Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dining Dahn in Lawrenceville

If you're not familiar with the City of Pittsburgh, you might miss Lawrenceville. Tucked along the inner curve of the Allegheny River, this long, narrow neighborhood is home to a revitalized residential and commercial district that manages to blend the eclectic (a great bowling alley where I had my 25th birthday party, some of my favorite boutiques, great restaurants, classic row houses, local bars, a touch of corporate, and unique business ventures) together. I discovered the neighborhood in 2004 when Lucky magazine (you know, the magazine with no articles... just pictures of things on which to spend your money) featured a boutique called Sugar. Soon after, I fell in love with Pavement for footwear, and Divertido for gifts.

And while it would be easy to ramble on about shopping, this post isn't about that. It's about food; and in my opinion, there are three restaurants in Lawrenceville that are most noteworthy. Here are my reviews.

piccolo Forno
So back in the summer of Oh Nine (to which I fondly refer as the Summer of Eating, Drinking, and Talking), I  first experienced  piccolo Forno (which means little [fire] oven in Italian). The story goes something like this: It was nearly 4:00 a.m. and I was outside of Ritter's Diner smoking a cigarette as JTP paid the bill. While outside, I was joined by two fellows whom were speaking of the best pizza in Pittsburgh. This of course was a bold statement on their end, so I jumped in and the following conversation ensued (JTP entered midway through the dialogue):

HGB: Now where is this pizza you speak of?
FELLOWS: piccolo Forno, dahn in Lawrenceville.
HGB: (in a challenging tone) And what makes it the best?
FELLOWS: (in all seriousness) It's made with love.
HGB: Really? How do you know?
FELLOWS: (laughing) 'Cause we make it.
JTP: Wait. Where is this again?
ONE OF THE FELLOWS: piccolo Forno. Come down tomorrow around noon, and I'll make you a pie.
HGB: Are you serious?
ONE OF THE FELLOWS: Yeah, come straight back to the wood fired oven... I'll be there.
HGB and JTP: Okay! We'll be there too.

So the next day we went dahn to Lawrenceville, walked straight to the back of piccolo Forno; and as promised, one the fellows made us a pizza: Prosciutto e Rucola (fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto, and fresh arugula).

How does this story end? With two full bellies and two smiles on our faces. Truth be told, the fellows were right. It's the best pizza in the City of Pittsburgh.

Piccolo Forno on Urbanspoon

(4 stars, 4/4)

Tamari Restaurant and Lounge
JTP and I are what I like to call "restaurant compatible," and in a place like Tamari, this is very important. With a menu of nearly twenty tapas, eight entrees, eight specialty maki, and a school of maki, nigiri, and sashimi options, selecting your food is much easier when you can coordinate your choices with your companion(s)... you can get what you know you like, and still try new items while sharing everything. Bottom line: it's intimate and quite fun. The atmosphere is chic and sublime, the service is great (thanks K.C. and Jake, my most recent bartender and server who provided great Bombay and tonics and plenty of fresh plates respectively), there's courtyard outdoor seating, and an open kitchen.

Here's what I recommend... Seared Scallops (flavor will literally "pop" in your mouth), Fig Salad (bittersweet bliss of fig, arugula, proscuitto, and manchego cheese), Fish Tacos (topped with a blood-orange foam that makes an already delicious bite even better),  Tamari Specialty Maki (the torched scallop that tops this roll redefines "melt in your mouth"), and Chipotle Tuna Tartare (aptly described by JTP as "unreal tender." Use the plantain to scoop up the tuna!).

If you like lightly fried food, try the Crispy Calamari (the coconut saffron, wasabi aioli, and mango-apple salsa add a fresh twist to this classic dish).

If you are feeling adventurous, try the Robata Grill bacon and quail egg skewer... for $2, it's a chance to try something new. And let's be honest, [almost] anything wrapped in bacon is downright delicious.

You cannot leave Tamari with indulging in desserts. I recommend two items (JTP and I usually go with a "chocolate-y" and a "fruity"): Spicy Chocolate Tart (the cayenne lingers in your mouth just long enough to make you want another bite) and the Poached Pear (topped with blood-orange foam, the combination of cardomom creme, an almond lace cookie,  and pear is the perfect "change of taste" for after dinner).

Tamari on Urbanspoon

(4 stars, 4/4)

This is a Thursday night destination for us, meaning it's an "almost the weekend, HGB doesn't feel like cooking, we both need a good drink (or two), we want good food, and we want a good atmosphere" kind of place. Great bartenders, a classic hip-hop juke box, and a decor that takes the best features of an antique hotel (pressed tin ceiling, narrow space, fireplaces, huge windows, low lighting) and tops them with a touch of quirky.

Simply stated, Round Corner Cantina delivers. It's a bar that happens to have fantastic food... just check out the menu and you will see. It's 3/4 bebidas, tequilas, and cervezas (try the Sweet Tea for refreshment with a kick... it's all about the fresh mint). What I like is that the menu doesn't overwhelm you with options; it merely points you in the right direction. I recommend Tacos de Chorizo, Tacos de Carnitas, Tacos de Pescado, and Tacos de Puerco; but I am willing to eat anything on the menu based on how delicious those items are. Each taco (an order comes with two) is a flavor explosion that wrapped in double-layered warm, soft shell with just enough cilantro to remind you that it's Mexican.

On a side note, every Mexican joint  has a standard "chips and salsa" combo; but Round Corner Cantina "one ups" this concept with its "Tres Salsas" menu item for two reasons: one, the 3 salsas are refreshing and tasty; and two, the clean lines and simple design of the serving piece are perfect. Needless to say, when I found this classic serving piece at IKEA I put it in my quintessential IKEA big yellow shopping bag in less than fifteen seconds.

Round Corner Cantina on Urbanspoon

(4 stars, 4/4)