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Monday, February 16, 2015

A NYC Quickie: Babylon Hookah Lounge

Recently I had the pleasure of joining Cohort on a quick business trip to NYC. I love New York. (I can't believe I just typed that...) I especially love New York in the winter, so it was the perfect time to visit! The weather was just right, cold enough to snuggle, but not cold enough to freeze to death. We had a wonderful evening with fabulous food at a local restaurant and great laughs at The New York Comedy Club. Before our evening got underway, we decided to stop for drinks and light fare. We found ourselves at the Babylon Hookah Lounge located at 208 East 34th Midtown/Murray Hill. As luck would have it, it was happy hour!!
Babylon Hookah Lounge
We ordered the regular Babylon Mix Hookah with appetizers. Babylon Hummus - a smooth hummus topped with marinated meats and pine nuts, served with bread for dipping. I could have eaten the entire dish all by myself! We also had the Cigar Borek - rolled phyllo dough stuffed with feta cheese, parsley and seasonings. Everything was very tasty, I'm sure their full entrees are just as amazing.

The space is large and divided into two sides. One side has a large bar with a dance floor and a seating area. The other side is more for lounging. The decor is lavishly Turkish! Our plan was to stop in for a quick drink and a smoke, but sitting there puffing away and sipping on Sangria, time simply slipped by. If you ever find yourself in Midtown/Murray Hill, stop in for a bite and lounge around for awhile. I know you'll enjoy it!
Babylon Hookah Bar & Lounge on Urbanspoon

PROS: Relaxing atmosphere, good drinks (Sangria was lovely) variety of flavored hookahs. Happy hour drink and hookah specials.
CONS: It's a nice place to lounge around during happy hour, but in the evening, it can get crowded.

Valentine's Feast at Fede: Cenacolo

This year Valentine's Day fell on a weekend. Good luck getting a reservation at any restaurant, anywhere! No worries, Cohort said we could just pick up an artisan pizza to go or hit a low key watering hole. I awoke on Saturday morning to beautiful white fluffy snow falling from the sky. It was gorgeous! Then....It...Just...Didn't...Stop!! By that evening the roads were covered with snow and sleet. Salt trucks were everywhere. Cohort said couples would start canceling reservations due to the bad weather. (He's smart like that!) He decided we should venture out to a place in North Huntington called Cenacolo.
Cenacolo is a very interesting space. Located in an office park, it's definitely a hidden gem. It showcases the fresh made pasta of Fede Pasta's which is handmade onsite. Despite not having a reservation, we were seated immediately. (SCORE!) We started with Drusian Dru El Cru Prosecco and appetizers. Fagioli E Verdure - white beans, pancetta, broccolini and garlic. An excellent take on greens and beans. Carciofini Fritti - crispy fried artichokes, topped with freshly chopped basil, served with a roasted lemon slice. The basil is what makes this dish pop with flavor and the light taste of the prosecco was a good starting point for drinks.

For his entree Cohort ordered the Reginetta - a wavy, thick pasta with shrimp, broccolini, hot banana peppers, and bacon covered in a rich gorgonzola cream sauce. It's a hearty dish with contrasting flavors from the sharp cheese and light spice from the banana peppers. I decided on the Oxtail Ravioli - braised oxtail with sage, served in a delicious marrow reduction. (Make sure you get an order of bread, you are going to want to sop up every drop!) With our meal we splurged on a bottle of Bava Barolo di Castiglione Falleto. It's a full bodied red wine that has a spicy aroma and pairs perfectly with rich pasta dishes. 
Strawberry Limoncello
After dinner they served Strawberry Limoncello with light cookies as a special Valentine treat. We then had an Italian Coffee to help warm up before heading out into the cold. Mmmm, perfetto!
Cenacolo Restaurant on Urbanspoon

PROS: Fresh in-house made pasta (They also have pasta making classes!) Nice wine selection, but you can also B.Y.O.B.
CONS: It's located in an office park, don't let that deter you, the inside is amazing!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Off The Hook: on the hook if you're the one paying....

