Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Prairie: Where'd that cookie go?

Things have changed over in our world.  BabyG is no longer the baby - we have our newest addition and yes, we are already taking him out. He's been good so far, but IPA-Hole and I are not sure how we feel about being outnumbered.  And a table for 5 is a little harder to navigate than a table for 4. Let the fun begin...

This week is Pittsburgh Restaurant Week and I just can't help myself.  A friend and I snag tickets to the preview party.  There are 10 restaurants competing for your votes for the evening - Bangkok Balcony, Bill's Burgers, Chaz & Odette, Istanbul Sofra, Mansions on Fifth, Matteo's, Prairie, Senti, Silk Elephant, & Texas de Brazil - at the Pittsburgh Glass Center.  Sidenote, Pittsburgh Glass Center is a very cool place if you're looking for something different to do.  IPA-Hole blew his own glass ornament at a work event last year, and we forgot to hang it on the tree until after Christmas.

Prairie Fire
Anyway, cool evening - we ate quite a bit and the voted winner was Prairie with Istanbul Sofra as the runner up.  Prairie is passing around this chicken on a stick - fried with something sweet and spicy and perfectly followed up with a pecan chocolate chip cookie.  I'm so impressed with Prairie's showing at the preview party, that I immediately go home, tell IPA-Hole about it while being interrupted a couple times by a wailing newborn, and make a reservation for the two of us for a much-needed night out together 2 days later.  I'm so excited.

A few months ago, I followed up on my post about Verde - as they slid downhill and ended up closing their doors.  Prairie is the next incarnation of Verde - same place, some of the same decor, a long list of tequila that one can only assume is left from the previous venture, and some of the exact same positive and negative we got from Verde.  Dammit.  

For restaurant week, the participants are running prix fixe menus at special prices to encourage you to visit them.  We go for it and here are the selections:

Campfire Mac & Cheese
1st course:  Brussels Sprouts Gratin and Campfire Mac & Cheese
2nd course:  Great Lakes Whitefish and Chicken & a Biscuit
3rd course:  Prairie Cookie & Ice Cream and Bourbon Bread Pudding

Brussels Sprouts Gratin
As I sit, sipping my Short Skirt, Long Jacket - which is sweet and bubbly - I am telling IPA-Hole that I'm so optimistic for this after the glowing party performance and please, please, please don't let me down.  Please.

Campfire Mac & Cheese starts out strong.  The beer cheese, onions, and bacon make comfort food, well, comforting.  Sprouts are good, ever-so-slightly undercooked, but the bacon and parm pick up the slack.  We've started out on the right track.  And then we ever-so-slightly go off the rails.
Chicken & a Biscuit

Great Lakes Whitefish
Starting with the Chicken and a Biscuit - the skin has all the flavor, and its cooked perfectly.  The hash and the biscuit work well together with the chicken, but its all missing something.  Something that ties it together, that makes it outstanding...  And the whitefish?  The whitefish was beautiful and the wild rice, cauliflower and beet puree brought it all together visually. The fish itself was rubbery and undercooked.  Awesome.  The setup was all there and the letdown was HUGE.

 I need another cocktail.  Order up a prairie fire and a bourbon neat.
Bourbon Bread Pudding

Ok, dessert, here's your chance to shine - bread pudding is my fav and I've already had that cookie so I know its fantastic.  Bread pudding shows up first:  sweet, savory, texture is fluffy.  Here comes that cookie with ice cream; now we are back on track.  Yes?  No! No we are not.  The cookie that shows up is not the same cookie as 2 nights before.  Its cakey and fat, not chewy-gooey and flat.  Which is fine as long as you didn't have the first one.  Where'd that cookie go?

Prairie, I beg of you, WHERE WAS THAT COOKIE THAT I HAD THURSDAY AT THE PARTY?!?!?! How did we get mixed up from Thursday to Saturday??? The party was across the street - how did you lose it? I want to love it here, I really truly do.  You'd make a kick-ass local grown, slightly sophisticated, comfort food go-to with a fab cocktail list if you'd just focus on the food. But the cookie, the cookie sealed the deal.  Ugh.
Prairie Cookie

So now what?  Prairie, if you can hear me...  embrace that comfort food and let it be comfortable.  I know its only been a few weeks and I hope you can find your groove.  Your cocktails are great and your potential is high. You wowed me, you did, enough to run home and make a reservation, proving that you have it in you. I know you're new and finding your identity beyond the old Verde.  So go find that chicken and that cookie that you left across the street and put it on the menu! 
Prairie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
For me? 
Lemme know when you find it.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Porch on a Sunday Afternoon

Yes, that's a bird above his head.
Feeding the Lorikeets
IPA-hole and I were running around the city on a Sunday afternoon.  We took the kiddos to the aviary, which is always good fun.  If you've never been there, its great because all of the birds are free in the different rooms, so you're basically walking around in their world.  If you pay attention to the schedule, there are plenty of opportunities for the kids to do hands-on activities, mostly centered around feeding the birds.  Get in line early and buy the cup of nectar for $3 to feed the Lorikeets!  Yeah, I know, some of you think its creepy for birds to walk all over you, but c'mon, the kids think its great - these particular birds are very friendly.

