Rock the Casbah

30 Apr

Ok – I went to my first hot yoga class tonight.  I’ve taken plenty of yoga classes before, but I wanted to try something new and there is a place not to far from me that offers these classes.  Fist of all, I had more sweat pouring out of my body in this yoga class than I do when I go to spin.  They keep the room at 85 degrees, so it’s, well, hot once you start moving and holding eagle pose for 2 minutes.  I was looking around going, please tell me that I’m not the only one this gross.  Luckily, I was not.  We all had beads of sweat on our arms, legs and chests.  That made me feel better.  So that was totally off topic, but I wanted to share 🙂

Last night my friend Niki and I went to Casbah in Shadyside for dinner.  Casbah isn’t a new place, it’s been open for several years now and is one of those places I kept meaning to go to for dinner but just never did.  It has a Mediterranean themed menu and they change the menu daily (with some things that are always on there of course).  I enjoyed this meal very much and was surprised at how busy this place was on a Tuesday night.  Shadyside is always busy of course, but there was a constant flow of people.

The way they have the menu setup is that there are small plates and appetizers and then larger plates.  I know a lot of people who have gone here just ordered a bunch of small plates and apps.  Niki and I decided we’d go with real dinners.  We both started with salads.  I got this pretty salad, the Salad Vignarola, with asparagus, radishes, Manchengo cheese and a celery seed dressing.  This was a tasty salad.

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Niki went with the arugula salad, I took a bite and boy was this great.  I think it was the pancetta vinaigrette that made it so good.

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I went back and forth on what to order for dinner.  I decided on the short rib ravioli and it was exactly what it sounds like.  It was the braised short rib meat in ravioli served with a short rib sauce.  It was very good and I ate about half of the serving while I was there, I wanted desert 😉  I actually ate the leftovers for lunch today and it still tasted good!

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Niki went with the house specialty, the pork chop with braised kale and pea and prosciutto risotto.  The chop was cooked perfectly (even if it was gigantic) and I loved the kale and risotto.  Niki was kind and let me try a bite of her food.

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Even though I was full, Niki talked me into desert.  We ordered a champagne Macaroon to share.  I loved the strawberry sorbet, it just tasted summery to me.  I liked the cookie and the cream as well.  It was surprisingly pretty big, we only managed to eat about half of it between the two of us but I’m glad we tried it.

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Overall, I really liked Casbah for dinner.  It was on the pricier side especially if you get a glass of wine or two, but I would go back here for a nice night out.  Probably not the place I’d go to every week for a casual dinner.

Casbah on Urbanspoon

 

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Sienna Mercato Review (first time)

26 Apr

I’m trying to get this done while I’m still awake and remember what all we ordered tonight.  We had all been talking about gong to Mercato (aka Emporio) for a few weeks now.  Honestly, I didn’t think we’d make an appearance until the rooftop bar opened later in May.  But we decided to hit it up tonight for some drinks and meatballs.

Yes, this is a meatball themed restaurant.  Pick a ball (beef, spicy pork, veggie or chicken), pick a sauce, pick a serving option.  We all decided on different things.  I got a spicy pork meatball with the arribiatta sauce.  So it was spicy and delicious and was truly memorable.  I loved the sauce on this one, it was a great tomato sauce with a kick and I really like spicy food.  My other choice was a chicken meatball with the mushroom gravy.  It was good, but nothing to write home about (unlike the other ball).

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Maura went with the beef meatballs for both with different sauces.  On one she got the parmesan and on the other the pesto.  She was nice and let me have a tiny bite of both so I could try the sauces.  I have to say, both were amazing but I’ll give it to the parmesan on this one.  I really enjoyed it.

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Ok, I admit, I forget what type of ball Niki ordered, but I do remember the sauces she choose!  She got the parm (like Maura) and also the tzatziki.  I tried the tzatziki that she ordered and it was really good.  I liked the cool cucumber sauce (that you’ve had if you’ve ever ordered a gyro) with the meatball.  It was a nice complement.

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And because this was on the menu and neither Niki nor Maura had ever experienced the joy that is poutine (is it just me or does that sound like a slightly dirty word) we ordered some.  So if you haven’t had it yet, it is fries with gravy and cheese curds.  And it is heaven on a plate.  Artery clogging heaven on a plate.  This was good poutine, not the best I’ve had in the city, but really good.

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So my overall on this place was a serious thumbs up.  I really can’t wait to go back and try the different combinations of meatballs and sauces as well as some of the other sides.  I loved the atmosphere and I can’t wait for the top two levels to open up over the next two months.  And again, go downtown for yet another great new addition for the after-work crowd!