Cohort and I recently traveled to Warrendale to enjoy a bite at a new upscale seafood restaurant called Off The Hook. Due to the looong wait, we decided to post up in the bar area. The layout is amazing! They have a main bar area, a separate section for the oyster bar and additional tables throughout. Despite a menu advertising fish from all over the world, we learned that their large wine selection was limited to California, so we decided to start with cocktails. They were fine, but nothing special compared to some of the other cocktail places we've visited. For an appetizer, we had the Plum Island Lettuce Cups which are lobster, crab, shrimp and water chestnuts blended and stuffed in lettuce cups, then sprinkled with crispy rice noodles and Korean Dragon sauce. It's a light appetizer with a mild flavor. I thought it was fine, Cohort thought the lettuce was the boldest flavor in the mix. For sides we chose Lobster Whipped Potatoes and Asparagus. The potatoes were tasty and I loved the asparagus. It was char grilled with mild seasoning, letting the true flavor shine through.
Lobster Whipped Potatoes and Char Grilled Asparagus
For a main course I had the Black Grouper with Choriza and Cream. It is served with chorizo sausage, sauteed fennel, onions and smoked paprika cream. Cohort ordered the Swordfish Vera Cruz finished with tomato, onion, jalapeno, olives and caper topping, drizzled with EVOO. We waited a looong time for our meals. Twice, the bartender came over and apologized for our wait, informing us that there was a chef tasting in the kitchen and that things were slow. We sat and watched as other patrons around us were being served. Hmm, maybe only some dishes were behind in the kitchen? Once served, as wonderful as these two dishes sounded, they seemed to be lacking. Apparently OTH char grill the fish separately and THEN add the sauces and toppings. I feel the dishes would be much more flavorful if they were cooked IN the sauces. Cohort and I were left feeling ho-hum about our meals. Incidentally, while we were eating, another couple just seated asked for menus and the bartender began giving them a list of all the "specials." We were never offered these items, so I can only assume this was part of the chef tasting and that it was not available when we ordered.


At that moment they brought dessert out for the couple sitting on our other side. A fluffy cheesecake with apples, caramel and a crumb topping. We decided to stick around and the dessert was the highlight of a dining experience that was just so-so. With the prices that OTH charges, I should not be using the words "so-so" and 'ho-hum" to describe my meal.

Off The Hook on Urbanspoon
PROS: Nice ambiance.Very good dessert.
CONS: Long waits for seating and entrees, pricey food that is fine...nothing special, just fine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Spoon Full of Sugar: Vanilla Pastry Studio

Have you ever needed just a bite of something sweet? If so, I know the perfect place! Located in Regent Square you'll find a posh little bakery called Vanilla Pastry Studio. So much more than your neighborhood sweet shop, it's a full blown boutique bakery experience! The shop is set up like a girl's dream house. They have a seating area with a metal table and pastel painted chairs. The ceiling is filled with brightly colored chandeliers that make the shop look decadent and cheerful. They offer everything from lollys (sweet little desserts on a stick) to custom made celebration cakes.

My sweet of choice are the cupcakes. They are simply divine! On this visit I had the Lemon. It was perfectly moist with a burst of tart citrus balancing out the sweetness. The frosting was light, creamy and fluffy. I could very easily eat a bowl full of the butter cream frosting and be completely content. They offer flavors like Strawberry Shortcake, Mango-Passion fruit, and even Grapefruit. Their cupcake combinations are always changing, so what they have in store changes from day to day. I have never been disappointed and I always try something new. They play a lot with sweet, salty, tart and chocolate flavors. You're sure to find a little something to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you're ever in the market for a one of a kind wedding cake or an over the top birthday cake, this is the place!

Vanilla Pastry Studio on Urbanspoon

 PROS: Freshly baked sweets made with natural ingredients.
CONS: Pastry items change daily; if you have a favorite, they may not have it everyday.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Out of Prohibition, Into a New Era: Speakeasy Social Lounge

