Bistro 19

Bistro Bliss



Shrimp stuffed with spinach and artichokes with risotto and tomato-parmesan cream sauce.

Photo by Laura Petrilla

Bistro 19
711 Washington Road
Mount Lebanon
412/306-1919
Bistro19.Com

STARTERS: $4-$10
ENTREES: $9-$32
DESSERT: $4-$6
HOURS: Mon.-Thurs., 11A.M.-10 P.M.; Fri.-Sat., Until 11 P.M.; Sun. Brunch Until 2:30 P.M.
Full-Service Bar, Handicapped-Accessible, No Smoking.


They are sitting at the edge of their chairs. He leans forward, taking her hand, savoring her touch. She returns his gaze with undivided interest, both content to accumulate these moments of timeless suspension. I wonder if they perceive the world in the same hues as the rest of us - a gloomy, gray sky behind a neighborhood full of shade trees and pretty lawns; little kids staring into plate-glass windows annoying shoppers; people scurrying home from work. The longer their fingers interlock, the more distant and glazed their trance becomes.

"To a cynic, they look like they just brokered a mega-million-dollar merger," jests my husband, Brad, after his first sip of Frog's Leap chardonnay. The dreamy couple smooching center stage looks as if an artful lighting crew had splashed spotlights on them, projecting their silhouettes above the rest of us as we toast a good friend, taste one another's Chilean sea bass or debate office and geo-political machinations. An arbiter of reality, the 7 o'clock news, muted on a television above the bar, perfunctorily marks the passing of time.

Tonight, Bistro 19 is jammed. Regulars are pouring in, and they are greeted by name. "I believe in fate," declares owner Josephine DeFrancis, better known as "B." After years of heading to Shadyside and downtown for adventurous spots to eat, she and partner Richard Fuchs found the restaurant for sale in their backyard - both are Baldwin Township residents - and knew "this was it."

"I feel very comfortable here," says DeFrancis of this little American bistro, which seems a bit New York-y. "We tried to keep chic and stylish without being intimidating." Bistro 19, with its sophistication and individuality, also adds another option for fine dining in the South Hills, with its abundance of mall food courts and fast-food restaurants. Especially considering it's a whole new century, and locals like being able to stroll down the street to dine, have a cocktail or a rendition of bananas Foster that will transport one to the old Park Schenley restaurant in Oakland, if not heaven.

If a room could be a philosopher, Bistro 19 just took off its glasses for a moment of introspection. There is little that is superfluous, not because the owners haven't spent hours poring over details. From the thick mahogany front door with its handsome iron handle to the gorgeous custom-built wine wall from Penn Interiors, it is a holistic environment that succeeds in subliminally imparting warmth and relaxation as opposed to "Ooh, look at those... ."

The antique tin ceiling and original wooden floor - the building was home to an Italian restaurant called Caffe Giovanni in another life - offer a bit of old soul to the clean, linear space. "Consider it our artwork," says B when I quiz her about an unorthodox back wall, snowy white plaster ribbed in a way that, if I were taking a Rorschach inkblot test, I'd say resembled rolling waves. No, it is not for acoustical purposes (I asked), but it makes a coquettish conversation piece. Backless barstools prevent "view pollution" and enable one to spin around with the ease of a kid well-versed in soda-fountain ergonomics.

Executive chef Jessica Gibson is young, briskly efficient and adventurous without being trend-obsessed. Her goal is to take classics and give them her own twist - that is, she knows the rules but is not afraid to tinker. Start with something light if you want to try that bananas Foster later - this is not the time to think about tomorrow.

May I suggest the hummus sampler and its three variations (traditional, roasted red pepper and fresh herb) with homemade pita chips; a lump crab cake served with whole-grain mustard aioli; a vegetable stack that sneaks in fresh mozzarella. I thought the shrimp cocktail quite nice albeit one-dimensional; however, by the next visit, it had been replaced with a gourmet cheese plate sporting dried cranberries and walnuts. You can almost visualize Gibson's thought process as she perfects her menu.

Chilean sea bass, though obviously not swimming or spawning anywhere near the Sixth Street Bridge, is currently the house's signature dish, a brilliant recipe. To keep noble my trademark quest for dining satori, I gave it the old Girl Scout try. I found it to be a piece of fish that could move you, a must-order if you relate to fish the way one relates to art or music. Neither too heavy nor too wispy, the crust of fresh breadcrumbs with just a zing of horseradish melts away with each forkful, while a thick marinade of oyster sauce, rice-wine vinegar and wasabi seals in the juices. Each moist flake falls as pristine as its predecessor. To the sea bass, stack a tangle of basmati rice with madacamia nuts and napa slaw and you have yourself a dreamy preparation. "This woman can cook," was Brad's imprimatur as he speared a taste, uttering a phrase usually reserved for only the hottest of musicians, "cooking" through a performance.

I give equally high marks to first-rate sushi-grade ahi tuna lightly spread with wasabi paste then wrapped in nori seaweed sheets and breaded with Japanese panko breadcrumbs, sliced down and drizzled lightly with soy/citrus ponzu (soy-based sauce). Gibson's version adds oranges, lemons, limes, scallions and ginger. Ask for some on the side.

Let's face it, fat packs flavor, and Maple Leaf Farm's duck breast - crisp, crackling skin brushed with sweet peach-cranberry chutney - is a feast. So are a hearty 14-ounce double-cut pork chop, richly flavored with whole-grain mustard cream and cornbread chorizo, and a tender veal scaloppine, which perfectly takes on the fragrance of prosciutto and roasted red peppers. A center-cut filet with a gorgonzola crust and wild-mushroom compote in a port wine demi-glace is also startingly flavorful. The onus is on you, the diner, if you're antsy about your options: Work with the menu the way you would a tour guide; talk to your server. He or she will oblige.