We're getting hungry after all that bird-feeding and trying to think of a kid-friendly option while loading the car on the north side isn't coming easy.  I can think of a whole bunch of spots that I'd like to wander into, but with BigBrother and BabyGray in tow, ain't no way.  There was a time when they would eat whatever we put in front of them, but right now - as every parent dreads - they're in the (use your best child whiney voice) "I don't liiiiike it" phase where everything's taste value is based on how it looks to a 3 year old. And they're hungry and tired.  Awesome.  Find some pizza.  Fast.

Double Dip French Fries
Thank God for smart phones.  What we did before them, I can't recall - the dark ages.  The Porch at Schenley wins in a complex matix analysis of google searches, mental maps, urbanspoon app shaking, and that deck of cards that you could buy on living social a few months ago.  Yup, marketing works on me.

We walk in during that weird time between lunch and dinner.  Winning - there are other kids in the restaurant.  Losing - you can't get the dinner menu for another 40 minutes.  Pizza:  the goal is pizza, stay focused!  But pork belly, cassoulet, and truffle whipped potatoes...  ah, there's the kids' menu. 

To start:  Double Dip French  Fries (w/ parm, truffle oil, garlic aioli) & a Caesar salad
Bianca Pizza
IPA-hole: Beef Burger
Me: Bianca Pizza (Fig, goat cheese, truffle oil, arugula)
the Kids:  Pepperoni & Plain Pizza

Beef Burger
Our server is friendly, the atmosphere is light and airy. It really does feel like you could be sitting on someone's porch. The beer menu looks good - flights, floats - IPA-hole is satisfied, and with his burger & taters as well.  In his words, "simple, not over-engineered."  Everybody likes the fries and I think all fries should have truffle oil and then garlic aioli.  Kids are happy with pizza, not a tough crowd here.  I learned something new: I like figs, I like goat cheese, I like black truffle oil.  Please put them on a wood-fired pizza and we have a sweet and savory combination that just works.

It was a simple and casual meal, down to the lemonade.  The food was good, the restaurant itself was so bright and open, and everything was tasty.  I'll be honest, the big win here is the kids menu.  There aren't tons of choices that have great menus and kids menus.  I mean, my kids will order the cobia or lobster tails if offered, but sometimes I just want them have  pizza and lemonade.
Kid's Pizza

The Porch at Schenley on Urbanspoon


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kaleidoscope Cafe

Kaleidoscope Cafe
Per usual, we keep looking for new or little-known restaurants to try.  I've been pushing for Kaleidoscope Cafe for quite sometime.  I figured it's in Lawrenceville, where a lot of hot spots are right now, and they show on their website an attention to vegetarian and gluten free options.  So on trend, and important to some members of the entourage, that we figured it'd be worth trying.

Industry Public House
Well, its winter and its cold outside.  And not knowing, we pull into a parking lot on Butler St, while Kaleidoscope is quite a few blocks off of Butler - so park in their lot.  Anyway, we have some time before our reservation and we are waiting on some members of our party.  We first walk into Tender for a drink.  No room at the Inn - they turn the 4 of us away for drinks.  This is not the first disappointment for me at Tender, but I was surprised, being that we were only there for a drink.  They don't allow people to congregate around the bar - you have a seat or you don't get a drink, apparently. 

So we run across the street to Industry, which hasn't let us down yet.  Their drink menu is extensive and it truly is fun to watch the bartenders work.  Rhuby Rhuby Rhuby was sweet and light - good for just about anybody.  The Menlo Park was delish and fun to watch him make.  We had Carnegie Cucumber, Tesla's Coil, and for entertainment, order a Smokestack or a Kentucky Holiday.  I don't know how they taste, but fun to watch them being made.
Oven Roasted Salmon

So we walk for what seems like forever down to Kaleidoscope.  When you walk in, it's awkward - with a glass counter and a little room that make you feel like you walked into a deli or something.  We felt like we were in the wrong place, which isn't a good start for a restaurant at 7pm on a Saturday night.

