Frenchman's return: Ambitious two-story restaurant opens in East Liberty




For a 29-year-old chef, Andrew Garbarino has simple if ambitious goals: to create a dining experience nonpareil in the city of Pittsburgh and a place where he can retire.

“I want to die in this restaurant,” he laughed. “That’s why I put in an elevator.”

Monday was the soft opening of Bar Frenchman on Baum Boulevard in East Liberty, on the ground floor of a grand 122-year-old building that was most recently the Royal York Auction Gallery and in the 1920s a Hudson car dealership.

The 60-seat bar and dining room will be a French-style brasserie that will serve everything from $19 flatiron to $100 Japanese wagyu steaks, and simple oysters and mussels to chilled lobster tail and a sturgeon caviar tasting.

“The downstairs, you don’t have to have a super extravagant check — you can — but you don’t have to,” said Mr. Garbarino, a Johnstown native.

Other items will include escargot and grits, smoked duck breast, duck confit pappardelle, Parisian gnocchi with ratatouille, and vegetarian French onion soup. Sourcing is meticulous, with produce from Chef’s Garden family farm in Huron, Ohio, and roosters for coq au vin from a North Carolina farm.

The kitchen downstairs is encased in windows, so diners can watch the staff at work, and Mr. Garbarino said it is the first kitchen in Western Pennsylvania with equipment by Hestan, a California company that has done similar work at elite restaurants Alinea in Chicago and The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. Equipment in the larger upstairs kitchen is also by Hestan.

In 2015, Mr. Garbarino, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., opened the highly acclaimed but small Twisted Frenchman on the bustling restaurant row on South Highland Avenue. That space closed earlier this summer and will move to the upstairs of this building, opening in about two months. For guests who step off the elevator, the first thing they’ll see — by design — is a gleaming giant new kitchen.

“I’m literally the luckiest chef in the city because I got to design and build my dream kitchen as I imagined it in my head,” he said. “This is my muse.”

The expansion required Mr. Garbarino to multiply his staff from seven to 35. It’s taken as an article of faith among local restaurateurs that a shortage of quality kitchen help exists here.

“My solution to this was: We built the most beautiful kitchen in the city. I want them to be proud of it and to call this their home, and I want to be able to provide them a good living. I want this to be a teaching kitchen,” he said.

“So I was a little nervous when we put the ads out, but we had great cooks from all over the city respond.”

There will be no doors on the kitchen because Mr. Garbarino wants to encourage interaction between guests and back of the house staff.

The Twisted Frenchman will again specialize in tasting menus, with a new wrinkle: a 21-course tasting menu with seats right in the kitchen. The cost will be $225 per person, but a more modest and affordable three-course full entrée tasting menu will be available in the 42-seat dining room for $50.

The chairs in the opulent dining room were $825 a pop, made by a Manhattan designer and modeled after the chairs at Alinea.

“It’s like a modern version of a wingback steakhouse chair. I wanted people to sit down and be in luxury,” Mr. Garbarino said. “If you’re going to a do a 14-course dinner with us, you’re going to be sitting down for three hours, so we want you to be comfortable.”

China and silverware are custom from Steelite International in New Castle. Luxe Pittsburgh of East Liberty did the bathrooms.

A huge window provides a view of the green copper Motor Square Garden dome, and an accent wall has porcelain tile with a green and copper patina that plays off the view of the iconic building.

“It’s a sexy, clean and modern space that’s still warm and inviting, with a lot of light and natural tones,” he said.

Mr. Garbarino aspires to be awarded a Michelin star.

“If you want to be that restaurant, the atmosphere, the service, the wine list — everything has to come into play. You could serve the best damn meal ever, but if you don’t have those other things to back it up .... It’s not just about food anymore.”

Dianne DeStefano, formerly of Bar Marco in the Strip, will be the pastry chef, and Greta Harmon, who helped open the wildly popular Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill, will run the bar. Vanessa Cominsky and Kristoffer Lichtenberger will serve as managers and sommeliers. The wine cellar has capacity for up to 3,000 bottles that will be mostly French; Mr, Garbarino hopes to run the gamut from standard $40 bottles to super-luxe $15,000 vintages.

The tasting menus — three, eight, 14 and 21 courses — will have a price range appropriate for occasions from a first date to an important anniversary.

“I want to be a special occasion restaurant, and we’ve done unbelievably well with them. I want it to be like theater. Dinner is a show, and that’s what we do with waves of different flavors and textures,” Mr. Garbarino said.

“I want people to be able to enjoy it regardless of who you are and what your bank account says. It’s not about that. It’s about having a special night. Everyone deserves a nice night out.”

Dan Gigler: dgigler@post-gazette.com; Twitter @gigs412.





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