Emporio: A Meatball Joint on Urbanspoon

 

Habitat Pittsburgh Review

22 Apr

Jen and I went to Habitat at the Fairmont in downtown Pittsburgh this evening.  It made the list of restaurants for Pittsburgh magazine last year, therefore it’s been on the list for a while now.  Not at the top, but since we’ve been on a downtown kick, we decide to go for it.  We made reservations about a week or so ago, but honestly, we didn’t need them.  I assume that unless it’s a busy weekend you’ll be fine without calling ahead.

The setting was very hotel-ish (another non-word for you).  Just that you could tell you were in a hotel restaurant.  It was super modern and absolutely fit with the theme at the Fairmont, but my guess is that the decor will seem outdated in about another 7 years.  The conversation and company was awesome (as always).  Lots of work talk tonight for some reason, but we both had some things we needed to talk out.  Then there was the people watching.  Which was just phenomenal this evening.  Shortly after we arrived a couple, in their 80’s I’d guess, walked in.  The wife in these black silk pants and what I believe was a chinchilla fur vest that came to her knees.  It was fantastic.  And then toward the end of our meal, a woman came in, also probably in her 80’s, in a silver metal (metal, not metallic) tie and gigantic 70’s glasses.  If I am even half as eccentric as either of these two women when I’m in my 80’s then mission accomplished 😉

On to the meal…

Two of the things I liked about Habitat Continue reading

Butcher and the Rye

9 Apr

Last night, Jen and I finally made it to Butcher and the Rye.  I’ve been wanting to go here for months.  First I had the surgery and wasn’t exactly getting out of my house and then the winter sucked.  I think we made plans to go twice and were snowed out both times.  So weather is finally improving (it may be in the 70’s this weekend!!!) and we made it to this awesome little restaurant.

This restaurant is brought to us by the same folks who run the super popular Meat and Potatoes just a few blocks down from this location.  Both places are difficult to get weekend reservations for, so if you want to go on a Friday or Saturday, make a reservation a few weeks in advance.  The inside of Butcher is rather dark and intimate.  I mean, you are pretty much right on top of the table next to you, so if you want to have a private conversation, good luck.  It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it’s not someplace I’d necessarily want to go for a romantic night out.

When you walk in, the first thing you’ll likely notice is this gigantic wall of whiskey!  They have a large drink menu that includes a whiskey flight.  Alas, that did not sound like a good idea on a Tuesday night, maybe some other time.

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After we sat down, I looked down at our table and had to giggle.  Each table had a different graphic on it, this was ours…

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I found it fitting that I got the Butcher (played brilliantly by Daniel Day Lewis) from Gangs of New York as this was one of the first Leonardo DiCaprio movies where I actually looked at him as an adult and not a kid.

I had been looking at the menu for days, okay weeks, I won’t lie.  One thing I knew for certain that we’d get, the Brussles sprouts.  They did not disappoint me.  I still intend to make a list of the best sprouts in Pittsburgh at some point as so many places have awesome recipes involving this veggie that was the bane of many childhood dinners.  These were wonderfully salty between the prep and the fresh grated parmigiano on top.  It was also served with a creamy lemon aioli that really complimented the Brussles sprouts.

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Jen and I debated whether to get just a few small plates or our own larger plates.  We were all ready to just get 3-4 small plate options but then our server totally changed our mind.  There is a burger on the side menu that was truly fantastic.  They grind the meat fresh and only made something like 25 patties each day.  I know, we ordered a burger at a place like this, but it was not a normal burger.  The pickles were made in house, the onion was grilled and the sesame seed brioche bun was the perfect way for this burger to be served.  Our only issue was that we were sharing and Jen and I have very different ideas of how meat should be cooked.  We ended up in the middle (I would have gone with medium-rare, Jen would have gone well done).  Either way, it was still amazing….

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So of course, our eyes were much larger than our stomachs and we went with one other small plate because we could not pass up the mac and cheese.  This was made for grown-ups with four different cheeses and was cheesy and creamy and absolutely delicious.  Mac and cheese is totally my guilty pleasure food, I was a little devastated that I was too full to enjoy more than a few bites of this.

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So despite sending back about half of the mac and cheese and a few bites of the Brussles sprouts and being ridiculously full, we did order a small desert.  Coconut ice cream with carrot cake and some fried shaved carrot.  Again, we could only eat about half of this, but the ice cream was homemade and it was fabulous as was the cake itself.

