Sunday, May 29, 2011

PURE Cafe (Wexford)

R. and I stopped by PURE Cafe for a quick bite a few nights ago.  PURE Cafe is located inside the PURE Athletex Sportsplex in Wexford (formerly Winwood Racquet Club), but it is open to public and not just gym members.  It is also a bit hidden if you don't know where to find it, but it's basically off of Neely School Road, up Lake Road which is marked as a private drive.  Considering its proximity to I-79 and such Wexford "landmarks" as Soergel Orchards and T-Bone Market, it is actually a good option if you're in the neighborhood and looking for a quick bite that is also inexpensive and healthy.

PURE Cafe is a pretty unique place and nothing like a typical cafe.  There are actually three businesses in one if you will, with the cafe being one of the three components of the business.  As soon as you walk into the cafe, you will notice that the counter area where you place your order shares space with the second concept of the business, a Pro-shop that sells sportswear and athletic equipment.  The third part of the business is called "The Bottle Club" which offers locker rentals inside a cooler for storage of beer and other alcohol.

The seating area in the back consists of just a handful of small bar tables but it walks out to a gorgeous patio.  Because the weather was so nice, R. and I decided to take advantage of the patio seating which overlooks a serene heavily wooded area.  There wasn't anyone else around, so we were able to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and the peaceful chirps of the wild birds.  It felt like we were having a picnic at a park, only with food made for and brought to us.

Pure Cafe Patio
Outdoor Patio at Pure Cafe

The patio is also outfitted with several large-screen TVs and heat lamps, so would serve as a great setting for parties as well, especially for watching sports.  (Indeed, it appears you can reserve this space for events.)

Not surprisingly, being associated with a fitness facility, PURE Cafe's menu also caters to gym-goers, as reflected in their selection of healthy salads, wraps, paninis, and crepes (OK, that last one may be a tad less healthy), as well as a large selection of smoothies with boosters like "Energy" or "Whey Protein."  Aiming for something light, I decided to try the Veggie Lover's Wrap, with romaine lettuce, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese, in a sesame ginger dressing and a roasted red pepper wrap.  It was a pretty standard combination of veggies, which was not particularly mind-blowing (not that I expected it at a cafe inside a gym), but everything from the veggies to the wrap itself was fresh and the dressing was an excellent complement to the veggies.  As I said, PURE Cafe is a place for a cheap and quick bite, and for $4.50, this is exactly what you get, and it is of much higher quality than fast food.

Veggie Lover's Wrap at Pure Cafe
Veggie Lover's Wrap ($4.50)

Because I can never say no to crepes (health priming be damned!), R. and I shared a Hazelberry-Anna Crepe for dessert.  It comes with strawberries, bananas, Nutella, and topped with whipped cream.  Again, pretty standard but pretty decent.

Hazelberry-Anna Crepe at Pure Cafe
Hazelberry-Anna Crepe ($4.95)

The one thing I probably should have tried but didn't was their smoothies.  Given their massive selection of no less than 25 flavors of smoothies, it seems like something they are probably good at.  There is always next time, I guess!  On another note, PURE Cafe has a drive-thru window, which seems a bit ironic considering it is at a gym, but I do appreciate the convenience, and the cafe does serve fresh brewed coffee and iced tea so I can imagine that the drive-thru window would come in handy for some.  In sum, I liked PURE Cafe.  It is simple, fresh, healthy, inexpensive, and the setting is beautiful.  I can see myself bringing my Kindle here next time and read while I "picnic" on their patio.
Restaurant info:
Pure Cafe
119 Neely School Rd, Wexford, PA 15090
On the web:
On Facebook:
On Twitter:

Pure Café on Urbanspoon

Burgatory Bar (Aspinwall)

As I have mentioned in my previous blog posts featuring Burgh'ers and BRGR, I am quite picky when it comes to ground beef.  I had sworn off beef burgers for almost two years, and am thrilled about the recent gourmet burger trend in Pittsburgh because for the most part these new restaurants serve beef burger that I consider "edible."  Burgatory Bar had been the next burger joint on my list to visit (they serve hormone-free beef burgers that are especially ground for them daily), and I was excited to finally have the opportunity to pay them a visit this past week.  Burgatory is located in the Waterworks Mall in Aspinwall, near the cinemas.  Waterworks is a large strip mall that's a bit out of the way for most Pittsburgh folks, and one might never have guessed that such a cool burger bar decided to open its doors here.

I missed out on getting a spiked shake when I visited BRGR so I was ready this time around.  I went for the Monkey Business, a "Bananas Foster Shake spiked with Dark Rum and Banana Liquor," with little bits of banana inside.  It certainly tasted as good as it sounds!  I was impressed.  In addition to their spiked shake options, there are also "virgin" shakes and a number of beer and cocktail options.

Monkey Business at Burgatory Bar
Monkey Business ($7.50)

As for my burger, there were several options on the menu that sounded mouth-watering, including the Phat Patti's Veggie Burger (a ground cremini mushroom burger), the Buffaloed Bison Burger, and The Crab Shack (lump crab burger topped with Sriracha remoulade and creamy coleslaw), but as part of my quest for beef-I-can-eat, I had to go for the Morty's Steakhouse: "Peppercorn Crusted Beef Burger with Horseradish Cheddar, Haystack Onions and Cabernet Sauce."

