Friday, December 31, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
I like to play it off as if I am a wine connoisseur, but I am not. Left to my own devices with a wine menu, I generally choose a modestly priced red and try to look sophisticated. Fortunately, the pairing of fine wine with (delicious) food is a speciality at Sonoma Grille. We started the evening off with the Pine Ridge Forefront Cabernet. Now, I could try and use some fancy-schmancy wine terminology about the smoothness and undertones and what-not, but I would be completely lying. All I can honestly say is that it was a darn fine glass of wine, and it went tremendously well with the entire meal.....and what a meal!
The last time I was at Sonoma, I recall enjoying the dinner, but leaving a tad bit hungry. Given that we were being treated to a "tasting menu", I anticipated the inevitable late-night trip to the fridge. I was totally wrong. This dinner was the perfect cure for a cold winter's night. We left with cheeks flushed from a vibrant and filling meal, each dish of which was thoughtfully presented and delicious from start to finish.
I was already getting giddy from the wine and was preparing to take the belt down a notch, so to speak, when I was presented with the Cioppino, a traditional Mediterranean Seafood Stew. Sonoma's version featured a tender crab leg chillaxin in the spicy and flavorful broth with his friends the Organic Scottish Salmon, Price Edward Island Mussels and Maryland Shrimp. For whatever (misguided) reason, I usually associate seafood with summer dishes, but this was as close as you can get to perfect winter fare. The BF enjoyed a NY Strip Steak, prepared right "on temperature" (meaning not over-done), along with Fingerling Potatoes and Broccoli Raab.
Are you getting the gist that my idea of a "tasting menu" has flown the coop at this point? And then this??? Really???
No, there were no late night trips to the fridge this night! After Sonoma rolled us out of their front door we went happily into the night. I will say, before the winter leaves us, the Cioppino and I have some unfinished business.
Not one, not two, but THREE desserts. The homemade chocolate ice cream was delivered to the table courtesy of waiter Michael, who recommended it as the best dessert in the house. The Creme Brulee was velvety smooth and was served with a apple cider reduction, and the BF downed his Firefly Farms (Maryland) cheesecake so fast I didn't even get a chance to see it, although I did get a taste of the Petite Sirah Reduction and Black Grapes (soaked in said reduction) that it was served with and knew why it disappeared so quickly.
Since you you were nice and not naughty and read this whole post, I have a little Holiday giftie for you! Comment below with your favorite Pittsburgh Holiday Tradition. I will work some random-number-generator magic, and will give away a $25 Sonoma Gift Card on Christmas Eve to the lucky poster! (be sure to include your email address when submitting so you can be contacted).
A Downtown Holiday Date Night, my gift to you! Happy Holidays!
Friday, December 17, 2010
Then I can be all "Ta-da! I sold a house today in the War Streets and I don't even have a hair out of place!"
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Thanksgiving dinner irony aside, I was pretty darn excited to have a sit down with the man who is responsible for some of my favorite restaurants in the 'Burgh. The big Burrito Company has, in the last 18 or so years, opened: Nine Mad Mex Restaurants (including ones in Columbus and Philadelphia), Kaya in the Strip, Casbah in Shadyside, Soba and Umi (also in Shadyside), and Eleven in the Strip District. The newest Mad Max is slated to open on South Highland Avenue (little happy dance!) on March 1st of next year. Each concept has its own special place in the big Burrito family, but whether you're enjoying the Conch Fritters at Kaya or the Sweet Potato Tart at Casbah, you get the feeling something special went into your dinner. It could be the carefully crafted atmosphere that the company has put into each restaurant, however, I think it is more likely Chef Fuller's philosophy. Buying local, according to the Chef, is something that we take for granted these days, as most restaurants seem to be traveling that road (or at least touting that they do). big Burrito and Bill have been doing it for years. Listening to him talk about the selection of products that go into creating a menu was almost like hearing an artist describe a canvas. Each piece that goes into a dish is carefully selected, and if local is an option (meaning in season, fresh and available), that is the direction he will go in. Says Bill, "The food tastes better and is fresher. Its keeps the money in our local economy. It reduces the environmental impact of all that shipping from across the country. And the region loves it. We love Pittsburgh, we love Southwestern Pennsylvania. Probably, when it all falls apart, we’ll be just fine because we’ll band together and build walls around the region and protect each other. That’s one of the really appealing things about local food sourcing. It's all of us working together.". You can get the gist of how our very Pittsburgh-centric conversation was going. Yes, we were talking about Armageddon and how Pittsburgh would survive because we would all band together and protect the city. Talk of Giants came into play too, but more on that later.
