Jessica Gibson, executive chef of Bistro 19, displays its Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast.
Click photo for larger image.
Someone told me when I moved here that Pittsburghers don't cross rivers, and it didn't take long for me to understand why. I think it has to do with the fact that Pittsburgh neighborhoods seem like towns or villages and the residents tend to stay in the vicinity of their "hometown." No Pittsburgh suburb is more town-like than Mt. Lebanon. With a population of 35,000 and a main street that offers a variety of restaurants and specialty stores, the Mt. Lebanese can find everything they need without coming near a river or a bridge.
The newest addition to the lively Washington Road restaurant scene is Bistro 19, a sleek, contemporary eatery serving lunch and dinner from a menu focused on modern American classics. Executive chef Jessica Gibson is a Pittsburgher who finished her cooking studies at the Pittsburgh Culinary Academy. Her first job was in Boca Raton, Fla., where she spent several years before returning to Pittsburgh. For the past four years she worked at The Carlton Restaurant, Downtown. In fact, Gibson's signature dish at Bistro 19 is the Chilean Sea Bass she created while working at The Carlton.
Bistro 19 is the creation of B DeFrancis, a Pittsburgher who has spent her life in the restaurant industry. DeFrancis spent 13 years working at Morton's, The Steakhouse, Downtown, and more recently was the general manager of Luma in Aspinwall. Her goal for Bistro 19 was to create a neighborhood bistro with casually elegant ambience serving high-quality and freshly prepared food at affordable prices. Judging from the excited buzz coming from the diners, one would have to say that she is giving Mt. Lebanon residents just what they want. Her dining room, which seats 50, is sold out every evening. Anyone who wants to dine at Bistro 19 on a Friday or a Saturday night had better reserve before the prior Wednesday or risk being disappointed.
711 Washington Road
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; dinner, 4-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and until 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; brunch, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. Sundays.
Basics: An upscale, casual, neighborhood restaurant serving freshly prepared, contemporary American food made from top-quality ingredients. Handsome interiors, comfortable lighting and a friendly staff make this a pleasant spot for lunch or dinner. Open seven days a week. Reservations recommended for both lunch and dinner.
Prices: Appetizers, $4-$10; entrees, $13-$32; desserts, $5-$6; wines, $5.50-$14 for a 6-ounce pour.
Summary: No smoking; accessible; major credit cards accepted. On-street parking or in the city lot across from restaurant.
Noise level: Medium to high.
Soup is a great way to gauge a kitchen's quality. The soups from Gibson's kitchen came out with high marks. French Onion Soup ($4) is a rich broth, well-seasoned and with lots of onion, topped by a crouton of whole wheat ciabata and melted gruyere cheese. This was onion soup in the spirit of the French classic but mercifully with less bread and cheese than the original. On a cold and snowy night, it was an ideal chill-chaser. Soup of the day ($4) was Tomato Tortellini, chunky tomato pieces and tortellini pasta in a thick and creamy tomato base seasoned with fresh basil. Lemon Pepper Calamari ($8) was voted the best appetizer by our table. With a crisp and citrus-y coating and a tangy caper remoulade dipping sauce, this might not be the most original entry on the menu but the plate was emptied long before the last piece was cold.
Hummus Sampler ($5) or Vegetable Stack ($4) will appeal to vegetarians. The hummus plate contains three variations on the chick pea dip served with fresh pita triangles. It is a fine choice for an appetizer to be shared by two to four persons but is probably more than one person could handle.
There are 18 entrees on the menu, covering just about every kind of meat, poultry, fish and shellfish. Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast ($19) is a nice red-meat alternative to beef or lamb. Bistro 19 serves the breast rare, sliced and fanned on the plate, sauced in orange-honey butter sauce. The sides are peach-cranberry chutney, risotto and wilted spinach. Without the butter sauce and the risotto, this dish met all the requirements one of our party had for a low-fat entree. Chilean Sea Bass ($25) with a horseradish crust comes atop a pile of crisp napa cabbage slaw. The slaw is dressed in Oriental sesame vinaigrette with a side of basmati rice with macadamia nuts. The combination of crispness, crunchiness and tangyness is an original idea but I found the soy and oyster sauce that flavored the fish overpowered the delicate qualities of the bass. I will probably opt for Cedar Plank Roasted Bay of Fundy Salmon ($20) on my next visit. Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes ($22) were disappointing. There seemed to be a lot more special crab meat and filler than there was jumbo.
A few days after I dined at Bistro 19, DeFrancis and Gibson totally revised the crab cake recipe, adding more jumbo and removing the filler. The current crab cakes should be perfect, served with a delicious whole-grain mustard aioli.
I was surprised to find that this family-friendly establishment had no children's menu. My 6-year-old guest was hoping to have macaroni and cheese but the closest thing on the menu for a first-grader was the Bistro Burger ($12). He got it without red wine braised mushrooms but no one asked him how he preferred his beef so it came well-done and dried-out, and I noticed that he only ate a quarter of it.
Desserts at Bistro 19 are a combination of pastries made in-house or imported from The Uptown Bakery a few doors away on Washington Road. I sampled those made in the Bistro 19 kitchen. Bananas Foster Napoleon ($5) is layers of puff pastry sandwiched with bananas in caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. The pastry was so light it would have floated off the plate had the cream and bananas not been there to provide some weight. Four adults shared this dessert and all agreed that our two bites each was just the right amount to satisfy our desire for a sweet ending to the meal. The Apple Crumble Pie ($5) is a single-serving pie made with the same puff pastry base but the crust seems to be toughened by the moisture in the apples.
The brunch menu looks awesome. Bananas Foster Pancakes with caramelized whiskey sauce ($6) and French Toast ($6) made with creme brulee batter and served with maple syrup have to be absolute killers, but I will also want to try Asparagus Frittata ($10) and Buttermilk Biscuits with seasonal fruit and yogurt ($6).
The wine list at Bistro 19 is well balanced both in price and wine grape varieties. There are old world and new world offerings ranging from California to Europe to Australia to Argentina. From a $22 South African Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc blend to a $58 Super Tuscan from Italy, this is a list that clearly has something for every taste and every budget. There are 18 wines available by the glass. Wines are served in handsome, oversized glasses.
The sophisticated interiors of this new restaurant, combined with solid and experienced management and a talented chef have made Bistro 19 a winning addition to the already attractive dining scene in Mt. Lebanon. No wonder they don't cross rivers!
Elizabeth Downer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1454.