Sunday, September 25, 2011

Waterfront Food & Wine Tasting 2011

September is Hunger Action Month.

I know, I know, I'm a bit late to the party.  It's been a hectic September for me, as evidence by the sporadic activity on my blog, but I hope that posting about this now, at the end of the month, will help remind everyone that while Hunger Action Month may be almost over, hunger is definitely not for the 1 in 6 Americans who don't have enough to eat every day.  And there is a lot anyone can do to help fight hunger, regardless of what month it is.

In an effort to support the Pittsburgh Food Bank, a neighbor and I attended the annual Waterfront Food and Wine Tasting on September 15.  Having never been to this event before, I had no idea what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised by the vibrant scene and the huge turnout.  Many businesses in the Waterfront/Homestead area offered tastings and other goods in support of the event, and I will just highlight some of my favorites stations in this post.

There were tastings from several small, independent restaurants, such as Blue Dust and Tin Front Cafe.  Here's a delicious chili from Tin Front Cafe, which was a 2010 Chili in the Works 2nd place winner:

Tin Front Cafe @ Taste of the Waterfront 2011
Tin Front Cafe's Chili

(Note to self: Add Tin Front Cafe to wishlist!)

The Waterfront is notorious for its abundance of chain restaurants.  Chain restaurants sometimes get a bad rep because, well, sometimes they are bad.  But Mitchell's Fish Market's offerings looked awesome, and seeing Mitchell's name gave me fond memories of Columbus, Ohio, where I used to love the Columbus Fish Market (same restaurant, slightly different name).  Mitchell's and Columbus Fish Market restaurants are now owned by Ruth's Chris, but used to be part of the Cameron Mitchell empire that dominated the restaurant scene in Columbus when I was there in the earlier part of the 2000's.

Anyway, I tried all three of Mitchell's tastings:  Tuna ceviche with cucumber, steak tartare, and avocado ice cream with salsa.  And all I can say is "wow!"  Chains are not all bad, after all. :)

Mitchell's @ Taste of the Waterfront 2011
Small bites from Mitchell's Fish Market

Seeing that neither of us is a beer drinker, my neighbor and I skipped the beer room and headed for the wine.  But first, some Sartori and Market District brand cheese from Giant Eagle:

Taste of the Waterfront 2011
Cheese selection from Giant Eagle

We had the Balsamic Bellavito, Bellavito Gold, and gouda.  All were good, though I found the Balsamic Bellavito to be the most interesting.  The little cheese pairing pamphlet we got stated that the Balsamic Bellavito pairs well with Weizen, which made me laugh because the Weizen is, so far, the only beer I was able to drink a full glass of (and actually liked!).

Three different wine stations greeted us in the "wine room": Greenhouse Winery, Arrowhead Wine Cellars at Trax Farms, and Pennsylvania Wine Cellar.  We spent the most time at the very long PA Wine Cellar table, where they offered no less than three dozen wines from dry to sweet.  I can't remember now all the wines I tasted (you know, after a while it tends to erase your memory), but I definitely remember the very unique, limited-edition Chocolate Covered Cherry wine, which tasted amazingly like chocolate covered cherries.

Pennsylvania Wine Cellar @ Taste of the Waterfront 2011
Pennsylvania Wine Cellar
My favorite, however, was the refreshing Winter Pear:

Pennsylvania Wine Cellar @ Taste of the Waterfront 2011
Winter Pear Wine from PA Wine Cellar.

Then, we finished off our evening of tasting with tiramisu from BRAVO! Cucina Italiana, another chain that reminded me of those happy days in Columbus.  I am a little picky when it comes to tiramisu, and Bravo's version was melt-in-your-mouth good and not too cakey, as many a tiramisu tends to be.

Bravo @ Taste of the Waterfront 2011
Tiramisu from BRAVO! Cucina Italiana

After our little food tour of the Waterfront, we stopped by the Pennsylvania Wine Cellar store just a few units down so I could get some Winter Pear wine to take home.  What a cute store with a masive selection of wine accessories, not to mention the passionate staff who work there.  They offered to let me take some pictures of the store and I will share one here:

Pennsylvania Wine Cellar
Pennsylvania Wine Cellar, the store

Needless to say, I had an absolute blast at the Waterfront Food and Wine Tasting, and it's not just the wine talking!  It was great fun for a great cause, and I'm already looking forward to going back next year.

