La Gourmandine will take over the former Penn Avenue Fish spot on Forbes Avenue
Tan legs in high heels. CrossFit bods in Brooks Brothers suits. A collection of beautiful people dining on haute cuisine under the Downtown lights and sipping craft suds as the summer sun sets. If this is how the other half does it, let me tell you that the view 'ain't too shabboo' as my colleague says. Especially when the scenery is of the Penn Avenue corridor from -- and the people on -- the gleaming new roof top beer garden, Il Tetto, the second installment of chef Matt Porco's ambitious three-tiered temple to La Dolce Vita at Sienna Mercato.
If you'll indulge me for a moment, those of us in the Munch set rarely reach such rarified air, and not because this place is atop the third story of the former Trombino Piano Gallerie building. Rather, diners are our domain; greasy spoons our grind; roadhouses are in our wheelhouse.
But dining at chic Il Tetto ('The Roof' in Italian) with a high school friend who's lived mostly out of state for nearly two decades was a nice chance to show off what he's missing in Pittsburgh, both new and old. The century-old facades and architecture of the buildings on the 900 block of Penn Avenue, and the painted remnants of “ghost-signs” peeking through the bricks on surrounding structures provide an impressve backdrop. Gas lamps and string lights illuminate if the sun, moon or stars aren't pulling their weight, and a retractable glass roof slides into place when the weather isn't cooperating.
A well curated cocktail list of classics and innovative options by bartender extraordinaire Rob Hirst is available, as are 30 beers on tap. We opted for a heaping helping of hops on a hot evening via Fat Head's Headhunter IPA ($7) and Helltown Idle Hands Double IPA ($6.50).
The menu of shareable small plates is both upscale -- Steak Tartare ($16) with arugula pesto and a farm egg -- and fun -- Fried Pork Rinds ($10) with a smoked chipotle aioli, parsley and lime.
We started with the Beer Braised House Pastrami ($16). Served over barbecue baked beans mixed with house-cured bacon, this was excellent. The meat was so tender it fell apart in my mouth; the taste was deliciously subtle as opposed to the often dominant briny tang of deli pastrami. Likewise the beans and bacon had a soft smoky taste, not sweet as one typically expects.
Our waitress wouldn't divulge details on the secret formula for the House Made Sausage Links ($15), but they are worth the trip alone. They're served over lentils and soffrito in a mosto cotto -- a cooked grape juice. The entire dish was an explosion of wonderful flavors -- salty, spicy, sweet and bitter.
The Duck Confit Steak Fries ($16) include fresh-cut fries in duck fat gravy, topped with a dippy duck egg, served on the Just Ducky tour boat and dedicated to the Great Rubber Duck of 2013 (not really, although for 16 simoleons maybe they should consider it). This dish sounded like a decadent treat, but it was a bit bland, had little meat and devolved into a goopy mess. Cherries are mixed in presumably to give some kind of contrasting flavor, but they were a rather cloying choice.
But that didn't blemish an otherwise great evening.
I had a preconceived notion that the place might tend toward the snooty, but that wasn't the case at all. Putting this to the test on one visit, I wore jeans, a ratty T-shirt from my favorite college bar (Rathskeller represent!) and flip-flops -- a motif I call 'An Overweight Bro Looks at 40.' No matter. Staff and servers were friendly and on point, and there was hardly a note of pretension among the patrons. Everyone was having entirely too much fun to care.
Presenting Pittsburgh like this to visitors is like the scene in 'It's a Wonderful Life" when Violet Bick walks down the street in a new dress and gets catcalled and playfully retorts, "This old thing? Why, I only wear it when I don't care how I look."
Because this old city of ours has arguably never looked better, and Il Tetto is a wonderful new place to admire the view.
Il Tetto is at 942 Penn Ave., third floor, Downtown; 412-281-2810 or siennapgh.com/mercato/#tetto.