Top Picks for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week: Summer 2013

From a multiple-course truffle tasting to a vegan ginger-snap cookie ice cream sandwich, Pittsburgh has entered a whole new vegetable frontier.

Photo courtesy of Verde


Truffle tasting menu? Vegan ice cream sandwich with peaches-and-cream ice cream nestled between two gingersnap cookies with a Super Punch reduction? I just about fainted when I read some of the menus for next week’s Pittsburgh Restaurant Week. If there were doubts about our food scene entering a new vegetable frontier, those doubts have been put to rest.

It’s quite timely, too, because a vegetable renaissance is happening in all the food capitals of the world.

“Vegetables are the future of American cooking,” declares Josh Ozersky, notorious carnivore and founder of the Meatopia Food Festival, in the August 2013 issue of Food & Wine magazine.

I saw it coming, though. I mean — of course I did! Why else would I be writing this blog? You can trace the renaissance back to 2011, when snout-to-tail chef David Chang traveled to South Korea to meditate at Buddhist temples and eat vegetarian food. This month, chef Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Alinea has devoted an entire month to vegan food at his NEXT Restaurant. People are going bananas. Tickets are sold out and going for $500 on Craigslist. Locally, Kevin Sousa’s monthly vegetarian table and Kaya’s monthly vegetarian dinners are beacons leading this creative movement of “omnivore” chefs celebrating vegetables.

Ozersky continues, “Vegetable-focused chefs have become so popular that you can’t chalk it all up to fad-chasing or a bacon backlash. Chefs are cooking for the whole public, even brutes like myself. Much as I like meat, I like genius even better.”

During Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, beginning Monday, some of our city’s best will showcase new vegetable-centric choices that cannot be missed. Here are my top picks:

Toast! kitchen & wine bar
This just about made me stop in my tracks. For $40, diners get a five-course meal featuring truffles:

 ◼ Tomato and smoked tofu with black truffle
 ◼ Porcini mushroom and truffle risotto
 ◼ Roasted beets and hearts of palm with truffle vinaigrette
 ◼ Sweet potato and chickpea loaf with truffle-roasted corn and wild rice
 ◼ Strawberries and cacao nibs

I. Am. So. There.

Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen
Alma remains my perennial favorite for offering the most tasty and diverse options. The restaurant continues to please with its $30 four-course prix fixe. First, choose between the house gazpacho or a cucumber-wrapped quinoa salad with pickled vegetables. For the main course, there is a beautiful coconut-crusted, pan-seared tofu. To top it off, Alma’s amazing selection of desserts includes an avocado and almond cream pudding, as well as a refreshing fresh-fruit sorbet.

Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina
Verde was also one of my picks at last year’s Restaurant Week, and with dishes such as ancho-marinated seitan tacos with achiote vinaigrette, Verde will certainly introduce your palate to a whole new world.

If you’ve never had seitan, this is your chance. That comes after tasty appetizers such as elotes pequenos (grilled baby corn with cayenne aioli and cilantro-lime salt) and a stone-fruit salad with mint, basil, tomato and tajadas (plantains, yum!).

Verde also happens to have 170-plus tequilas. Just saying.

Root 174
I’ll make a trip to Root 174 any day, just for the crispy brussels sprouts. Now you can have it as part of a tasting menu that also includes an amazing vegetable loaf with white beans and asparagus topped with scallion Serrano pesto. Make sure to save some room, because you won’t want to leave a single smidgen of the no-bake cookie with almond milk and strawberry coconut ice cream in your bowl. That would be an unacceptable waste.

Andys at Fairmont Pittsburgh and Tender Bar + Kitchen
My No. 5 pick combines options for those looking for the best lunch and late-night fare.

Dine al fresco at Andys at Fairmont Pittsburgh on your break. Andys is offering its $10 lunch special for just $8 during Restaurant Week. You can feast on house-made pierogies and a refreshing iceberg wedge salad while people-watching and enjoying the late-summer weather.

For those who get an uncontrollable desire for late-night noshing, Tender Bar + Kitchen is offering a $13 late-night prix fixe from 10 p.m.-midnight, Monday to Thursday. The “Nosh & Swig” gets you a snack and one of Tender’s exceptional cocktails. Plus, if you’re a very, very, very good boy or girl, maybe you can charm your server into letting you get the unbelievable vegan sugar cookie with peaches and cream ice cream and Super Punch reduction (an Italian herbal liqueur). How can you not have sweet dreams after that?

Now you have your list. Grab your phone, call some friends and plan your Pittsburgh Restaurant Week route. If there was ever a good excuse to eat out, this is it.

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