And if you want to join the fight against hunger, visit the Pittsburgh Food Bank's website (or the website of your local food bank) and check out the many different ways you can help increase awareness and reduce hunger.  Remember, just because Hunger Action Month is almost over doesn't mean our job is done!

Thai Suan Thip (Bellevue)

I had wanted to try Thai Suan Thip in Bellevue ever since I read about it on FoodBurgh last fall, when I was still very new to the city, so I was particularly excited when I finally got the chance to check out this place recently.

I was pleasantly surprised by how cute the restaurant is on the outside, and the decor inside the cozy space is comfortable and inviting.  Being pretty much a curry fiend, my attention was immediately drawn to the curry section of the menu.  The Pumpkin Curry - a red curry with coconut milk, bell peppers, and basil - came highly recommended, so I went for it, with tofu as my choice of protein.  It was highly satisfying.  I particularly liked the fact that, unlike some other restaurants, the tofu isn't deep fried.

Pumpkin Curry with Tofu at Thai Suan Thip
Pumpkin Curry with Tofu

While rice was included, there wasn't a lot of it for the fairly sizable bowl of curry, so I only ate about half of the curry and took the rest home.  I wanted to save room for dessert anyway!

Sticky Rice with Mango at Thai Suan Thip
Sticky Rice with Mango

Sticky Rice with Mango is pretty much my go-to Thai dessert, probably thanks to my parents' influence as it is something they always order at Thai restaurants.  The dessert really hit the spot and I was happy.

I was very pleased with my experience at Thai Suan Thip and am glad I finally got to try it out!

Restaurant info:
Thai Suan Thip
172 Lincoln Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15202

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Aji Picante (Squirrel Hill)

Update: Aji Picante is closed.

Do you know Señorita Cibulka?  She's a high school Spanish teacher in West Mifflin who came up with the fascinating idea of having her students explore authentic Mexican/Latino restaurants in the Pittsburgh area for extra credit in her class.  (She is even planning a trip to Spain for interested students!)  She recently started her blog Señorita Cibulka Savors to document her own experiences at various authentic Mexican/Latino restaurants for her students and for anyone who is interested.  I have a soft spot for educators, particularly innovative ones who think outside the box and who find new ways to engage students, so I have been following Señorita Cibulka's blog with interest and to learn more about authentic Mexican/Latino food myself, which I'll admit to knowing little about.

Señorita Cibulka and I had also exchanged a few conversations over Twitter, and it was through one of these conversations that we decided to meet up for dinner at the new Aji Picante that had just opened up in Squirrel Hill in the old Panera space across from Silk Elephant and next to what is now Razzy Fresh.  Like La Feria in Shadyside, Aji Picante serves Peruvian cuisine and is owned by Pittsburgh staple Pamela's Diner.  Although I have yet to try La Feria, I had heard great things about it, so I had pretty high expectations for Aji Picante.  Besides, if their Peruvian food is half as good as Pamela's hot cakes, then this would promise to be a great meal!

But first things first:  What does "Aji Picante" mean?  According to our Spanish teacher here, it means something to the effect of "spicy chili."  Good to know.

On to the menu.  Most of the items looked intriguing, but we tried to look for the most authentic dish possible, and this is where I looked to Señorita Cibulka for guidance.  To start, her and I shared the Torrejas de Choclo, or "crispy corn fritters seasoned with aji amarillo and cilantro."  As Señorita Cibulka pointed out in her blog, aji amarillo is a Peruvian yellow chili pepper.  Three different sauces came with the corn fritters: mint, guacamole, and hot red pepper.  We were both pretty happy with the corn fritters which were full of flavor, and the sauces were good.  We both agreed that the mint was a little less flavorful than we preferred, but the other two were tasty.  My personal favorite was the hot pepper sauce.

