My Favorites for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week: Summer 2015

It's a great week to enjoy summertime crops cooked up by Pittsburgh's skilled chefs.

If the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter Edition is my oasis in the dreary cold, its summer edition is just what I need to put my favorite season of the year on the good side of “over-the-top.”

It’s no secret that I love to cook at home — especially in August, the peak of our preciously short growing season. Tomatoes, peppers, summer squashes, greens, beans. There's so much good stuff that's available from our local farmers. And truly, this time of year is the best to experience vegetables at their peak and taste the just-harvested goodness. It is no exaggeration that they taste amazingly different.

As much as I enjoy cooking with vegetables at their peak at home, I also love to explore our restaurants and taste the creative dishes our local chefs are cooking. There is no better (or easier) time to shift to a vegetable-forward menu: Nature is offering us such a great palette to work with! It is great to see some Restaurant Week menus that are doing just that — celebrating the season.

Restaurant Week officially begins Monday, but some spots are kicking things off this weekend. This time my list of picks includes some “classics” along with new, exciting restaurants.


Top pick: Avenue B in Shadyside

I love Avenue B, and because I work in East Liberty, I’m always trying to get there to check out the lunch menu. I haven’t been successful, but next week, I am making it A POINT to do so. Avenue B is offering a two-course lunch for $20.15 and a multi-course dinner for $35.15.

Avenue B’s menu changes often, but right now, I want to try this combination for lunch: asparagus tempura with raspberry vinaigrette and the falafel chopped salad with olive relish and tzatziki dressing.

For dinner, it's a tougher choice! For starters, I have to decide between the chilled corn bisque, coffee-cocoa creme fraiche or the heirloom tomato and watermelon lettuce wraps, olives, feta and garlic scapes. For the main event, it is a toss up between the potato gnocchi, peas, roasted cauliflower, arugula, smoked soubise and crispy pecorino or the chanterelle manicotti, braised chard, oven-dried tomato vinaigrette and herb salad.

Or maybe I’ll just make sure I go with a date, require that one must order the other dish and share. #win


Best bang for buck: tako in downtown Pittsburgh

If you have been waiting to go to tako, wait no more. With a $35.15 dinner for two, this is the week to do so because you get one shared small plate and tacos for two.

Tako is the most vegetable-friendly of all of Richard DeShantz’s restaurants — and the most fun (I think!). In fact, what will be hard for me is to choose just one shared small plate because I almost always order three or more when I visit.

My favorite small plate is beet tostadas — "beets pretending to be beef” — on a corn tortilla with avocado, fromage blanc and lemon vinaigrette. I also love the kale with sesame brittle, avocado, radish, mizuna, mustard greens, dashi-braised daikon with a miso vinaigrette. And lastly, the papas bravas, confit potatoes with spicy tomato sauce, garlic aioli and oregano. tako also has elotes — yummy grilled street corn with mayo that we see popping up everywhere in the city.

For the taco, I always go for the mushroom, a delicious tortilla treat filled with maitake mushrooms, huitlacoche salsa, garlic aioli, oaxaca cheese and burnt Brussels sprouts.

Pair with a refreshing tequila cocktail and, yes, your night is MADE.


Menu with the most vegetarian options: Istanbul Sofra in Regent Square

Almost ALL of the dishes on Istanbul Sofra’s list of $28.15 multi-course dinner options are vegetarian. This is good and bad. Bad obviously because it is hard to choose.

Start with hummus, dolmas, spicy ezme salad, haydari (a very thick homemade savory yogurt), piyaz (stewed navy beans) … the list goes on. For the main course, Istanbul Sofra does not list a veggie option in the official Restaurant Week menu, but pro-tip: Ask for one from the regular menu, and the staff will gladly oblige. Try the Manti, Turkish dumplings filled with fresh, finely diced vegetables and served with homemade tomato sauce and yogurt. Then end with one of the many dessert options (again, tough choices abound!).


Best reason to get out of the city: Eighty Acres Kitchen & Bar in Plum

It is with great embarrassment that I admit that I am “one of those” people whose average daily or weekly (OK, monthly) travel radius stays within the 5-mile mark. BUT I do travel for food. By plane even.

This week, I am making my way to Eighty Acres because how could I miss this three-course dinner for $30.15? For the first course, a choice of chilled buttermilk vegetable soup or a roasted garlic (peaking right now!) and kale soup. For the second course grilled peaches (heavens) with wild arugula and soba or pickled cauliflower (be still, my heart) with shaved fennel quinoa and shallot vinaigrette. And to top it off, brown-rice fritters. (It's so hard to write this whole post without getting hungry.)


Best reason to explore the other streets of Lawrenceville: Kaleidoscope Cafe

We all know Butler Street by now. But Lawrenceville is not just Butler Street. Those in the know are aware that there are certain streets with hidden gems. Kaleidoscope is one such gem. Tucked away from the bustle is a beautiful building decorated with artist Ryder Henry’s mural, and inside is a lovely, quiet cafe, perfect for conversation. For Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, Kaleidoscope is offering a multi-course menu for only $20.15. The restaurant has an array of salads to choose from, but not to miss is the Mediterranean vegetable roulade: spinach, eggplant, zucchini, onion and white-bean puree rolled in a puff pastry with roasted-red pepper coulis and topped with feta, grape-tomato salad and toasted almonds. Yum.


Best Asian food option: PAN in Lawrenceville

I must confess: It has been tough for me to even think about going into the restaurant “where Tamari used to be.” (Wow, I now have a legit Pittsburghese direction to give to someone someday.) But PAN’s $20.15 “A Bowl and a Roll” is very inviting!

Check out this combination: Chiang Mai cauliflower — a bowl of Thai aromatic rice, roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, crispy tofu, coconut and red curry sauce — and, for the roll, Green Pan Maki, with avocado, cucumber salad, seaweed salad, smoked habanero-mango puree, jalapeno miso rolled in soy paper.


Restaurant Week Classics: Root 174 in Regent Square and Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina in Garfield

Mainstays of Verde and Root 174 are back again!

At Root 174, chef Keith Fuller has started offering multi-course vegan and omnivore menus. For Pittsburgh Restaurant, they are up for $34.15. The menu changes daily, but I hope he serves the popcorn corn chowder — the photo says it all: popcorn-steeped corn bisque with corn nuts (!), potato, corn, celery, tarragon, paprika. Definitely not your grandmother’s corn chowder.


Verde is offering a $30.15 multi-course dinner. Do not miss the gazpacho al chile poblano (this is the best time for gazpacho, folks!) — the combination of roasted tomatoes and poblanos, mango, cornbread crouton, egg and chili oil is fantastic. Verde has elotes for those who can’t get enough of this treat. For the main, I love the enchiladas de hongos — wild mushroom enchiladas with beets, kale, farro and an ancho-tomato sauce.

As always, Verde is offering a $15 multi-course brunch. It's a hard choice between the chilaquiles and Mexican French toast!


And finally, because of chef Brian Little: Six Penn Kitchen in downtown Pittsburgh

Chef Brian Little was the reason I once headed to a bar to eat, not drink. And now he’s making me have to schlep downtown to do so at Six Penn. But how can I miss a $30.15 dinner with two stellar courses?

For starters, a summer vegetable carpaccio with cured squash (yes!), zucchini, vegan Havarti (vegan!), chamomile vinaigrette and espresso balsamic.

For the main, a sweet chili-marinated tofu, curry coconut and cauliflower puree, scallion, kimchi, cilantro, daikon radish and sesame oil.

I'm definitely not missing this one.


Categories: Brazen Kitchen