Best Bets for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week 2012

This weekend, expand your palate with some injera, yucca and nopales (plus a recipe for Kik Alitcha -- What?!)




Vegetable Plate from Abay, Bean Tostada from Alma, Chiles Rellenos from Verde
 

I remember my first Restaurant Week in New York in 1997. It was such a magical week because it allowed me access to restaurants I could not otherwise afford (you know, because I paid a bazillion dollars to live in an apartment the size of what is commonly called a “closet.”) For 19.97, I could get a ticket to an amazing prix fixe three course meal in hard-to-get-a-reservation restaurants such as Gotham Bar & Grill, Union Square Café and Nobu (in its heyday at the time). Such good memories!

The Restaurant Week phenomenon has spread and has done wonders for local economies – generating anywhere from $4 million in Charlotte to $20 million in Chicago.

Pittsburgh started on the trend gingerly, but this summer our Restaurant Week offerings are definitely amazing. What I love about it is that there are restaurants that are decidedly Pittsburgh “classic” cuisine, but there are also restaurants that give you the opportunity to travel by plate to global destinations. And while it’s wonderful to have pasta and pierogis, this is a great chance to go on a date or take some friends to discover injera and yuca.

But with so many options, where must you go? My best bets for healthy and veg treats are ethnic restaurants that will expand your palate — Abay Ethiopian Cuisine, Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen, Tamari Asian Latin Fusion and Verde Mexican Kitchen and Cantina.

Top Pick: Abay Ethiopian Cuisine

I rejoiced when Abay opened in East Liberty (just as I rejoiced when bubble tea first appeared on the Pittsburgh scene years ago!) In my book, there’s no better harbinger of diversity (hence, economic upswing) than ethnic restaurants. Abay is offering an amazing Restaurant Week menu with options such as Ye’Abesha Gomen — a dish with kale, peppers, ginger, garlic and onions slow-cooked in a mild sauce, Misir Wat — red split lentils simmered in spicy berbere sauce (berbere is one of my favorite spice mixes EVER, so try it!) and Kik Alitcha — yellow split peas simmered in a mild and flavorful herb sauce (you can find a home version of the recipe below!)

The best thing about the menu is that you can pick and choose from the selections to create a combination plate to enjoy with your injera — that spongy Ethiopian crepe/bread that accompanies every meal. Ethiopian food is definitely a fun experience, not only because it tastes so delicious but because it stimulates other senses as well -- you can eat with your hands and the exotic spices infuse the air for a truly transcendent dining experience.

My other top picks share a Latin American thread in common. Tamari is an interesting fusion of Asian and Latin food (hey, have you ever tried soy paper?) And have you had yuca? I grew up with it. It’s a starchy root vegetable that is almost but not quite like a potato. You can get a yuca patty with black eyed pea fritters at Alma Pan Latin Kitchen! You can also try yucca chips at Verde Mexican Cantina and some cactus (that’s right — called nopales) with some of the best mixed drinks in town.

So round up the crew and spend the weekend stimulating your taste buds (and our local economy at the same time!)

And after you’ve tried it at Abay, enjoy this recipe at home ...


Vegetable Plate with Injera from Abay (Kik Alitcha in the foreground)
 

  Kik Alitcha

Yellow split peas simmered in a mild and flavorful onion and herb sauce.
From Abay Ethiopian Restaurant


Ingredients

  • 2 cups yellow split peas
  • 1 quart water
  • 8 cups onions (large dice)
  • 1 cup cooking oil
  • 1/2 cup garlic/ginger mix
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp. turmeric

Preparation

1. Sift through and discard off-color peas.  Thoroughly rinse and drain peas.  
2. Combine 1 cup of oil and onions in pot.  
3. Caramelize onions on medium-high heat.  Stir frequently.  
4. In a separate pot, boil split peas in water until soft.  Drain.  
5. Place caramelized onions in food processor.  Add turmeric.  Process.  
6. Place processed onions back in pot.  Add garlic/ginger.  Stir.  Add water.  Add yellow split peas.  
7. Cook on high heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  
8. Reduce to medium to low heat and cook until peas become soft.  Stir frequently the entire cooking time.

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