Morty Steakhouse Burger at Burgatory Bar
The Morty's Steakhouse Burger ($10)
Served with a gigantic steak knife

Morty Steakhouse Burger at Burgatory Bar
Another view of the Monty's Steakhouse Burger

The burger was really, really delicious, and certainly deserves all the hype it has received.  The patty was flavorful without being dry, and the crispy onions added an interesting element.  I had a bite of R.'s Phat Patti's Veggie Burger and it was tasty as well.  I should also add that if none of the menu options grab you, you can always create your own burger.  Several people in our group did just that and they seemed to appreciate the freedom to do so.  For your side that comes with the burger, however, I might recommend getting the fries instead of the chips.

Overall, I enjoyed my burger and my shake at Burgatory Bar.  I hesitate to make a choice among Burgh'ers, BRGR, and Burgatory and call it a winner, as I think you can't go wrong with any of these places.  BRGR and Burgatory, in particular, are very similar on many levels, although BRGR does not offer the option of customizing your own burger, but it does have a trendier feel.  Burgh'ers, as I mentioned in a previous post, is more of a casual neighborhood joint, and does not serve alcohol, although you are welcome to BYOB.  However, of the three, Burgh'ers is the only one that serves grass-fed beef.

I think the next stop on my Pittsburgh gourmet burger tour will be Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar.

Restaurant info:
Burgatory Bar
932 Freeport Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15238
On the web:
On Facebook:
On Twitter:

Burgatory Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Shiitake and Sweet Pea Risotto

Shiitake and Sweet Pea Risotto
Shiitake and Sweet Pea Risotto

Another Cooking Light recipe I tried last week was the Shiitake and Sweet Pea Risotto.  This was my first attempt at risotto and I really didn't know what to expect, but Cooking Light promised the recipe would be "easy" and "impressive" so I thought I'd give it a try.  And I'm glad to report that Cooking Light wasn't lying!  The recipe really isn't complicated at all, only a little "high maintenance" as the broth has to be added to the risotto half a cup at a time and it has to be stirred constantly, but it is certainly not difficult to do.  And the end result was fabulous.  While I stuck with chicken broth this time around, it is certainly easy enough to make this a vegetarian dish by substituting vegetable broth instead (hence I'm filing this one under "vegetarian.")  I think this has just become one of my new favorite recipes!

Recipe courtesy of:
Cooking Light (get the recipe here)

Blackened Tilapia Baja Tacos

While my eating adventures last week took me to some of my favorite dining establishments in town (Bite Bistro, Franktuary, and Braddock's American Brasserie), I also tried two new recipes at home.  One was the Blackened Tilapia Baja Tacos from Cooking Light, one of my favorite sources for simple, delicious, and healthy recipes.

Blackened Tilapia Baja Tacos
Blackened Tilapia Baja Tacos

The blackened tilapia was full of spice, and the jalapeno-lime sauce was a refreshing complement to the fish.  The onion and avocado slices complete the meal.  The drippy sauce makes this a pretty messy taco meal, so I probably won't be bringing these tacos to work anytime soon, unless I wrap it completely in a large tortilla or skip the wrap altogether and serve it over rice.  On another note, I recently discovered an article on how to keep avocados from turning brown which is a handy tip for this recipe.

Recipe courtesy of:
Cooking Light (get the recipe here)

Bite Bistro (Bellevue)

UPDATE (8/19/2012): Bite Bistro has closed its Bellevue location. As of this update, the owners are in the process of scouting a new location.

Bite Bistro had been on my wish list since the day before it even opened, so I was excited to finally get the chance to try it out last week.  Housed in the former Vivo space in Bellevue (which is to reopen in Sewickley soon), Bite Bistro is owned and run by the same family.  The restaurant space isn't huge but it is very comfortable.  On this Wednesday night, they easily and helpfully accommodated our large group of 13.  Their menu changes depending on season and availability, and you can find the menu of the day written on the chalk board along one of the walls.

I started with the soup of the day, the Sweet Potato Bisque, which was well-spiced and absolutely delicious.  One of the best sweet potato bisque I've ever had!

Sweet Potato Bisque at Bite Bistro
Sweet Potato Bisque ($4)

For my entree, I decided to try the Chicken Confit Salad. with fried capers, dates, and dressed in a lemon vinaigrette.  I do apologize for the low quality of the photo; it looks like I had the wrong setting on the camera so my photos didn't turn out so great on this visit. :(  I guess I will have to come back again for better photos next time.  But, the chicken was cooked to perfection, and while the salad doesn't look like much in the photo, it was actually very tasty.  The lemon vinaigrette was beyond amazing.

Chicken Confit Salad at Bite Bistro
Chicken Confit Salad ($10)

Because I went with a large group, I also got to try bites of what other people ordered, and every single dish I tried - the Pork Fat Fries, the Grill Vegetable Salad, and Chocolate Pot de Creme - was delicious, which I think is a rare accomplishment.  Bite Bistro is basically the kind of place that has it all:  Amazing food all around, fabulous service, and a pleasantly easy-going atmosphere.  Bite Bistro is also a BYOB establishment with a small corkage fee, and there is regular live entertainment as well.  All in all, I loved Bite Bistro, and would highly recommend it to anyone. 

