for Godiva and Cinnamon’s brother, Shrek (surprise! he looks just like them)
-spent a weekend in Atlantic City and spent more money on food than drinks and gambling
-welcomed the beautiful baby Opal Therese to the world, daughter of roommate Ben and his lovely wife Annie

And when I started that list I was sitting here thinking that very little had happened in the last few months…

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So what is to become of this space?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve been having trouble making up my mind with a lot of things lately so I’m going to try to keep it simple. Ideally:
-Restaurant reviews: because Kyle likes writing them and we love food probably too much
-Recipes: Because chopping veggies is my happy place
-Gratitude: Because it’s all about the little things.
-Simplicity: Because it’s something I’ve been striving for

Anything you’d like to see more of??

Restaurant Review: Chick’n Bubbly

My buddy Katz and I started playing a weekly racquetball game after work a few months back. After one of our first games, he invited me to join him for dinner at Oishii Bento, a Korean restaurant on campus which I’d never been to before. At his recommendation, I got the Galbi Bento (beef short ribs). While they were quite good, at $13 with tax I wasn’t thrilled with the value of the relatively small portion.

Still, I’ve been looking forward to the debut of their sister restaurant, a Korean fried chicken joint called Chick’n Bubbly, which just opened right next door. When I heard they were rolling out a soft opening, I suggested to Katz that we go there for dinner after our game this week. We ended up not playing (Pitt is really, really bad about advertising when the gyms are closed) but we stuck to the plan anyway.

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During the soft opening – the grand opening won’t happen until the first day of fall semester, which is a smart move on their part – they’re only serving wings and bubble tea. The drumsticks, sides, and other drinks on the full menu aren’t yet available. That was fine with us, since we planned to split a medium (20 piece) order of wings. At around $20 with tax, it’s not the best value, but it’s not bad. The two sauce options offered, soy garlic and sweet and spicy, both sounded good to us, and we ultimately opted for the former.

The space is a converted nail salon, so there’s not much room for seating – only a couple of small tables. The digital menu boards are bright, colorful, and easy to read, and it’s an open kitchen, which is always nice to see. Fortunately, there wasn’t a crowd. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate to quick service, as we had about a 15 minute wait. Not being in any particular hurry, this didn’t bother me too much, and in the second week of a soft opening, I don’t hold it against them. It’s something they’ll need to improve upon before the full opening, of course, but that’s ostensibly what this trial run is for.

When the food did arrive, Katz and I eagerly dug in. The wings themselves were quality – large, meaty, and moist – and the tempura batter was quite pleasant. The sauce, however, needed some work. While the menu does say that you can request added heat, we both expected the sauce to have more of a kick than it did. There were hints of garlic, but the flavor profile was overwhelmingly sweet. Ultimately, I took some of my wings home and added sriracha to them, which definitely balanced things out and made the wings tastier. I would suggest that bottles of sriracha be made available so that guests can adjust the sauces to their desired level of spice. One other minor gripe – during the bus ride home, the bottom of my box sprung a relatively large leak. The boxes themselves are attractive, but structural integrity may be an issue. I should probably have asked for a bag.

On the whole, while there are some kinks to be worked out, the experience was a positive one, and seeing as how I’ll be getting dinner on campus before my two night classes every week, I definitely plan to return in the near future to try the other sauce. I’ll make sure to ask them to kick it up a notch, just to be safe.

Rating: 7/10