Thank you for the recommendations. I had many great options mapped out pon arrival which made the weekend go very smoothly. (Although the football game didn't go my way...but that's for a different board.) To the chow!
Friday dinner: Six Penn - I ate solo at the bar while waiting for my friend to fly in. The service was a touch slow and cool to start but warmed over time. The atmosphere was lively and Pittsburgh people seem to be my kind of people; friendly and gregarious. I was in a leisurely mood and started with a Bell's Winter White Ale while I looked at the menu. I was excited by many items and settled on the <Sea scallops, General Tso’s sweetbreads, Kim Chee fried rice>, a combo I've never had before (actually, it's been a while since I've have sweetbreads due to a bad experience). The scallops and fried rice combo was really nice and although the scallops were seared/cooked perfectly, they were a bit gritty and perhaps not as fresh as could be. The sweetbreads were fine -unexceptional- with a BBQ type sauce that I’m not sure I’d call General Tso. They didn't really seem to play well with the scallop side of the plate. They didn't clash, but they didn't meld. The whole dish was just spicy enough to not make me uncomfortable (I have a relatively low spice/heat tolerance. The beer was not a great pair either (my own mistake, but I just wanted beer this night) as it pulled all the metallic flavors out and blew them up.
As I said, I was in a leisurely mood, the first night of a vacation, so I had an intermezzo of bourbon. An hour later...
I had hoped to have the lamb Bolognese pappardelle, but it was 86ed. I settled on the <Cracklin’ pork shank, sauerkraut bacon mashed potatoes; Serrano apple puree> and was happy for it. The shank was fall off the bone, moist, tasty and rich, and had a nice crisp to the outside (I asked if it was braised and was told it was confit’d...did not press the subject.); they had done a nice job of crisping the outside for service. I really enjoyed the Serrano apple sauce. Again, not too hot, just enough to make a statement and add some smoke. The mashers were really tasty with just enough sweetness to balance the rest of the salt and spice on the plate. Two pieces of grilled apple was a nice touch. I'd go back for that dish.
Saturday lunch: Kaya - After a night in Southside (fun! And impressive beer selections at many places) we walked from the downtown Marriot to the Strip. Kaya was nice and warm inside with kind and not overbearing service. They meal started a bit uneven with a Pepsi out of the gun that tasted off and a bloody Mary that was mediocre (yes, perhaps not their specialty). But the soups were very nice. I had the <golden beet puree> with horseradish, which was straightforward and perfect for a cold day. My companion had the <Conch Chowder>, which he really enjoyed. I could see it being a main course with some grilled bread, too. Nice mouth feel (everything was chopped precisely the same size, nice smooth texture to the base), seasoned well. I then had the <Crispy Fish Tacos>, which were very good -crispy, light, hot- the usual cabbage and sauce, but I thought it was missing one element...perhaps just more sauce and/or salt. Now that I look at the menu again I realize the kitchen forgot to put the avocados and cilantro on! The tortillas were great..a touch thicker than store bought and great texture. It came with a usual side salad. My companion had the <Pressed Manchego Cheese Sandwich> and liked it enough to carry around the second half for a couple hours before eating it back at the hotel.
Saturday dinner: Eleven – We sat at the bar and really enjoyed the design/architecture of the place. It wasn’t quite as busy as we expected, but it had been snowing all day and it was the Sat before Christmas. It seemed to be at least 50% tourists such as ourselves. We were offered both the Tavern Menu and the full Dinner Menu. We started with a couple of problematic drinks; a gin and Tonic (tonic wasn’t quite right) and Sidecar that seems to actually have been a Collins. Things got better after that. We ordered a dozen oysters, <Spicy Tuna Tartare>, <Smoked Lamb Taco>, <Potato & Goat Cheese Pierogi>, <Roasted Squash Ravioli> and <Avocado Fries>. We also ordered a bottle of 2005 Conde de Valdemar Tempranillo ($48). The oysters were fresh, clean and served with lemon, lime, mignonette and a great habanero cocktail sauce. My companion thought the tuna was missing an element, but I disagreed and really liked the sesame tuilles. The smoked lamb taco was tasty, but I though that dish needed another element. The refried lentils were fun, the meat was great, but the pumpkin masa cake and goat cheese got a little bit lost. I think it needed something creamy to go with the tomatillo salsa. I loved the goat cheese pierogi, but thought the avocado fries were very short on salt, even with the sauce. Great textural contrast, though, between the avocado and fried breading. The ravioli had a nice sweet/savory play going on and like just about everything else, had a great texture combination. Then we drank the bottle of wine, which actually did work with the lamb, pierogi and to a lesser extent, the ravioli. Dessert was <Banana Cream Pie> and it was fantastic. Great combination of flavors and textures, all pieces were done very nicely, especially the mousse.
Sunday brunch: Six Penn – This was my plan from the beginning because I had seen “sausage corn dog” on the menu, but alas, their Website menus are not perfectly current. I was sad, but pressed on. We ordered: < Boston cream beignets>, <Tempura Fried Bacon>, < Corned beef hash skillet, poached eggs; whole grain mustard hollandaise>, an entree that escapes me at the moment, and a side of bacon. Perhaps I should have known from the description, but the beignets really should be pushed for dessert. The cream was pretty good, but the beignets didn’t seem to be more than a rectangular piece of bland dough dropped in the fryer, as opposed to a tasty batter that had been dropped in. The tempura bacon was exactly what I expected: ridiculous and perfect for a Sunday morning after drinking and before football. The lemon aioli was quite nice. My corned beef hash skillet was good, not great. The eggs weren’t poached quite long enough and I wasn’t able to put my finger on what was missing. I ordered some sourdough toast to go with it, and that helped. It was greasy, and perhaps I had just overdone it (QUITE possible). The service was fine, but oddly the side of bacon for my companion showed up with the beignets and tempura bacon, as if it were an app instead of a side.
Other Notes: - Overall, I found a GREAT beer selection in Pittsburgh. The sandwiches we had at Primanti’s (Southside) were “meh” (pastrami, corned beef, steak and cheese). The two cuts I had at Mineo’s were great (white with tomato and regular with pepperoni), but there is heavy nostalgia there as it’s where my folks got engaged. The foot long dog with peppers and onions at Heinz Field was impressive! Very good dog! I was longing for brown mustard, though.
PS – I’ve been eating nothing but salad since I got back and I’ve stopped sweating an Olestra-like substance.
Six Penn - http://www.sixpennkitchen.com/
Kaya menus (no Website for restaurant proper?) - http://www.allmenus.com/pa/pittsburgh...