Update 6/18/2011:  A second post on Bite Bistro with more photos and commentary.
Update 1/22/2012:  And a third post on my visit during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week.

Restaurant info:
Bite Bistro
565 Lincoln Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15202

On the web:
On Facebook:
On Twitter:
Bonus: BYOB 

Bite Bistro on Urbanspoon

Andes Creme de Menthe Cookies

I had these Andes Creme de Menthe Cookies for the first time a few years ago when R.'s mom made them, and I was instantly hooked.  Turns out the recipe is right on the packaging of the Andes Creme de Menthe baking chips, but for the life of me I was never able to find these baking chips anywhere in the Washington DC area where I used to live.  It wasn't until I moved to Pittsburgh that I finally found them - at Walmart, of all places.  (R.'s mom also buys them at her local Walmart, and Walmart remains the only store where I have seen them.  If you can't find them in a store, you can order them online.)  When I made a huge batch of these Andes Creme de Menthe Cookies just before Christmas last year, everybody raved about them, so when I had to bring cookies for a social a couple weeks ago, I knew I could count on these.

Andes Creme de Menthe cookies
Fresh out of the oven

Andes Creme de Menthe Cookies

Once again, these cookies turned out great.  If you like chocolate and mint, you'll love these cookies!

Recipe courtesy of:
Tootsie Roll Industries (get the recipe here)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Braddock's American Brasserie (Downtown)

Braddock's American Brasserie, located inside the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel downtown, is a special place for R. and I, if somewhat serendipitous. A few years ago, before I even knew I was going to move to Pittsburgh, we were going drive through the Pittsburgh area and decided on a whim to spend New Year's Eve here.  We stayed at none other than the beautiful Renaissance and had a fantastic and memorable time.

Braddock's did not exist then - the space housed a different restaurant by the name of Opus, I believe.  So soon after moving to Pittsburgh, when I noticed a Groupon deal for Braddock's, I went for it because the menu looked good and I figured it would be a good introduction to Pittsburgh, without realizing that it was located right inside the Renaissance.  Eventually, I did discover this fact, and R. and I thought Braddock's would be the place to visit in January for our fifth "dating anniversary."

It turned out to be the best meal I had had in Pittsburgh thus far, and I am just not saying that because I was motivated to like the place.  Braddock's menu has a distinct European flair, and between the two of us, we shared the Braised Short Rib Pierogies, the Bruschetta with goat cheese and red peppers, a (very substantial) half order of Mussels, the Onion Soup Gratinee, the Housemade Potato Gnocchi & Lobster, and the Profiteroles for dessert.  Everything was absolutely delicious, the service was attentive, and the atmosphere was fabulous.  It was simply the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion.  In fact, I enjoyed Braddock's so much that I had instantly declared it one of my favorite restaurants in Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately, this first visit took place during my pre-blogging days, so I don't have any photos to share.

However, R. and I did go back last week to celebrate another special occasion: one year pre-wedding.  We were seated once again at one of the semi-circle booths with black leather seats looking out to the chic lobby, and as luck would have it, we had the wonderful Christina as our server again.  We struggled a bit to decide what to order, as we wanted both to have what we had last time and to try something new.  So, we compromised and went for a couple of our earlier favorites but also tried some new dishes.

One of the most memorable dishes we had during our first visit was the Braised Short Rib Pierogies, so we just had to get it again this time.  The second try certainly didn't disappoint, either.  The pierogies are fried, which reminded me of Chinese pot stickers, in a good way. I think I actually prefer them prepared this way.  And while the pierogies are good on their own, the flavorful sauce is really the icing on the cake.

Braised Short Rib Pierogies at Braddock's American Brasserie
Braised Short Rib Pierogies ($10)
with Creamed Leeks and Pan Juices

For something new, R. wanted to try the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake appetizer.  I am a slight crab cake snob having been a former Marylander, but I thought Braddock's did a pretty good job with it.  The lemon aioli added a nice touch. 

Jumbo Lump Crab Cake at Braddock's American Brasserie
Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Appetizer ($11)
Blue Crab, Arugula, & Housemade Lemon Aioli

R. also wanted to try the side item White Bean Cassoulet.  It was like a stew topped with bacon, and quite hearty and substantial for a side.  I wasn't initially too crazy about the choice being not a bean person myself, but I had a couple of bites of this and I'd have to say it was pretty tasty.

White Bean Cassoulet at Braddock's American Brasserie
White Bean Cassoulet ($6)

Another favorite from our last visit that we got again this time was the Housemade Potato Gnocchi & Lobster, for which we had a choice of either a half order ($18) or a full order ($24).  We went for the half order, considering we were ordering a lot of food overall, and even the half order was quite filling.  As you can see from the photo, there was no skimping on the lobster, the potato gnocchi had a fresh chewiness to it and the mushrooms supplied a nice contrast in texture.

