Hello Bistro – June 27, 2012

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This past Thursday was the official Grand Opening of Hello Bistro in Oakland. Hello Bistro is as I’ve mentioned before a part of the Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, you know the wonderful people who have brought us Six Penn Kitchen & The Porch at Schenley. Last Wednesday night I was privileged to be invited to a VIP dinner before the official opening. Everything that I loved about The Porch’s look a few weeks before I can say the same about Hello Bistro. Even before you walk in the outside decor of wood and chrome style along with garage style door windows is great and very modern (pictured above).

I have visited Hello Bistro a few times since they have opened and when you walk in a greeter will give you a menu and go over the concept with you. After you look over the menu you will place your order at the register. If you order from the salad bar they will walk you through it as you tell them what you want on it or if it is a salad from the menu they will go ahead and make it and then meet you at the end of the line with it. If you order a burger or anything else from the menu you will get a number at the register, you will place this on your table when you go to sit down and a server will bring your food to you VERY QUICKLY!

My first trip I tried a few things. I started with an Apple Almond Crunch Salad that is a salad from the menu. It has romaine lettuce, grilled chicken, granny smith apples, bleu cheese crumbles, almonds, and apple cider vinaigrette dressing. The Apple Cider dressing is AWESOME! As much as I love Eat N Park’s ranch, this could be my new go to when visiting Hello Bistro. The salad is massive, I believe they said 40 ounces! It was great because once they add all the items in the salad bowl you go to the chopping station and get it all chopped so the ingredients are mixed together. This was a great idea, I always like to get a little bit of everything in a bite of salad and it was perfection.

After you pass the chopping station you will notice a little bar. This is where they will be serving coffee, milkshakes, ice cream for floats, along with beer and wine. There is some seating around the bar along with a TV to watch.

Across from the chopping station is the refreshment area where you will notice a Boylan Soda Fountain. I have only had Boylan in a glass bottle, Hello Bistro has the only Boylan Soda Fountain that I have ever seen. My favorite is the Birch Beer (more flavorful than Root Beer).

Next to the soda fountain is where you will get your napkins, utensils, ketchup and even Eat N Park Ranch! Most restaurants charge you for a side of ranch, I really like the option to get ranch as a side for no extra charge.

As you continue to look down in the restaurant there is some high top seating and in front of it is a huge chalkboard. Make sure you sign something!

After I ate my salad I had a few other items to dig into! The first thing I tried was the Over-Easy Cheeseburger (much like a breakfast burger on other menu’s) which is a burger topped with cheddar cheese, bacon and an over-easy egg. I love the over-easy egg because I like to cut into the sandwich and let the yolk break and ooze into the sandwich so you get that in the first couple bites. I have also now heard of people who break the yolk and let it drip off the burger and then just dip the burger into it like a dippy egg. However you eat it, it all turns out to be delicious. The bun it was on was so fresh and soft, yet the inside had a little crunch because of it toasted on the grill (nice touch!). I am a burger and fries kind of guy, so I knew I had to try the fresh cut fries. I am a sucker for fresh cut fries, I think fresh cut fries and homemade chips are 2 of my favorite things ever! The fries come in a brown bag and are seasoned with salt and pepper. Add a side of Eat N Park Ranch and BOOM I’m good to go!

Who doesn’t like grilled cheese?! I love all the different takes on it and the most unique take Hello Bistro offers is the Italiano Grilled Cheese. Italian Bread, Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, Pepperoni and Marinara Sauce. WOW, while I am typing that my mouth is really beginning to salivate! That’s how you know something is really good! The fresh mozzarella really brings this sandwich together and makes it unique, because most places will give you sliced instead of fresh which I now know loses a lot. The fresh mozzarella really paired well with the marinara (like it should), and I noticed the pepperoni on the sandwich because it gave it flavor but it wasn’t the main attraction, the sandwich really made the fresh mozzarella shine.

At the end of the day the only thing that I could have (and want) was a Smiley Cookie (Yes they have them!). Hello Bistro sells Mini Smiley Cookies along with Chocolate Chip Cookies. It was the perfect end to a great and filling meal. Besides the food the service was excellent! The staff was very friendly and were always coming by the tables to ask how the food was or if they could remove anything from the table. I can see myself visiting Hello Bistro once a week if not more! If you haven’t made your way to Hello Bistro yet, what are you waiting for?! HURRY HURRY HURRY!