Torrejas de Choclo at Aji Picante
Torrejas de Choclo ($7)

The entree was a tough choice.  I was really curious about the purple potato ravioli, but that didn't sound very Peruvian to me, so I went with the more authentic Chupe (minus the poached egg).  Señorita Cibulka did the same (though with the poached egg).  The chupe is basically a stew with rice, veggies, and an assortment of shrimp, mussels, clams, and calamari, "in a flavourful tarragon infused broth."  Bonus points for including the "u" in "flavourful." ;)  I'm pretty sure this was the first chupe I've ever had, and I gotta say, it has set the bar really high for future chupes.  Although the picture makes the soup look somewhat creamy, it is actually a pretty light broth.  Every bite of this was full of rich deliciousness.  They weren't kidding about it being flavourful with a "u"!  I had asked Señorita Cibulka if she thought the poached egg added much to the chupe, and she didn't think so, so I guess I didn't miss out.  Finally, the serving was massive, and both of us had to take about half of our chupe home.

Chupe at Aji Picante
Chupe ($22)

We were, not surprisingly, very full by the time we gave up on our entree.  But when the waitress came by to see if we wanted desserts, we decided to ask if we could see the menu.  As soon as we said it though, I knew we were in trouble.  And we were.  The menu was too tempting.  After several moments of indecision, we decided to share a Mazzamorra Morada, which Señorita Cibulka aptly described as being like "jello Sangria."  No, there is no wine in this dessert, but it is a mesh of tarty fruity goodness in a jello form made with purple corn, apples, pineapples, dried cranberries, and apricots, and topped with cinnamon and cloves.  It was very refreshing and didn't feel heavy at all.  And after all, it's made with fruit, so it's good for you, right? ;)

Mazzamorra Morada at Aji Picante
Mazzamorra Morada ($5)

The food was fabulous.  The atmosphere and service were also very pleasant.  In fact, our waitress was very attentive and gave us solid recommendations.  Needless to say, both Señorita Cibulka and I enjoyed our Aji Picante experience a lot.  (See her blog post for more of her thoughts on our meal.)  Great food, great company...what more can you ask for?

Restaurant info:
Aji Picante
1711 Murray Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 422-0220
On the web:
On Facebook:
Bonus: BYOB

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sababa Middle Eastern Gill (Squirrel Hill): Take Two

Update 2/1/2012: Sababa Grill has now closed.

Original post:

As mentioned in my last post on Sababa, a friend and I had agreed to each get a LivingSocial deal for Sababa Grill and to go twice.  We weren't able to work out a time to go a second time together before the deal was to expire, so I took another friend for my second visit.  I decided to try something different this time: the Bourekas, with is a phyllo pastry with your choice of potato, eggplant, or mushroom filling.  I was going to be adventurous and get the eggplant, given my recent good experience with eggplant in Italy and that I've always been pleased with the Spanish Eggplant Salad at Sababa, but alas, they were out.  So I went with the mushroom filling instead.  I also had a choice of an appetizer to go along with my bourekas, and naturally I opted for my favorite Spanish Eggplant Salad.  Yum!

The Mushroom Bourekas looked delicious, but when I cut it open I noticed mostly pastry and not a whole lot of mushroom on the inside.  I was a little concerned that it would be bland, but it turns out the phyllo dough had absorbed much of the mushroom flavor and it was overall quite tasty.  The Spanish Eggplant Salad, as usual, was amazing.

Bourekas at Sababa Grill
Bourekas with Mushrooms ($7.90)

Bourekas at Sababa Grill
Bourekas with Mushrooms ($7.90)

My dining companion ordered the Shwarma with spiced broiled chicken and lamb.  She let me have a large bite and a picture.  My little taste was great and I might just have to try this one next time.

Shwarma at Sababa Grill
Shwarma ($15.00)

During our meal, the owner also came by to check on us and asked if we had any complaints.  I jokingly "complained" that they were out of the eggplant bourekas, but he was a good sport about it.  It was overall a nice meal and there's a good reason why Sababa is one of my favorite restaurants in town.

Restaurant info:
Sababa Middle Eastern Grill
2121 Murray Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217
On the web:

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Franklin Inn Mexican Restaurant (Pittsburgh): Take Two

One of my favorite pasttimes is trying new restaurants.  Many of these restaurants I end up liking a lot and vowing to return, but with 124 restaurants currently on my wish list, 86 of which are in the Pittsburgh area, it often takes me a little while to go back to a restaurant I had been to and enjoyed, despite the best of intentions.  (*blush*)  Franklin Inn is one restaurant in this category.

