Located in charming Oakmont, notion is an intriguing new restaurant that delivers interesting, complex food with superb service. This is the long-awaited venture of celebrated chef Dave Racicot, a seasoned culinary artist who's a semi-finalist for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region in the 2011 James Beard Foundation awards.
Racicot’s team includes sous chefs Andrew Stump and Josh Neeley, general manager Jennifer Jin and pastry chef Josh Lind. Bringing a wealth of talent, the group also rolled up their sleeves and worked side by side with Racicot to revamp notion’s space—building furniture, staining, painting and reupholstering—to transform it into the gray, black and red environment it is today. Quietly lit and austere, the space provides a neutral backdrop to the food.
The restaurant seats 38, and the menu is appropriately small, offering appetizers, entrées and desserts as well as a seven-course chef’s tasting menu with optional wine pairings. The meal starts with an amuse bouche; mine was a creamy red-pepper soup with a spicy finish, accented with a sweet maple foam. The highly trained servers are well-informed and unobtrusively refresh the silverware on a slate tile for each upcoming course.
For every dish served, Racicot wants to deliver food that is “exciting to eat” and that is a “form of expression [and] a form of art.” Each dish is like a painter’s palette made of a number of components that offer a variety of flavors, textures, shapes and colors—all of which can be combined in various ways to achieve different flavors.
For example, the beets appetizer ($14) is delicious and refined. It begins with perfectly roasted blood-red baby beets that are complemented by spoonfuls of a tart cassis gelee; crispy beet chips; golden, candied grapefruit rind; a white, thick yogurt crisp; and a grapefruit foam.
Similarly, the broccoli appetizer ($13) includes the vegetable in many preparations: raw, puree, burnt and as a confit, served with toasted barley, olive-oil pudding and scalded milk froth. This dish truly elevates the modest vegetable to a new level of sophistication.
At notion, the soft lighting and gray, red and black decor provide a neutral backdrop to the cuisine.
Photo by Laura Petrilla
Among the entrées, a sublime choice is the cod ($32), consisting of several pieces of delicate, gently cooked fish topped with mussels and New England cockles, served with tiny radishes, burnt pearl onions and a luxurious shellfish nage (poaching liquid).
Also appealing is the hanger steak ($28): several chunks of delicious medium-rare steak served atop a creamy bean puree with caramelized onion crisps, white bacon powder and a sweet butterscotch pudding. Again, the mixture of textures, colors and flavors in this dish is outstanding and surprising.
The chicken dish ($26) includes two delicate pieces of skinless breast meat with a delicious shitake mushroom and vermouth stuffing, served with a celery-root puree, dried mushrooms and raw celery.
The wine list is small but promises to grow under the direction of experienced sommelier Alan Uchrinscko, who excels at pairing wines with the chef’s tasting menu.
The wines are thoughtfully matched with each dish, making the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings a worthwhile investment ($85, without wine; $115, with wine).
The desserts were a matter of mixed reviews among my dining companions. I will say that the hazelnut-chocolate dessert ($12) is more similar to the entrées in that it comprises a number of components starting with the centerpiece cigar-shaped hazelnut pudding, complemented by rich almond ice cream, crumbled brown-butter cake and rosewater foam.
Clearly, Racicot puts a great deal of thought into each ingredient and how the elements will marry on the plate.
Throughout the meal, there were times when there were too many components on each plate—when the accompaniments distracted from the starring flavors.
During notion’s first few months in business, Racicot has already achieved his goal of providing intricate, detailed food that challenges people’s expectations.
It’ll be a pleasure to watch this restaurant mature and see what Racicot will create next.
314 Allegheny River Blvd., Oakmont, 15139; 412/828-7777, notionrestaurant.com. Tue.-Fri., 6-10 p.m.; Sat., 5-10 p.m. Appetizers: $12-$16; Entrées: $26-$32; Dessert: $10-$12. Serves alcohol, major credit cards accepted, reservations recommended for parties of four or more and on weekends, wheelchair accessible, street parking, no smoking and gluten-friendly.