And, of course, finish off your tour with bananas Foster for dessert.

All evening, the clamor of glasses and conversation filled the air. Customers were still steadily streaming through the door and clinking cosmopolitans as we returned to our comfort zone in the city. Heading out into an almost scripted mist, we brushed past the amorous couple, which had migrated to the bar.

Crossing the Monongahela, we laughed at ourselves as we pleaded guilty to our own region-centricity, as if Mount Lebanon were the hinterlands and we were stranded without snowshoes, even though, truth be known, it was along this same stretch where my parents bought me my first Buster Browns and my first Schwinn bicycle.


Each month, Deborah McDonald jump-starts appetites with lively restaurant reviews that scrutinize who's cooking what and where. She works anonymously, visiting each restaurant at least twice before writing her column.

Do you know of a restaurant you'd like to have reviewed? E-mail Deborah.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

Many Pittsburgh bars have solid beer lists, well-mixed cocktails or a bartender who's handy with a shot and a story. We need more than that. What makes these bars the best?
View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

#pixburgh: A Photographic Experience features images from the Sen. John Heinz History Center vault, which contains close to 1 million images. The show features a sampling of 400 images from the 1850s through today — including landmarks, fun, folly and floods.
In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

Melia Tourangeau, CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, looks to lead the ensemble forward after a discordant strike.
Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Umami sets the bar for izakaya openings in Pittsburgh. But its owners still have steps to take to keep raising the standard.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

By The Numbers: The Waterfront Smokestacks

By The Numbers: The Waterfront Smokestacks

The smokestacks — which are echoed in the Waterfront’s logo and pictured in the music video for Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” — now serve as an iconic monument to the Steel City’s industrial past.
Watch: Puppy Parade, These 30 Seconds Will Make You Smile

Watch: Puppy Parade, These 30 Seconds Will Make You Smile

The Animal Rescue League/Western PA Humane Society staged a parade Monday as it moved its dogs, cats, and even a snake two blocks to their new home.
Oakland Crows: A Big Mess but a Harmless Murder

Oakland Crows: A Big Mess but a Harmless Murder

Trees around the campus of the University of Pittsburgh are filled with nesting crows, and many students are wondering why.
Inside the Ultimate Man vs. Machine Poker Match in Pittsburgh

Inside the Ultimate Man vs. Machine Poker Match in Pittsburgh

Four of the world’s best poker players are playing 120,000 hands of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold’em against Libratus, the poker-playing bot created by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

Many Pittsburgh bars have solid beer lists, well-mixed cocktails or a bartender who's handy with a shot and a story. We need more than that. What makes these bars the best?
View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

#pixburgh: A Photographic Experience features images from the Sen. John Heinz History Center vault, which contains close to 1 million images. The show features a sampling of 400 images from the 1850s through today — including landmarks, fun, folly and floods.
In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

Melia Tourangeau, CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, looks to lead the ensemble forward after a discordant strike.
Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Umami sets the bar for izakaya openings in Pittsburgh. But its owners still have steps to take to keep raising the standard.
Daytripping: Have Musket, Will Travel

Daytripping: Have Musket, Will Travel

The rest is history at ye olde Colonial Williamsburg, the former capital of Virginia and now a restored revolutionary war-era village.
Talk of the Tahn: The Consequences of Trespassing

Talk of the Tahn: The Consequences of Trespassing

I snuck into a steel mill. Bethlehem, Pa. I’d been bragging about how big Pittsburgh’s industrial ruins were when a woman in a bar told me, “Bethlehem’s are bigger.” Size matters.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


By The Numbers: The Waterfront Smokestacks

By The Numbers: The Waterfront Smokestacks

The smokestacks — which are echoed in the Waterfront’s logo and pictured in the music video for Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” — now serve as an iconic monument to the Steel City’s industrial past.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Restaurant Industry Fundraiser to Aid Injured Chef

Restaurant Industry Fundraiser to Aid Injured Chef

Zach Behm was chef de cuisine at Cure in Upper Lawrenceville at the time of a July car wreck.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


The Trendy New East Liberty Hangout ... Primanti's?

The Trendy New East Liberty Hangout ... Primanti's?

The latest outpost of the popular local chain is housed in the former Verde space in Garfield.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Tomlin Needs to Be Tomlin Against Brady, Belichick

Tomlin Needs to Be Tomlin Against Brady, Belichick

The Steelers are going to have to attack the game to survive it, to grab it by the throat and choke it to the desired conclusion.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Check out the chic decor from Pittsburgh-based artist and designer Janice Nelson.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Shyamalan's Split is Troubling For the Wrong Reasons

Shyamalan's Split is Troubling For the Wrong Reasons

Reviews of "Split," "20th Century Women" and "The Founder," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Real Pittsburgh Weddings: Why All of the Guests Got a Gift

Real Pittsburgh Weddings: Why All of the Guests Got a Gift

This couple wanted to make sure all of their guests felt as included as possible.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Making Moves: Restoration Hardware Coming to North Hills

Making Moves: Restoration Hardware Coming to North Hills

RH Pittsburgh, The Gallery at Ross Park Mall is opening later this week. The new store will replace the luxury brand's prior location in Mt. Lebanon.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Gun Violence Target of Carlow's Social Justice Institutes

Gun Violence Target of Carlow's Social Justice Institutes

The University will conduct research and offer scholarships to victims.

Comments