Farmhouse-chic has become ubiquitous when a strip-mall restaurant in Seven Fields displays reclaimed wood, Mason jars and Edison light bulbs.
Such is the case at the 80-seat BOhem Bohemian Bistro that opened in June in this Butler County community. The restaurant, owned by Markay Harlan, is the sibling to nine-year-old SiBA Tuscan Grill & Wine Bar next door.
BOhem is a reference to Bohemia in what's now the western region of the Czech Republic, which includes Prague. Although the restaurant's name is incongruous with its French bistro fare, it embraces the lowercase definition: "informal, artsy, unconventional," according to the menu.
1/2 star = Promising
2 1/2 stars = Recommended+
2 stars = Recommended
1 1/2 stars = Satisfactory+
530 Northpointe Circle
11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
On a patio or in a farmhouse-chic dining room, BOhem Bohemian Bistro is a convivial place to learn about wine.
Spreads, $5; appetizers, $4-$16; soups and salads, $7-$13.50; tartines, crepes and flatbreads, $13-$15; bistro classics, $14-$19.50.
Spreads, Croque Madame, deviled eggs, pomme frites, roasted chicken.
Wheelchair accessible, credit cards, parking, outdoor dining.
- Noise level:
Moderate to loud.
In the dining room, a trio of balloon-sized bulbs hangs at varied lengths. Dozens of old wine bottles tied to the rafters align overhead, accented with lights. Table tops are supported on iron legs, reminiscent of old drafting tables. Stonework layers a wall, accented by a wooden ladder. An attractive bar offers indoor and outdoor seating on a brick patio, where live music is performed on weekends.
No design detail is ignored. An iron gate by the entrance is decorated with "locks of love," a riff on padlocks that decorate bridges in Paris, Cologne, Rome and elsewhere. (In Paris, lovers attach a lock to a bridge, professing their eternal love and tossing the key into the Seine.) Each lock here, purchased for $19.95, represents a customer's donation to the Pittsburgh Project, a nonprofit community development organization that operates after-school programs for inner-city youth and home repair programs for the elderly in Pittsburgh.
If you're fluent in French, the single-stall bathroom offers reading material as you wait, with yellowed pages of Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" shellacked to the door. Inside, even the toilets have been antiqued with brown paint.
In the dining room, the framed wall art announces wine categories and prices, lest diners need guidance beyond the menu or staff.
"Friendly wines" are $30, "best value" to "share with friends." "Intriguing wines" are $40, which include boutique and small production vintners. Unique and "seductive" wines are $50.
Linking emotions to price is a bit much. That said, I do like the emphasis on wine here.
Each category lists nearly 20 selections by the glass or bottle, such as a crisp Spanish Torrontes from San Huberto ($34), a silky Gamay from Domaine Marion Pral ($49) or an assertive Greek Assyrtiko from Argyros Atlantis ($50).
Yet another category, bistro wines are offered by the glass, quatrino or liter. Per industry standard, expect to pay three to four times retail, as a $17 Berger Gruner Veltliner goes for $55 and a $13 Rose Monmousseau d'Anjou runs $46.
In keeping with the genre, many foods are served in jars that arrive on wood planks, such as the $7 starter spreads. A perfectly fine gorgonzola spread is whipped with pecan mousse, offering a nutty flavor that's barely detectable, served with six slices of baguette. Herbed cheese or liver pate are among other options.
After the spreads, things fall apart. A $16-cheese plate filled with fancy names delivers ordinary flavors with no guidance from servers as to what's what. Served with three crackers and a couple of bread sticks, a creamy brie, a soft mimolette vieille, a smooth drunken goat, and an earthy fourme d'ambert are all drizzled with honey, sweetening the plate.
The beet salad ($7) with mandarin slices, chevre and pea shoots sounds great, but arrived with beets that were undercooked. Underwhelming duck confit ($13) is pulled off the bone for the salad, a mound of meat on greens with cherries, served with a side of cheesy bread.
The escargot in my fantasy arrives in a garlic butter so tempting it's impossible not to sop it up with bread. Instead, snails arrive on what looks like a terrarium. Some live in a jar, while the rest seem to crawl down a plank decorated with buttered breadcrumbs. They are as dry as the board they're served on.
Other French classics disappoint, such as iconic boeuf Bourguignon ($18), a complex beef stew that arrived thin and underseasoned.
Then there's the HKatfish, the only spelling tic on the menu. One of a few dishes here inspired by the American South, it's served blackened or "hushpuppy-krusted," served with creamed spinach and roasted yam.
Another Americana dish is the mac 'n' cheese, served as cheddar gratinee with spinach over rotini ($14), with a choice of shrimp or pancetta (add $4). The plate arrived nuclear hot, an abomination of congealed cheese and saturated greens.
The standby chicken ($17.50) is a safe bet, a halved bird served atop andouille sausage, tomatoes, white beans and parmesan. Deviled eggs ($8.75) also are fine, served with arugula, pancetta and parmesan. A Croque Madame ($14) is pleasing, served open-faced, layered with gruyere, mustard bechamel, ham, parmesan, pea shoots and an egg. Lean on ingredients, it will not satiate a hungry diner.
Coffee and cocktails suffice as desserts. A Basilico Lillet with gin, orange and grapefruit juices is among the better cocktails, although it's served over ice and quickly waters down. A champagne and schnapps cocktail is dolloped with whipped cream. It's ridiculous looking and ridiculously sweet. A snifter of sambuca hits the spot, garnished with a trio of coffee beans for health, happiness and prosperity.
If BOhem were situated on Pittsburgh's Butler Street in Lawrenceville or in the East Liberty corridor, it would likely do well -- despite its flaws -- because the dining room and wine list are engaging. This may prove true in Seven Fields, too.
For now, BOhem is a fun place to drink but no dining destination, even if it's as close as down the road.
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @MelissaMcCart.