Jean Louis, Alta Via, Hoffstot’s
The Pittsburgh Quarterly Restaurant Review Board recognizes outstanding restaurants and chefs, publishing the top 20 annually in “The List.” Diverse board members are chosen for their interest and knowledge of food and fine dining. Each is anonymous, ensuring no special treatment during restaurant visits—but in the coming reviews, each has picked an icon from the array above, and that icon will accompany their reviews so you can follow each board member via his or her icon. Throughout the year, they dine out frequently, sharing their experiences with other members via mini-reviews—brief, off-the-cuff impressions not meant to be definitive or comprehensive. And now we share them with you!
Jean Louis Parisian Bistro
3271 W. Liberty Avenue, Dormont
Dinner reservations for four on Friday evening. The atmosphere was warm and authentic and the owner/chef (Gaetano Ascione) was there to greet us at the door. He was very friendly and personally seated us. Upon being seated, our waiter set our table with fresh linens and flatware. He asked our preference on water and immediately brought out a carafe and filled our glasses. During this time, the owner arrived at our table and went over the specials. He also made recommendations for wine pairings. We ordered a bottle of the Montepucliano D’Abruzzo and two French martinis. The wine was fantastic and the martinis were well-prepared. After ordering our drinks, the waiter brought out a hot plate with warm toasted baguettes and oil. The bread was cooked perfectly! It was so good that we asked for another order throughout our meal.
I ordered the Soup a l’Oignon Gratinée as well as the Macaroni au Gratin for my appetizer. Both were visually appealing and loaded with flavor. The portions were small, but the quality of the ingredients was excellent. For my entrée I ordered the Entrecôte et Frites (medium rare). The steak was cooked perfectly and well-portioned, and the sweet sauce that accompanied it was superb. The Kennebec French Fries were below average and lacked flavor. Two of us ordered the Entrecôte et Frites and instead of our waiter bringing out an order of the French Fries for both of us, he put them in one large bowl. This was a little unappetizing and disappointing. For dessert, I ordered the Créme Brûlée. The portion was adequate as well as the taste. At the end of the meal, the owner brought out an order of Chocolate Bonbons on the house. They were not on the menu, but absolutely fantastic.
Overall, the experience was great! The staff was friendly and professional, the interior was well appointed, and the food was loaded with flavor and authenticity.
46 Fox Chapel Road, Fox Chapel Plaza in Fox Chapel
Dinner for four on a Tuesday evening. We and our guests had already had cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at home beforehand, so we went straight to selecting first courses, salads and entrées. We ordered the mushroom first course again, after having had it several months ago, and it did not disappoint. The mix of sautéed beech, hen of the woods and royal trumpet mushrooms with pine nuts and crispy sage was cooked thoroughly, but not so much that the mushrooms were mushy; the smoked mozzarella was perfectly melted and not tough. The portion was generous—enough for the four of us to share. Very special and not to be missed.
Three of the four of us ordered off-menu specials. The first, a pillow ravioli with carrot puree, mascarpone and ricotta in a white wine sauce, was light and flavorful and accented with a broccoli pesto. The second one was duck tagliatelle, a delicious, earthy duck ragout, with brussels sprouts, tomato, cinnamon, and perfectly cooked pasta, in a white wine sauce and topped with a light dusting of cheese. The three of us agreed we would order these entrees again if they appeared on the menu. The fourth member of our group ordered the popular Campanelle, a house-made sausage cacciatore, with Grana Padano, and he pronounced it fabulous. Desserts were the chocolate-hazelnut torte, a deep chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse which was tasty and plated attractively (although it was somewhat dry), and the chocolate and vanilla gelatos. The gelato servings were enormous—hard to imagine anyone eating the entire portion—and two of us left more than half the serving in the goblet. Prepare to share!
The service was a little awkward in that every face that appeared at our table was different from those who had come before! All of them were all engaging and knowledgeable, but we had to repeat a few requests because the cast of characters kept changing.
Only one negative continues to frustrate here—when the dining room is full (as it is most evenings), conversation is difficult among only four people at a small table. It becomes even more limited with a larger group. Might be worth considering a request for seating in the bar on a future visit, but the food is so consistently good here that perhaps the noise level is something one just has to get used to.
533 Allegheny Avenue, Oakmont
Have eaten there every few months for decades. I’m writing because they refreshed the menu and tableware. Missing is my favorite Linguini with Manzanilla clams (unreliable fresh clams). Still the same is the iced cold house salad with an incredibly light dressing and crumbled bleu cheese. The olive oil based bread dipping sauce is now for sale to-go. I had the beans and greens with added sausage. Also tried the manicotti. Both solid Italian preparations. Fresh grated Reg at the table.
It’s not one of the best in the city, but the best in its Oakmont neighborhood. Buzzing bar with classic drinks. Attentive service from a well-trained team who moves quickly and efficiently. Not the trendiest place in the city, but they have been doing something right for the past 40 years to be filled solid for 40 years.