Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How Far Will You Go?

Now that the G-20 Summit has come and gone, travel restrictions in and out of Pittsburgh have been lifted. The strategically placed barriers are gone, the anarchists have moved on, and the downtown streets are back to business as usual. Though not invited to share my thoughts on the world economic situation nor being paid to report on the gathering, I was in Steel City last week for a combination of business and pleasure. A high spot of my visit was a meal at Sonoma Grille.

The wine-centric restaurant is the creation of a French chef Yves Carreau, who fell in love with California’s progressive melting pot food and grape culture. He brought that sensibility East and made it the inspiration for this place. There are 115 wines by the glass: no place in Cleveland offers this kind of selection in single pours and it’s a wonderful way to experience new labels and special vintages. In addition, there almost 300 wines by the bottle, plus a separate list of 60 cult bottles at prices that would make most of us think twice. All are from the West Coast and the variety is truly astonishing. Two that I tried and enjoyed: a 2006 Washington state L’ecole no.41 semillion, and an Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir from Sonoma.

Food was absolutely top-notch, and I love the way the menu’s organized to help make pairing easy. Dishes are grouped not by courses, but in categories according to the wine type that complements them: Subtle/Delicate; Tangy/Lively; Fruity/Jammy; Fleshy/Hearty; Spicy/Muscular. Most are sized between small plates and full entrees.
Three of us shared a fabulous five dish feast. It began with an ahi tro, featuring three different tuna preparations- a taratre with white truffle and wasabi mayo, seared with spicy green mango kuchela (kind of a pickle), and a spring roll. Next up were diver scallops wrapped in La Quercia Farms proscuitto with sherry papya gastrique, and the multi-part Study of Duck- the bird was presented smoked, as a confit Benedict with a sunny side quail egg on top, and cured like pastrami. Then we polished off a plate of braised beef short ribs.

For a glorious finish, we had apple bread pudding and Grand Marnier cheesecake.

The restaurant, located near the Convention Center adjacent to the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, is so good that I’d say it’s worth making the two hour drive just for dinner. I don't think that's too far to go for an extraordinary meal. But there are so many other interesting things to see and do on Pittsburgh that you might just want to stay a couple of days. (Then you can go back to Sonoma Grille for lunch).
Photos by Barney Taxel

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