Notion to reopen in February
Chef David Racicot confirms Notion will reopen at 128 S. Highland Ave. in East Liberty in early February.
In the meantime, he has shuttered Oakmont's 314 Pasta and Prime, the Italian-centric casual restaurant in Notion's first location.
"That's another story," he says of his decision. "I have learned an awful lot this year."
Mr. Racicot says what he has learned will show in the new Notion, a 28-seat, white-tablecloth restaurant.
"It's more experience-driven this time around," he says, citing bread-service and polished front of the house interactions as a parallel priority to the food.
White tile, light walls and a glass sculpture from Pittsburgh Glass Center detail the intimate space, a departure from casual dining rooms, reclaimed wood or the industrial aesthetic that dominates restaurant design right now.
Like the original, the reborn Notion nods to modernist cuisine. Mr. Racicot says the public's familiarity with the genre has allowed his and others' cooking to evolve.
"Back in 2005, a chef would design a dish around spherification," he says, citing the transformation of a broth or Cognac into a gelled-skin marble. "Now it's a garnish or a component. These techniques have gone from 'wow' to 'cool.' "
Modernism has introduced thickener agar and sodium alginate into kitchens. It has required tools such as the rotary evaporator for distilling or anti-griddles for instant freeze.
What had been novel or strange is now employed at many restaurants, whether or not they identify as modernist.
Whatever techniques or ingredients Mr. Racicot displays on his plates, he assures they will be refined.
"I want Notion to be as serious as possible without it being pretentious."
Eat and drink by the fire
Dramatic weather brings an excuse to find a cozy corner and indulge in food and drink that speak to the season. Hot cocoa or toddy, braised meats and hearty stews highlight winter menus.
To score a seat by the fire is all the better. Here are a few suggestions for respite from the cold:
• For pampering: Eleven Restaurant in The Strip.
Among the Post-Gazette's four-star restaurants, Big Burrito's Eleven offers refined plates and graceful service.
• For cheap eats: Eat'n Park in Squirrel Hill.
Eat'n Park's remodel offers stone accents and a fireplace by which to sit and sip hot cocoa, 24 hours a day.
• For the wine list: Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar in Shadyside.
Crispy pork, roasted beets and brisket are on the menu here, where patrons can sample tastes or bottles of old and new world wines.
• For a cocktail: 1947 Tavern in Shadyside.
Order an old-fashioned and grab a seat at this charming neighborhood bar with terrific ambience.
• For the neighborhood: Monterey Pub in the Mexican War Streets, North Side.
Hearty pub food and a local clientele make this spot a destination even for those who live outside the neighborhood.
Tan Lac Vien ladles terrific pho
Tan Lac Vien has opened in Squirrel Hill at 2114 Murray Ave., a clean, austere storefront with doting service. Though the menu reads Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese fare, the winner here is the Vietnamese soup, pho.
Beef broth is punctuated by notes of star anise and cinnamon, the base for rice noodles, meat and herbs. Variations include flank steak, brisket, tripe and meatballs. Ask for extra fresh chili peppers or jalapeno for heat to accompany condiments that include bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro and lime.