Housemade Potato Gnocchi & Lobster at Braddock's American Brasserie
Housemade Potato Gnocchi & Lobster (half order; $18)
with three types of mushrooms, artichokes, and a Parmesan cream sauce

We were actually really full after all this food; in fact, I had to take half the gnocchi and lobster home.  But we just couldn't refuse dessert!  We decided to share a Warm Fudge Brownie, described as "banana marshmallow fluff, cognac carmel (sic), candied walnuts, & French vanilla ice cream."

Warm Fudge Brownie at Braddock's American Brasserie
Warm Fudge Brownie ($8)

And boy, was this delicious!  I think the dessert ended up being the highlight of our special celebration here.  The brownie was actually more "cookie" than "cake" in texture, so it was a bit like eating a warm, oversized soft cookie, which was perfect because I prefer cookies over the typical brownie anyway.  What was interesting was that every bite of the chocolatey brownie also had a strong but pleasant almond flavor, which was a surprise as this was not described on the menu, but Christina verified that almond extract was indeed an ingredient in the brownie.  If you like almond, you will really like this brownie.  We may have already been stuffed, but we certainly made sure we finished this amazing dessert.

In sum, it was another highly satisfying meal at Braddock's.  Sometimes hotel restaurants get a bad rep for not delivering the caliber of food to match the high price, and while Braddock's isn't cheap eats for sure, I do feel that the food is worth the money (which isn't astronomically high either).  That's why I am very surprised by some of the negative reviews I have seen on Urbanspoon because they are so contrary to the experiences I've had.  From what I can gather, it seems there was a cluster of five bad reviews all written within one week of each other (most written on the same day) in October 2010, and another cluster of three from December 2009, so it is possible that they had a few bad days there that prompted the negative response.  There were also several reviews complaining about the service at Braddock's.  For what it's worth, while I realize that two visits can hardly be considered a representative sample, I have had great service not just from Christina, our server, but also from everyone else at the restaurant - the person who made sure our drinks were always filled, the hostess, and the manager who stopped by to greet us.  It is a shame that some did not have a good experience at Braddock's, but it is a restaurant that I would encourage anyone to try and judge for themselves.  I certainly enjoyed it.

UPDATE 12/2/2011:  See my newer post on Braddock's.
Restaurant info:
Braddock's American Brasserie
107 6th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Braddock's American Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Franktuary (Downtown)

Franktuary is one of those places that had been on my radar for a while, but because I don't work downtown (they are only open Mondays to Fridays from 10 am-3 pm), I never got a chance to check it out until about three weeks ago when I had a downtown appointment in the morning and decided it would be the perfect opportunity to come by for lunch afterwards.  Franktuary is located in the basement of a church on Oliver Street but it's pretty spacious and comfortable, and for a bonus, there is also free wifi.  (I am actually writing part of this blog right here at the shop!)

On my first visit I had wanted to try the Mexico, but was told that the avocados they got that morning were subpar so they weren't able to serve guacamole that day.  I had been really excited about the Mexico, but I was glad that at least they cared about the ingredients they used.  So instead I decided to go with the New Yorker, with sauerkraut, vidalia onion sauce, and brown mustard, paired with Franktuary's locavore frank - organic, grass-fed, all-beef frank from a farm just an hour north of Pittsburgh in Volant, PA.

New Yorker Locavore Frank at Franktuary
Locavore Frank, New Yorker Style ($5.50)

The frank was really, really delicious: Thick, juicy, and full of flavor.  I'll admit I'm actually not normally a huge fan of hotdogs, but the locavore was the bomb.  I have also never had sauerkraut on a hotdog before and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.  The hotdog itself is not very large, so for a more fulfilling meal, most people would probably want to get two franks or at least a side to go with one frank.

A couple weeks later I once again found myself in downtown Pittsburgh right around lunch time, and I knew I just had to go back to Franktuary.  This time, I ordered two Gourmet Franks:  1) The Mexico with cheddar cheese, mango pineapple salsa, and guacamole on top of a Vegan Tofu Frank - because I really had to have the Mexico this time and I was also curious about tofu frank, and 2) The Pittsburgh with smooshed pierogie, cole slaw on top of a Locavore frank - because I had to have the locavore again and because I just had to try the Pittsburgh style at least once.

Mexico Veggie Frank at Franktuary
Veggie Frank, Mexico Style ($4.00)

Pittsburgh Locavore Frank at Franktuary
Locavore Frank, Pittsburgh Style ($6.00)

I liked the guacamole and the salsa toppings on the Mexico.  The vegan tofu frank itself was...interesting.  It actually had the texture and color of a regular dog you might find commercially packaged at your local supermarket, but only with a slight tofu taste instead of a meat flavor.  I think it could be great with a little seasoning.  But if you're not restricted by a vegetarian diet, the tofu frank is really no competition for the locavore.  Once again, I was impressed by how flavorful it was.  The Pittsburgh toppings were pretty good - better than I had expected, for someone who's not really a huge fan of pierogies and cole slaw (shhh!).

