La Gourmandine will take over the former Penn Avenue Fish spot on Forbes Avenue
Scott Walton always knew he’d open a restaurant when his wife, Maggie, convinced him to move from Chicago to her hometown of Pittsburgh three years ago. He just didn’t know where, or how quickly he’d be able to gather the resources that would allow him to serve the clean, modern American cuisine he was known for.
So he took a job as executive chef for Aramark, the food and beverage partner of Heinz Field, in the spring of 2015 while he figured it all out.
It didn’t take long.
On Sept. 6, after partnering with local restaurateur Jason Akemann and Pittsburgh developer Brian Singer to form the Deciduous Hospitality Group, the Illinois native will open Acorn, a 70-seat restaurant in the heart of Shadyside on Walnut Street. And if the food served at a soft opening for media on Wednesday is any indication, Pittsburghers are in for a treat.
Mr. Walton’s philosophy when it comes to food is three-fold: keep it seasonal, source as many local products as possible and let the ingredients speak for themselves with a simple preparation. Last night’s menu hit on all cylinders.
The small and large plates showcase ingredients most diners will find familiar — carrots, beans, oysters, trout, chicken. Yet the flavors are carefully layered, and the finished products are presented almost like pieces of art.
Lightly toasted oysters ($18) are served in a froth of honey, brown butter and sherry vinegar and topped with a fermented chili mash. They come to the table on a bed of smoked hay, dusted with toasted nori (seaweed) salt “so the ocean hits you on your tongue first,” says Mr. Walton.
A starter of root vegetables is even more exquisite. Radishes and carrots ($12) are paired with a savory, hand-churned goat butter made from unpasteurized Amish goat milk. Caramelized honey flavored with sumac is drizzled on top, along with the vegetables’ long-stemmed greens. It’s so pretty, you almost don’t want to eat it. Then again, “you also can’t wait to eat it,” says Mr. Walton.
Because people feast first with their eyes, “I want to tease them, agitate them,” he says.
But it’s not pretty just to be pretty, he says; everything is on the plate for a reason. The pickled okra and popped sorgham add crunch and texture to grilled trout ($28) served on a cloud of tahini and whipped chickpea protein; sweet baby beets roasted in salt ($14) are paired with carrots picked in their own juice for a bit of pucker.
“Everything is functional,” says Mr. Walton.
Mr. Walton’s take on french fries and mayo is sure to be a hit. Baby potatoes ($12) are smashed and quick-fried to a crispy crunch, then served in a dish with a rich and creamy tonnato sauce made from ahi yellow fin tuna poached in olive oil and marcona almonds. House-made togarshi spice and toasted almonds is sprinkled on top, along with grated mojama, a salt-cured tuna. Talk about addictive.
Mr. Walton’s “head to tail” method of cooking extends even to vegetables. A feathery broccoli tartine ($12) includes three preparations of the brassica — stems blended into mayo, charred rabe with garlic and red chili, and leaves dressed in olive oil and citrus. It’s finished with a thin layer of lardo.
The restaurant’s bar program is headed by RaeLynn Harshman Gigler, who formerly worked at Dish Osteria and is the wife of PG Munch writer, Dan Gigler. All tonics and bitters for the specialty cocktails are made in-house.
Prices range from $12 to $18 for small plates and $22 to $32 for composed entrees. The opening menu also includes three dishes that can be shared by several guests: whole fried chicken served with dirty rice, fermented coconut and green papaya ($48); roasted monkfish with olives, rappini, coix seed and romesco ($62); and rib eye with beans, carrot, borscht and red wine sauce ($75).
Half of the restaurant will be available for reservation through the Tock reservation system and the other half will be dedicated to walk-in traffic.
“I want it to be welcoming to everyone,” says Mr. Walton. “It’s elegant without pretension. The type of place you can come to wearing jeans and a T-shirt.”
Acorn is at 5528 Walnut St., Shadyside, the former home of the Thai Place. Info and reservations: acornpgh.com or 412-530-5950
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.
First Published August 30, 2017 2:08 PM