It’s not every day that I get to enjoy a truly top-shelf dinner out. I say over and over that I’d rather save my money for one awesome dinner than spend it on two or three mediocre ones, but then I don’t follow through. (Or I have awesome less expensive meals.)
So when I was invited for a tasting at Sonoma Grille, a wine and happy hour restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh, I leapt at the chance – particularly since I get to offer a benefit to you, my dear readers (see below). While I’ve enjoyed Sonoma Grille for business lunches, it had been almost two years since I had a full dinner there. And that’s a travesty, because Sonoma Grille is a classy and unique dining destination, with one of the best and most affordable wine lists in the city.
Scheidt and I enjoyed our dinner back in March, a month that Sonoma Grille chef Andrew Hebson calls the “month of anticipation”: you know the local produce is just on the horizon, but it’s not quite here yet. Hebson made the most of available local produce, include greenhouse-raised greens, storage apples, squashes, root vegetables and potatoes. The menu has since been updated for spring, so you won’t be able to get many of these exact preparations today, but the goal is the same: use local ingredients whenever possible. In the spring menu, he’s already making use of spring gems like wild-foraged morels, artichokes and local greens. You’ll also find locally-sourced meats on the menu, like Ron Gargasz short ribs and Jamison Farm lamb.
Let’s get into the food. We tasted a lot of dishes that night, and my note-taking deteriorated as the wine flowed, but even a month later, there were some definite standouts, and I’m still struck by the how the variety of flavors that Sonoma Grille offers manages to coalesce into a solid and cohesive menu. Sonoma serves smaller portions than many American restaurants with the hope of enticing you to try multiple dishes. I encourage you to order from the center section of the menu, where Hebson’s creativity really shines.
I usually avoid ordering shellfish if I can’t smell the ocean nearby, but the scallops ($19) at Sonoma were a great reason to stray from that rule. Scallops wrapped in bacon is classic, but Hebson takes the dish somewhere new with his choice in accompaniments: after wrapping the scallops in La Quercia proscuitto and cooking them until just barely translucent, he sets them atop kabocha purée, then topped with grilled pineapple salsa and cilantro pesto. They were a knockout, with a variety of flavors and textures that is autumnal and tropical in one bite. Hebson admitted he likes them so much, he’s keeping them around for the spring. Win!
Our favorite dish of the night was one we likely would have never ordered if left to our own devices: the roasted beet salad ($10). Hebson tops roasted red and yellow beets with cinnamon-spiced apples and a ridiculously creamy hazelnut goat cheese over grilled bread. This salad was practically a dessert, with the sweet apples bringing out the more hearty flavor of the beets. I see a future for the beets we are sure to receive in the farm box!
We also sampled the Moroccan lamb ravioli ($19): braised Jamison Farm lamb swaddled in fresh pasta, topped with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce and drizzled with minty cucumber yogurt sauce. The braised lamb was fork-tender, and the North African spices brought the meat, sauce and yogurt into harmony.
Another favorite was the sourdough crusted salmon ($20), which was served over greens and cauliflower in a delicate tarragon broth. The sourdough crust clung to the top of the salmon and was a crispy counterbalance to the rich Scotch salmon and the light, vegetal broth. Bonus: I don’t think it would be easy to make this preparation at home, which is something I like in a restaurant dish.
Finally, I have to mention dessert. We were beyond stuffed by the time the salmon (not to mention several other dishes I didn’t go into here for lack of space) but I’m the kind of girl who can always shoehorn in some dessert. That said, I’m just not a cheesecake fan; I find it too heavy and often too sweet. But what did we get? Lemon meringue cheesecake that was so fluffy and light, we ate at least half of it. In a poppyseed crust, the ricotta base was topped with tangy lemon curd and finished a cloud of fluffy meringue. Another one like this, and I might be a cheesecake convert.
Sonoma Grille was kind enough to offer a $50 gift card for one lucky reader. In my last giveaway post, I got so many fabulous recommendations for “hidden gem” restaurants that it’s going to take Scheidt and I at least two years to get through them all! And now, in the interest of continuing that list, let’s have your recommendations for restaurants in the Pittsburgh that are worth saving up for. Leave a comment with your recommendation, and you’ll be entered to win.
- Leave a comment on the blog (not Twitter, not my personal Facebook page) about a restaurant in the Pittsburgh area that’s worth saving up to visit.
- Make sure to use your real email address, because otherwise I won’t be able to reach you if you win. (Email addresses are never, ever published on the site, so you are always safe from spammers.)
- You must leave your comment by 11:59 p.m. EST, Friday, April 23.
- Only one entry per commenter.
Le Fine Print
No purchase necessary. Winner will be selected at random by Burghilicious using Random.org. All entries received after the giveaway comment deadline will not be considered. Duplicate entries will be disqualified. Entries that do not follow the entry requirements will not be considered. Winner will be notified via email and will have 24 hours to confirm receipt of the email. If the winner does not reply within 24 hours, another winner will be selected. Giveaway has been sponsored by Sonoma Grille with the assistance of Nakturnal.