Tag Archives: restaurants

Ramen Bar

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Unlike the seeming many of my peers, I don’t have regretful notions of a college era spent subsisting off of a ramen. It was there, of course, those shiny plastic packets stocked next to the microwave-safe containers of Campbell’s, the boxes of Easy Mac (the best/worst thing to happen to college students since Stouffer’s frozen mac’n’cheese), and (always my mainstay, even to this day) the PBJ fixings.

But while I was not immune to the seductive allure of processed, easy and fast, microwaveable junk dinners, I had it better than a lot of other students because my campus was small, the dining options quick to get to, the selection of decent quality, and I was the proud owner of a complete meal pass for three out of four years. Even when I moved to a campus apartment, which was outfitted with a kitchen for the express purpose of self-feeding, I continued near daily visits to the dining hall. My ramen era would have to wait.

I am not so ignorant of the food traditions of various other cultures that the idea of a moderately upscale ramen place was surprising to me. Admittedly, I assumed such a thing was inevitable. Remodeling the street food of other cultures into destination dining is an easy sell in the contemporary culinary landscape. The Ramen Bar has a hook that is both international and innately familiar, making it a perfect complement to its fellow restaurants in the busy Forbes/Murray/Shady corridor of Squirrel Hill.

Ramen Bar on Urbanspoon

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This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Neighborhood Options for Local Sweethearts on Valentine’s Day

I really need to get out of the habit of writing event or holiday – specific posts, but this week’s article on the Dormont-Brookline Patch focuses on neighborhood establishments that are offering a little something special for Valentine’s Day. If you live in the South Hills area and need a place to take your loved one on February 14th, definitely check out my article. It could be the difference between life AND death. Or, you know, it could just steer you to my favorite gyro restaurant in town, It’s Greek to Me on Brookline Boulevard. Either way…

As for my V-Day plans, I’ll be hanging with my partner and all will be swell. I don’t really go in for Valentine’s Day. It’s not a single-person bitterness thing, cause I’ve had plenty of relationships during the “holiday,” it’s just a sense of pointlessness that is too overpowering for me to enjoy the manufactured nature of the celebrations. Say what you will about the “commercialism” of Christmas, that time of year still seems to mean something more than what is given and received. That time of year has so much meaning to so many different people of the world, it seems ridiculous to dismiss it based off of American capitalist tendencies.

Whereas Valentine’s Day, although it is sweet that we have a day dedicated to the celebration of courtly love, is not even a traditional Christian holiday anymore. Why? Cause in 1969, the Roman Catholic Church presented the question: Who was St. Valentine, and why do we have a big ass holiday to honor him? And when they couldn’t come up with a good enough response (“…. he was… a martyr…?”), they decided that while it was all well and good that people were going to continue to celebrate the holiday, they would no longer honor it as an official church-sanctioned occasion. Good riddance, I say.

Still, I find the holiday a little unsettling in how it encourages people to save open expressions of love for a specific day of the year. Not that all who celebrate V-Day do that. As a matter of fact, most of the couples I know who do something special on February 14th are the kind of couples who are openly and expressively in love with one another. They don’t need the day to tell them to appreciate and celebrate their love, but they take it anyway, cause why the hell not?

But a holiday that at best is unnecessary and at worst a commercial waste of time, money, and intellect is not a holiday for me. Maybe I’m completely missing the full picture.

Anyone out there doing something special for Valentine’s Day?

Max’s Allegheny Tavern

When you live in the South Hills and don’t drive, there’s any number of excuses to largely ignore the North Side. However, having recently caught on to the irresistible charms of Banjo Night at the Elks Lodge, I’ve had more opportunities to get to know the current culinary landscape of the area. Now I can count Max’s Allegheny Tavern as its own reason to make the trip.

Kait and I were all set to meet at Bistro Soul, the fairly recent addition to the popular Bistro-To-Go takeout counter, but they only stay open until six. We had to figure out a new plan. Kait knew about a good German restaurant down the street from the Elks Lodge, but couldn’t remember the name. Thankfully, Urbanspoon (and fate) intervened. Their handy little luck of the draw slot machine app of restaurant picks, when set on North Side, spit out the name: Max’s Allegheny Tavern.

Residing in what used to be Allegheny City’s “Dutchtown,” Max’s Allegheny Tavern has over a hundred years of history, a long-standing story immediately apparent once you step through the doors. Little rooms spill off of the narrow bar area: a little parlor space, a larger dining room, and a slightly more formal white-painted dining room. There are old photos and paintings all over the wallpaper walls. The floors are old wood, the dining tables and chairs are wood. Soft golden light comes from antique fixtures hanging from the ceiling and scones on the wall.

The menu can be found in the interior of what looks to be an old newspaper, and the waitress directed our attention to the paper insert listing the night’s specials. Considering that we were headed off to Banjo Night after dinner and that we’d have more than enough beer to drink there, we passed on brews and went straight to ordering our entrees.