Located in the lower level of downtown's Omni William Penn Hotel sits a hidden gem -  the Speakeasy Social Lounge. In the 1920's, during prohibition, this intimate room was actually used as a Speakeasy. When alcohol became legal, there was no longer the need to hide things in the basement, so for decades this lovely space was used as a storage room. Recently they decided to resurrect this Speakeasy to it's former glory. The term "Speakeasy" originated right here in Pittsburgh. Patrons would speak quietly (or easy) about such places in public, or when inside, so that the neighbors and police would not catch on.
Omni William Penn Speakeasy
The space is small and low key. (I'm sure most Speakeasy's were set up this way during prohibition.) The decor is rich, warm and luxurious and definitely takes you back. I expected the great Gatsby to come over and welcome us. I wanted to sport a bob haircut, flapper dress and take a drag on a cigarette in a long holder. It has a nice bar and small plush cranberry colored chairs in the center and luscious bench seating with low tables surrounded by round golden ottomans along the back wall. Once seated the bartender produced a distressed leather booklet which contained the menu. The menu has a selection of curated spirits that would have been served during that era with a few local twists. We had just popped in for drinks, but they do offer small plates.
Speakeasy Menu
Cohort ordered a Blind Tiger, named after the dispensaries of unlicensed alcohol in the Carolina's, a punch made of Batavia Arrack Van Oosten, Benedictine, Cherry Herring, Chai Tea, Birch Bark Sour, Ginger Beer with fresh seasonal fruit. I had a Raspberry Lemon Vodka Cobbler- citrus infused Boyd & Blair Pennsylvania potato vodka, Schladerer raspberry liqueur served over LOTS of ice. Both were yummy, but Cohort clearly won this round. (I drank his and mine!) The punch was brimming with a blast of flavor. I love a good, classy cocktail - we ordered an entire pitcher! Worth every sip!
Blind Tiger
It's one of the coolest drink spots in town. The prohibition back round makes it even better!

PROS: Very good drinks. Nice decor. Historic place.
CONS: Not much signage, so you have to know that the Speakeasy is down there-but then again, maybe that's the point!

Speakeasy Social Lounge on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 11, 2014

St. Patrick's Day: Joey's The Edge

After our visit to Rivertowne on St. Patrick's Day we ended up at a place called Joey's The Edge in Export, PA for a quick drink and a bite. I normally don't venture out on St. Patrick's Day, I look at it like it's the evening of The Purge. You're more than welcome to participate in the shenanigans, but if something goes wrong, you were kinda asking for it! I didn't see much harm in stopping by a small neighborhood spot. It wasn't very crowded at first, but more people poured in as the evening progressed. They have a small bar area with a few high tables and stool seating, a pool table and an area where bands perform. Beer and cocktail specials were listed for the evening. At the end of the bar a young woman was boasting that she had been there celebrating St. Patty's Day since breakfast. (Kegs and eggs I guess) It was around 9pm, so Cohort and I assumed she was joking. After a few long islands I headed to the ladies room. As I walked to the end of the bar I could see the young woman in full view. She sported flannel white pajama pants with colorful peace signs and a fitted night shirt. It was at that moment that I realized she was completely serious. Not only had she been at the establishment since early that morning, she didn't even bother getting dressed! LET THE EVENING BEGIN! I LOVED this place!
Burger and Chips
The people are friendly, laid back and just want to have a good time. The menu was limited due to the fact that they don't have a fryer. They did have burgers, Italian sausage, B.L.T. ect. Cohort ordered a burger with chips, I decided on the Italian sausage with chips. Nothing fancy, more like being at a friend's house and they decide to throw some burgers on the grill. And let me tell you, every bite was good! The old neighborhood bar with a back room kitchen is a dying breed and that saddens me. Growing up everyone in the city knew if you wanted a good fish sandwich the place to go was the Triangle Cafe in Mount Oliver. The Triangle is long gone now, as are many other neighborhood bars. If the neighborhood bars across the city don't continue to get support they will all be gone. Some people may think this is a good idea, that Pittsburgh needs upscale establishments all around the city, but riddle me this, who wants to spend every weekend paying $12 for one drink? Who wants to get dressed to the nines just to grab a quick bite? If you can't sport your flannel jammy pants to the local neighborhood watering hole, than where can you sport them?!?!
Italian Sausage and Chips
I say people of Pittsburgh pick a month and in that month only venture out to small local neighborhood establishments for eating and drinking. Take a break from the high end affairs and just relax. Go out and enjoy yourself without a care in the world, because at Joey's The Edge the people don't care - about what you look like, how you're dressed, how much money you have or where you came from. They're just there to enjoy themselves. I would like to visit Joey's again on an evening when the band is playing. According to their Facebook page it makes for a damn goodnight! Hopefully I'll run into Jammy Pants Girl...she clearly knows how to have a good time! (Rock on Jammy Pants Girl....ROCK ON!)