We get our table - the dining room is small, cluttered,  and dark and the decor gives an eclectic and homemade vibe.  The stand-out here are the tables which have been created by local artists and are for sale.  But the walls need to be painted, the layout is uninviting, and the homemade fabric covered triangles on the wall are tired. 

So what did we eat? 

Apps: Duck Cannoli, Deep Fried Gnocci, Chicken Apple Sausage
Saute of Chicken Apple Sausage
Duck Cannoli

Deep Fried Gnocci

The Cow Jumped Over the Blue Moon Pasta
Dinner:  The Cow Jumped Over the Moon Pasta
     Chicken Pot Pie
     Sweet Potato Tagliatelle
Sweet Potato Tagliatelle
     Oven Roasted Salmon
     Scallop Beurre Noisette  
Chicken Pot Pie
 I wish a I could, but I can't rave about the food.  I think the Cow Jumped Over the Moon Pasta was the best, with Gorgonzola cream sauce.  Everything we tasted had great elements to it but nothing was quite perfected - and seemed to be missing something.  Brie was key the Sausage appetizer.  The tagliatelle had a cool twist - it wasn't pasta made with sweet potatoes, but the sweet potatoes were made to be the pasta.  This had a great texture and flavor, and was surprisingly good.   The scallops were also very tasty, but again, were just missing a little something to make the restaurant worthy, especially in this city with so many choices.  Chicken Pot Pie and Salmon were not exciting at all. Same with the cannoli and the gnocci.
Scallops Beurre Noisette

While the whole experience was good, it wasn't great.  From the descriptions on the menu and the artsy-funk decor, I guess I was expecting some more pizazz.   We didn't get it in the food.  It seems like Kaleidoscope is going for homey and familiar, but missing the mark a bit.  I can see how this is a good place to have lunch delivered at work, but other than that, I wouldn't make a night out of it.

Kaleidoscope Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ten Penny - meh, not a 10

I've tried to get to Ten Penny on 3 separate occasions.  For the record, don't try to get there during the Pittsburgh Marathon.  It won't happen.  I guess the 4th time was a charm.

So you hear its new, its hip, the location is great and brunch is catching on in Pittsburgh. The name is perfect - on 10th and Penn.  Clever.  But, while the concept, ambiance and decor were fantastic, the food was just good.  With so many great and outstanding options in the area, its going to be difficult for us to recommend Ten Penny for dinner over other restaurants.

We went before a Penguins' game.  The restaurant was full of people heading to the game, so the attire was relaxed.  There is a valet - it's $10 and takes a while, so if you can park across the street it might be worth it.  My car was too big for the valet kid to handle, but that's another story.
Duck Breast

There were six in our party, so we were able to try quite a few different appetizers and dishes and they were good, however, nothing knocked us out.  For everything we ordered, I think I can quickly name another restaurant close by that does it better.  I truly wished it would have offered some gems because the restaurant itself is very cool.

Seared Sea Scallops
On the table:

 ~ Mega Meatball app
 ~ Pork Belly app
 ~ Duck Breast
 ~ Lamb Shank
 ~ Ahi Tuna
 ~ Seared Scallops
 ~ Stuffed Chicken Breast

Lamb Shank
Everything was good - it was.  It was prepared well, had tasty flavor combinations.  I don't think any of us would have turned our choices away if you put them in front of us again, but I'm not running back. Our server was attentive, the drinks were great, the wine list was decent, beer selections were good.   Nothing knocked my socks off.  I think it'd be a great place to grab a drink or two and an appetizer.  When you're positioned to compete with the likes of Butcher and the Rye (better Pork Belly), Meat and Potatoes (better duck), Emporio (better meatballs), Six Penn (same name play, better lamb) - I could go on - kick it up a few notches.

Bummer.  I guess we'll have to try brunch and see what happens.  Meh...

Ten Penny on Urbanspoon

 ~ CDO

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Nicky's Thai Kitchen

Tom Kha
Somehow, some way, I managed to try so many things from Nicky's Thai Kitchen menu last night!  I was so proud of myself! 

Nicky's Thai Kitchen is on Penn Ave downtown.  I don't know how long its been there, or how many times I've walked or driven past.  Its through a narrow door (that you'll probably miss if you're not really looking for it) with all kinds of Thai statutes and sculptures, paintings, and art covering most of the walls.  Its tight in there, but I feel like it added to the experience - I kinda felt like it was better and more authentic with more people around.  Proximity also made it much easier to creep on everyone else's dinner choices.

After staring at the extensive menu, and then the additional special menu,for about a half hour or more, we were able to come to some decisions.

