Restaurant Reviews: Cornerstone, Frescos, and New Amsterdam

I’ve fallen a little behind with the restaurant reviews again, but I kinda like the rapid fire format anyway. Once the year ends and our dining cards expire, Dana and I are planning to cook for ourselves on Fridays rather than eat out, so at that point I’ll probably go back to the single review format. Or I might do it with the next place we go to. Who can say?!?!?!

Anyway, I’m about to make history on this blog with my first ever negative review. As a general rule, I’m relatively easy to please but difficult to impress, and I think that’s reflected in previously posted reviews. Over 14 reviews, the average score has been just under an 8, with a low of 6.5 for two restaurants. Only two places thus far have earned a 9,  and Gaucho stands alone in perfection. While I do take things like service, ambiance, presentation, and creativity/ambition into consideration, to put it bluntly, what really matters is the quality and cost of the food.

Unfortunately, Cornerstone was a colossal disappointment for me on both fronts. Dana liked her roasted beet salad and loved her tomato and goat cheese soup, but my duck breast just didn’t do anything for me. Maybe I was spoiled from enjoying the best duck of my life at the cooking class I attended (on which I haven’t forgotten promising a post), but this offering was overcooked, bland, and rather small for the $25 price tag. The braised greens were tasteless mush, and the maple arbol chili glaze barely imparted any flavor to the dish. The sweet potato puree was good, but I could have done that at home myself with minimal effort. It’s tough to remember the last time I was so underwhelmed by a meal. I’m usually willing to give any restaurant a second chance unless it was a complete disaster, but with so many other establishments in the queue, I’d be surprised if I ever return. Rating: 3/10

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We took a break from the dining cards because I noticed a Groupon to Frescos, where Ben, Abbott House Adventurer Emeritus, recently took a job as sous chef. (Technically, I think he works at their sister banquet facility next store, the Chadwick. Six of one, etc.) Since they’re in the neighborhood, we’d planned to pay his lovely wife Annie and their daughter Lil’ Jim Opal a visit afterwards. While that didn’t pan out, dinner was worth the trip out to Wexford on its own. The Groupon gave us $40 to spend, so we started with the parmesan zucchini fries, which came with a fantastic tomato cheddar fondue dip. I would have loved to try the duck tenderloin skewers, but the zucchini fries was a worthy alternative. And hey, just a reason to go back, right? Dana opted for another roasted beet salad and the roasted veggie flatbread (which, of course, I tried and liked), while I ordered the pork ribeye. My pork was delicious and perfectly cooked; the blackberry pomegranate cilantro sauce really popped, and I will never say no to sweet potatoes. As much as I enjoyed it, I caught a glimpse of the braised short ribs at someone else’s table on our way out and felt a pang of longing. Next time. Rating: 8.5/10

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Last but not least, our most recent dining experience in Pittsburgh was at New Amsterdam. On another dining card and with apps half-off during happy hour, Dana and I both got our own. She loved her cauliflower nuggets, served with curry mayo. I got the chicken tenders with the “honey” habanero “sauce”. The scare quotes are merited, trust me. It was straight capsaicin. I’m reasonably certain I have never had anything hotter, and I’ve tried suicide or atomic wings at a few different places. I was quite literally on the verge of tears and sucking down both my and Dana’s waters through the numb, useless flaps that had once been my lips. (Yes, I know water doesn’t help. Shut up.) Utterly defeated, I flagged down our waitress and asked for their garlic butter sauce. Once I’d recovered, I added sriracha to it and enjoyed the rest of my chicken. For an entree, Dana had the tofu tacos – another win in her book – and I got the Jamaican burger. I didn’t get much of the jerk seasoning flavor, but the house salsa and mango marmalade were really tasty, and the burger itself was one of the better ones I’ve had. It came with sweet potato fries that were thicker than any I’d ever seen before. They didn’t reheat very well as a result, but it was an interesting change of pace from the usual. Rating: 8.5/10

Depending on what Dana wants to do, we’ll either have a comprehensive post on our recent trip to Cleveland, or I’ll review the two restaurants we visited in a separate post.

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This week on Abbott Street…

I have a whole bunch of post ideas, but when I sat down this morning I didn’t feel like writing any of them. Figures, right? We’ll blame it on the long week.

