Sonoma Grille

California-Style Drama And Delicious Surprises



Sonoma Grille
947 Penn Ave.
Downtown
412/69L7-1336

Open daily 11 am - 11 pm (dinner at 5 pm)
Appetizers $8-$20
Salads $7-$12
Entrees $12-$27 (larger sizes priced accordingly)
Desserts $7-$8
New cocktail list
Happy hour 5-7 pm
Smoking in lounge


"Why are you pulling out the coat rack?" quizzed a nearby table of gregarious eaters. "More like a ski jump," we retort as our proficient waiter set up a long, curved, wooden stave with protruding wrought-iron legs - the base of a dainty, eclectic tapas presentation. Flawless duck confit tortellini, smoked salmon and ahi tartare, lamb carpaccio with roasted eggplant and two lobster corn dogs with jalapeno and oven-roasted remoulade - fresh little samplings, as beautiful as food gets.

"Very Californian," intoned our neighbors, eyeing the assortment a little closer. By now my companion had tuned out of the conversation and turned to the second corn dog. "It's the first time I've found anything that could complement lobster better than simple melted butter," he confessed, munching away on this culinary hybrid of lobster and salmon mousse on a stick, dipped in traditional corn-dog batter. A catchy domino effect was in high gear, as the table next to us ordered the iconoclastic tapas on sight, just as we had, minutes before.

Modern life has a way of clustering around trends of all sorts, and California is known for being a primary trendsetter, a repository of improvisation from the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill on the south fork of the American River in 1848, to post-World War II boomers enamored of its temperate climate and dramatic geography. By the mid-20th century, San Francisco had become a mecca for experimentation and free thinking, enduring trademarks relevant
even today.

The wide open Sonoma Grille, located at street level adjacent to Pittsburgh's new Courtyard by Marriott hotel, opened last December and was in "full stride by the end of January," says chef/owner Yves Carreau.

Vacant for the past decade, this space was reinvented by interior design firm Basic Concept Interiors to create a seamless conjoining of what previously had been four separate buildings. The building's architecture firm, Perfido Weiskopf, was named the Historic Preservation Award winner in 2004 for its commitment to the building's original character, and particularly, for the careful restoration of the rear staircase.

The restaurant's high ceilings and textural earth tones reflect hues naturally occurring in the Sonoma countryside of northern California. A panoramic mural shows rolling fields and soldier-straight vineyard rows beneath a gargantuan sky. Diversionary entertainment includes bartenders intermittently impersonating Spiderman as they gracefully scale a floor-to-ceiling wine rack for the right vintage.

As reflected in its West Coast wine-country name, Sonoma places a strong emphasis on the grape. "Wine is fun," says managing partner and sommelier Uriel Marcovitz. "All those flavors and smells - chocolate, cherry, grapefruit. It's magic to me."

Marcovitz says his wines by the glass are unparalleled in the city - 83 choices, soon to be increased - and they're poured fresh each time, thanks to the "vacu vin" system, which pumps the air out and adds CO2. Turn over the menu to see an equally impressive reserve list. "We want to give people the opportunity to have many variables," says Marcovitz. "We have every great possibility, whether you're looking for value or just focusing on the wine." Servers have the opportunity to learn about the varietals, too, during their weekly wine tastings.

A fresh, modular approach to food accurately presents California's bistro cuisine. The menu is in a creative tabular format that subdivides by styles of food with wine accompaniments. In a move that takes the fear out of being creative, emotive adjectives define each category: descriptions include "spicy and muscular" for meat, and "fruity and jammy" for fish.

The chef's intention is to have you think outside the box - start anywhere on the menu and work your way around, ordering according to your mood or appetite that evening. "Make what you want out of it for total satisfaction," says Carreau. "People catch on and understand the possibilities, then can't wait to come back. They fall in love with the concept." Take some time, tone down your left brain and improvise; mix, match and exchange.

Midway down the menu, the chef makes an offer: "If you like surprises, then let me decide what’s on your plate this evening - even your server may not know until he or she serves it."

California cuisine, initially minted as light and simple, blessed by a long growing season, has fully emerged, with more sophistication and complexity, including clear, piercing flavors and heady spices - curries, jícama root, ginger or lemon grass, to name a few - and even South American, Asian and Caribbean influences.

Our server pushed the popular Sonoma mixed grille. Make it as pure or as elaborate as you please by building a combination from 10 choices, which include char-grilled salmon, spicy pork tenderloin and seared ahi tuna. Select three meat or seafood "starters," then add six sensuous dipping sauces and a side. The house makes four different stocks and all its sauces from scratch every day.

