Dining Reviews: Continuing a sampling of garden dining spots
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We return this week to the theme of "Dinner in a Secret Garden." It is encouraging that as I write another sampling of garden spots, the sun has broken through the clouds and the weathercaster is predicting a warming trend for the Memorial Day weekend.
CAFE DU JOUR
1107 E. Carson St.
A tiny storefront on East Carson Street hides a minuscule garden with high brick walls covered in ivy and a pond filled with blooming water lilies. None of the sounds of the bustling world beyond the door of the cafe penetrates this serene haven. If you love a Zen-like atmosphere combined with interesting, well-prepared meals, Cafe du Jour has to be on your list of summer dining spots.Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
The patio at Cafe du Jour on the South Side keeps diners shielded from the city's hustle and bustle.
Click photo for larger image.
Chefs/owners Dan Robinson and Paul Krawiec are about as unlikely a pair of chefs as I have ever encountered. Robinson is a Pittsburgher and an artist who studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Krawiec is a Californian and an intellectual with a degree in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley. They met in the Cafe du Jour kitchen, where each worked before they purchased the cafe. Neither has any formal culinary training, which could explain why their food shows such a fresh approach.
Summer is not a big soup season, but it would be a pity to miss the portobello mushroom soup ($2 a cup). A handful of mushroom slices floats in a dark and pungent broth that is spiked with sherry. Salads, too, are a reliable choice. Dressings are made in house and greens are just-picked fresh. Smoked salmon salad ($7) of mixed greens, cucumbers, red onion rings, smoked salmon and capers is dressed in a creamy lemon-pepper-dill sauce, which complements the crisp greens and oily fish. Apple and gorgonzola salad ($7) adds apple slices, toasted walnuts, chunks of cheese and snow pea shoots to the greens.
The Roasted portobello mushroom ($7) is a many splendored thing ... a sort of mushroom sandwich stuffed with sauteed spinach and chevre and sauced with an unusual fig and port coulis. One of my friends is absolutely stuck on the chicken-cranberry-apple sausage ($8), which is paired with sauteed apple, onion and toasted pecans and finished with a spicy maple and rum sauce. Entrees are equally enticing. How about duck sausage and white bean cassoulet ($17)? It comes with artichoke pistou and duck liver pate en croute to prove that you don't have to go to Southwestern France to enjoy a taste of Gascony. Vegetarians will love the roasted eggplant ($13), long slices rolled with fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes and served with red onion confit and pesto cream sauce.
Save room for dessert ($6), which is made by a friend of the owners. It would be tough to find any better chocolate torte in the Three Rivers area.
Bring cash (not plastic) and bring your own wine. Corkage is $2 per stem.
Open Tuesdays-Saturdays for lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Reservations recommended.
One Wexford Square (behind
Bobby Rahal Mercedes on
Fresco means fresh and airy in Italian, and that is the focus of this Mediterranean-inspired menu. In fact, the chef has added a whole new category that he calls "light fare." Light and airy could also describe the restaurant's deck, which sits among the green hills outside the front door. On Friday and Saturday nights throughout the summer months, Fresco's has a program of live entertainment for diners on its deck. (In case of rain, the musicians move inside to the bar area.)
Appetizers are varied. The artichoke and spinach dip ($7.50) comes with fried-to-order whole-wheat pita chips. It is a generous serving that will satisfy two to three diners. There is a refreshing Caesar salad ($3.95) with house-made croutons. There are entree salads, too. Pan-seared seafood salad ($12.95) delivers baby spinach, roasted red peppers, bacon, feta and a choice of pan-seared sea scallops or shrimp. Sandwiches are $8.95 and are served with hand-cut, thick potato chips. Among the "light fare" dishes entrees is summer vegetable capellini ($10.95), a combination of sweet peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and tossed with fresh basil and capers atop capellini pasta. Another is grilled wild salmon filet ($18.95), served with wild rice and grilled asparagus. If light is not important, you might want to try the house speciality, Sicilian meatloaf ($13.95). The tasty and unusual loaf is made with sirloin beef combined with pepperoni, tomatoes, garlic and herbs from an Old-World recipe. It is served with garlic mashed potatoes and ribbons of zucchini.
Desserts are brought in from outside and are priced from $4.75. Gelato is $2.95.
Fresco's has an extensive wine list with many wines available by the glass. There are also flights of three pre-selected wines that change weekly. Glasses are priced from $5.50-$8.95, flights of three wines, $10.95-$11.95.
Open for dinner only Tuesdays-Thursdays 4-9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 4-11 p.m. and Sundays 2-8 p.m. Entertainment from 8:30-11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
BACK PORCH RESTAURANT
114 Speers St.
Take a cruise to the heart of the Mon Valley and dine on the verandah of one of the oldest buildings in Western Pennsylvania. The Joe Pappalardo family has operated this unusual restaurant since 1975. Now son Joe Jr. rules the kitchen and his sister Patty and her husband, Greg Keller, take care of the diners. It is probably the most tender care you will ever receive in any restaurant.
Appetizers are almost entree portions. Steamed mussels ($8.95) contains two dozen mussels in creamy white wine and garlic broth. Wasabi tuna ($10.95) is a 4-ounce slab of seared sushi-grade tuna served with julienne vegetables and a spicy wasabi mustard sauce. Combine this with a house salad ($3.95) dressed with raspberry vinaigrette and crumbled blue cheese, and you have a light summer entree. Heartier appetites than mine can order the tuna in an 8-ounce portion for $20.95.
The Back Porch's signature dish is baby back ribs. The ribs are flame-broiled with a sweet Oriental glaze. A full rack is $17.95. I particularly enjoyed Chef Joe's Breast of Duck Chambord ($20.95). He marinates the boneless breast in raspberry, soy and star anise to give it an Asian flavor and glazes it with Chambord sauce after it is grilled. This is served with a combo of wild and long-grain rice and garnished with fruit chutney. A great vegan-friendly dish is Polenta and Vegetable Napoleon ($15.95). The chef stacks grilled portabella, zucchini, roasted red peppers and fresh spinach between layers of polenta and sauces it with roasted red pepper sauce.
At lunch, The Back Porch offers a wide variety of salads and sandwiches ($8.95-$11.95) in addition to hot entrees ($9.50-$15.95). Desserts ($4.50-$5.50) are made in house. Wines prices are reasonable. A California chardonnay is $22 and Yellow Tail Shiraz is $18.
The Pappalardo family also owns the Speers Street Grill across the street. It offers a fabulous deck overlooking the Monongahela and a casual menu. Next door is the charming Riverside Village, an old house filled with interesting shops open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (noon to 8 p.m. Sundays).
Open Tuesdays through Sundays. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. and dinner, 4-9 p.m. Reservations advisable.
First Published May 25, 2006 12:00 am