Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Room With a View

Like many people I know, I love spending time in restaurants and bars that have open-air dining sections, patios, and/or a view. Thus, once I was fully convinced that spring was here, I made it a point to finally visit The Porch at Schenley (an Eat n'Park Hospitality venture) in Oakland. I went on a Thursday evening with my friend RLG, only to return the very next Sunday so that JTP could enjoy the experience as well.

Aesthetically, the Porch is warm and welcoming from all angles. Opening up and looking ahhhhht over a vast lawn (that was a parking lot when I was in college), this restaurant manages to blend multiple textures tastefully. The lighting design is smart and enhances the ever present natural light; the layout provides many different seating options for diners from booths to tables to family style; and there is a bar.  

entry lighting
dining room lighting
Much like the interior, the menu is tasteful and offers something for nearly everybody. On my initial visit to The Porch, I had a hard time deciding what to order so I opted for an adult beverage while I contemplated. Because I had a long day at work, I felt that the Pineapple Sage Margarita (pineapple infused tequila, fresh pineapple, sage, $8) would do the trick. 

Pineapple Sage Margarita
Let's just say that after a few sips I was instantly refreshed and prepared for some decision making. This version of a margarita was simple, tangy, and sweet. If I hadn't been toting around a pregnant woman I would have had more... so obviously, I ordered this again on my second trip back and it was just as delicious. For the record, if you are a wine drinker, there are nine whites available, and ten reds; and, there is also the option of BYOWine for a $15 corkage fee. There are four beers on tap and nine bottled/canned selections. Also, there are three signature "Porch Drinks" and housemade seasonal soda, which is my arena. I will definitely try more of these when I return. 

But back to my first visit to The Porch... The menu reminded me of how hungry I was, and as usual I got a little overzealous by ordering an ambitious appetizer and carbs (only to receive an eye roll and a hearty laugh from RLG). Yes, I ordered the Grilled Artichokes (with lemon-mint yogurt, $9) and the Farm Bread (housemade jams & honey butter, $4) for RLG and me to share. 

Grilled Artichokes
Now, perhaps we are not as "cultured" as we should be, because RLG and me were unsure where to begin on these (honestly, I do not think many people would know how to tackle this situation). We ended up pealing pieces from the core of the artichokes and dipping them in the yogurt... it felt awkward, but it sufficed. Anyway, we thought that the artichokes could have been more tender; but we did like the faint taste of the grill which lingered on them. Also, the lemon-mint yogurt was both complementary and delicious. 

Farm Bread
If I didn't care about my figure, I would order the Farm Bread as my meal. Seriously. This is some of the most heavenly bread I've ever had.  It had a dense inner texture, a mildly sourdough flavor, and a light, crusty surface; all of which was prefect for the housemade apple butter, strawberry jam, and honey butter. The apple butter tasted like spreadable apple pie, and had I been observed, one would have seen me spreading apple butter on one bite, then strawberry jam on another, then honey butter on another, and then repeating the process. If only this behavior was guilt free! Yum! 

For our main courses, RLG went for the Pan Seared Salmon (green lentils, rapini, citrus beurre blanc, $18), and I chose the Rocket (roasted beets, chorizo, shaved parmesan, pickled shallots, toasted sunflower seeds, sherry vinaigrette, $10) salad. 

Pan Seared Salmon
I am allergic to salmon, which is a shame because it seems like every restaurant has salmon options that sound delectable. The Porch was no exception. For RLG, this proved to be a great choice, because she ate every last bite happily. It was light and flavorful fish, seared nicely and it went quite well with the lentils. 

Rocket salad
This salad was fantastic! Truthfully, if you tell me that there are both beets and chorizo on anything, I will probably eat it. Thus, this was HGB in salad form. The Rocket was a well-conceived conglomeration of fresh flavors and textures... not too much of any item, but just enough for each bite to provide me with something great. I ate it all despite how stuffed I was feeling from my belly full of Farm Bread. 

On my second visit, I knew that I wanted to try the Cast Iron Cornbread ($5) and the BBQ Chicken (roasted chicken, red onion, pineapple, cilantro, BBQ sauce, $12) pizza. More carbs, I know! 

Cast Iron Cornbread
Truthfully, I probably wouldn't order this again as an appetizer unless I paired it with soup; but it was tasty and the crumb topping was a nice touch to a familiar dish. JTP and I didn't finish it. Now, about that pizza... 

BBQ Chicken pizza
...served on a baking sheet, this BBQ Chicken pizza was more than enough for two people to share. The piles on the side of the pizza were herbs, spicy red pepper, and parmesan cheese to enhance your pizza as you pleased. In previous reviews, I've mentioned how much I enjoy a wood-fired pizza and this was no exception. When I return, it will be hard not to try another one. 

In true JTP fashion, he ordered the rotesserie Duck Legs (fava bean salad, charred ramps, foie gras, blueberry-champagne sauce, $20).  

Duck Legs
This was incredible, and I know this because JTP let me have a bite (or three). It's menu items like this that make me appreciate a chef's talents. How one creates entrees as delicious and fulfilling as these Duck Legs is not only inspiring, but also, it's an impressive exemplification of talent. If duck is in your wheelhouse, I highly suggest ordering this. You won't be disappointed. 

Lastly, I will comment briefly on Oakland, and how The Porch fits into one of my favorite places in the entire world. Just as Pittsburgh is keeps getting better, so too does Oakland by evolving into an even more beautiful urban campus than it already was. More green space, more new campus housing, an incredible baseball complex, the Peterson Events Center, and a renewed Forbes Avenue corridor accent all of Oakland's traditions. Therefore, The Porch, accents the campus in its brilliant location by sharing the Bigelow Blvd./Forbes Ave. intersection with the Hillman Library, and across from the Hillman Libary, the William Pitt Student Union, and the Cathedral of Learning...

my beloved Cathedral of Learning that's a view. 

 The Porch at Schenley on Urbanspoon

(3.25 stars, 3.25/4)

Note: It would have been 3.5 stars, but the hostesses need to get a little better with their greetings and their seatings.