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Overall, I really enjoyed this and fully intend to make a repeat visit.  The ambiance and the staff were both lovely as was each dish that we ordered.  They checked on us frequently, but not too often and that is a difficult line to walk as a server.  I would absolutely recommend going here for dinner, but again, make reservations.  It’s by no stretch a large space so I understand why it’s a little difficult to get in to.  And I said this about another new downtown restaurant recently, but I’m so happy to see more places like this going into the downtown area.  It’s just nice to have a lot of options in that area!

Butcher and the Rye on Urbanspoon

Spa Weekend in Bedford Springs

30 Mar

This past weekend one of my good friends, Sara, from my Philly days and I got together for a spa weekend in Bedford Springs.  We did this same trip last year, I have to say, we’ve got this relaxing thing down.

We met on Friday at the resort and after lunch headed to the tasting room of a local winery, Briar Valley Vineyard and Winery.  We had gone here last year and had a nice time so decided to go again.  We did the full menu wine tasting, which is super reasonable at only $5, and they have a very generous tasting pour.  I ended up getting three bottles to take home, two reds (Cab Fran and Lemberger) and a Chardonnay because it was rather tasty.  All of their wines lean toward the dry side.  I would totally recommend stopping in this store if you are heading to Bedford for the spa, it’s a fun stop before the Omni.

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At the resort, there are only three restaurants, two of them are what I’d call more formal while the third, the Frontier Tavern is very casual.  For lunch and dinner the first day we opted for the Frontier Tavern.  We grabbed lunch there before we went to the winery.  I think it was a good call to eat a little before drinking at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  Sara loves to share food, which makes me happy because I’m the same way.  You get to try more if you share!!  So we split a chicken sandwich and this awesome lobster cobb salad with green goddess dressing.  It was fantastic.

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For dinner, we weren’t especially hungry so we opted for a cheese plate…

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Some fried crab fritters (which honestly were more like hush puppies).  I was expecting more crab I suppose.

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And of course we got a bottle of wine 🙂

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Because drinking at the winery and then again in the room before dinner wasn’t enough!  There was a drinking trend this weekend.

We then headed to bed… partly because we were tired and also because we had our spa day ahead of us on Saturday!  In the morning we had a late breakfast at the buffet in the Crystal Dining Room before our appointments at 1.  It was such a great morning, I slept til 8:30 got my workout in early and had a great breakfast all before my spa appointments!

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Ok, on to the good part, the spa…  I had a massage and a facial.  Both of which I loved.  First we get to relax in the spa pool, which I almost fell asleep in because it was so warm and comfy with the jets going.  Then my favorite part, the massage, it was so lovely.  I think next time I do something like this, I’d skip the facial (even though it was very nice) and just do a longer massage.  When my masseuse told me that my hour long session was done I was so sad, I could have stayed for another hour.  One of my friends asked me how I was doing on Saturday night and I told him that I felt like jello, because that was the only word I could come up with to describe how relaxed I was.  It was so nice.

We had dinner reservations in the 1796 room that night for dinner.  So after our spa day, we went back to the room and had a few glasses of wine that we had brought while we got ready for dinner.  The last time we were there I really enjoyed my meal there and was so looking forward to it again.  Sara and I started with this Seafood Tower for 2, it was hysterical (and very good).  There were a few crab legs, one lobster tail, a few shrimp and some tuna ceviche.  I loved that tuna, I seriously could have had that for my meal.

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Since we got such a large starter, I opted to stick with the Seafood theme and got the fish special which was tuna (and I made that decision before I had the ceviche).  It was prepared simply and was done rare.  I loved it, it was very good and light enough for me since I was still feeling jello-ish from my massage!

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Sara went with the beef tenderloin which I got a bite of.  It was a very nice piece of beef and was served with their house-made steak sauce and a grilled artichoke heart.

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We were pretty full after all of that, but our server mentioned a nutella cupcake, and there was no way we were turning that down, so we decided to share one and took it to-go.  First we went back to our room to get some more wine (because a bottle with dinner and some drinks while getting ready was clearly not enough).  It’s fun to drink wine out of to-go coffee cups with the sippy lids on.

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So we got our drinks and took our cupcake down to the lobby area to relax by the fireplace. So this cupcake had nutella and banana chips, two of my favorite things that I never buy.  Sara was super sweet and gave me the banana chip on top.

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This was so good.  Words honestly can’t do it justice.

After the massage and that cupcake and the wine, this was a lovely end to the day…

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Sadly, good things like this must come to an end.  So after a workout in the morning while Sara got a manicure in preparation for her upcoming wedding (3 weeks!!!) and a quick breakfast, we hit the road.  And it was snowing.  Mother Nature and I are going to have some serious words after this winter, she’s going to drive me south again with this nonsense.