Franklin Inn holds a special place in my heart as it was the restaurant featured in my inaugural post on this blog back on February 28. It had been on the back of my mind as a place I needed to revisit, and I finally had the chance a couple of weeks ago when a friend and I decided to meet up for dinner and the North Hills area was a convenient location for both of us.

Announcing to the public that you're about to visit a restaurant means people will chime in about that restaurant.  Danina from Bite Bistro recommended the Chorizo Burrito at Franklin Inn, so I figured I couldn't go wrong with that!  The chorizo inside this burrito is a special blend made for Franklin Inn, and it came with tomatoes, onions, and cheese.  For the sides I opted for a side salad and the black beans and corn.  I had heard some complaints about the chorizo burrito being too cheesy, but mine was perfectly fine.  Everything tasted great.

Chorizo Burrito at Franklin Inn
Chorizo Burrito ($11.95)

And then, because I couldn't resist (as usual), I got a dessert.  I was oscillating between the Fried Ice Cream and the Caramel Flan (made from a special family recipe), and ended up choosing the Fried Ice Cream with chocolate sauce.  I was quite pleasantly surprised by this.  The ice cream had the flavor of natural vanilla beans and the crust wasn't thick and hard like some other fried ice cream I've had in the past.

Fried Ice Cream at Franklin Inn
Fried Ice Cream ($4.95)

It was another enjoyable meal at Franklin Inn.  I'll be back again. :)

Restaurant Info:
Franklin Inn Mexican Restaurant
2313 Rochester Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237
On twitter:!/FranklinInn
On Facebook:

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Franklin Inn Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Localfest 2011 at Bocktown Beer and Grill

After our dinner at Bocktown we headed outside for Localfest 2011, featuring locally-owned (duh!) businesses. There were plenty of neat displays, but I am going to stick with the food-related tables that impressed me the most.

One of the first stops we made was at the Wild Purveyor's table where we sampled some amazing cheese:

Wild Purveyors at Bocktown's Localfest
Wild Purveyors

Then, for even more amazingness, we tried some Brooklyn Black Chocolate Peanut Butter Bacon Brownie and JK Scrumpy's Caramel Cider Cake from Stangl's Bakery in Ambrige.  Simply to die for.  But you don't need to make the trek out to Ambridge to enjoy these as Bocktown has them on their dessert menu!

Stangel Bakery at Bocktown's Localfest
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Peanut Butter Bacon Brownie (left)
JK Scrumpy's Caramel Cider Cake (right)

And then, maybe because I was in sugar heaven, I was somehow convinced by Father Spoon of local craft beer podcast Should I Drink That? to taste some beer.  Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a beer drinker (too bitter!), but everyone else was tasting the beer and I felt a need to conform.  Besides, I'm always (OK, usually) a good sport about trying something, even if I don't think I'd like it.  My beer of choice was The Church Brew Works' Oktoberfest beer.  I took my first sip and made a face as it was pretty bitter, though the aftertaste was manageable.  Father Spoon explained that the taste profile of beer changes depending on its temperature, and that beer should be enjoyed at around 50°F.  And he was absolutely right.  I took my time with my beer, and after it had warmed up a bit, I was not able to detect any bitterness at all.  Maybe I don't dislike beer as much as I had thought, after all.

Church Brew Works Beer at Bocktown's Localfest
Shocker: A beer I didn't hate!

Our last stop was wine tasting by Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery located in Bedford, PA.  There were eight different wines to choose from, and I tried two: the Lemberger (red) and the Gewürztraminer (white), mostly because I couldn't pronounce them.  Both were fruity and I liked them both a lot.  Bocktown also carries Briar Valley wines.

Briar Valley at Bocktown's Localfest
Briar Valley Vineyard & Wine

The event was great fun and I enjoyed sampling all the local products, and even learned something new (that maybe beer isn't so bad).  I was also very impressed by Bocktown's commitment to supporting local vendors.  Makes me want to go back even more.

