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


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


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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