Dining Review: Make reservations now for the best Mother's Day dining

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If you are one of the 38 percent of Americans who will take a mother out to dine on May 14, you would be wise to make your reservations this week. Mother's Day is absolutely the busiest day of the restaurant year. If you do the arithmetic, (38 percent of 300 million Americans is 114 million diners!) it is easy to see why snagging a table at a choice spot will require planning or a special relationship with The Godfather.

Sunday brunch buffets are a popular tradition in most hotels. On May 14, some of our large hotels will be using their ballrooms to accommodate the huge demand. Last year, our kids took us (or did we take them?) to the Ritz-Carlton in Cleveland for an elegant brunch. The buffet was sumptuous, with everything from oysters on the half shell to cr?pes suzette, but there was so much jumping up and hopping around for multiple visits to the buffet that we ended up never having a sustained conversation or a satisfying visit. I decided then that in the future we would look for places where we could remained seated and be served. Among our Downtown hotels, Opus at the Renaissance Hotel and the Terrace Room at the Omni William Penn Hotel will be serving seated meals on Mother's Day. They both also offer free valet parking, which is especially nice if you have a mother who has physical disabilities.

Some of my favorite Pittsburgh restaurants will be serving a seated meal on May 14.

ELEVEN

The Strip District overflows with Sunday dining possibilities. Some are planning special menus for Moms. The first is Eleven. Chef Greg Aleuzen begins the day with brunch served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost is $25 for adults and $15 for children under 12.

The Eleven brunch starts with house-made pastries and breads, including banana bread, muffins, coffee cakeand baguettes. There will be a choice of appetizer, entree and dessert. With two talented pastry chefs in the temperature- and humidity-controlled pastry kitchen at Eleven, I can guarantee that you will find something sweet to your liking. How does Chocolate Waffle with house-made peanut butter ice cream and warm caramel sauce strike you? Or Strawberry Pound Cake with balsamic and pepper-marinated strawberries and creme fraiche?

For dinner from 4 to 9 p.m., Chef Greg has designed a tasting menu for $45, which can be paired with specially selected wines for an additional $20. The four-course menu is also available in a vegetarian version. If you prefer to order a la carte, that is another option. Eleven is our city's top dining venue, and Chef Greg is our most decorated chef. It doesn't get any better than this.

1150 Smallman St., The Strip, 15222, 412-201-5656.

LIDIA'S

Lidia's of Pittsburgh will be serving brunch from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The $25 fixed price includes a choice of Bloody Mary or mimosa. The first course is an antipasto buffet. The choice of entrees includes two of my all-time Lidia specialties. One is the trio of house-made pastas. That means three different pasta shapes with varying sauces. The other is chicken breast with roasted lemons, capers and olives served over sauteed fresh spinach. A selection of desserts is again from a buffet. From 5 to 8 p.m. Lidia's will be serving its fabulous Sunday dinner. The menu is designed for each item to serve three to four people. Each order arrives at the table on a large platter, and the guests serve themselves family-style. A large Caesar salad is $11. House-made gnocchi in slow-simmered duck ragout is $27. Lidia's has an appealing list of Italian wines that are $20 per bottle.

1400 Smallman St., Strip District, 15222. 412-552-0150.

KAYA

Kaya will be open on Mother's Day for dinnerfrom 4 to 9 p.m. In addition to a prix fixe menu on Mother?s Day, Kaya will also serve lunch and dinner from noon to 9 p.m. from the a la carte menu. The three-course prix fixe menu will cost $28 with paired wines available for $15. Kaya is a fun venue with a serious kitchen. Chef Brandy Stewart loves to work with unusual vegetables and exotic taste combinations. For example, from her Mother's Day menu there is Pan Roasted Halibut with ramp biscuit and fiddlehead fern and morel mushroom saute. Kaya is also justifiably recognized as the favorite dining spot for vegetarian "foodies."

2000 Smallman St., The Strip, 15222. 412-261-6565.

CASBAH

The ever-popular Casbah in Shadyside has two prix fixe options for Mother's Day. Brunch, served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is $20. From a long list of choices, diners will enjoy an appetizer and an entree plus either a Bloody Mary, mimosa or Bellini or any non-alcoholic beverage. From the appetizer menu I would have a hard time choosing between the truffled potato cake with smoked salmon and citrus aioli and whole grain and mixed nut granola with fresh fruit and yogurt. There are also two salad choices and a plate of raw Yellowtail tuna with shaved fennel. Entrees range from polenta-crusted salmon to Elysian Fields Farms lamb ravioli to wild mushroom, thyme and goat cheese omelet.

The other Casbah possibility is a prix fixe dinner. The four-course meal for $40 will be served from 4 to 9 p.m. Casbah has an impressive wine list and a nice selection of wines by the glass. The ambiance is upscale casual. Ingredients are fresh and local. The cadre of young servers are professional and cheerful. Casbah delivers on all fronts and would be a delightful venue for a family outing on Mother's Day.

229 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside, 15206. 412-661-5656.

CAFE ZAO

Cafe Zao, Downtown will serve dinner from 4 to 8 p.m. The menu is a la carte with appetizers ranging from $7.50 to $9.25 and main courses from $21.50 to $38. One of the Zao appetizers that I recommend is quail breast, pan-roasted with sunny-side-up quail egg and risotto dressed in a cremini mushroom and cheese veloute sauce. My favorite entree is the pork tenderloin stuffed with plums and served with a Bairrada wine and plum jam, a delicious Portuguese-inspired recipe. I am especially fond of the extensive wine list, which features the finest wines from Portugal. Many are available by the glass.

649 Penn Ave., Downtown, 15222. 412-325-7007.

PANDOLFO'S CAFE

Want an old-fashioned breakfast? Head to Nevillewood, where Pandolfo's Cafe will be serving a la carte Mother's Day Brunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pandolfo's has a well-deserved reputation for extraordinary breakfasts. I can vouch for the pecan waffles served with maple butter ($7), which are every bit as tasty as those my Southern grandmother used to make. There are also some more elaborate breakfast dishes on the May 14 menu. The Crab Melt Herb Frittata ($10) sounds especially provocative. So does Banana Foster Stuffed Pancakes ($8), which is described as two buttermilk pancakes stuffed with a fresh bananas Foster filling. Just warn your mom to be sure to wear her elastic waistband skirt! Pandolfo's now has a license to serve alcoholic beverages.

1 Forsythe Road, Nevillewood, Collier, 412-221-8395.


Correction/Clarification: (Published May 6, 2006) In addition to a prix fixe menu on Mother?s Day, May 14, 2006 Kaya at 2000 Smallman St. will also serve lunch and dinner from noon to 9 p.m. from the a la carte menu. This story about Mother?s Day offerings as originally published in May 4, 2006 editions omitted that information.

Elizabeth Downer can be reached at edowner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1454.


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