Sausalido brings a new face (and flavor) to Bloomfield’s restaurant row, with seasonal diversity and iconoclastic bistro cuisine.
Rendering a new face and dynamic onto what was formerly the Italian restaurant Mezzanotte, Sausalido, located on the block between Pearl and Taylor streets, alters the urban flavor of Bloomfield. “I’m really excited about Bloomfield,” says owner Nicholas Mineo, “about being something different in Little Italy, smack dab in the middle of Tessaro’s and Lot 17.”
Nicholas Mineo is a cousin to the owners of the Mineo pizza chain and son of the owner of the pristine Shadyside Market and Gourmet Deli. He purposefully contrived the spelling of Sausalido to merge the cuisine of a romantic little town in Napa Valley (Sausalito) with his name for his maternal grandfather, “Pap Pap Lido,” owner of Petrucci in Burgettstown, Washington County. “Pap Pap was an innovator who had a knack for making people feel comfortable,” says Mineo. “Whether you were a minimum-wage earner or a millionaire, he treated everyone the same.”
You could say Nicholas Mineo’s journey to opening night officially began around age 5, when he started tagging along with his dad, Dominic, to conduct 6 a.m. produce searches Saturdays in the Strip District. “I thought everyone knew how to look for the best green bean or filet. I thought everyone’s dad went to work in the middle of the night,” laughs Mineo, who says he transitioned into manhood with an insight about paternal wisdom made famous in a Mark Twain quip—realizing how wise his dad had become in just a few years. “What I had learned from my dad was work ethic. If I have to work an 18-hour day, I imagine that he’s worked thousands of them.”
If you’ve never been in the restaurant business, a start-up is a guaranteed baptism-by-fire. But Mineo’s lifelong exposure to food and what it means for people to sit down and have a good meal helped him overcome the trepidation of opening night.
He signed the lease for the space formerly housing Mezzanotte in August, and after some paint and a few carpentry tricks, he opened the restaurant on Oct. 20, his mother’s birthday. Sausalido, casual, bordering on modest, exudes vibes as good-natured as the little village of Bloomfield itself. Oil paintings from nearby Box Heart Gallery (they are for sale) punctuate the neutral walls with exploding color. Tables are undressed but for the gallantry of fresh flowers and linen napkins. A multi-paneled accordion screen and a tall, customized receptionist booth, like a Buckingham Palace guard station, lend angle and texture to a perfectly square room.
I sunk into my window seat, and as the place quickly filled up, I felt as though I had hunkered down for a long winter’s eve.
Sausalido’s fare is an ode to seasonal diversity with the flexibility of iconoclastic bistro cuisine, the sort of gastronomy I like finding more and more of these days. Its customs and cultures include attentive table-to-table rounds from both owner Mineo and executive chef Michael Simpson, a graduate of CIA Hyde Park, who traveled the world and worked at Jumby Bay in Antigua and La Belle Creole on the French side of St. Martin. In Pittsburgh, he was executive chef at Paul J’s Trattoria and Asiago. The restaurant feels utterly comfortable in a way that more polished ones sometimes don’t, full of happy discoveries. Mineo and Simpson have created a modern American menu that sagely balances curiosity-piquing surprises with sophisticated favorites, accommodating many predilections and moods. I started off with Sanchiolo’s bread. It was served with a white-bean and fresh rosemary-oil spread that begins with the real beans. These had been soaked overnight and boiled down with a caramelized purée of vegetables and a fresh rosemary/olive-oil infusion to soften up the texture. Then this was glazed with a balsamic reduction and topped off with a rosemary branch, positioned mid-center, and waving like a flag.
Instead of shrimp cocktail, Sausalido serves jumbo lump crab stuffed with shrimp drizzled with lemon-herb oil. Roasted zucchini with yellow butternut-squash hummus is sensuous, and I particularly like herby, toasted pita chips instead of the usual dry pita. Try the portobello caprese with lump crab, instead of the classic mozzarella and tomato combination. Or sample what’s turning out to be a signature dip—the seared smoked- gouda appetizer, lightly breaded and finished in a convection oven with marinated sun-dried tomatoes and sautéed baby spinach, instead of ubiquitous fried provolone. The semi-hard texture of the gouda, combined with the smoky flavor and a gooey interior—I can still taste it.
My husband, Brad, honed in on the Maple Leaf Farms roasted duck, which boasted crispy skin from finishing over high heat and meat as tender as can be. It was complemented by an orange-apricot balsamic glaze and asparagus risotto, which goes nicely with duck. Impressive. Fresh U-10 sea scallops wrapped in pancetta (instead of bacon) and seared until they are medium-rare (chef’s recommendation, but he will follow personal instructions) are finished with a light white-wine cream sauce. They’re served with baby spinach and gorgonzola mashed potatoes. Also consider the London broil (chef recommends medium-rare) over creamy parmesan-pancetta risotto with a delicious stone-ground mustard cream and the vegetable of the day. There’s also pan-roasted shrimp and pork tenderloin as opposed to surf-and-turf.
I loved the béchamel lasagne and irresistible hand-rolled pumpkin ravioli in fresh, half-moon shapes stuffed with pumpkin and mascarpone cheese, served with caramelized Royal Gala apples and cinnamon-sage brown butter and a little nest of fresh berries. A risotto of the week, always dependent on the weather and the chef’s mood, is presented piping hot on a cold night. A steaming Atlantic salmon comes with lemon-herb olive oil, white beans, zucchini, yellow squash and Roma tomatoes so hot they burst in your mouth.
Even with just four desserts, I found it difficult to be decisive until our server encouraged me to order the rich chocolate cheesecake with a gorgeous Oreo crust, which unfailingly dismissed my troubles. Tarte Tatin à la mode is appealing—even if you’re not an apple-tart person. Don’t miss a taste of coffee from The Vault Coffee & Tea Bar, a coffeehouse in Brighton Heights, where Mineo, always looking to support neighbors near and far, lives.
Five years ago, Mineo started a catering business out of the Shadyside Market and Gourmet Deli. It took off. Not just another weekend warrior/wedding caterer is Mineo. Among his clients are Air Canada and the Rolling Stones. (Mick Jagger ordered ahi tuna; Charlie Watts chose a grilled-cheese sandwich). The catering business continues to grow out of its new Liberty Avenue locale.
Says Mineo about his newest business venture, “I’m trying to live it. I want people to know that.” And he offers this promise and invitation, “When you come to my restaurant, I’ll do my best not to let anybody down. Enjoy the hard work!” His enthusiasm reminds me to trust my instincts as I pass through life and Bloomfield, a quirky urban enclave with narrow, twisty streets that reflects diversity and is home to artists and accountants, hairdressers and hard-hats, cash-rich and cash-strapped alike. Sausalido fits right in there. I predict its unassuming charms will only multiply as the weather warms and the doors open for alfresco dining.