PROS: Good food. Happy hour specials. Live music. They even have S.I.N. (service industry night!)
CONS: A bit of a drive unless you're local,  but if you decide to venture to Rivertowne Brewery, you're right around the corner! They also still allow smoking. (This isn't really a CON for me. I don't mind, but it may be for others.)

Joey's The Edge on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 6, 2014

St. Patty's Day Beer Run: Rivertowne Brewing

On St. Patrick's Day Cohort and I headed out to the Rivertowne Offices and Brewery on Old William Penn Hwy in Export, Pa for a beer run. They have a tasting room and also offer tours. The website says the tasting room sells six packs, cases, kegs and several beers on tap. It was here that I found my new summer beverage. We tried a few beers and I settled on the Hala Kahiki (hahlah-kah-hee-kee). The name itself originates from the Hawiian word for pineapple. This pineapple ale is light with a soft pineapple taste and an ABV of 4.8%. Don't be nervous, the taste isn't too sweet. It's beyond refreshing and tastes like summer. I closed my eyes and thought I was sitting on a white sandy beach with a flower in my hair. I decided I need to have more of this in my life. My plan? To drink this enchanting pineapple ale ALL SUMMER LONG!
Rivertowne Brewing
Cohort enjoyed a few of the darker beers on tap and purchased a seasonal ale to take with: Bourbon Barrel Aged All Aboard Anniversary Stout. An oatmeal coffee stout with an ABV of 7.1%. - Cohort thought it was excellent!
Bourbon Barrel Aged All Aboard Anniversary Stout
The tasting room is open Mon-Fri 3pm to 9pm; Sat 11am-9pm; Sun 11am-5pm Closing times vary, depending on what time parties disperse. You can grab a pint and a small bite to eat. (Ask about their mason jar club for those who want to stop in more often.) Tours are offered every Sat at 2pm, but reservations are required to guarantee your place in the tour. Call to make reservations 724-519-2145.

Tours cost $8 per person and include:
* Sampling of Rivertowne Beers
* Technical tour of the brewery with a pint for the ride
* Keepsake can for you to drink or take with you
* $3 beers after the tour
Rivertowne Brewery
After a few beers we headed out for the rest of our St. Patrick's day celebration, but that story is for another day!

PROS: Local brewery with top notch ale. Available at establishments all around the city.
CONS: Seasonal brews are so good you'll want them year round!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Lively Affair: The Livermore

One evening Cohort and I found ourselves at a wonderful place called The Livermore located in East Liberty on S. Highland Ave. I adore this little spot! It's part cafe, part corner bar, but the best of both. They offer wonderful drinks and small plates. For drinks, our bartender Abbie was amazing! I love a bartender who knows their stuff. The type of  bartender you can tell, "I like sweet" or "I like sour" and BOOM a fabulous drink appears! That's Abbie! These drinks can come from the menu, but not always...(There are 2 versions of the corpse reviver, but only 1 is listed on the menu.)
Aviation and Corpse Reviver #2
For eats we ordered a few small plates and shared. Tomato & white anchovy toast, mussel & potato escabeche, smoked whitefish pate, pork rilletes and scallop ceviche. My favorite being the whitefish pate served with toast. Pate can sometimes taste bland, but this had a very appealing smokey taste with a smooth texture. The scallop ceviche was light, refreshing and the scallops were very fresh. I even enjoyed the anchovy toast and I am NOT a big fan of anchovy. But Cohort insisted I tried it and I'm glad I did. It sounds like a lot of food but it wasn't. This is not a stuff your face and leave feeling full kind of joint. It's a place to stop by for drinks and light fare. The servings are just a few bites, so savor and enjoy!
A little bit of everything!
The bar was extremely noisy. The music wasn't playing loud, the people weren't talking loud and yet it was very noisy. I think it may be because of the tile along the walls and floor and everything echos. It's not the place for a quiet romantic evening, but then again, who needs that every night?

PROS: Experienced bartenders. Lively atmosphere. Good snacks.
CONS: Can get a little loud and crowded during busy times.

