On the Table: 2012 saw a number of noteworthy restaurant openings

From Asian fare to niche dining spots, Pittsburgh's restaurant scene continued to be robust in 2012.

Niche eateries offer a narrow concept and seating for fewer than 50 guests, which provide restaurateurs greater flexibility, as kitchens swap chefs, stage collaborative dinners and try on late-night menus.

In other trends, Asian-inspired cuisine has become a darling in Pittsburgh, with Thai food and ramen capturing the attention of diners, particularly in the East End. Breakfast and lunch places added texture to the market. And craft cocktails made their way onto many restaurant menus, regardless of the neighborhood.

Here are some of this year's noteworthy restaurant openings.

Cure, Lawrenceville, January 2012

This meat mecca has quickly defined itself as one of the finest in Pittsburgh. Listed in Bon Appetit magazine as one of the nation's best new restaurants, Cure displays mindful sourcing of ingredients and skillful technique in the kitchen.

It was opened by Chef Justin Severino after he left the former Elements, Downtown, where he was executive chef. He had carved his career in California at Michelin-starred Manresa and at his own butcher shop, Severino's Community Butcher in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Though Cure is currently BYO, expect wine, beer and cocktails in the new year. The restaurant has secured a liquor license and will be expanding the bar area. (5334 Butler St.)

Bar Marco, Strip District, January 2012

Craft cocktails, snacks and flavorful entrees are draws to this bar and restaurant that opened in the space formerly occupied by the Firehouse Lounge and Embury on Penn Avenue. Yet a primary reason to return is the warmth of the hosts, childhood friends Justin Steel, Bobby Fry, Kevin Cox and sommelier Michael Kreha, who opened the place. They go out of their way to make guests feel at home.

In addition to staging impromptu events, Bar Marco staffs the kitchen with chefs from other restaurants on Mondays. Expect more from Bar Marco, as the partners build out the downstairs with a wine room and a reservation-only cocktail bar. (2216 Penn Ave.)

Union Pig and Chicken, East Liberty, February 2012; Harvard & Highland, East Liberty, October 2012

This pair from chef Kevin Sousa features a barbecue bonanza downstairs with brisket, ribs, fried and barbecue chicken. An array of sides inspires Southern nostalgia, from cornbread to collards to meaty mac and cheese.

Picnic-checked print is a given, albeit on walls rather than as a tablecloth. The spare digs are home to late-night dining at 50 percent off the menu for dining in. The late-night menu spans from 10 p.m. to midnight weekdays, 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights.

While whiskey and beer are the drinks of choice downstairs, the second-floor cocktail bar Harvard & Highland that opened this fall displays ambition. Creative and classic cocktails are curated by Summer Voelker, former bar manager at sibling restaurant, Salt of the Earth in Garfield.

As it hits its stride, the bar offers various happy hours that include $6 punch and wine and various snacks as well as an expansion to the downstairs space after 10 p.m.

Fishbowl windows, minimalist decor and the smell of smoked meat evokes a winter ski lodge -- if only there were a fireplace. (220 N. Highland Ave.)

Bluebird Kitchen, Downtown, May 2012

In just a few months, Liz Moore Pessaro's Bluebird Kitchen has become a Market Square staple. Terrific coffee from Counter Culture, healthful salads and memorable sandwiches such as confit chicken with cashew, apple and cumin on a croissant are among favorites.

Oversized cookies, whoopie pies, brownies and tarts beckon from behind display glass, made in house by pastry chef Julie Cogley. They're so good she seems to have inspired groupies with a penchant for sugar. (221 Forbes Ave.)

Luke Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grille, Strip District, July 2012

The go-to fish market for many Pittsburghers, the 100-year-old Wholey's was one of the first retail food businesses in the Strip. Wild Alaskan Grille is the family's first full-service restaurant, located a few blocks down Penn Avenue from the market. It blossomed from the lunch grill outside the fish market that debuted in March 2009 when 28-year-old chef Luke Wholey returned from out West after learning more about the seafood trade.

He offers a simple menu -- a single sheet listing five appetizers between $4 and $18, a house salad with seasonal vegetables or a Caesar for less than $10 and six entrees between $14 and $27. (2106 Penn Ave.)

Teppanyaki Kyoto, Highland Park, July 2012

Plate-glass windows display exposed brick and a blond counter at this variation of a cozy izakaya, a Japanese-style pub.

The newcomer from first-time restaurateurs Kevin Chen and wife Shiho Jino offers a handful of first courses and a longer list of variations on okonomiyaki, such as Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo and Hokkaido, city-named mixes that feature combinations of shrimp, squid, beef, tofu, pork or scallops.

Seasoned diners gravitate to the Hiroshima-style round, stuffed with beef, pork and shrimp, yakisoba noodles and egg. Negiyaki-style offers a mound of diced scallions with beef and pork. The latter two are favorites for a rich yolk or a spring onion bite.

Yaki soba, soy sauce ramen and oden, a Japanese winter soup, are recent additions to the menu. (5808 Bryant St.)

Marty's Market, Strip District, July 2012

Regina Koetters hired Spoon's former sous-chef, Matt Huggins, to run the kitchen and Cure's former sous-chef, Andrew Stump, to steer the bakery at this beautiful market in the Strip.

The result has been inspired casual fare for lunch, weekend brunch and early dinner, as the market closes at 7 p.m. Marty's also features winsome seasonal produce and a terrific meat counter with items such as beef tallow and duck fat for gourmands.

The coffee baristas make a memorable latte, a fine pairing with house-made macaroons. (2301 Smallman St.)

Noodlehead, Shadyside, October 2012

This noodle shop offers some of the most exciting casual Thai food in town from the folks behind Pusadee's Garden in Lawrenceville.

Hotheads, rejoice. It is here where the scale of spice, from 1 to 5, is truly hot. Try a level three hot of the love boat noodles, thin rice noodles, simmered beef and pork cracklings in a rich spicy broth and prepare to be wowed. If noodles aren't your thing, veer toward spicy pig wings and the very popular pork belly steamed buns.

A cavernous, stylish space is especially inviting with warm woods and Asian accents, all the more so when diners remember to bring their own booze. (242 S. Highland Ave.)

Fukuda, Bloomfield, October 2012

This slip of a restaurant in the former Stagioni space is helmed by chef Matt Kemp, alumnus of Tamari in Lawrenceville.

A tight menu showcases fresh, creative sushi, much of which is made with fish shipped from Tokyo's Tsukiji Market, the largest fish market in the world. House-made ramen and stylish Japanese street fare such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki also seed the menu.

Owner and manager Hoon Kim had partnered with a local artist on decor, which includes compelling installations and light boxes made from old commercial signs as votives. Fukuda has also implemented industry nights and late-night menus on weekends. (4770 Liberty Ave.)

Correction appended: A previous version of this story listed incorrect opening dates for Union Pig and Chicken and Harvard & Highland.


Melissa McCart: mmccart@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @melissamccart. First Published December 27, 2012 5:00 AM


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