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Food Porn, Glorious Food Porn: Tamarind Savoring India

It’s not easy reviewing a restaurant when you visit with a party of eight people, especially when it’s for a special occasion. So when our (newly engaged) friends Jackie and Bill invited a bunch of us out to Tamarind at Scott Towne Center (I can’t seem to avoid that place these days), I was prepared to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to write up the most nuanced review considering the circumstances.

Still, what lacks in detailed observation can still be made up for, in some ways, by flat out, unadulterated food porn. But before we get to that, a few words on Indian cuisine.

(Please note that I am not a culinary expert on Indian cuisine, and would never ever ever pretend to be one. I am sharing a very basic comparison. If there is anything obvious that I missed or got wrong, let me know in the comments.)

While the traditional eating customs of India can vary wildly by region, the cuisine is typically divided into North and South Indian cuisines. (Tamarind Savoring India specializes in South Indian cuisine.) While they share a lot in common, the difference really lies in the emphasis of the dishes. South Indian cuisine is spicier and uses more rice. It is also the more vegetarian-heavy. North Indian cuisine is milder, with an emphasis on dairy, breads, and lentils, as well as tomatoes as a staple ingredient in many sauces.

Like most ethnic cuisines, the distinctions of regional influence get fuzzy in an American translation, hence the reason that the majority of Indian restaurants offer a blend of North and South Indian dishes. The distills the wide array of Indian cuisine to an accessible few dozen entrees, sides, snacks, and desserts that a Western audience can fully embrace.

Then there are places like Tamarind that seek to really embrace their South Indian cuisine, meaning that while some items available here are frequently considered North Indian staples, they are prepared, spiced, and portioned to South Indian tradition. That means heavy gravies, heavy spice, and a lot of rice to go with them.

Okay, enough chatter. Onto the food!

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The Local Food Report: Thursday, December 16

Local food news happens all the time, and it’s unbelievable how much you miss if you don’t check out local publications. Recently read something worthwhile? Link it at the bottom!

- Nice Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on Aldo Coffee in Mt. Lebanon. China Millman gives us a little history of the independent cafe, thoughts from the owner, Rich Westerfield, and the ups and downs of in-house coffee roasting. “The change is not without risks. ‘People are attached to brands,’ acknowledged Mr. Westerfield.”

- The PG food writing staff offer their picks for the best of the year’s cookbooks. I can never wholly get behind a list that features a Rachel Ray title, but there’s a nice variety here for cooks of any caliber. (And before you call me a snob, it’s not that I don’t think her recipes and approach to cooking have a use. They certainly do. I just don’t think her cookbooks are anything special, even as far as food television personalities go.)

- From NPR: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University release a fascinating study on how imagining food consumption can limit actual desire to eat. “So we think what the imagining consumption is doing is leading people to habituate to a food. And what I mean by habituation is it’s a basic process that we see towards light, towards income, towards all these different kinds of stimuli, and it’s basically people become less responsive to anything that they’re exposed to repeatedly.”

- Good, quick little feature in PopCity on Thai Suan Thip, the buzzed-about Thai restaurant in Bellevue. Also in PopCity, a revamp for the Children’s Museum’s eatery, now the Big Red Room Cafe. Nothing kids like more than an “emphasis on healthy eating and efficiency”!

- Fun article from Pittsburgh Tribune Review‘s Michael Machosky, planning out a day spent in the Strip District. Nothing surprising for those well acquainted, but a nice introduction nonetheless. Nice of the writer to give shout outs to several Public Market vendors, including Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory and Four Paws.

- Finally, if you haven’t caught the first of the PG series on the founding of Notion, definitely check it out. It’s a story driven by an intriguing character, Dave Racicot, with great talent and an even greater ego.

Gimme Gimme Gimme a Gift Card for Christmas!

I try to be budget conscious. My love of dining out, however, has a way of breaking me down. It’s not always that I don’t have anything to eat at home – sometimes I’ll be ready and game for going out despite a fridge full of produce slowly rotting away. Sometimes I’m just feeling too lazy to bother, and the only thing that stands between me and possibly eating a bag of chips for dinner is the promise of a take out veggie sandwich or seitan wings and sweet potato fries. (When are you going to open a South Hills location, Spak Bros.? We NEED you here.)

Mostly, though, I love to dine out. I love exploring new restaurants, checking names off the “to try” list. I love wandering around a neighborhood until hungry, then choosing a place at random to eat. I love taking recommendations from friends and actually being able to report back my opinion to them. As much as I love to cook, I tend to fall into a loop of making the same dozen things, in variations, and dining out is a great way of shaking me out of an eating rut.

Is it healthy? No. Not for my body, not for my bank account. But dammit, it could be worse! It’s not like I’m hooked on smack or something.

This Christmas, I’m not looking to get anything really big. Last year, I received a mighty Kitchen Aid food processor, and that was the last bit of kitchen machinery that I really needed. Instead of expensive goods, I thought I might request gift cards and certificates to different restaurants, cafes, etc., in hopes that I can spread these cards out over a few weeks, and maybe adhere to my budget just a little better in the new year.

