Dining Review: Pines Tavern, Mitchell's and La Casa offer the perfect garden spots
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Executive chef Dennis Miller offers a plate of raw fish at Mitchell's Fish Market at the Waterfront.
Click photo for larger image.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson's famous line, "In the spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love," could, with a few word changes, describe Pittsburgh diners this time of year.
Is there anyone in our town who hasn't begun turning their fancy lightly to thoughts of al fresco dining? After what felt like an endless winter, who would opt for a table indoors when there are plenty of places where great meals are served under the elms or under the stars? I have counted more than 60 restaurants in our area that serve outdoors in fine weather. Many of them are using the sidewalks outside their locations, while a few are serving in quieter and greener spaces.
THE PINES TAVERN
5018 Bakerstown Road, Pine
With the possible exception of the Cafe at the Frick (which serves lunch only from Tuesday to Sunday), there is no greener or leafier dining spot around than The Pines Tavern. The exceptional garden here seats 70 at tables surrounded by azaleas and rhododendrons and pots of colorful blooms. The restaurant has two acres of gardens where they grow assorted lettuces, herbs, heirloom tomatoes and asparagus used in the kitchen. Chef Jason Culp uses only the most natural, seasonally fresh and wholesome foods to prepare his healthy and nutritious menu. He is committed to serving food in its purest state, and, whenever possible, to use produce from the tavern's garden. The char-grilled salmon fillet with mustard chive aioli ($23) is served with grilled asparagus from the garden. Likewise, the Fettuccine with garlic cream, smoked salmon and peas ($17). Home-grown baby greens are used in a salad combined with raspberries, gorgonzola, apple, pine nuts, prosciutto and dressed with aged balsamic ($7). Among the appetizer choices is a plate with three artisan cheeses ($9) served with fruit. Garden-grown arugula salad ($6) is tossed with grape tomatoes, oil-cured olives and Reggiano cheese and dressed with lemon and garden chive vinaigrette. Chef Jason's Lobster Bisque ($8) is served with sherry whipped cream, which elevates this soup to a whole new level.
There is a well-conceived wine list with bottles for every budget, and many of them are available by the glass. There are wine flights of 3 ounces of three wines ($9.95) selected to accompany a meal. Wines are served in fine crystal glasses that add to the tasting pleasure.
The service is as refreshing as the food and wine. For dining under the sun or the stars, The Pines Tavern gets top marks. It is open for lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and dinner 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
MITCHELL'S FISH MARKET
185 West Waterfront Drive, Homestead
Mitchell's Fish Market at the Waterfront not only has a handsome, newly remodeled interior, it boasts a serene terrace nestled into a leafy space overlooking the Monongahela. I don't know of a more delightful spot for a late lunch, where you can enjoy the sight of passing barges or a solitary fisherman dangling his line from a small boat. The terrace is close to the water, making the aquatic scenes look like moving Impressionist paintings.
Although Mitchell's menu is naturally focused on seafood, there are several beef options for the carnivores. The most popular appetizers are the oysters on the half shell. There are four varieties available, $1.95 each or a sampler of 4 oysters for $7.50. A whopping platter containing one pound of Prince Edward Island pan-roasted mussels is $8.95. This should amply serve two persons as an appetizer. Seasoned with white wine, garlic and tomatoes, these fat mollusks can also double as an entree.
At Mitchell's, each variety of fish has one price but can be prepared in a variety of ways. I love the Shanghai preparation -- the fish is steamed with ginger and scallions and served with sticky, short-grain rice, sauteed spinach and rice-wine soy sauce. When the fish is grilled or broiled, it is served with scallion-mashed potatoes and market vegetables with sweet shallot butter. If it is blackened, it comes with shrimp and andouille jambalaya, green beans and mushrooms. Added to the normal fish list of cod, snapper, mahi mahi, halibut, yellowfin tuna and Chilean sea bass, you will find the highly prized Copper River Salmon during the short May and June season. The Copper River Salmon will be $21.95. The other fish range from $15.95 (tilapia) to $28.95 (Chilean sea bass).
On a hot and steamy night, one of my favorite dinners is Mitchell's Citrus Salmon Salad ($10.95). The salad of peppery arugula and greens tossed with cashews and goat cheese in citrus vinaigrette serves as the base for a slab of freshly poached salmon. One of my colleagues is addicted to Mitchell's iceberg wedge with Thousand Island dressing, topped with hard-boiled egg and bacon ($4.95). I also love the Hoisin-glazed Yellowfin Tuna with stir-fried vegetables and sticky rice ($22.95). Desserts are made on site and are way too big for one normal appetite. A single order of Seven-Layer Carrot Cake ($6.95) with caramel sauce should suffice for a whole table!
Mitchell's wine list has a fair selection available by the glass ($5.95-$8.95). Bottles are priced from $24 for a California Chardonnay or Cabernet. There are a number of domestic and imported beers available on tap or in bottles. ($3.50-$4.50)
Well-prepared fresh fish combined with an idyllic perch overlooking the Mon make Mitchell's Fish Market worth the effort it takes to cross the Homestead Grays Bridge these days. Mitchell's is open for lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
5884 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside
From the expansive garden in Pine or the banks of the Monongahela, we proceed to a postage-stamp garden where six tables are spread among green plants and gurgling water. La Casa serves what some consider to be Spain's greatest food invention, tapas. Spanish men traditionally drink outside the home and rarely alone. Tapas were originally offered as free snacks to be shared by drinking companions.
Today, tapas have evolved into a meal of numerous small plates of a variety of foods, both hot and cold. These plates can be as simple as a dish of olives ($4) or a plate of Spain's manchego cheese ($6) or as complex as a platter of three kinds of raw fish made into tartar of tuna, scallop and salmon ($12). From the hot dishes are fried calamari with aioli sauce ($7) or grilled calamari with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and parsley ($8). Sauteed chorizo sausage ($8) is a Spanish classic as are grilled sardines ($8). Another typical tapa found in every Andalusian bar would be tortilla de patatas ($5), a potato and onion omelet. More original are goat chops grilled with fresh thyme ($12) and marinated lamb on skewers ($9). The portions are sized to be shared by two. If there are four in your party and everyone wants a taste, you would want to order two portions of each dish. There will only be one or two bites of each dish when shared, so you will want to order a number of plates.
Chef Omar makes the best flan ($6) in Pittsburgh, bar none. Known as creme caramel in other countries, this rich custard makes a perfect ending to the tapas experience. Another choice dessert is the light and not too sweet Tarta de la Casa ($6). The puff pastry base is covered with caramelized apples resulting in an apple dessert similar to France's Tarte Tatin.
La Casa has greatly expanded its wine list and it now covers two pages. It wisely offers all its wines by the bottle or the glass and the glass servings come in two sizes so that you can create your own flights of wines and taste a variety. It is fun to try different wines with each dish to see just which one suits the dish most perfectly. Three-ounce pours are $3-$5, 6-ounce pours are $6-10, and bottles are $28-$45.
This quiet little garden oasis on busy Ellsworth Avenue will enchant you, as will Chef Omar's wide assortment of small plates.
Open for dinner daily from 4:30 p.m. until closing. Thursday to Saturday, the kitchen closes at 11:30 p.m. From Sunday to Wednesday, it closes at 10 p.m. Lunch is served on Saturday only from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Happy hour is from 4:30 to 6:30 daily, when drinks and tapas are reduced $1.
Next week there will be more garden spots to add to your summer dining list.
First Published May 18, 2006 12:00 am