The one thing that I feel I should mention, despite the fact that I hate saying anything negative, is that it's a shame the buns they use at Franktuary really don't support the awesomeness that is the locavore frank.  It's funny, because during my second visit here I overheard another patron asking the staff about their buns, and their response was that because of space limitations they couldn't steam them in-house.  (Sorry to eavesdrop, but I was kinda right there!)  I really look forward to the day they find better buns because I really can't say enough good things about the locavore frank, and I think higher quality buns would complete the divine experience that is Franktuary.

Update (5/26/2011):  Franktuary responded to me via Twitter and said they have been trying out different bun suppliers and hope to find a fix soon.

Update (5/27/2011):  See Franktuary's blog post regarding their quest for the right bun.

Restaurant info:
325 Oliver Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
On the web:
Bonus: Free wifi 

Franktuary on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Artisan Pizza Co. (Mars): Take 'N Bake Pizza

About a month ago I learned of a new "take 'n bake" pizza place about to open up in Mars, in the same plaza as McGinnis Sisters and Stonepepper Grill.  I was quite excited about this because one of my favorite places while living in Columbus, OH was Mama Mimi's Take 'N Bake Pizza.  For anyone not familiar with the concept (and it seems the few people who walked into Artisan Pizza Co. while I was there didn't), take 'n bake pizza shops basically put all the raw ingredients on a pizza pie for you and you take it home and bake it yourself.  Because the ingredients are freshly made, the pizzas taste superior compared to frozen pizza, and because the pie is essentially homemade, it is much healthier than delivery.  I think of it as a cheater's version of homemade pizza. ;)

Artisan Pizza Co. opened just two weeks ago on May 4, 2011.  I was out of food at home this past weekend and had no time to shop or cook, so I thought it'd be a good excuse to pay a visit to Artisan to see what they have to offer.  Here are a couple pictures of the menu I snapped with my phone so please excuse the poor quality, but since Artisan's website is pretty bare-bones right now I thought it would be helpful for people to see what they have:

I was immediately drawn to the creative Signature Pie options.  I placed an order for a medium Chicken Apple Sausage and waited as one of the staff behind the counter hand stretched my 100% whole wheat pizza dough and assembled my pie with fresh ingredients and tender loving care.  I'm serious, that's the feeling I was getting from the super friendly staff here.  They seem very knowledgeable and passionate about the quality of the pizza, took the time and patience to explain how exactly they make the pies and gave me instructions on how to bake it at home.  They checked in with me as I waited to keep me posted on their progress.  After about 10 minutes, my shrink-wrapped pizza pie was ready to take home!

Shrink Wrapped Chicken Apple Sausage Pizza Pie from Artisan Pizza Co
The raw pizza pie is shrink-wrapped for you to take home.

Instructions on Take 'N Bake Pizza
Easy-to-follow baking instructions.

Raw Chicken Apple Sausage Pizza Pie from Artisan Pizza Co
The raw Chicken Apple Sausage Pizza pie.
Smoked chicken apple sausage, sliced Granny Smith Apples, Red Onion,
Mozzarella, Ricotta, chopped Walnuts, Garlic, and Olive Oil Glaze.

Chicken Apple Sausage Pizza from Artisan Pizza Co
After 12 minutes in the oven: The finished product!

Chicken Apple Sausage Pizza from Artisan Pizza Co
A slice of Chicken Apple Sausage Pizza.

So how was the pizza?  I was pretty satisfied with it in general.  Now, it wasn't the best pizza I've ever had in my life, but it's important to appreciate Artisan for what it is - that it should taste like homemade rather than restaurant-made pizza, so to compare it with what you're used to at top-notch pizza restaurants might not be entirely fair.  The 100% whole wheat crust does taste very wheaty, which is something the staff at Artisan had helpfully warned me about and that I knew I wouldn't mind, but if you're not into the wheat taste then you might want to go with white crust.  The crust itself is thin but not super crisp, though I suspect one may make some adjustments to the bake time to achieve the desired level of crispness.  (I had baked mine for 12 minutes, but according to the instructions you can leave it in the oven for up to 15.)  The ingredients were good, though I felt the balance was tipped towards the cheesy side, and I didn't taste as much of the Granny Smith apples as I would have liked.  The walnuts were a very nice touch though.  All in all, I liked Artisan Pizza Co. and am willing to give them a little slack for being brand new.  And I do intend to go back if I ever feel like some take 'n bake pizza.  I'm generally partial to veggie pizza, so I'm thinking that might be the next on my list to try.

Restaurant info:
Artisan Pizza Co.
560 Adams Shoppes, Mars, PA 16046
On the web:

Artisan Pizza Company (Take 'N Bake Pizza) on Urbanspoon

El Paso Mexican Grill (Bridgeville)

Last Friday night I met up with a friend for a quick dinner before a movie at one of her regular hangouts, El Paso Mexican Grill in Bridgeville.  Located in the Great Southern strip mall next to TJ Maxx, El Paso strikes me as the type of place that would be great for a really simple, casual meal with your family. Traffic was surprisingly good that day so I got there about 20 minutes early.  There was a couple waiting for a booth seat when I got there (those seem to be pretty popular) but I had no preference, so I was seated at one of the tables right away and started munching on warm tortilla chips and salsa while I waited for my friend to arrive.

