Thursday, October 31, 2013

According To Caulfield...

"I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It's nice." 
-Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

When it comes to Butcher and the Rye (212 Sixth Street, 15222), I am excited. Actually, I am beyond excited. I had a stupendous experience there on Tuesday evening for the official opening, and it would be remiss if I didn't go all ahhhht with an intricately written review.

To begin, Butcher and the Rye lives up to the recent hype surrounding its debut. This self-aware restaurant now anchors the West end of the Cultural District in its primo location across from Heinz Hall. The third of Richard Deshantz's projects and the second of his partner Tolga Sevdik, Butcher and the Rye boasts an amalgamation of ideas and an attention to detail that create a memorably enjoyable effect for patrons.

Chapter One: Atmosphere
Aesthetically, Butcher and the Rye has the familiarity of Meat and Potatoes with a distinctly different edge; it is clever without being overbearing and thematic without being trite. However, Butcher and the Rye is no twin. Rather, Butcher and the Rye is the warm tavern to Meat and Potatoes' cool saloon. A blend of plush wallpaper, white tile, pressed tin, and reclaimed wood is highlighted with mirrors, antlers, a menagerie of taxidermy, butcher's tools, unique lighting fixtures, murals, and tasteful knick-knacks; patrons cannot help but appreciate the conceptual design with its emanating and understated Americana.
The left front dining room features open seating and the right front dining room features a more intimate space with a transparent view of Sixth Street. The low ceilings of the front dining rooms give way to the voluminous bar, which undoubtedly is the heart, or core of the establishment. With its focal point being an entire wall of bourbon and rye, the smooth wooden bar and its immediate surroundings glow in shades of gold, amber, chestnut, and crimson. To the far left end, an open stairway with wallpaper reminiscent of Ansel Adams leads up to the lounge; to the far right end, the back dining room may have been decorated by none other than a metrosexual Gaston.
Once upstairs, patrons can overlook the bar or the back dining room. This space suggests how great the Duquense Club could be with some updating and flair...

Chapter Two: Drinks

Butcher and the Rye presents eight "Thinking Drinks" ($10) which are "Splendid and Clear." This is what I preferred on Tuesday, starting with a Moscow Mule (Russian Standard, King's Ginger Liqueur, lime, ginger, seltzer), which was perfect. There's just something about holding that copper mug and enjoying the twinge of ginger and lime on my tongue. My next drink was the Pittsburgh Smash (Wigle Rye, blackberry, lime, mint, vanilla, angostura bitters), which was the most refreshing "adult" boost I've self-administered in a long time. Upon my return, I am going to try the Holden On (Famous Grouse, apple & sage shrub, Meletti Amaro, lime, cinnamon).

In addition, there are "Aged Classics" ($12), which are "classic cocktails that have been given time to rest inside whiskey barrels"; daily punch ($7); "Whiskey Flights" (prices vary), which include three 3/4 oz. samples; "Phonies" ($5), which are non-alcoholic wannabes; and a moderately extensive beer, red, white, and sparkling list.

Wes made my drinks and was quite charming as well as adept; if you have a minute, watch the ebb and flow of the bartenders on a busy night-- it's impressive.

Chapter Three: Bread, Veggies, Pasta, Meats, and Seafood
Our dining party had five people (SAA, ALL, DMF, ESK, and yours truly). We ordered carefully to avoid duplication, but also to cater to our own preferences. Needless to say, sharing ensued followed with fervently nodding heads and multiple murmurs of approval. To make this review less cumbersome to read, I will be brief. Nearly everything was fantastic. Deshantz once again masters a variety of fresh ingredients to create flavorful experiences that are both interesting and fulfilling.
Parker House Rolls ($4, jalapeno peach marmalade, apple bourbob butter, honey butter)
Cauliflower ($10, farro, romanesco, carrot, brown butter, harissa yogurt)
Mac-N-Cheese ($10, taleggio, fontina, goat cheese, aged cheddar, parmesan)
Rabbit Saddle ($16, rabbit pierogie, pumpkin mustard, pickled mustard, greens, malt + onion puree)
Crispy Pig Wings ($8, thai chili sauce, pickled mango salad, cilantro)
Wagyu Flank ($22, sunchokes, fingerling potatoes, roque smoked blue cheese, black garlic aioli)
Monk Fish Picatta ($16, blue crab risotto, chanterelle, capers, kale chips)
Octopus ($14, scallop, garbanzo, confit potatoes, piquillo ketchup, aji amarillo)
Collectively, we could not get enough of the hearty Cauliflower and the comforting Mac-N-Cheese. DMF enjoyed the Rabbit Saddle dish, and would have enjoyed a larger portion of the pierogie; I was thrilled with the Crispy Pig Wings, especially because of this dish's Asian influence and the refreshing, lightness to it; ALL loved her Wagyu Flank that melted in her mouth (and mine); ESK thought that the blue crab risotto was the highlight of her Monk Fish Piccata dish and that the fish itself could have used more seasoning; and SAA, upon trying the Octopus (for the first time ever), was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed its kick (figuratively, not literally).

When I return, I plan to explore the menu further by choosing the Onion & Brioche Soup ($7, crispy duck confit, chestnut, toasted fennel seed), along with some cheeses and charcuterie.

Chapter Four: Dessert
Apple Brown Betty ($8, oat streusel topping, double vanilla ice cream)
Brown Betty is a family recipe on my maternal side, so I was curious to try this version. We ordered a few for the table, and this sumptuous dessert disappeared quickly. Warm and crispy, this dish ended our evening together on a sweet note. Perhaps we might have enjoyed a bit more of the double vanilla ice cream, but we were not dissatisfied in any way.
Your bill and a notebook to archive your thoughts on the Butcher and the Rye experience
As for service, our expectations were high because of how we are treated at Meat and Potatoes, and Butcher and the Rye reaches that standard. Most notably, our waitress Christie was friendly and accommodating, the manager Ryan made an excellent (and lasting) impression, and Tolga made us feel right at home.

In closing, the allusion to J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye isn't lost on this literary fan; Holden Caulfield's loathing for insincerity and the "phonies" might have been enough to bring him to Butcher and the Rye, an authentically sincere establishment. So get excited Pittsburgh... "It's nice."

(3.75 stars, 3.75/4)

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