My dining compatriot, Monique (who co-founded the Western Pennsylvania Consumption Society with me) called and said Gloria had opened a new restaurant called "Wild Rosemary" (WR) in Upper Saint Claire/Mount Lebanon, and we must go! http://www.wildrosemary.com/
"Gloria" was Gloria Fortunato, Chef at Cafe Allegro. Gloria was the finest cook I'd ever worked with. She had an intuitive sense of flavor that was well displayed in the cuisine she prepared for hundreds of Cafe Allegro patrons each week. I hadn't seen Glo for close to five years, since she'd left Cafe Allegro. I knew whatever she was cooking up at WR would be exceptional, and agreed to set up a dinner date, without hesitation.
We hastened to call other fellow Allegrites and WPCS members, while we were careful not to overbook our little party, as WR only seats 8 parties at any given time due to it's limited seating capabilities. Apparently the entire restaurant is set up in a recently renovated pizza joint... perfect for Glo's needs. No wine cellar, no bar, no staff. Just Gloria in the kitchen, our other friend Cathleen Enders managing the FOH, and Cathleen's niece serving to the dining area.
We decided on February 16th, since most of us worked Valentine's Day. We figured it would be a good Post-VD celebratory dinner to share with our loved ones & friends.
Roll call was Colpo, Michelle, Lexi, Nico, Lee, Dave, Monique, Heather and I. Reservations were for 8:00.
Heather and I had time before the reso, to go get a drink and Molly MacQuires in Dormont. MM is a great little "Irish Pub" trying very hard to replicate the old country charm of a traditional pub, while conceding to the American difficulties of opening such an establishment (ie; The Allegheny County Health Department, The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board). Such government sponsored food & bevvy nazis make it very hard to copy the homey feel of a true Irish pub, with it's carpeted interior, wood tables and bar, dirty smoke-filled air and publican (who typically owns the building, bar & apartment upstairs where he sleeps between shifts). But Molly MacQuire's does as good as a job as a few other American establishments in staying true to form.
I had a Guinness (naturally) while Heather had a Magner's Cider, after a recommendation from my NYC drinking buddy, Paige Wentworth. She'd told me about Magners awhile back, but I had never heard or tried this product. Heather enjoyed it immensely.
After our drinks we headed down to Wild Rosemary. We arrived early, had to wait only while the table was reset. Once seated, the other guests started to arrive, Colpo last to show-up as he got turned around a little by the change in address numbering at a certain point on Bower's Hill Road, that I must admit, almost had Heather and I pulling a U-turn as well.
The menu had seven entree choices which included Barramundi, Lamb Loin, Veal Medallions, NY Strip, Pork Tenderloin, Chicken, and Scallops. No appetizers, no salads, no dessert menu (and as I said before, no wine cellar - hence no wine list).
I had brought two bottles to this cozy little BYOB. Louis Latour Ardeche (chardonnay) and Domaine Ligneres Aric 2007 (carignan blend) http://www.familleligneres.com/aric.html.
I love the Aric, it is a phenomenal Rhone blend of carignan, mourvedre and syrah. Full bodied, with a little of that French terroir, but not as much as you'd typically find... almost tastes like a New World style wine. There's a lot of different flavors you can extract from this wine the longer it lingers on your palate, including coffee, anise, blueberry & plum. I've served this wine as a feature, and as a wine choice on many special menus, and it never fails to amaze, and tonight was no exception... it was the first bottle drunk dry.
Gloria immediately came out to see all her old friends and share some info about her last few years while away. We'd all seen major changes in all of our lives and were happy to share with our old friend.
I ordered the Grilled Veal Medallions with polenta/sundried tomato tart with roasted garlic aioli, arugula on side. A few of us opted for this item (I should note they were out of the Barramundi, didn't make the shipment, Gloria's attitude was refreshing... she shrugged her shoulders and said "Oh well. Shit happens, nothing to get excited over."), while Mo went for the NY Strip (I know this because she was sitting next to me and graciously shared) and Heather had the Sea Scallops in Saffron Cream, with shallots, crushed red saffron, mascarpone, roasted tomatoes, spaghetti and parm reggiano.
Before dinner we were served a plate of bruschetta with a ricotta cheese blended with herbs and roasted cherry tomatoes, and mediterranean olives... I could not stop pounding this delicious, abundant, "amuse-bouche" down. More an appetizer than an "amuse" it was the perfect start to dinner, immediately staving off Heather's hunger pangs, and allowing us to relax, lean back and enjoy the ambiance that Cathleen had designed in this comfortably close space.
Food came out shortly, and our eyes alighted to the feast presented us. The plates were stacked with entrees of our choosing and a heaping mound of salad on the side.
My veal dish was cooked perfectly to temp. No small feat for a chef in a tiny kitchen, preparing every side accompaniment along with the main dish, to 9 guests. The salad on the side also, surprisingly, stood out as more than a garnish, and was as meticulously prepared as the rest of the meal.
Heather's dish, the Seared Scallops, was a enlightened! Where saffron can so often be overused and overtake a dish, Gloria created a dish that was perfectly seasoned, and the addition of citrus zest gave it a fresh, light flavor that uplifted the saffron spaghetti to the perfect frame from which to display the masterpiece that was the scallops, and allow them to shine on their own.
We shared each others entrees and there was not one hesitation from anyone in the group in exclaiming that Gloria had truly found her niche and achieved a perfect oasis from which to share her joy of cooking with the Pittsburgh culinary scene. Immediately added to the top of my favorite Pittsburgh dining spots, alongside Vivo, Bonaterra, Casbah and Umi.
Unfortunately, as all thing do, our meal came to an end, and it was time to head home and relieve Gramma from babysitting duties. The ride home my wife commented on the quietness between us. I agreed it was unique for us not to utter a word for the 20 minute car ride, but the evenings meal had literally left me speechless, save for a deep smile, spread across my face, which spoke volumes.