But the lively performance venue might be better for a drink and appetizer than a full-course dinner
January 12, 2012 10:00 AM
Taste of Dahntahn on Liberty Avenue features a large square bar, surrounded by high-backed red-and-white leather stools. The dining room (behind the bar) is narrow with booths along one side and tables and chairs on the other.
By China Millman Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Taste of Dahntahn, a new restaurant in the Dallmeyer Building on Liberty Avenue, aspires to be a stylish throwback, celebrating the region with Yinzer-ese, vintage photos of Downtown and a part rat-pack, part art-deco aesthetic. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, hoping to attract Downtown workers as well as the growing number of residents.
A marquee-style sign gives the restaurant an oversized street presence, with Taste of Dahntahn emblazoned in lights and an arrow beckoning potential drinkers and diners inside. There, they'll find a large square bar, surrounded by high-backed stools done up in red and white leather. Farther back, there's a narrow dining room with booths along one side and tables and chairs on the other.
All the tables are covered in photos of Liberty Avenue through the eras, good conversational fodder. They're also for sale, though you'd have to know to ask. The building and restaurant are owned by Courtney Lynch-Crawford, part owner of Nine on Nine in the Cultural District, and her husband Bob Crawford. The building's second floor houses her wholesale furniture and fabric business and her husband's remodeling company, Paramount Contract Services.
The nostalgic black-and white photos, many of which feature the Dallmeyer Building, are a striking contrast with the modern view of Pittsburgh as seen from Mount Washington, which covers one entire wall of the dining room. Several days a week, performers serenade the room from a balcony above the dining area, and even when the balcony is empty, entertainment is provided by the dozen or so flat screen televisions that encircle the bar and line the other wall of the dining room.
Full bar and house cocktail list, with drinks that lean toward sweeter flavors; a short but varied wine list and a good selection of draft and bottled beers round out the offerings.
Wheelchair accessible; credit cards accepted; reservations available; valet parking Wednesday-Saturday; after 5 p.m. park for $2 at the Sixth and Penn Garage, with validation; corkage, $20.
Medium loud (during performances approaches deafening).
Needless to say, it's not suited to those seeking a cozy, quiet corner. Instead, it's intended to be busy and brassy, a fun night out on the town.
There's a kernel of a good idea in there, but when it comes to the food, something has been lost in the execution. The dinner menu is intended to offer an array of dishes, drawing on the diverse heritage of Pittsburghers over the decades. But it's short on Polish, Hungarian or German dishes, sticking mostly to traditional American comfort food, and some heavily Americanized Italian and Asian dishes.
The appetizer menu leans too heavily on deep-frying and cheese coating. Calamari was served in cute miniature fry baskets, but the batter was thick and dry rather than crisp ($9). Thick slices of green tomatoes, grown soggy beneath the same heavy batter, were a strange pairing for a dish of whipped cream cheese ($6), while the delicate flavors of crab and shrimp were completely smothered by a pecorino-flavored cheese sauce ($12).
Melted cheese does have its moments. The baked eggplant and tomato, like a miniature eggplant parmesan, was one of the better choices ($7). Layering battered eggplant slices with melted mozzarella cheese and a flavorful tomato sauce, it was gooey and heavy, but it tasted good.
Salads were generally satisfactory, particularly chef Lee Corbett's take on the ubiquitous grilled Caesar ($8). A crunchy heart of romaine was substantial enough to stand up to the grill, while thinly sliced red onions and halved cherry tomatoes added some extra color and flavor.
But, in general, most of the dishes were poorly conceived and executed. Linguine arrabiata contained twice as much sauce as pasta. Many proteins were overcooked, such as the Kurobuta pork chop, which was ordered medium but served way past well done ($30), and the orange-maple salmon, which tasted dry and fishy ($21).
Strong flavors didn't always play well together, like spinach and cheddar ravioli served with a pan-seared chicken breast, broccolini and roasted red pepper. It was finished with a sweet marsala sauce, which didn't complement the aged cheddar in the ravioli ($20).
A half chicken flavored with honey and rosemary was good enough on its own, but it was served with an oily risotto overwhelmed by garlic, rosemary and cheese ($18).
Dishes didn't always resemble their menu descriptions, either. A vegetarian entree of roasted peppers stuffed with feta cheese was supposed to be served with a Yukon Gold potato cake and sweet chili sauce ($16). Instead, two pepper halves came on top of a bed of mashed potatoes and there was no hint of a sauce. Port-braised veal osso buco came in a tomato-based sauce. The veal shank was tender, but tasted dry.
Desserts weren't much of an improvement. Cheesecake was dry and grainy ($7), doughnut holes were leaden ($4), and the chocolate cake tasted more of sugar than chocolate ($7).
Service was uneven. On one busy night, when the restaurant was full of holiday parties, our upbeat server impressed us with her calm and friendly demeanor. On a slower night, however, a different server seemed overwhelmed and disgruntled. A request for bread took 20 minutes; entrees arrived before appetizers had been cleared, and the meal lagged at every juncture.
Taste of Dahntahn ultimately might work better as a performance venue and bar than a restaurant. Live music is an excellent draw, and many people are looking for an after-work outing that isn't necessarily focused on the meal. A simpler menu, with more genuine references to Pittsburgh culinary history could be a good match for the space, but for now, it's a better place for a beer than dinner. I can't weigh in on breakfast or lunch, which offer different menus at significantly lower price points.
The restaurant's location is a significant asset, one which merits further effort. Pittsburgh struggled before it flourished. Taste of Dahntahn could experience a renaissance of its own.