Five Restaurants on My Christmas List:

From Foodburgh.com

- Salt of the Earth-  Yes, I keep up on local foodie news as much as any local food blogger should, and I’ve heard raves and raves about this recent addition to the culinary blossom of Penn Avenue/East Liberty area. And admittedly, the menu isn’t all that expensive – I could probably eat there for a similar amount that I would gladly spend at Thai Cuisine – but when trying out the new hot place to eat, it’s go big or go home. I don’t want to stick to my expensive restaurant budget saving order – usually soup and whatever appetizer is the least pricey – I want to go all out, especially if it means ordering a dessert cheese plate (“Midnight moon goat, Maytag bleu, quince, maple, bacon” - $8) and a Rye cocktail (“Sazerac, cinnamon, Averna” – $10) to finish.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – It’s not readily apparent on their website, but they are the big buzz restaurant right now, especially after taking “Best New Restaurant” in the Pittsburgh City Paper’s “Best of 2010″ poll. If they didn’t offer anything yet, they probably will soon.

- Mekong – The best kept Asian secret in town. I have been to Mekong. I have been there many, many times. The way some people have a neighborhood bar they frequent, that’s how I view Mekong. And because I live within short walking distance, I am both a frequent in-restaurant guest and delivery order customer. Because I already spend a large share of my money there, and because I always like to see more business go their way (especially if that business leads to more Mekong food in my tummy), get me a gift certificate. Maybe I can save you some of my Spicy Vegetable Noodle with Tofu. Maybe.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – They certainly do.

- Le Pommier - I’m not a huge fan of super fancy restaurants, but I’ll admit, all the time I was working in the South Side, broke as shit, and had to walk past Le Pommier on the way to my hourly wage slave job, my mouth watered a little at the thought of sitting down to a table covered in fine linen, set with sterling silver, a fine glass of red wine in front of me, candlelight softly illuminating the lovely face of my dining companion. Perhaps the Chou-Fleur to start (“roasted cauliflower with puff pastry and brown butter” – $8), then on to the main course, maybe the Cassoulet (“southern france white bean stew with a crispy duck leg and sausage” – $25) or maybe the Porc (“pan seared Duroc pork loin chop with apple bacon lentils topped with local cider gastrique” – $24). Then onto coffee and conversation over the season Trio de crème brûlée ($8). I haven’t worked in the South Side for some time, and yes, I’m considerably better off financially now than during those glassy-eyed days of yore, but I still haven’t gotten that fantasy trip to Le Pommier. It’s about time I did.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – At last check, they had gift certificates, but that was pre-renovation.

From exploriate.com

- Round Corner Cantina - Okay, yes, I’m being a little cheapskate here, cause this place isn’t exactly expensive. But I was thinking: if I got a gift card/certificate for like, thirty bucks, I could take myself and a few others out for dinner. Anyway, it would make a good excuse to finally get over to this restaurant. While living over in Bloomfield/Lawrenceville area, I had enjoyed a drink or two in the weird little setting of the Round Corner Hotel bar, so I wasn’t surprised when new owners took it over and turned it into a swinging hotspot Mexican restaurant. Get me some credit dollars there, and I’ll buy the first round!
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – Probably not.

- Wild Rosemary – Nicole from Yum Yum writes highly of this restaurant in Upper St. Clair, and I’m always eager to take a recommendation from someone whose tastes I can trust. It’s the priciest of the bunch here, so that’ll have to be a pretty big gift card to cover the Chilean Sea Bass ($37) and the Fudgie Mocha Tart with Espresso-Custard ($8), along with enough to include the nominal corkage fee and gratuity. But don’t worry, I’ll treat you when we go to the Round Corner Cantina!
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – No mention of it on the website. Seeing as how they’re fairly high-end, they probably do offer something. Nicole?

Remembering the Shiloh Village Dairy

A friend of mine recently relocated to Mount Washington. While dining among mutual friends, he mentioned Packs & Dogs on Shiloh Street, saying it was now his preferred place to grab a six pack. When asked if any of us had been there, most of the people at the table said that had not had the chance. I, on the other hand, have. And I do not plan on returning any time soon.

Why hate on this perfectly fine establishment serving decent hot dogs and mix-and-match six packs, featuring many beers that I love to drink? Why besmirch the good name of Packs & Dogs and all who work within its simply designed decor? Why?

Because it currently resides in the hollowed out carcass of a place I held near and dear to my heart. Because it has replaced Village Dairy.

From the Post-Gazette

The Village Dairy on Shiloh was an institution for nearly forty years before its owners decided to finally throw in the towel. I am sad to have spent so little of my young life there, but the time I spent meant the world to me. My aunt lived up on Grandview, only a block or two down the road, so her morning commute always began with a stop in at the diner/deli for a quick morning meal and the day’s newspaper. The promise of a trip to the Village Dairy always made overnight trips to her place that much better. As I got older, my affection for the place only became stronger. I apartment-sat for my aunt while she was overseas in the summer of 2005, and in four months, there wasn’t a week that went by that I didn’t pay a visit to my favorite neighborhood stop. Continue reading