Pittsburgh's most ambitious new restaurant is now open




It’s the kind of place that warrants dressing up: The city’s most ambitious new fine-dining restaurant started serving this week, Andrew Garbarino’s second-floor tasting menu spot, The Twisted Frenchman, that follows his ground-floor Bar Frenchman debut just over a month ago.

The 42-seat East Liberty destination at 5925 Baum Blvd. makes a statement following its original location around the corner at 128 Highland Ave. in 2015. The new spot is in a 120-year-old building that called for a full build-out, right down to the renovation of the facade.

At the start, the restaurant is serving three- and eight-course tasting menus that start at $50 with courses like baby aubergine or beets six ways, salmon, foie gras, smoked duck, and 50-day, dry-aged beef. By November, it will also offer 14- and 21-course tasting menus that peak at $225 per person. Here are five things to know before you go.

The restaurant will never be forced out by high rents, even on this booming restaurant corridor in East Liberty.

Back in March, Mr. Garbarino bought the building for just under a million dollars with his partners, his father, Andrew Garbarino III, and Glenn Cannon, who was introduced to him by his real-estate broker, Terri Sokoloff of Specialty Group.

Buying the building is part of Mr. Garbarino’s grand plan. “We knew we were going to have to leave when we moved into the place,” he says of the first edition of The Twisted Frenchman on Highland Avenue, since he had taken over the remaining terms of another restaurant’s lease. In addition, the space wasn’t expansive enough for Mr. Garbarino’s big-picture plans and it didn’t allow for the kitchen flow around stations that he would eventually set up in a restaurant of his own.

So after a dozen tours of properties from Downtown to Mount Washington, Mr. Garbarino found this building from the late 1800s on Baum Boulevard that was most recently the Royal York Auction Gallery and, before that, a 1940s’ Hudson car dealership.

The space offered 8,000 square feet of “blank canvas,” with Mr. Garbarino building out the ground level into Bar Frenchman and the second level dedicated to his fine-dining temple. There was a reason for this: Like another of his favorite restaurants, Eleven Madison Park in New York, he wanted to offer a place for before- and after-dinner cocktails but “I didn’t want to marry the two of them,” by offering a bar in the dining room. So he did the layout “and it made sense” to offer cocktails on the ground level. But his 3,700-square-foot cocktail bar needed a kitchen, so he had one built.

Details in the dining room decor point to inspiration from Alinea, the three-star Michelin restaurant from Grant Achatz in Chicago.

When Mr. Garbarino visited Alinea, he loved the halo light fixtures and wanted to buy them for the walkway to the restaurant kitchen. When he contacted the company Vonn Lighting, he also saw modern, flower-shaped chandeliers and decided to use those, too. “We had flowers hanging from the ceiling at the original location,” he says. “These are a continuation of it.”

The seating in the dining room also is a replica of those at Alinea, made by the same designer, Manhattan’s Jamie Stern — and they cost more than $800 a piece. “This is the chair I have to have,” he said of the cushy, tasteful, armchairs at the Chicago modernist spot. Like he did when he visited Alinea, “I want someone to feel like they’re being taken care of here,” he says.

The blue porcelain-tiled wall riffs on the AAA dome of Motor Square Garden — formerly East Liberty Market, commissioned by the Mellons and built by Peabody & Stearns in 1900.

“You can see the dome from every vantage point in the restaurant,” says Mr. Garbarino. “I wanted to reinforce the oxidized copper of that neighborhood icon.” Though he’s aware that blues aren’t a designer’s go-to restaurant colors, he decided to go his own way. “I like French blues,” he says. “They’re very soothing.”

The kitchens are outfitted with the same super high-end kitchen equipment used in the recent kitchen renovation of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, Calif.

“Make it nice or make it twice,” reads a sign over the commercial hood in the vast kitchen. It’s outfitted with top-of-the line stuff from Hestan commercial appliances — just like Thomas Keller’s kitchen before the French Laundry reopening in March following an extensive renovation that closed his restaurant for a stretch.

A graduate of Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Mr. Garbarino pointed out the French-top range that he likes for the fast and efficient way it conducts heat. Of the brand he says “It’s the best, most reliable, most durable, pieces of equipment,” he says. He doesn’t have to worry about it breaking since he’s got a year warranty on the stuff, important when he’s spending “a couple hundred thousand” on a dual-kitchen build-out.

There’s also a plancha grill, a must-have piece of equipment making its way into more restaurants lately. And he nods to local craftsmanship by using Canonsburg’s All-Clad copper pans.

As to why he built glass-walled kitchens tucked to the side instead of open kitchens that center the restaurant, he says he didn’t want it to be quite as “in-your-face” as a kitchen that overlaps with the dining room that has been a dominant style of the past few years.

But he does want to offer diners a look as to what’s happening there: That’s why customers who valet will travel up the elevator, where they’re greeted by a maitre d’ at the host stand, and will then walk past the kitchen on their way to their table.

And as for the staff, he says, “I want the kitchen staff to feel proud of where they work,” as well as offer them the tools and the room to be creative.

There’s a chef’s table in the kitchen, but there are stipulations.

The restaurant is taking names for the two-top reservation in the kitchen, though it comes with the caveat that it’s only for the 21-course full tasting, with seatings that will start in November or December. Stay tuned.

Melissa McCart: mmccart@post-gazette.com

 

 





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