Bocktown Beer and Grill (Robinson)

Being a non-beer drinker, Bocktown isn't a place I would normally frequent, but a lot of my beer-drinking friends love the place, so when I was looking for a non-chain restaurant near the airport that would be open on a Sunday to celebrate my birthday way back in January, I figured Bocktown would be a good bet.  To my disappointment, my first experience there wasn't superb.  (Maybe the kitchen had an off day??)

But all my friends can't be wrong, right?  I know, I know, they like Bocktown for the beer, but I felt like there's gotta be something redeeming about the food, right?  Especially when foodie friend Foodburgh Mike, who happened to be one of my birthday dinner guests, had given the place a positive review on his blog.

I was more than willing to go back to Bocktown and give it another try.  My chance finally came two weeks ago when fellow foodie blogger Suburghia Foodie invited me and another foodie tweep Leogurl out to Localfest 2011 at Bocktown (more on Localfest on my next post) and we decided to meet inside the restaurant beforehand for dinner.  I ordered the Port Authority, a portabella mushroom sandwich with coleslaw, pickles, onion crisps, topped with Bocktown's "Untouchable Sauce," which was actually quite tasty.  At my dining companions' suggestion, I also ordered the Flat Belly Fries for the table and chose the Beer Cheese and Peppered Bacon toppings.  The fries were fabulous and yes, I even enjoyed the beer cheese.

Port Authority at Bocktown
The Port Authority ($7.99)

Flat Belly Fries at Bocktown
Flat Belly Fries with Beer Cheese and Peppered Bacon ($3.99)

The second time was definitely the charm, and I was a happy camper this time around.  I also enjoy the fun atmosphere there.  My impression of Bocktown improved even more after Localfest, so read on...

Restaurant info:
Bocktown Beer and Grill
690 Chauvet Dr, North Fayette Twp, PA 152725
On the web:
On twitter:
On Facebook:

Bocktown Beer and Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 5, 2011

Turkey Pesto Sandwich

Several blog posts ago I wrote about my overgrowing basil and parsley and making pesto with them, which I served on pasta.  Two weeks later, I still had some leftover pesto (luckily, it was still good!) so I needed to find a way to use it up, but I felt like trying it on sandwich this time.  Off to the internet I went, and found this great Turkey Pesto Sandwich recipe from Cooking Light that was super easy (perfect, since I've been busy and don't have time for complicated recipes) and surprisingly tasty.  I have to admit, I wasn't too sure how well it would turn out because the recipe almost seemed too simple, but the pesto spread turned out great.  I also used smoked turkey and added fresh basil leaves which I think intensified the flavor in a good way.  The buffalo mozzarella imported from Italy couldn't have hurt either.  I'm definitely keeping this one in the rotation!

Turkey Pesto Sandwich
Turkey Pesto Sandwich, pre-broiling

Turkey Pesto Sandwich
Turkey Pesto Sandwich, ready for consumption!
Recipe courtesy of:
Cooking Light (get the recipe here)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Coffee Buddha (West View)

When Mike Witherel said he was "trying to sell atmosphere" with his new coffee joint, he wasn't joking around.

Many people don't know this about me, but I consider myself a Buddhist.  So when I found out about the impending opening of a coffee shop named Coffee Buddha, I was naturally intrigued.  I closely followed the news of Coffee Buddha's progress on Twitter and Facebook, and when it finally opened the week after 4th of July, I promptly added it to my to-do list.

Somehow, it took me nearly two months before I finally made my first trip there, though it has quickly become my office away from my office.  And it's not just because of the Buddha theme (or the free wifi).  Sure, there are statues and wall paintings of Buddha.  There is even a Buddha bust inside the fish aquarium in the the front room.  But there is so much more than that that I like about Coffee Buddha.  Let me count the ways...