There was some national attention a few years back during the Superbowl, when the Today Show and NBC network gurus hosted a cook-off during between Chef Bill and a chef from Arizona, whose name I didn't even bother to look up (responsible blogger that I am)! I also only watched the first half of the video because I found it unlikely anyone could beat Fuller's bacon and fried onion loaded burgers. So who won? Well, they didn't really crown a "winner" per se, but Hoda did seem to take a special shine to Bill. Take a look:
Cue scene of BF transformed into a slimy little grey dude, clinging to a Gobblerito and hissing "precioussssss, my preciousssss".
Here are interesting factoids about the man behind the (really awesome) food :
1. He majored in chemistry in college. Hey, so did I! Yeah, the similarity ends with the fact that he was actually good at it, and went to graduate school at Berkeley (one of the best in the country) for his Masters.
2. Everyone has their food weaknesses. Mine are whole milk and bacon. Bill, being a little more gastronomically advanced , has a much more extensive list. "Piles of kielbasa, Mallo Cups, Throwback Mountain Dew, cheap sweet white wine, Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwiches, Pringles, Fritos, Ruffles with French Onion Dip from the store, fries with ranch, all wings, Lebanon bologna." Whew! This sounds like my weekly shopping list.
3. He thinks Hoda is a Hottie. For real.
4. He is on a health kick since turning 40. Running and a healthy lifestyle are tops on his list now. Thank goodness, because we need him to have lots of energy so he can keep churning out those delicious dishes!
5. He is "itching" to start the next big Burrito concept. It has been six years since the opening of Eleven! What are his ideas? Maybe something Italian? I get the feeling something may be just around the corner, but if not, who cares! There are plenty of things I have yet to try at the existing big Burrito Restaurants, such as the Feast Navidad at Mad Mex. This is the Christmas version of the Gobblerito, complete with braised spare-ribs, peas, garlic chili mashed potatoes and baby carrots. It even comes with a side of beef gravy! They better install some couches because Momma's gonna need a nap after that one.
6. His favorite child in the chain is likely Casbah. His first stint as Head Chef was here.
7. He's a really nice guy! I've met my share of chefs who have an ego larger than is warranted, and although Bill jokes about his "Chef Ego", I couldn't even see it if I squinted. He had nothing but fabulous things to say about other restaurants outside the "big" family, including Dinette and Round Corner Cantina, and he spent a full 2 hours chatting with me! He also wants to try my Pierogies.....
- Catch Bill's bi-weekly appearance on Pittsburgh Today Live. The next show airs on Thursday, December 23rd at 9am on KDKA. Watch last week's episode here!
- Follow Chef Fuller on Twitter
- Read this months EatBig Newsletter
A "Big" thank you, thank you, thank you to Chef Bill Fuller for a very long and informative interview, and for putting up with my equipment fail and continuing the interview via email.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Great location indeed. My love affair with the Strip District is well known. It seems that every time you blink, something new and exciting is brewing there. The Pittsburgh Public Market, only a few short blocks from Otto, has become wildly successful, and they seem to announce a new participating vendor every week. Right By Nature Market is right across the street, and you can get some of the best, locally brewed joe right around the corner at 21st Street Coffee.
In true ""if you build it they will come" fashion, Jack is bringing the neighbors to the neighborhood. In fact, Kathy Wallace of RE/MAX Select Realty, listing agent for the project, likens the building to a "vertical neighborhood". By February, the Strip will be 50+ households stronger as the new residents close and begin to move in.