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