Spring Roll
Apps:  Fresh Spring Roll, Peanut Fried Tofu, Tom Kha, Appetizer Sampler

Peanut fried tofu
Vegahimsa:  Vegan Duck Curry
OnionHater:  Pad Thai
EasyD:  Shrimp Salad
Chickie:  Pork Fried Rice
CDO:  Nicky's Thai Sampler

Appetizer Sampler
Vegan Duck Curry
The appetizer sampler had egg rolls, dumplings, crab rangoons, shrimp toast, curry shrimp cakes, and chicken satay.  If you like this kind of thing, and its available (was on the special menu), I would go for it, we managed to get a couple bites of so many things with coordinating sauces. The Spring Roll and Peanut Fried Tofu are vegetarian options on the table.  Peanut sauce is on the tofu and the chicken satay - delicious enough that we started putting it on other things.  Tom Kha is light, creamy, and unique - if you like subtle coconut, try this.

So the most interesting of choices was the Vegan Duck Curry.  How on earth does that work, you ask?  Its a Vegan duck, as in not a quack-quack duck, but a duck made out of something else.  Then, you cook it in traditional Thai fashion with curry and veggies and you're now eating a vegan duck curry.  Fascinating, isn't it? 

Pad Thai
Pad Thai was delicious, Pork Fried Rice also delicious.  Both safe and yummy go-to options. If you're new to Thai food and not ready to jump full force into a vegan duck or a #8 curry, you will not go wrong here. For those not familiar with the number system, at Thai restaurants, they ask for your heat-level in number form on a 1-10 scale (curry starts at 3).  OnionHater, without thought,  blurted out #7 on Pad Thai as she ordered, to which we all gasped and she quickly retracted.  Remember, you can make it spicier, but I'm not sure if you can bring it down.

Nicky's Combo
I was ready for it, I know my number - its a 4 - and I went in for the Nicky's Combo.  So smaller portions of some staples - Tom Yum soup, fried rice, Pumpkin Curry (shrimp), & Duck Curry. My personal favorite was most definitely the duck, but the whole concept of this plate made it a great idea.  I had Duck Curry and fried rice for breakfast this morning and IPA-hole hovered until I finally gave in and let him have the rest of the pumpkin curry leftovers.  He's raving too.
Pumpkin Custard w/ black sticky rice

Custard w/ sticky rice
Back to last night, we did dessert.  All variations on the same - custard and sticky rice.  One was regular custard and white sticky rice, pumpkin custard and black sticky rice, and then just pumpkin custard.  Black sticky rice wins.  There is something so addicting about black sticky rice!  It doesn't look like what it tastes like - sweet, sticky, chewy, awesomeness.

So, I'm having Tom Yum soup for lunch tomorrow.  With everything, I barley touched it last night.  This was a great place to grab a bit.  Loved it!  Enjoy!

Nicky's Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon~ CDO

Tuesday, May 14, 2013



I sit here, enjoying my leftovers from last night's dinner, thankful that I'm not eating spaghettiO's like BigBrother.  A few members of the dining crew got together last night to check out Verde on the line between East Liberty & Garfield.

The bright green building on the outside sure made it stand out.  Patio looks like it could be a great time when the weather is actually nice, which wasn't this night.  Dining room was busy, no wait for our table.  Our server was good, but a little slow.  There were signs up for brunch, so we asked, and it seemed like the entire staff was pushing brunch.  That and they kept mentioning what used to be on the menu, which I found strange.

We sampled some margaritas, the favorite being the Jalapina, I went with the Hibiscus, and there was a Blonde Ambition and a St. Basil.  All very good.


Appetizers - Huarache del dia, Ceviche, Guacamole
EasyD - Carne Asada
Onionhater - Brisket Tamale special
Vegahimsa - Enchilada Napoleon
CDO - Tacos de Pollo
Desserts - Tres Leches, Sopapilla

The winner here was the Carne Asada, cooked perfectly, with excellent chimichurri.  EasyD raved about the sweet potato gratin that came with it.  Huarache del dia was basically a veggie flatbread of the day.  Ceviche was tasty and had some spice, but nothing remarkable.  Brisket Tamale had a sweet sauce and brought some modern American twist to the Mexican, but still not knocking me off my feet.  And my chicken tacos were good, had some serious heat, but again, nothing remarkable. 

Tacos de Pollo

So here's the deal.  I think if you want to grab some snacks and have some adult beverages on a cool patio, this might be your place.  I think if you're looking for "modern Mexican cuisine" - as their website states - eh, there's probably a Mad Mex closer to your house with more choices that cost less.  Everything about it was good, not great. I'll be at Picante.

Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina on Urbanspoon


Monday, March 11, 2013

New Years in Salem

Happy New Year!

We welcomed 2013 in Salem, Massachusetts with a fabulous group of friends!  As time goes on, and as it always does, we keep adding kids to this clan.  We are up to 3 with one on the way - which is fabulous for us, our boys are not the only kids at the party!  But what that also means is the party has calmed down a bit, the board games are more important than drinking games, craft beer tasting replaces chugging Miller Light, or, God help us, Natty Light (I think IPA-hole just cringed, remembering that he willingly drank large quantities with these folks in college).  Yeah, starting to sound familiar, isn't it?

It seriously took us 18 hours to drive from Pittsburgh to Salem in a exciting snow storm - the WHOLE way.  That was tons of fun for everyone in our car.  Once we did finally get there, the ladies barely left the house.  We rented a typical New England small town house, built in 1846 named the John Edwards House.  We ventured out to the shops and found some great boutiques like Pamplemousse  and right up my alley, The Roost - where I discovered my new nursery theme if we ever decide to have another child.  It was cold, as New England is expected to be, and quaint, and charming, and an easy place to feel comfortable.  We did notice remnants of the Halloween-time rush that Salem is known for, but it didn't seem like its only shtick. 

We've gotten our group down to a system, each of us choosing meals and doing a lot of cooking at the house instead of going out - easier with baby schedules and allows us more time to spend talking to each other.  We never shut up.  So the menfolk did take an afternoon and hit the town for a pub crawl. No idea where IPA-hole and his buddies went, but they were happy with the beer selections they found and returned home in GREAT spirits - they were straight up giddy & rowdy. 

Flying Saucer Pizza Company on UrbanspoonThe ladies also got an afternoon, but ours wasn't a pub crawl.  We hit the awesome boutiques, a consignment shop, and for lunch it was The Flying Saucer Pizza Company.  Its a funky little joint, with a Star Trek theme, good beer, and great pizza.  We grabbed a few pizzas and beers:

  • The Picard - Mozzarella and asiago cheese with thinly sliced potatoes, Canadian bacon, rosemary, chopped garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil on the crust, no sauce
  • The Gosek - Red sauce, clam, arugula, feta, topped with a sprinkle of lemon juice
  • The Serenity - Olive oil, crushed garlic, spinach, sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, no sauce
Picard was most definitely the favorite.  The Gosek, contrary to what it sounds like, was not clammy.  And the Serenity was nice and light.  I'm not a Trekkie, but I have to admit, I enjoyed the theme and found it lots of fun.

Click to add a blog post for Tavern in the Square on ZomatoThe other restaurant we ventured out to was The Tavern.  Unfortunately, for me, it was forgettable.  Don't get me wrong, the food was good, but nothing jumped up and down screaming "EAT ME!" so I settled for Philly Steak Mac & Cheese, and IPA-hole grabbed the Buffalo Chicken version.  Cheesy goodness, but heavy and again, forgettable.  Although, my assessment might be slightly skewed... 
See, down at our end of the table we decided that the 3 kiddos should sit together.  Yup, chaos ensues. BigBrother is in the worst mood, argues with basically everybody and everything, only to pass out at the table.  Great.  In the meantime, BabyGray and his new little girlfriend decide that sitting at the table, eating and giggling, hanging with moms & dads is not quite enough.  They need to toddle around the restaurant, visit the tables that have TVs on them, run as fast as they can away from the table, you know, all those crazy things that newly independently mobile kids do - they wanna move around and grab stuff.  Like other people's stuff.  And he's gonna do everything in his power to get there, which involves cuteness and trickery.  If you don't have kids, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about.  To those who are familiar, yeah, you know the drill - one of those kidless friends thinks they'll be helpful and give mum-dad a break, which we totally appreciate, believe me!   Well, with the best of intentions, they come grab that tricky little devil and unhook his high-chair seatbelt - toddler success!  And he'll sit with them, for about 3 minutes, then he has squirmed and thrashed and kidless friend loses their grip - and now there's a toddler on the loose.  He's cute as hell, but just try catching him and getting him back in that seat WITHOUT creating a scene.  Check, please...

Yup, its a far cry from New Years Eve years ago when we were chasing a highly intoxicated IPA-hole and his buddies, squirming and thrashing down a snowy New England street at 3am as they reenacted their version of Call of Duty, trying to get them back in the house without creating a scene. We didn't grab our stuff and run though, the ladies giggled uncontrollably and encouraged the mischief, probably because we were just as intoxicated and didn't know how one should reenact Call of Duty. 
Ah, the memories...  I'm sure we'll keep creating more everyday!