My friend is pretty familiar with the restaurant and ordered one of her stand-by chicken dishes.  I went with the Honey Chipotle Shrimp served with rice and beans which I thought sounded pretty good.  My friend had promised that El Paso would be cheap and decent - and she was right.  My shrimp dish was $10.05 and really filled me up.  It was pretty tasty, too, for a $10 seafood item.  The shrimp was just a tad bit on the overcooked side, but the sauce had a nice amount of sweetness and smokiness and was quite good.  It's no fine-dining, mind you, so if you go to El Paso expecting knock-off-your-socks Mexican food, you'll probably be disappointed.  But for something quick and relatively inexpensive, this was a good option.

Honey Chipotle Shrimp at El Paso
Honey Chipotle Shrimp

Restaurant info:
El Paso Mexican Grill
1155 Washington Pike, Bridgeville, PA 15017

El Paso Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Once upon a time I discovered a fabulous and easy banana bread recipe, chock full of banana flavor (well, it does call for six whole overripe bananas) and moist almost like a cake.  Then one day, I thought to myself, "I bet this would taste so good with chocolate chips!" so I dump some semi-sweet chocolate chips into the batter and I'm happy to report that I have never been more right in my life!  Not to toot my own horn (and I can't really claim credit anyway because the banana bread recipe was created by somebody else), of all the times I've made this and of all the people who have had it, I have heard nothing but praise.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Fresh out of the oven

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

I actually hadn't made this chocolate chip banana bread in a while, at least not since moving to Pittsburgh.  But last weekend I found myself with exactly six leftover, overripe bananas, so it was the perfect opportunity to use them all at once.  Once again, it came out pretty much just perfect.  It's not rocket science, really; it's all about following the directions carefully.  After enjoying a slice of the bread (can't beat that fresh-out-of-oven taste!), I brought the rest to work and it was a huge hit!  I just made another one yesterday and I think my neighbors will be the beneficiaries this time around. :)

If you want to try this yourself, here's my personal copy of the recipe in pdf format, which is basically the original banana bread recipe with a few of my own changes.

What I changed:
  1. The obvious one: I added 3/4 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Clearly, the amount can be adjusted according to taste, but personally I've found 3/4 cups to hit just the sweet spot.
  2. The original recipe does not state how many bananas are needed to make 2-1/3 cups of mashed bananas, and it is actually about six, which is definitely something good to know ahead of time!
  3. The original recipe also does not specify the type of brown sugar used.  I have tried both dark brown and light brown sugar, and in my opinion it's gotta be dark brown sugar for a full-bodied taste.  The light brown sugar is just too subtle for this and doesn't provide the right level of sweetness.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tofu with Red Curry Paste, Peas, and Yellow Tomatoes

Tofu with Red Curry Paste, Peas, and Yellow Tomatoes
Tofu with Red Curry Paste, Peas, and Yellow Tomatoes

I think I have declared my love for curry (of almost all kinds) on this blog before, so naturally I collect a disproportionately large number of recipes featuring this spice.  They don't always end up making it to my honor roll of blog-worthy recipes, but here is one from Cooking Light that I'm glad I finally got to try last week (particularly because I also like tofu) and really enjoyed.  The different ingredients balance each other out quite well, but the coconut milk really makes the sauce stand out.  I had used two heaping tablespoons of red curry paste, and it does pack a lot of heat.  This dish is also incredibly quick and easy to make, which always means bonus points in my book because I have so little time to cook sometimes.  In fact, I actually had to rush out the door the day I decided to make this for dinner, and I was able to prepare the sauce, take several pictures, and eat it all in the span of 30 minutes. (The only exception was the rice which takes close to an hour in a rice cooker.  Luckily, I had thought ahead and had started the rice cooker well before I started making the rest of the dish.) 

I'm filing this one under "must make again." :)

Recipe courtesy of:
Cooking Light (get the recipe here)

Paris 66 (East Liberty)

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a local food bloggers meetup at Paris 66 in East Liberty, organized by Luke, who used to work at Paris 66, and Mike (FoodBurgh), the meetup group organizer.  It was so nice to finally meet in person some folks whose blogs I have been following (Nicole of Yum Yum; Roddy of Rodzilla Reviews; Em of Forked!; and Lauren of Burghilicious) and some new folks whose blogs I am now following (Laurie of Tuesdays With Dorie and French Fridays With Dorie; Erin of Community Cucina; and Janelle of VegOut Pittsburgh).  What a fun group of people!  Lori and Fred, the owners, were sweet to stop by and chat with us, and gave us a little insight about the restaurant as well.  The inside of the restaurant truly has the feel of a cafe in Paris.  The tabletops are decorated with carefully laminated copies of ancient postcards of Paris that had belonged to Fred's great-grandmother.

On to the food.  I had never been to Paris 66 before, and I understand that they had recently changed their menu to move away from serving mostly crepes while expanding their menu options.  Being a fan of crepes, however, I really couldn't resist trying their signature local, organic buckwheat crepes.  I ordered the La Marseillaise, which I am ashamed to say I cannot pronounce despite being Canadian, but it is a "rolled galette stuffed with scallops, shrimp, shallots, saffron bechamel."