Kyle and I have been really working on that whole “self care” thing. Meditation is tough – but the benefits are so crazy. He read 10% Happier this week and I’m hoping to start it today. I also went to an awesome self-care seminar with the lovely ladies of East End Eden. We had some awesome discussions about how little things – dancing, deep breathing, affirmations, gratitude – make all the difference in day to day happiness and contentment. I think it was a reminder I needed. It’s so easy to let these things fall by the wayside as life picks up speed.

I’ve started experimenting a little with essential oils – I think I’m going to bite the bullet and buy some. I rubbed some lavender on my wrists at the seminar and STILL smelled like it the next day. But as I was having a pretty stressful day at work, I think it definitely helped. I have a little bottle of peppermint I’ve been using too. I maybe had one too many pumpkin beers last night and woke up with some pain in my temples. I rubbed a little peppermint oil on them and it was gone in 15 minutes! So that’s cool.

Speaking of pumpkin beer, we had an all out pumpkin party last night. It included two cases of pumpkin beer, two types of pumpkin snickerdoodles, pumpkin rolls, pumpkin marshmallows, and I made this apple cider pumpkin cake. Should’ve taken a damn picture. We also carved pumpkins, of course!

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My friend and former blogging partner (for those of you who followed AnythingButRanch) Nick came down from New Castle! His pumpkin is the first one. My friend Jess gave me the idea of making my own pattern. I have no idea why this thought never occurred to me before. A full post on this to come, because it was so fun I’m all ready to do it again. I made a Bugs Bunny pumpkin, because my Looney Tones obsession has been in full swing since going to see Bugs Bunny at the Symphony  (fellow fans – this is a must see! it was amazing!).

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And of course carving pumpkins = roasted pumpkin seeds! So. Many. Pumpkin Seeds. But I think with some googling and trial and error, I have finally found the perfect way to roast them! The key is patience (isn’t it with everything). Post on that to come as well.

In addition to carving Bugs, I’ve been trying to learn to draw Looney Tunes characters. I’m really just trying to get back into drawing period. Again, it requires a lot of patience. But it’s definitely something I enjoy and it’s a good party trick 😉

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Speaking of things I enjoy, today is World Hoop Day! And since my back is finally not sprained I’ve been hooping it up 🙂 I’m off to go do a little more of that. Happy Saturday!

Project: Baby Shower Bookcase

Baby showers have a reputation for being dry, estrogen filled events, where gender roles from decades ago are meticulously upheld. Now I’ve been to one baby shower – and I actually had a lot of fun (possibly because I need female only events every once in a while to balance out living with three guys). But my friend Eva and I decided that one traditional baby shower wasn’t good enough for our friend Annie, so we planned another.

Originally, we were going to have an actual party. The logistics weren’t quite feasible though, so we switched course and focused more on the gift. I sent a Facebook message to all our closest friends with a request to buy their favorite book as a kid to give to Opal, so she could start off with her own little library.

I found an inexpensive bookcase on Amazon. Unsurprisingly – it was easier to put together than any piece of furniture I have ever bought from Ikea. Unfortunately it was laminate. For those of you who don’t know (because I sure as heck didn’t), paint doesn’t stick to laminate. So I laid out a tarp on the front porch and sanded the whole damn thing. Then repainted it with white wall paint.

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[My dad builds furniture in his spare time and I really felt like his daughter in this moment]

Next, I was actually able to get to the fun part of painting. I picked up glow in the dark acrylic paint (and pointedly did not buy girly colors – because 1, babies are unnecessarily gendered from the moment they’re born, and 2, I secretly want Opal to have the same favorite colors as me).

My friend Jess, who can draw some amazing things, came over to help me paint. And after a few hours it looked like this:

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Jess and I went with completely opposite styles – hers is much more realistic and mine is all about nonsense shapes and patterns. The contrast really adds to the finished product. We even painted the shelves.

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Once we filled it with books, it was absolutely perfect. We even got to deliver it to Annie on her birthday! And somehow I managed to not spill the beans about it ahead of time.

I really think Opal’s going to love it.

Oh, and glow in the dark acrylic paint? Actually glows in the dark. Really well.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated!!!

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