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: The Turkey Devonshire

PM Associate Editor and dining critic Hal B. Klein appeared on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to discuss his new sandwich obsession, the Turkey Devonshire, and how it ended up on our February cover.

You Try It, Being a Meteorologist In Pittsburgh Isn't Easy

Aside from a Steelers loss, nothing seems to fire up Pittsburghers more than a blown weather forecast.

Our 50 Years: Why I Hate Nostalgia

Enjoying memories is fun – but a far cry from pining for the past.

Perspectives: Finding Grace in #MomLife

A Pittsburgh television reporter learns to embrace the imperfection that comes with being a working mom.

The 400-Word Review: Pledge

IFC Midnight's collegiate terror tale is mostly for genre fans, but it lands a few decent punches.

Capel’s Basketball Resurrection Has the Zoo Rocking Again

Head coach Jeff Capel is restoring respectability and re-establishing the relationship between Pitt’s students and Pitt’s student athletes.

Why Did No One Tell Me Cirque du Soleil is Awesome

A skeptical novice takes in the troupe's "Corteo" production and is stunned at his own delight.

Three Rivers Champion: Julius Boatwright

Boatwright works to connect everyone who needs it with mental health support.

Turkey Devonshire: Reviving a Classic Pittsburgh Sandwich

The once-famous sandwich originated here but now is largely forgotten. We dive into its history and argue that it's time for a revival.

Navigating the Future of Public Transit in Pittsburgh

Six Pittsburghers share their struggles and hopes for the region’s public transit system.

Why Jamison Farm Is a “A Napa Valley for Sheep”

How a former coal miner and his wife use the resources atop rolling Westmoreland County hills to produce the best lamb in the United States.

Pittsburgh Restaurant Review: Fish nor Fowl

The sixth standalone concept from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group, is DeShantz’s most exciting restaurant yet.

Our 50 Years: When We Tried to Predict the Future

25 years ago, we predicted what the Pittsburgh of 2019 would look like. We were ... close?

Help Pay Tribute to a Pittsburgh Jazz Legend

Mary Lou Williams began as a teenage piano prodigy in the Hill District and made it to Carnegie Hall and beyond. This month, you can discover her musical legacy.

Their's was a Starry-Eyed Pittsburgh Romance

John Brashear dedicated his life to science — and his wife, Phoebe.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


You Try It, Being a Meteorologist In Pittsburgh Isn't Easy

You Try It, Being a Meteorologist In Pittsburgh Isn't Easy

Aside from a Steelers loss, nothing seems to fire up Pittsburghers more than a blown weather forecast.

Comments

Our 50 Years: Why I Hate Nostalgia

Our 50 Years: Why I Hate Nostalgia

Enjoying memories is fun – but a far cry from pining for the past.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Fresh Fest Beerfest Is Set to Return to Pittsburgh

Fresh Fest Beerfest Is Set to Return to Pittsburgh

The country's first black brewfest looks to double in size this year.

Comments

Pittsburgh Chef Moves: Csilla Thackray Headed to Legume Bistro

Pittsburgh Chef Moves: Csilla Thackray Headed to Legume Bistro

Thackray's departure from The Vandal will result in a new menu at that Lawrenceville restaurant.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

Love Sourdough? Find the Best There Is at These Five Bake Shops

We dove into the local artisan bread scene to find the best places that bake naturally leavened bread in Pittsburgh.

Comments


Why Did No One Tell Me Cirque du Soleil is Awesome

Why Did No One Tell Me Cirque du Soleil is Awesome

A skeptical novice takes in the troupe's "Corteo" production and is stunned at his own delight.

Comments

My New Neighborhood Bar is The Birmingham Bridge Tavern

My New Neighborhood Bar is The Birmingham Bridge Tavern

After settling into a new neighborhood, PM nightlife editor Sean Collier sings the praises of his go-to corner bar.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Capel’s Basketball Resurrection Has the Zoo Rocking Again

Capel’s Basketball Resurrection Has the Zoo Rocking Again

Head coach Jeff Capel is restoring respectability and re-establishing the relationship between Pitt’s students and Pitt’s student athletes.

Comments

Steelers' Organization Shares Blame for Brown Debacle

Steelers' Organization Shares Blame for Brown Debacle

For years now, the Steelers have been working around Brown’s maladaptive tendencies from Monday through Saturday and throwing him the ball on Sunday and hoping for the best.

Comments


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

The 400-Word Review: Pledge

IFC Midnight's collegiate terror tale is mostly for genre fans, but it lands a few decent punches.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Glass

The 400-Word Review: Glass

M. Night Shyamalan's crossover film lands with a splat, as the filmmaker once again can't resist his worst impulses.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Pop Culture Touches Made These Weddings Extra Special

Pop Culture Touches Made These Weddings Extra Special

Whether you love all things Disney, “Game of Thrones” or “Star Wars,” there are lots of ways to add some personal — and fun — details into your wedding day.

Comments

It’s a Hockey Wedding in Pittsburgh

It’s a Hockey Wedding in Pittsburgh

This Pittsburgh couple was brought together by their love of hockey — and what better way to celebrate their New Year’s Eve wedding than with an outdoor game?

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Up for Auction: Luxury 200-Acre Ligonier Estate Owned by Former EDMC Exec

Up for Auction: Luxury 200-Acre Ligonier Estate Owned by Former EDMC Exec

Woodmere is one of four high-end properties owned by Robert Knutson scheduled to hit the auction block this week.

Comments

The Top Five HOME Stories of 2018

The Top Five HOME Stories of 2018

Take a look back at the biggest stories to come out of Pittsburgh’s home and design industry.

Comments