La Marseillaise at Paris 66
La Marseillaise

This was my first ever experience with buckwheat crepes, and I wasn't really sure about it at first, but it grew on me over the course of the meal.  One warning, however, is that the buckwheat flavor is really strong, so someone who doesn't like buckwheat probably wouldn't like this.  I personally didn't mind it too much.  The La Marseillaise ended up being pretty good, but very, very filling.   The buckwheat is really hearty and the saffron bechamel is thick and rich, so if you're looking for a "light" meal option, this isn't it.  Despite being starved because we didn't have dinner until 9 pm, I could not finish my crepe.

But as anyone knows, there is a whole separate stomach for desserts. :)  Half of Paris 66's dessert menu consists of crepes, but at that point I was kind of creped out, so instead I ordered the standard French dessert Creme Brulee:

Creme Brulee at Paris 66
Creme Brulee

Throughout the meal I had also had tastings of other people's appetizers and desserts.  Most of them were good, but the one thing that really stood out for me was a dessert crepe with banana and chocolate sauce.  Oh my, when that got passed down to my side of the table, I had quite a few more bites of it than I had intended.  I am already itching to go back just for the banana crepe.  And when I do, I will be sure to snap a picture and write an updated post on it.

In the meantime, check out Yum Yum's post on this outing for her take on Paris 66.  I'm sure some of the other bloggers will be posting their thoughts on Paris 66 as well, and I will update this page (below) with links to their blog posts when they are available.

And if you are a food blogger in the Pittsburgh area, join us!

Other food bloggers' posts on our visit to Paris 66: (to be updated as new entries are posted)

Yum Yum (5/11/2012)
Community Cucina (5/13/2012)
Forked! (5/24/2012)

Restaurant Info:
6018 Penn Cir S, Pittsburgh, PA 15206
(412) 404-8166 
Paris 66 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 15, 2011

An Organizational Post and Plans for Summer 2011

It's been such a busy, busy few weeks that I'm starting to feel like I'm falling off the food blogging wagon.  My goal has always been to limit the backlog to about one week, but lately it's been more like two weeks.  But, such is life with a full-time job that's more like a job and a half, plus a lot has been going on in my personal life lately (good stuff!) that has taken up a lot of my attention, so...what are you gonna do.  Here is a list of posts I have in the works, in semi-random order, if just to keep myself and my head organized:
  • Paris 66 - Went there this past week for a food bloggers meetup.  I had such a fantastic time and it was great to finally match some faces with blogs!  (Shout out to those I met and are reading this right now!)  And, I already want to go back for some dessert crepes.
  • Franktuary - Was there for lunch a week and a half ago, loved it, but might go back before I do a post on it because I'm thinking I'll be going back pretty soon.  I had wanted the "Mexico" which they didn't have the day I was there, and I've been craving it since!
  • El Paso Mexican Restaurant - Went this past weekend for a quick dinner.  Casual, good for the price, blog-mention-worthy.
  • Homemade Chocolate Chip Banana Bread - Was a huge hit at work!  Making another one this week.
  • Andes Creme de Menthe Cookies - Cooling in my kitchen as I type!  Om nom nom...
  • Tofu with Red Curry Paste, Peas, and Yellow Tomatoes - Delicious homemade meal I had this past week.
  • Artisan Pizza Co. - It's a take 'n bake pizza place that I tried for the first time yesterday.  Fresh, natural, simple.  Tastes like homemade.
  • Jeni's Spendid Ice Creams' Bakeshop Macaroons - This one has been in the works for months and I really need to finally just get it done! :)
  • Zuppa's Deli, take two - I've been back to Zuppa's since my first blog on it and finally tried something new which I'd like to document in my blog, but just haven't found the time.
Summer is a great time because I am quite a bit less busy at work, which means I have more time to try new things in the kitchen.  Some of the grand plans I have in my head right now include:
  • Making ice cream, Jeni's styleJeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home will be released on June 15, and you betcha I already have it pre-ordered!  I'll be curious to see how the recipes and methods might differ from the Food & Wine feature from a couple years back.  What I'm looking forward to doing is not so much recreate Jeni's flavors in my own kitchen ('cause I can just go to Whole Foods and get the real thing!), but to use Jeni's methods to create my own flavors of ice cream.  I have tried it in the past with taro, purple yam, and fresh bananas with success.  This summer, I'd like to try taro and purple yam again, and maybe (if there is time) basil; coconut; and some kind of a chocolate-coconut-curry combo reminiscent of an early Jeni's flavor, Coco Curry Cocoa.
  • Making my grandma's signature shrimp balls - the only authentic Chinese dish I know how to make, but hey, it's better than what you get at restaurants. ;)  Maybe I can pair them with a lap cheong fried rice that my dad taught me how to make, oh, about a decade ago.
  • Making sushi rolls.  I haven't made them in two years and would like to get some practice in this summer.
  • Trying some of Aarti Sequiera's recipes, finally!
  • Continue practicing making waffles with my fancy schmancy George Foreman grill.  I've been making them with Stonewall Kitchen's Toasted Coconut Waffle and Pancake Mix and they are so delicious!
Two more things I'll be doing this summer:
  • I'm spending a week or so in my hometown Toronto in early June.  It will be a busy trip for various reasons, but I recently started a restaurant wish list for Toronto and I hope to hit at least a couple of those places while I'm there.  We'll see.
  • Pig out in Italy!!  Yes, I'm going to Italy this summer!  Talk about a foodie heaven.  Hope I don't get too spoiled there. ;)
And somehow, I'm going to try and not gain weight this summer.  Wish me luck!