Happy Fat Tuesday – Jambalaya Recipe

4 Mar

I found this Jambalaya recipe two or three years ago and have been making it ever since.  I figured since it was the end of Mardi Gras I should do a little something since I’m not out drinking my face off like I would have been when I was in college… and in my early twenties.

It’s a cooking light recipe.  I’ve modified it a little, but not much.  So, the recipe and steps provided by Cooking Light, the pictures provided by me…

Cooking Light Recipe

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces (I only used chicken breast)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped smoked turkey sausage (about 4 ounces) (I used leftover kielbasa)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper (I used a whole green pepper and half a red pepper because I like the flavor)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice (I used brown rice)
  • 2 3/4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons paprika (skipped all three of these – paprika, thyme and red pepper – and subbed with a cajun seasoning that I have)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped $
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (optional)

Preparation

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and black pepper. Add chicken to pan, and cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove chicken from pan; cover and keep warm. Add sausage to pan; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.  Remove from pan.
  2. Add 1 cup onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic; cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 12 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.
  3. IMG_1116Stir in rice; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. IMG_1118Add broth, paprika, thyme, and red pepper; bring to a boil.
  5. IMG_1123Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Add chicken, sausage and tomatoes; cook, uncovered, 10 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
  6. IMG_1126IMG_1128Stir in shrimp; cover and cook 5 minutes or until shrimp are done. Remove from heat, and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Sprinkle with green onions.

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So hope you all have a good week!  I’m still trying to decide what to give up for Lent… one friend is talking about giving up Facebook… I’m not sure I have the willpower.  Any suggestions?

Grit & Grace Review

22 Feb

One of my dear friends was celebrating a birthday this week and we both were looking forward to trying Grit & Grace so that is where we went to celebrate.  I honestly can’t say enough great things about this restaurant.  I enjoyed everything about the meal from the setting, to the casual style to the food itself.

They style of food is interesting.  Chef Brian Pekarcik has created a style that (according to our server) is taking Asian food and “Americanizing” it.  Not in the way that the Chinese buffet down your street Americanized things with sweet sauces and fried food, but in a way of taking traditional Asian flavors and giving it an American comfort food touch.

The menu is interesting, and to be honest probably isn’t for the picky eaters among you.  But honestly, nothing that I talk about on this blog is for picky eaters!  They have some salads, sandwiches, noodle bowls as well as small and large entrees.  On top of that, they have a dim sum offering with a server who comes around randomly with the food already prepared.  I saw several things that we didn’t order that I’d certainly go back for.

Off the regular menu we went with Short Ribs on cream cheese biscuits and a hollandaise sauce which was a little messy and also amazing.  This may have been my favorite item that we ordered!  We also ordered the chicken thighs with fried rice, also very tasty.  Until I started eating out at some of these great restaurants, I did not realize the joy that is dark chicken meat.  The flavor is fantastic in this dish and it was simple and delicious.  The last item we ordered from the regular menu was the braised pork in butter lettuce cups.  It was also very good, but probably my least favorite of the items we ordered.

IMG_1103The Chicken Thighs

When the dim sum server came to our table, I wasn’t sure what to get!  Every item was tempting.  Eventually what we got was the kimchi (2 of those because it was so good we ordered another when he came back around later).  The pork belly, which is like really amazing bacon, and a steak tartare.  Each of them were tasty!

IMG_1101The Short Ribs, Kimchi and Pork Belly

We ended with something sweet of course.  I didn’t see desert listed so I was thinking that we would be heading out for something, but they did have two options that were not listed.  What we chose was… interesting.  It was a lemongrass creme with toasted fruity pebbles.  Yes, you heard that correctly, fruity pebbles.  It was different.  I’m not sure I’d get it again, but it was certainly something to try!  I loved the lemongrass creme, just not sure how I felt about it with cereal!

IMG_1104Our Fruity Pebble desert

Again, I really enjoyed everything about this restaurant.  We ended up taking close to 2 hours to eat and never once felt rushed.  The servers were all very attentive but not overly so.  I asked about possibly menu changes and additions and she said that yes, they’ve been and will continue to change up the dim sum as well as the regular menu.  It was a small space downtown, not far from Market Square.  I’m happy to see new places going in in the downtown area as it seems some of the other neighborhoods around town have been the target for many of the interesting restaurants in the last 5-10 years.  With the relatively recent addition of Grit & Grace (as well as Butcher and the Rye which I’m hitting up in about 3 weeks) there are now some really great dining options in downtown Pittsburgh.  The only other thing I’ll add is that you need a reservation.  While we were there early and it wasn’t that busy at the time, I can see this place getting really crowded later in the evening.  Have you been to Grit & Grace yet?  What did you think?

Grit & Grace on Urbanspoon

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