Review: notion

Celebrated chef Dave Racicot brings notion’s sophisticated, imaginative cuisine to South Highland Avenue.




Photos by Laura Petrilla
 

 

Reinvented in an East Liberty location, the new incarnation of notion, which took an 18-month hiatus before relocating from Oakmont, has a more accessible menu that still expresses chef/owner Dave Racicot’s unique perspective.

Although he might not describe himself this way, Racicot is something of a food artist. At notion, the main ingredient of each dish is deeply considered, then layered and complemented with a number of elements — sauces, infusions, foams and gelées — to create complex dishes with playful contrasts of flavors, textures and hues. Every plate is a work of art. There’s also a touch of alchemy here, so notion may not be for everyone.

At notion, there are three menus: a four-course fixed price for $65, a six-course tasting for $85 and an eight-course for $105, which was added at press time. The entire table must order the same option so that service can be properly timed. For the four-course menu, choose an appetizer, fish, meat and dessert from three choices listed per category. The menu fluctuates when Racicot is inspired to design a new dish.

I recommend choosing one of the multiple-course chef tasting menus in order to better experience Racicot’s personal vision. Portions are reasonable, so you shouldn’t feel overstuffed. The $85 price is economical when considering the quality of food offered, particularly in comparison to similar meals in other cities.

Every dinner starts with two amuse-bouches, which set the tone for the meal. Though the offerings vary, I enjoyed the creamy white onion soup. Of the first courses, the tartare is sublime, featuring small rounds of iceberg lettuce on which you can make “lettuce wraps” of beef tartare with peanut sauce and Korean-inspired spices. Another intriguing starter was the barley risotto with espelette cream, manchego custard and thinly sliced cauliflower.



Among the fish courses, I enjoyed cod with fennel custard and breadcrumbs infused with squid ink. Other choices of finned fish have included halibut cheeks.

There are a few dishes where the manipulation of an ingredient is not an improvement. For example, the scallops are blended and reformed into short tubes, similar to gnocchi, and served in a light Parmesan broth. The interpretation of the scallops seems like a step down from the natural form.

As for entrées, the tender chicken was a highlight, served with a potato sauce and sautéed morel mushrooms. The wagyu beef with royal trumpet mushrooms and truffle cream was also very good.

The milk chocolate dessert is a mingling of flavors and textures; pieces of Nutella cake are served with banana pudding, orange purée and dehydrated chocolate. It’s hard to stop eating this dish. A more unusual dessert is the black sesame cake, which resembles pieces of sponge, served with a white chocolate sauce and accented with yuzu and coconut flavors; it will challenge your palate. The mignardises served at the end of the meal also change, but two previous offerings have been housemade truffles and coffee-infused macarons.

The interior of notion is done in soft tones of wheat and flax. The space is a one long room with banquettes and chairs providing seating for 28, so reservations are a must. The standout decoration is a multicolored glass light installation created by Pittsburgh Glass Center artists Heather McElwee and Chris Clarke; it stretches almost half the length of the restaurant’s ceiling. Racicot’s future plans include changing up the décor completely.

Service at notion is impeccable. Servers, who remain attentive, have tasted all of the food and can answer questions in great detail.

Notion is the kind of modern American restaurant now found in every major U.S. city; it’s edgy and creative. As our dining scene continues to thrive and expand, the timing of notion’s re-emergence couldn’t be more perfect. 

Dave Racicot | Chef/Owner, notion


What’s different about the new incarnation of notion?
It’s been a year-and-a-half since I closed the old notion, and I have to say [that] I think the new notion is much more focused. I really like the fixed menu format because I can offer a nice balance of food in appropriate amounts, so diners leave satisfied. I also like the dining room and kitchen because they are streamlined and more efficient. I love the new location; it’s really in the middle of everything.

How do you develop such complex dishes?
I always start with a specific food and visualize what could happen with it. For example, I could take asparagus, grill it and serve it with balsamic vinegar and salt, and it would be wonderful. But the expectations I place on myself and the expectations of my diners are to push it farther. I have a dish on the menu now that is asparagus with a sweet egg-yolk jam. Now, the egg is as important as the asparagus. It’s accented with mustard seed and caramelized sunflower-seed paste. I put a lot of thought and time into weighing the importance of different ingredients and tasting as I go.

How important are aesthetics to the development of your dishes?
Ultimately, flavor is the most important thing; however, the aesthetics of the plate are very important to me. I don’t want the dishes to be too studied, but I want the guest’s first impression of the appearance of the dish to be positive.

Do you think you were destined to become a chef?
No, not at all. I did not come from a “foodie” family. I think when it comes to your career, you just need to pick something and then work really hard at it.

What are the differences between home cooking and restaurant cooking?
Home cooking is really about nourishment. You might do a nice job at plating up the food or preparing a nice dinner for your family. But I believe [the job of a chef] is to put good food on the plate.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Yinzers Eating Chicken Wings Are Going to Be on TV

Yinzers Eating Chicken Wings Are Going to Be on TV

Mt. Washington’s Bigham Tavern is the latest ‘Burgh eatery to host a film crew.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Madeline Bakery and Bistro to Open in Wilkinsburg

Madeline Bakery and Bistro to Open in Wilkinsburg

The French-inspired bakery will feature croissants, cookies, bread and more.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best of the ‘Burgh Gift Guide for 2017

Best of the ‘Burgh Gift Guide for 2017

Here are some of our favorite ‘Burgh-inspired gifts for him, her, kids, foodies and more.

Comments


Enjoy a Relaxing Evening of Wanton Destruction at Break Room

Enjoy a Relaxing Evening of Wanton Destruction at Break Room

The Irwin business offers the chance to smash inanimate objections for a little "therapeutic demolition."

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers Can't Ease Their Patriots Pain Until January

Steelers Can't Ease Their Patriots Pain Until January

Much as they’d like to, the Steelers won’t be able to exorcise the ghosts of AFC Championship Games Past, even with a win on Sunday.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Movie Review — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Movie Review — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

A review of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," the latest entry in the massive franchise.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
New Weddings Website Aims for Equality

New Weddings Website Aims for Equality

A local wedding photographer has created a business to connect same-sex couples with LGBTQ-friendly vendors.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
It’s Back! ‘Restored by the Fords’ Gets Premiere Date

It’s Back! ‘Restored by the Fords’ Gets Premiere Date

The new season of the home improvement show featuring Pittsburgh siblings Leanne and Steve Ford debuts on HGTV in January.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module