Carreau's mischievous, ethereal "Study of Duck," prepared three ways, is his "baby." While there aren't many sweet sauces in French cooking, this duck dish is an exception. The trio offers a breast, seared medium-rare with lightly stewed apple-mango compote, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and embellished with a pomegranate/cranberry gastrique. For contrast, smoky duck confit dim sums are sautéed with fresh spinach over stewed twin cabbages with apple wood-smoked bacon and pinot-noir duck jus. Extraordinarily large, hand-harvested, Serrano-wrapped diver scallops, juices intact, quickly seared, are perfect alongside wilted spinach, salty and blunt against sherry papaya gastrique. Shrimp tempura defies ubiquity with a thick blood-orange and long-reduced apricot chutney to brighten the pink prawns. Sesame oil takes over an avalanche of crunchy slaw for an Asian profile, avoiding the sometimes over-vinegary errors of its peers around town.

We bounced back and forth among dessert selections and never caught our server frowning before we settled on in-house pastry chef Kelly Bannon's profiteroles (sold out at other visits), puff pastries filled with rich vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate and caramel ganache. A lemon tarte is already stashed away for a summer day, while a sublime mini-chocolate merlot cake with minted berries and more ice cream is pristine yet brilliantly intense.

We lingered briefly, mesmerized by the ever-changing scene that unfolds along the downtown street and sidewalks on the other side of the glass. On our side we predicted change as well. "It may be hard to go back to your old ways," said my companion. And that is just the point.
 


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

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Host an event in Pittsburgh’s urban sustainable homestead. Join a club for mushroom hunters. Tour a coal mine. Listen to some banjo music. We list our new favorite experiences, food, drink, personalities, stores, items and activities in the ’Burgh.
Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Fourteen years ago this month, the mighty Kinzua Viaduct met its match.
Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

The restaurant, run by Dinette’s Sonja J. Finn, boosts the dining experience at the Carnegie museums in Oakland.
Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

FASTER Pittsburghʼs Hip Hop Cardio promises to get your workout into a groove.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

See The Tiny House with Room to Grow

See The Tiny House with Room to Grow

The housing company Module, a Pittsburgh start-up, creates an alternative housing model that grows in size as you grow in income.
Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

With a tear in our eye, we bid the “Flower” Au Revoir.
Finally, a Faster Way From Pittsburgh to Oakland and Beyond

Finally, a Faster Way From Pittsburgh to Oakland and Beyond

A proposed route for new electric buses will connect 30,000 people throughout 24 neighborhoods.
Extras Wanted: Cate Blanchett Shooting Movie in Pittsburgh

Extras Wanted: Cate Blanchett Shooting Movie in Pittsburgh

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” a movie based on the best-selling comedic novel, will begin filming in the ‘Burgh next month.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Host an event in Pittsburgh’s urban sustainable homestead. Join a club for mushroom hunters. Tour a coal mine. Listen to some banjo music. We list our new favorite experiences, food, drink, personalities, stores, items and activities in the ’Burgh.
Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Fourteen years ago this month, the mighty Kinzua Viaduct met its match.
Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

The restaurant, run by Dinette’s Sonja J. Finn, boosts the dining experience at the Carnegie museums in Oakland.
Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

FASTER Pittsburghʼs Hip Hop Cardio promises to get your workout into a groove.
Curling in Pittsburgh: ‘It's Basically Golf and Chess on Ice’

Curling in Pittsburgh: ‘It's Basically Golf and Chess on Ice’

On the eve of its largest annual event, the Pittsburgh Curling Club has plans to increase Pittsburgh’s appreciation for its intricate sport.
Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


See The Tiny House with Room to Grow

See The Tiny House with Room to Grow

The housing company Module, a Pittsburgh start-up, creates an alternative housing model that grows in size as you grow in income.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pusadee's Garden Will Close at End of Year (But Not Forever)

Pusadee's Garden Will Close at End of Year (But Not Forever)

Look for some big changes at the Upper Lawrenceville restaurant, which is expected to shutter for at least a year.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


High-Wire Acts at Carnegie Science Center

High-Wire Acts at Carnegie Science Center

The North Shore landmark's new ropes course is a draw for adults and youths alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
History Can Wait Until Penguins Are Done Making It

History Can Wait Until Penguins Are Done Making It

The desire for more a year ago helped fuel the Penguins’ quest to repeat this season. Should their thirst for yet another Cup prove as unquenchable next season, there’s no limit to what they might yet achieve. Even a Three-peat.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Make the Cut with Jonathan Moran Woodworks

Make the Cut with Jonathan Moran Woodworks

The Strip District-based woodworker's cutting boards can be custom made with the wood of your choice.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Buckle Up ... Again, as Cars 3 Hits Theaters

Buckle Up ... Again, as Cars 3 Hits Theaters

Reviews of "Cars 3" and "47 Meters Down," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Enchanting Summery Trends to Illuminate Your Wedding Palette

Enchanting Summery Trends to Illuminate Your Wedding Palette

You’ll definitely want to pin these new summer wedding trends to your Pinterest board.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Blooming: Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Hosts Town & Country Tour

Blooming: Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Hosts Town & Country Tour

From a forest of Japanese maples to a rocky urban sanctuary, the annual tour covers 14 very different gardens across the East End.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Visit Thiel College for a Summer BBQ

Visit Thiel College for a Summer BBQ

On three days this summer, the college will host visit days for prospective students.

Comments

Edit Module