Local eateries offer specials for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week

Published Jan 7, 2013 at 10:40 am (Updated Jan 9, 2013 at 4:26 pm)

At long last, it seems that Pittsburgh’s culinary scene can be compared to that of other major metropolitan areas. A project of the food blog Pittsburgh TasteBuds, the third Pittsburgh Restaurant Week takes place Jan. 14-20, and offers a chance for residents to expand their palates, as well as a chance for more than 50 area restaurants to put their best foot forward. “Before, Pittsburgh had a nice, respectable food scene. But, everyone thought of pierogies and Primanti’s sandwiches,” said Pittsburgh Restaurant Week founder Brian McCollum. “With a lot of the younger new chefs coming in with fresh ideas, we have caught up with the rest of the country, and Pittsburgh is now a destination for food.”

Though the first celebration of cuisine took place just a year ago, it has grown a good bit. “After the first week, I had a private party to thank the restaurants that participated, and I gave the owners surveys: How did it go? Would you do it again? Would you do it more than once a year? The overwhelming response was yes, they would like to do it twice a year.”

The premise is simple: restaurants sign up for free – all they have to do is offer some sort of special. This week’s theme is new dishes for the new year. McCollum challenged chefs to come up with new menu items specifically for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, though it is not a requirement for participating. “Creating that theme has been crucial in making sure that the scene doesn’t get stale, it keeps the chefs on their toes and they can continue to reinvent,” he said.

While the bulk of the establishments are in the city, a handful of restaurants in the South Hills are participating.

One of McMurray’s newest restaurants, Center Plate, is excited about the exposure that Pittsburgh Restaurant Week will bring. Penny Folino, who owns the restaurant with Leonard Radziewicz, is no stranger to the project, as her other restaurants on the South Side, Penny’s Diner and Tom’s Diner, have participated in the past. But, Center Plate, a BYOB, is the furthest participating establishment from the city. “There are a lot of people in McMurray and the Washington area who will participate with this – it’s not just a Pittsburgh thing,” she said. “Being a mom and pop, it gets our name out there and people can get a taste of what we are offering.”

Located in the old Candle Keller space, Center Plate’s $39 prix fixe menu – 90 percent is made from scratch – includes first course choices such as an Italian antipasti, stuffed banana peppers, spanakopita or greens and beans. The soup course consists of cream of mushroom bisque (rumored to be the restaurant’s speciality), French onion or avgolemono. For the salad course, guests can chose from a green goddess lobster salad, spring greens or Caesar salad. And, there’s still a main course to enjoy: choice of sausage rustica risotto, lobster and crab gnocchi, seafood pasta, stuffed shrimp with crab mac and cheese, chicken and shrimp Romano or diver scallops and crab cake. For dessert, new pastry chef Jeffrey Hirsh’s specialty gobs will be on the menu.

For Arpino Trattoria in Scott Township, this marks the third Pittsburgh Restaurant Week involving the Italian hot spot. Owner Steve Goda isn’t sure how they ended up participating at the beginning, but credits his wife, Melissa. “Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is huge for us,” he said. “It gives awareness to the dining scene in Pittsburgh. The biggest thing is it’s nice to get exposure on this side of the world – the more that grows in the South Hills, the better.”

Arpino is offering a $30 prix fixe menu that includes a first course of prosciutto wrapped mozzarella, lightly breaded and fried. The main course is pollastri alla marengo, which is a free-range, pan-fried chicken thigh and leg quarter served with root vegetables, pecorino Romano risotto, all finished with a rosemary cream pan sauce. The meal ends on a sweet note with a cranberry walnut torta.

Jessica Bauer, executive chef of Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon, said that McCollum does a great job at getting the word out. And, “It’s a fun way for me to do different menu items – I get to experiment a little bit,” she said.

Her $30 prix fixe menu includes a first course of pan seared scallops with local golden beets, leek fondue and toasted hazlenuts; pumpkin cappuccino bisque or braised pork mac and cheese. Second course offerings are roasted lamb gnocchi with braised vegetables and sage butter, coffee rubbed mahi mahi with yucca puree, coconut rice and candied kumquats or white balsamic marinated chicken breasts with red wine rosemary risotto and truffle butter. And the third course includes butterscotch rice pudding, a chocolate mousse dessert or coffee panna cotta.

“Things like this help privately owned restaurants keep their name out there, and build a draw from different areas of the city,” said Bado’s Pizza & Ale House owner Frank Badolato. As of press time, Bado’s Pittsburgh Restaurant Week specials weren’t finalized, but Badolato said that they typically offer different pasta specials and braised corn beef either as a Reuben sandwich or as a dinner, served with a Guinness Beer glaze. This marks the first Restaurant Week that the Mt. Lebanon bar and restaurant has officially participated in.

So, while 2013 is still brand new, Pittsburgh Restaurant Week seems like a good excuse to throw those diets out the window – at least for a few days.

For more information on Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, visit www.pittsburghrestaurantweek.com.

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