The Livermore on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Nice Piece Of Tail: Cornerstone Restaurant & Bar

I recently took my niece out for her birthday to Cornerstone Restaurant & Bar located in Aspinwall. It was early on a Wednesday so it wasn't crowded. It's a nice neighborhood bar with an upscale feel. The bar area is separated by a partial brick wall. We sat at a booth in the dining area which is small but nice and comfortable.They also have outside seating for warmer weather. (Not that we would be using that area anytime soon considering we are living in some type of Game of Thrones winter season!) There is a very good reason to visit this establishment on hump day-a little thing they call "Lobster Tail Wednesday." I'm impressed by any restaurant that would choose such a bold main dish for their midweek special. We started with a smoked salmon soup. A hearty soup with a lingering smokey flavor that warms you to the bone.

Smoked Salmon Soup
Then came the Maine event: a tender nice sized lobster tail served with clarified butter, roasted brussel sprouts and parmesan risotto. The risotto was rich and creamy, soft but still al dente with a bit of "stickiness." I was very pleased! My niece ordered the spaghetini; smoked mozzarella stuffed meatballs, san marzano marinara and parmesan reggiano over a bed of pasta. When she sliced through the meatball, cheese poured out over the top of the pasta. When I tasted her pasta, I almost forgot about my lobster tail. I wanted to eat the entire dish, but since it was her birthday, I resisted! 

Lobster Tail with Brussel Sprouts and Risotto
For dessert we shared a bread pudding, served warm with caramel drizzle, a scoop of ice cream on top and a bottom that had started to caramelize. That's right, caramel candy-coated bread pudding! It doesn't get any better than that! 
I would like to revisit when the weather breaks. (If that ever happens...) I would love to see their summer menu.
PROS: Daily menu specials.($10 off bottled wine on Thursday!) Good drinks, even better food!
CONS: The dining area itself is small, but don't let that deter you.

 Cornerstone Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Stumbled At The Finish Line: Matteo's

After a nice walk from the North Side to Lawrenceville (Cohorts idea, not mine) we stopped by Matteo's for drinks and eats. The place itself is not large but it has a warm decor and a nice bar area. We sat at the bar and ordered drinks. While we reviewed the menu, a man appeared from the kitchen and announced "Bar wings!" He sat 2 plates of  hot wings on the bar and walked away. The bartender told us they were complimentary hot wings for the bar patrons. SCORE!! It was hot wing heaven! (And FREEE!) These were some good, meat falling off the bone, flavorful with a spicy kick hot wings! (Just spicy enough to leave that oh so good tingle sensation around your lips!) The only issue I had with the wings is the fact that they weren't listed on the menu. Odd considering they were the best thing we ate that night. Can I order wings if I'm not sitting at the bar? I don't know. We didn't see them being served to anyone else.
Hot Wings

Anyway, I suggest you ask for the wings or fight for them if you must. They are worth it.  Next up, greens and beans, an amped up version of an Italian favorite that included sausage, banana peppers, caramelized onions, great northern beans and spinach. I've never had greens and beans served this way and I was pleasantly surprised! I could not wait for my entree. I had ordered the lobster ravioli listed as a feature on their blackboard, but after a few drinks, the bartender informed me they were out of the ravioli. I'm not sure why it took so long for them to inform me, but I was disappointed. I ended up with the crab campenelle, a pasta with jumbo lump crab and sun dried tomatoes in a chive cream sauce. It looked delicious...looks can be deceiving. It was flavorless and bland. I was so displeased. Cohort ordered the BLT pasta and again something was missing - mainly flavor. We both expected so much more after the fabulous appetizers. I sat eating my dull dish looking at the blackboard that still read "Lobster Ravioli" wondering what could have been. We both ended up taking our entrees home. (Cohort is NOT in the habit of taking home leftovers!) Oddly enough the next day, with a few seasonings and some oven time, both dishes came together nicely! Amazing what a bit of garlic, paprika and Italian spices can do.
Greens and Beans

I would definitely go back for drinks and appetizers. When it comes to entrees....I would tread lightly.

PROS: Happy hour specials. Friendly staff. Good drinks. Awesome appetizers.
CONS: Entrees just didn't measure up. Blackboard features not always available. (It's a blackboard....just erase it!)

Matteo's on Urbanspoon