Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

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 Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

PM on KD: Sean Collier Guest Hosts for the Day

PM associate editor Sean Collier appeared on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live as a guest host to fill in for Heather Abraham. He shared some details about our latest special edition: City Guide.

Book a Band for a Different Kind of Wedding Sound

For many couples, family and tradition means everything. Having a band that helps reflect those can be a great way to pay tribute to your heritage, while getting your guests on the dance floor.

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 4 Recent Dishes I Loved

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein says corned beef inside an import business, Sichuan smashed eggplants, smoked chicken wings and a cornbread dessert have his attention.

How to Celebrate the Moon Landing Anniversary in Pittsburgh

To celebrate Apollo 11’s golden anniversary, several local events are set to take place, from film screenings to new exhibits and more.

5 Pittsburgh Vintage Homes Stores You'll Want to Explore

PM Editoral Intern Ellie Pesetsky shares some of her favorite up-cycled furniture and home decor stores in and around Pittsburgh.

Eleven Couples to be Married after Love at First Bite

Wedding bells will be chiming for multiple couples this weekend … and it’s taking place at Primanti Bros. in the Strip District.

Pop Culture Pop Up Bars Are Here to Stay

Nintendo-themed Level Up is in Market Square for another week, but if you miss it, you can catch the Pokémon-themed bar coming this fall.

How Scary is the New Steel Curtain Coaster at Kennywood?

The ride claims records for the world’s tallest looping coaster and tallest inversion; it also has more inversions than any coaster in North America. We rode it this morning. Here's what we have to say.

The 400-Word Review: Point Blank

Netflix's action thriller is forgettable, but serves well as a quick throwback.

Pittsburgh Marks the First Stop of the New Whiskey Rebellion Trail

Think the story of American whiskey begins in Kentucky? Think again.

Pirates’ Possibilities Include Contention in Surprising Season’s Second Half

It hasn’t gone according to the original script, but the Pirates have found a way to stay relevant — and may yet be capable of finishing what they started.

The 400-Word Review: Stuber

There are laughs in the new buddy comedy, but they're dragged down by bad decisions.

Cornbread, A New Soul Food Restaurant, Opens in an Unexpected Location

Adenah Bayoh and Elzadie “Zadie” Smith bring their fast-casual concept to the West Mifflin Walmart.

The Park After Dark

Kennywood’s “Night Rider” tickets may be the best bet for many visitors.

The Best Tips for Finding a Wedding Photographer

There’s no need to stress about finding the best photographer thanks to these helpful tips from local professionals.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


How to Celebrate the Moon Landing Anniversary in Pittsburgh

How to Celebrate the Moon Landing Anniversary in Pittsburgh

To celebrate Apollo 11’s golden anniversary, several local events are set to take place, from film screenings to new exhibits and more.

Comments

Pop Culture Pop Up Bars Are Here to Stay

Pop Culture Pop Up Bars Are Here to Stay

Nintendo-themed Level Up is in Market Square for another week, but if you miss it, you can catch the Pokémon-themed bar coming this fall.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 4 Recent Dishes I Loved

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 4 Recent Dishes I Loved

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein says corned beef inside an import business, Sichuan smashed eggplants, smoked chicken wings and a cornbread dessert have his attention.

Comments

Cornbread, A New Soul Food Restaurant, Opens in an Unexpected Location

Cornbread, A New Soul Food Restaurant, Opens in an Unexpected Location

Adenah Bayoh and Elzadie “Zadie” Smith bring their fast-casual concept to the West Mifflin Walmart.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

Comments

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

Even novice runners can work their way up to these fun and (mildly) challenging races.

Comments


The Park After Dark

The Park After Dark

Kennywood’s “Night Rider” tickets may be the best bet for many visitors.

Comments

Five Essential July Events in Pittsburgh

Five Essential July Events in Pittsburgh

Aquatic attackers, alcohol-fueled actors and other July happenings.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates’ Possibilities Include Contention in Surprising Season’s Second Half

Pirates’ Possibilities Include Contention in Surprising Season’s Second Half

It hasn’t gone according to the original script, but the Pirates have found a way to stay relevant — and may yet be capable of finishing what they started.

Comments

Pens’ Conundrum: The Coach and the Culture

Pens’ Conundrum: The Coach and the Culture

Try as he might, General Manager Jim Rutherford has so far been unable to change the makeup of his team as intended. It may, thus, ultimately fall on head coach Mike Sullivan to adjust the attitudes of players with a recent track record of resisting change for the greater good.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Point Blank

The 400-Word Review: Point Blank

Netflix's action thriller is forgettable, but serves well as a quick throwback.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Stuber

The 400-Word Review: Stuber

There are laughs in the new buddy comedy, but they're dragged down by bad decisions.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Book a Band for a Different Kind of Wedding Sound

Book a Band for a Different Kind of Wedding Sound

For many couples, family and tradition means everything. Having a band that helps reflect those can be a great way to pay tribute to your heritage, while getting your guests on the dance floor.

Comments

Eleven Couples to be Married after Love at First Bite

Eleven Couples to be Married after Love at First Bite

Wedding bells will be chiming for multiple couples this weekend … and it’s taking place at Primanti Bros. in the Strip District.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
5 Pittsburgh Vintage Homes Stores You'll Want to Explore

5 Pittsburgh Vintage Homes Stores You'll Want to Explore

PM Editoral Intern Ellie Pesetsky shares some of her favorite up-cycled furniture and home decor stores in and around Pittsburgh.

Comments

Oakmont Glassware Company Looking to Join the Big Time

Oakmont Glassware Company Looking to Join the Big Time

Amanda Lee began painting glasses in her basement to help pay for her college education. Today, she ships her products across the globe from a new, shabby-chic warehouse and gift shop.

Comments