First, the beverages.  Another thing that many people find surprising about me is that I don't typically drink coffee, espresso, or espresso drinks (e.g., lattes).  Long story boiled down to a nutshell, I simply don't like the bitter taste.  (Same reason I don't drink beer.)  My only source of caffeine comes from a morning cup of tea, and after 2 pm or so, any further caffeine intake would keep me up at night.  My first visit to Coffee Buddha occurred after 2 pm on a Wednesday afternoon so I played it safe and got a caffeine-free Tangerine Ginger herbal tea, which was delicious.  But I was intrigued by the Four Noble Truths - four lattes known as Dalai Latte, Peanut Buddha Latte, Enlighten-Mint, and Mexi-Mocha - and vowed to come back in the morning someday to try them, especially after owner Mike so nicely offered me samples of the delicious homemade Vietnamese Spice and Peanut Curry Caramel that are mixed into the Dalai Latte and the Peanut Buddha Latte, respectively. As I mentioned earlier, I don't normally drink lattes, but I'm a woman of my word and have since returned to try both the Dalai Latte and the Peanut Buddha Latte.  Of the two, I personally prefer the Peanut Buddha, because I absolutely love the peanut + curry + caramel combo, but I found the Dalai Latte interesting and tasty as well, with the tangy Vietnamese spice that's just a little bit spicy.  I plan to complete all Four Noble Truths soon.  I want to achieve nirvana.

Dalai Latte at Coffee Buddha
Dalai Latte

Tangerine Ginger Tea at Coffee Buddha
Tangerine Ginger Tea

Of course, being a coffee shop, Coffee Buddha sells a variety of coffee.  Owner Mike is very passionate about his Trifecta single-serving coffee machine.  I don't know enough about coffee brewing to comment, but I did try a coffee sample which I had black - shocking, I know; R. couldn't believe it when I told him! - and I can see why coffee drinkers would like it.  I might even go for a full cup someday.  But, baby steps...

The second reason I like Coffee Buddha is the munchies.  Coffee Buddha serves a limited selection of salads and wraps from Pure Cafe and pastries from Lincoln Bakery.  I was initially a little concerned about the freshness of the wraps - after all, you have no idea how long they've been sitting in the refrigerated display case, but my Thai Chicken Wrap, with free range chicken, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, and spicy peanut sauce was pretty fresh and the flavor combo did not disappoint.  I had been to Pure Cafe before and had the Veggie Lovers Wrap there, and both times I've found the wraps to be simple and healthy.  Just what you'd expect from a neighborhood cafe housed inside a gym.

Pure Cafe's Thai Chicken Wrap at Coffee Buddha
Thai Chicken Wrap from Pure Cafe

Lincoln Bakery, on the other hand, I had never been before, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Coconut Cream PiePumpkin Muffin, and the Walnut Square I've partaken in at Coffee Buddha.  Owner Mike spoke of bringing in a microwave to warm up some of the baked goods, which I think would be a great idea.  The cold muffin was a little odd, even if tasty.

Lincoln Bakery's Coconut Cream Pie at Coffee Buddha
Coconut Cream Pie from Lincoln Bakery

Lincoln Bakery's Pumpkin Muffin at Coffee Buddha
Pumpkin Muffin from Lincoln Bakery

Lincoln Bakery's Walnut Square at Coffee Buddha
Walnut Square from Lincoln Bakery

The third reason I like Coffee Buddha: good service.  Owner Mike and the rest of the staff are always friendly, not just to people but to dogs as well - as evidenced by the pooch-friendly front porch and the gourmet dog treats available for sale.  Not that I've ever felt unwelcomed at any coffee shop, but when I walk into Coffee Buddha, I feel like I'm visiting a friend's house and not a business, which leads me to the fourth reason why I like - no, LOVE - Coffee Buddha:


Coffee Buddha
Coffee Buddha's exterior

Coffee Buddha is essentially an old house converted into a coffee shop, and thus feels very cozy.  The inside is full of brightly colored walls which is totally my style - you're talking about someone who painted her kitchen red and her powder room orange after all.  Coffee Buddha's decor is exactly how I would decorate my coffee shop if I owned one.  Despite the intense colors, it is also a place that feels relaxing - probably because it has the layout of a house.  The second floor has rooms slated for different purposes - a couple of rooms with sofas and armchairs, one with a table in the middle suitable for doing work, and one featuring a foosball table in the middle.  There's even a meditation room and talks of using it for massages.  Most of the rooms also feature large flat-screen TVs.  There's not a single inch of this place that's not been carefully designed and decorated.

Coffee Buddha
The front room you see as soon as you walk into Coffee Buddha

Coffee Buddha
The counter
(LOVE the red walls!)

