25 Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh: 2011
It is a pleasure to present the 25 Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh and celebrate a year that vaulted the region’s dining scene to a whole new level of sophistication.
(page 3 of 5)
Piccolo Forno: Rotolo Trecolori: rolled crepes filled
Photo by Laura Petrilla
Not long ago, Kaya was a hidden gem tucked away on a street corner in the Strip District. These days, the wait-list that accumulates most evenings is a testament to executive chef Sean Ehland, a 2011 James Beard Award semifinalist who has taken the restaurant to new levels.
We're impressed by the consistency and vibrant flavors of starters like the conch fritters served with tangy tropical sauce and the crispy fish tacos on fresh Reyna’s tortillas. You can order what many consider to be the best Cuban sandwich in town along with plenty of other dishes—jerk pulled-pork quesadillas, for example—that don’t shy away from spice.
The event dinners are a highlight: Favorites include fried-chicken night on Thursdays, and the monthly vegetarian dinners are good enough to turn the biggest meat lovers into switch-hitters.
Take a seat at the island-inspired bar or on the main room’s cushy banquette, order a tall tropical drink and know you’re in good hands. —Kaitlyn Johnston
Executive Chef Sean Ehland. 2000 Smallman St., Strip District. Info: 412/261-6565, bigburrito.com/kaya.
Trevett Hooper, one of the area’s most committed farm-to-table chefs, plans to increase Legume’s seating capacity this summer (more than twice the current capacity) with the decision to move the restaurant from its original Regent Square location to Oakland.
Fresh, modern bistro fare and a passion for thoughtfully sourced top-notch ingredients will remain signature accomplishments for Trevett Hooper, who won our “Chef of the Year” award in 2009, and the larger kitchen space allows for an expanded menu.
Few things stay on the daily-changing menu, but the dishes that do—chicken cooked under a skillet with mashed potatoes or the chocolate-truffle cake, for example—are always good bets. Other dishes we loved this year included chilled asparagus soup, succulent lamb shank, tender veal breast and standout vegetable dishes such as a texturally stunning kohlrabi-and-turnip salad.
Legume will no longer be BYOB since the new location includes a small, old-school bar where cocktails, wine, beer and a separate bar menu will be offered. Visit the restaurant’s website to sign up for the chef’s excellent “Notes From the Kitchen” e-newsletter to find out about the latest happenings.
Executive Chef/Owner Trevett Hooper. 214 N. Craig St., Oakland. Info: 412/371-1815, legumebistro.com.
Nine on Nine
This upscale Cultural District restaurant offers a sleek, glass-fronted dining room; a modern American menu; and an appealing selection of wines and cocktails.
Beautifully presented tuna and mackerel tartare, creamy wild-mushroom risotto and succulent roasted duck with buttermilk mascarpone grits were some of the offerings we loved. The menu changes frequently, although some popular items—such as the lobster mac-n-cheese—are regular features.
To finish, there’s a cheese plate, homemade sorbets and ice creams or successful desserts like ricotta fritters with lemon curd and blackberry sauce.
Choices for dining include the six-course chef’s tasting menu, the three-course theater menu (available until 7 p.m.), the weekday lunch menu and a bar menu in the adjacent lounge. This summer, new features include special late-night menu offerings after 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays along with casual family-style dinners on Mondays, exclusively offering a single four-course menu (no corkage fee); check the website for details.
Executive Chef Richard DeShantz. 900 Penn Ave., downtown. Info: 412/338-6463, nineonnine.com.
This first independent venture of one of western Pennsylvania’s most notable chefs—Dave Racicot, who was previously chef de cuisine of Lautrec, the AAA Five-Diamond restaurant at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort—opened on New Year’s Eve. Racicot presents a unique point of view through modern techniques at his intimate, 38-seat Oakmont restaurant. Look for starters and mains (four to five of each) that incorporate foams, gels and powders and use sous-vide cooking (which translates as “under vacuum” and is used for the ability to cook foods at lower temperatures along with yielding consistent results) for nearly every protein. Of course, the kitchen still makes homemade stock and much else the old-fashioned way.
We enjoyed such dishes as a gemlike beet salad with candied grapefruit, beet chips and crispy yogurt; chestnut puree with burnt onion and pumpernickel crumbs on the bottom, sour-apple jam and cider consommé; chicken with shiitake-mushroom and vermouth stuffing and celery-root puree; and Elysian Fields Farm lamb loin smoked in hay and served with roasted pine nuts and delicate red-cabbage slaw.
To finish, choose from two desserts, which may a resemble science experiments more than an average brownie sundae. The tastefully neutral decor, well-informed and professional service, and advice from sommelier Alan Uchrinscko, who is working to expand the wine list, add to the experience.
Chef/Owner Dave Racicot. 314 Allegheny River Blvd., Oakmont. Info: 412/828-7777, notionrestaurant.com.
Crispy wood-fired pizzas and handmade, hand-rolled pastas are signature items at this family-owned Italian restaurant, which has a wait-list longer than 60 minutes during most weekends.
You can’t miss with classics like the Speck e Mascarpone pizza or the specials, including a pizza with smoked mozzarella, roasted cauliflower and zucchini.
We’re equally taken by the dishes that fill out the menu: We loved a velvety-smooth spicy carrot soup with just the right amount of heat, fresh spinach tagliatelle with tomato lamb ragu and the excellent lasagna. All pastas are made in-house, including the salmon ravioli with ricotta. Risottos feature seasonal ingredients, including local corn combined with peas and pancetta or shrimp and sweet peppers.
For dessert, there’s house-made tiramisù, imported gelato or specials made by chef Domenic Branduzzi’s mother, such as cherry-chocolate cake. The simple, open dining room has rustic brick and burnt-orange walls, marble-topped tables, a pizza oven at the center—and usually, a lively crowd.
Chef Domenic Branduzzi. 3801 Butler St., Lawrenceville. Info: 412/622-0111, piccolo-forno.com.