Spice Island Tea House (Oakland)

A couple of weeks ago I finally made it to lunch at Spice Island Tea House in Oakland, a little low-key restaurant serving Southeast Asian fare on Atwood Street that has been on my wish list for a little while.  They have a pretty extensive menu that includes a number of lunch specials.  There were so many choices it took me a while to figure out what to get, but in the end I just couldn't resist the Mango Pork served with coconut rice, which ended up being a great choice!  The meat was tender and the sauce was well-spiced if a bit greasy, but that just comes with the territory.

Mango Pork Curry at Spice Island Tea House
Mango Pork ($7.50)

My two companions both ordered the Java Fried Rice which seems to be a pretty popular item at Spice Island Tea House.  It looked delicious and is definitely something on my list to try next time.  All in all, an enjoyable meal with great company!

Restaurant Info:
Spice Island Tea House
253 Atwood St, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
On the web:

Spice Island Tea House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Honey Jalapeno Chicken with Sesame Soba Noodles

I came across this recipe from a friend's blog a couple years ago and I've been a big fan of it since the very first time I tried it.  The soba noodles are seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil, and pickled ginger, which is just a heavenly combo, and I love rotisserie chicken and how well it goes with the honey-jalapeno-cilantro sauce.  The ease of preparation wins another bonus point from me!

Honey Jalapeno Chicken with Sesame Soba Noodles
Honey Jalapeno Chicken with Sesame Soba Noodles
Recipe courtesy of:
Food Network (get the recipe here)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Corn Chowder with Smoked Sausage

My souvenir from Kansas City was a cold virus that started with a killer sore throat on Easter Monday, so as I contemplated what to cook, I had to be careful to choose something throat-soothing and definitely NOT spicy.  I flipped through my recipe collection, and after about ten different and very tempting curry recipes (you think maybe I like curry?), I found the perfect solution: Corn Chowder with Smoked Sausage.  It is creamy, tasty, and easy to swallow without being spicy.  It makes for a great comfort food that would be kind to my uncomfortable throat.

New Orleans Corn Bisque with Smoked Sausage
Corn Chowder with Smoked Sausage

This corn chowder is super easy to make with just a small amount of preparation involved.  I usually don't precook the potatoes but just dump them in along with the milk.  It works out pretty well.  I have made this with reduced-fat 2% milk before as well as fat-free milk (I happen to have just fat-free milk at home this time around), and I think I do prefer the reduced-fat milk because it makes the soup creamier and gives it more flavor.  I have never tried it with whole milk, but it is already very good with milk that has lower fat content, so I prefer to keep it that way.  I also find that I don't need to add a lot of salt to this, because the smoked sausage adds quite a bit of flavor and provides a nice contrast from the other, blander ingredients.  This is just what I needed.

Recipe courtesy of:
Hillshire Farm (get the recipe here)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pusadee's Garden (Lawrenceville)

My flight back from Kansas City arrived on Easter Sunday right around dinner time.  I didn't have any food at home, so I thought this would be a good excuse to go try another restaurant.  Problem is, many restaurants aren't open on Sundays!  Tipped off by Rodzilla, I was going to try Tamari in Lawrenceville, which is on my wish list and normally open on Sundays, but alas, it was not open that day.  Luckily, I know of another great restaurant in Lawrenceville just a little ways down the street from Tamari, and so I headed for the little family-run Pusadee's Garden.

Pusadee's Garden was actually the second restaurant in Pittsburgh I had ever been to since moving here last August when my friend and his girlfriend suggested to meet here for dinner.  The inside of the restaurant is pretty minimalistic - white/beige walls with few decorations, and in fact, the interior space feels to me to be a bit small and crowded - and mind you I am no claustrophobe.  But head out to the courtyard, and it is a completely different atmosphere: cute, charming, yet down-to-earth.  It feels just like you're in someone's backyard garden.  (Actually, it is Pusadee's backyard garden as fresh herbs are grown here.)  On this visit, I specifically requested patio seating, which was surprisingly empty on this day - I'm guessing because it had rained earlier.

Pusadee's Garden
The patio at Pusadee's Garden

Last time here I had tried the Pumpkin Curry which I liked a lot, and this time I decided to go with a different curry: Pineapple Curry with Tofu. (Yeah, I got curry again, surprise, surprise!)

Pineapple Curry with Tofu at Pusadee's Garden
Pineapple Curry with Tofu

You can't tell too well from the photo, but I actually really appreciated that the tofu isn't deep fried, which is how many restaurants do it.  The curry also comes with bell peppers and pineapples, and there was so much sauce that after finishing the rice I still had half the sauce left to take home.  It was one delightful meal turned into two!  The service was also very pleasant.  What a nice welcome back to Pittsburgh!

Restaurant info:
Pusadee's Garden
5321 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201
On the web:

Pusadee's Garden on Urbanspoon