Coffee Buddha
One of the rooms upstairs

Coffee Buddha
Another room upstairs, with posters from Venice

Coffee Buddha
Yet another room upstairs

Coffee Buddha
Connected to the other "green room" is a room featuring a foosball table

Coffee Buddha
The Meditation Room

Coffee Buddha
Even the bathroom decor is well thought-out

In addition to the warm interior design, owner Mike clearly has a good, quirky sense of humor that I appreciate.  Almost everywhere you go inside and outside the shop, you'll find something goofy that'll make you laugh:

Coffee Buddha
Sign by the window inside the front entrance

Coffee Buddha
Parking sign. I guess I'd better become a coffee drinker.

The only minor inconvenience for me is that if I'm trying to get work done at Coffee Buddha, I do try to go when I know there would likely not be many people around.  Unlike your typical coffee shop, there is only a handful of tables at Coffee Buddha where you can really lay out your stuff (as I do when I work) and be productive.  Also, even though you are separated by walls, conversations from one room do carry to other rooms in the "house."  When I'm trying to concentrate, I don't need to be eavesdropping on a lively conversation between two clearly very bright high school students about the universities they're looking into, which incidentally included my own alma mater IN CANADA - ha! (Boy these kids think global - good for them!)  But really, I didn't need to hear all that.  It wasn't a problem my iPod and some jazz clarinet music couldn't fix, but it is something I have to consider depending on what I'm trying to accomplish when I pay Coffee Buddha a visit. Coffee Buddha was clearly designed with the goal to make it a place to hang out rather than to do serious work, and I think that is totally fine.  It just means it may not always be a good time for me to be there.

Overall, I do love Coffee Buddha.  I am definitely sold on the atmosphere.  And then some.

Restaurant info:
Coffee Buddha
964 Perry Highway, Pittsburgh, PA 15237
Bonus: Free wifi
On the web:
On twitter:
On Facebook:

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Coffee Buddha on Urbanspoon

Mallorca (South Side)

Mallorca is one of those restaurants that I've heard several friends rave about, and after my positive experience at its sister restaurant Ibiza (and not just because I know someone who is affiliated with the establishment) and a Groupon feature, I bought the deal and planned to check it out sometime in the summer.

But much of the summer went by in a blur, and before I knew it, my Groupon was about to expire!  So the day before expiration in late August I made a trip out there and went all out for a big meal.

I started with the Mussels with Green Sauce appetizer.  The portion was generous, and the white wine sauce with parsley, garlic, and red peppers was very good.

Mussels with Green Sauce at Mallorca
Mussels with Green Sauce ($9.95)

For my entree I decided to try their signature Paella Valencia.  To be honest, I had expected a little more lobster based on the photos I've seen of the dish in the past (including one on their website), but at least it was tasty, and came with chips and a side of veggies that I barely ate because I couldn't even finish half of the paella!

Paella Valencia at Mallorca
Paella Valencia ($24.95)

And against my better judgment, I ordered dessert.  Yeah, I basically have no self control when it comes to sweets, especially ones displayed on a dessert tray.  As far as I can tell, there is no printed dessert menu at Mallorca, so I'm not sure how often this Flan with a glob of gooey caramel is offered, but I would imagine that this is a pretty standard dessert and it was an enjoyable one.

Flan at Mallorca
Flan ($6)

The atmosphere at Mallorca is very charming.  I was seated in one of the dining rooms with blue decorated tiles on the wall, large bottles of wine and paintings on display, and a decent amount of natural lighting.  I've never been to Spain, but I imagine this is what restaurants in Spain would look like.  The service started out great when I was one of only a few patrons in the dining room.  The servers were even joking with me when I whipped out my very conspicuous camera for my food shots.  And then the dining room got really busy and was full by 7:15 on a Tuesday evening, and while there was something even charming about the hustle and bustle, I no longer received much attention.  I suspect the impending Groupon expiration had something to do with the large crowd so it's hard to fault the service staff for seeming frazzled, so I let that one slide.  (Note to self: Never wait 'til the last minute to use a Groupon again!)

Overall, I enjoyed my meal here.  It's a place to go if I ever crave Spanish food.

Restaurant info:
2228 E Carson St, Pittsburgh, PA 15203
On the web:

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