Taza 21 – June 7, 2012

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If you would’ve asked me a month ago “what is shawarma and where can I find some?” I wouldn’t have had a clue. Luckily (like most people I’m noticing) after watching “The Avengers” and the mention of shawarma in the movie I became inquisitive. I did a few searches for shawarma and found Taza 21 not too far away. Earlier this week I had a checkup at my dentist and to my surprise Taza 21 was located right next door! So my cousin and I decided to give it a try.

Walking in there isn’t a lot of space in Taza 21 only about 5 tables and the kitchen area with a counter to separate them. Taza 21 is brightly decorated which makes the small spot look better. Walking in for the first time we noticed the menu on the left wall and began deciding what to order. I went with the lamb shawarma while my cousin went with the chicken shawarma rolled pizza. Taza 21 describes the lamb shawarma as: “Strips of marinated lamb, stacked and roasted on a rotating fire spit. Juicy strips are shaved and wrapped w/ parsley, onion, pickles, tomatoes, and tahini sauce… rolled to go, in a crispy, pressed wheat wrap.”. The lamb was excellent! I wasn’t sure if I should expect the meal to be like a gyro but it was different, unique and depending on your taste possibly better. The flavors of the lamb, parsley, onion, pickles, tomatoes and tahini sauce all worked together and I could taste each individual flavor while they worked together. I loved that the whole wrap was pressed together on I’m guessing a panini press because the little bit of crunch to the wrap was a great addition. A wish I would’ve learned about shawarma years ago because I feel like I’ve been missing out on something special. Now that I know about shawarma and it is so close to home I plan on frequenting Taza 21 more often!

The Cake and Cookie Spot – May 11, 2012

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I was in Squirrel Hill recently, well I am there everyday driving home, but this day I was stopping by to grab dinner and drinks for Happy Hour when my buddy and I noticed across the street a new place called The Cake and Cookie Spot. We went in before drinking and checked the place out. We noticed the selection of cake shots (I’ll get to those below) and cookies. We decided it would be best if we went to eat and drink first and then return to grab some items on the way home.

When we returned I had a hard time deciding what kinds of cookies I wanted. I am not much of a cake eater… lol, I’m going to get side tracked because ever time I think of “cake eater” I think of Jesse from The Mighty Ducks movies…

For those of you who know the movie or reference, you’re welcome. If you don’t know what I’m talking about? I feel bad for your childhood…Fine… moving on…

I prefer cookies over cake, so instead of torturing myself I asked for 2 of every cookie. I figured it was Mother’s Day Weekend it would give the family something to snack on. We began talking to the 2 ladies and found out the business is their’s and they are mother and daughter. I work with my family every day so I can respect families going into business with one another. They were both shocked when I asked for 2 of every cookie, but how can I know what I want for my return trip if I don’t know what I like?! I was also told I missed out on the oatmeal raisin cookies that day, so I will be returning soon since oatmeal cookies are my favorite. My favorite of the group was the rainbow/m&m style cookie (pictured in the middle above). It was crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside which is a perfect cookie in my book. The Ultimate Chocolate Chip cookie which is the drizzled chocolate cookie was excellent, I don’t like coconut at all but I really appreciated this cookie. I was also told that the chocolate on the bottom of the cookie is hand painted on! Seriously?! Huge selling point for that cookie because why would you not want to try something that has that much detail put into it? That’s how you know they care about their products when the details are a selling point!

I am also a big fan of anything red velvet (cupcakes, cookies, even regular cake) but I have never had a red velvet donut. The Cake and Cookie Spot had it and I had to have it too! OMG the flavor out of this hit every taste bud… as you see in the picture above that was the first thing I tried because I forgot to take a picture before I took a piece out of it lol. My least favorites were the lemon and lime cookies, which was sad because they peaked my interest the most when I ordered them. I was told they had a powerful flavor and I think it was just too overpowering for my taste.

Next I ordered a Peanut Butter Cup Cake Shot and an Oreo Cake Shot, I didn’t try the Oreo because I got it for my cousin who loves Oreo’s, he finished it in like a minute. The Cake Shots and Cake Push Up Pops at The Cake and Cookie Spot are the owner’s focus, this is what they want to be known for. I can tell you in my first bite of the cake shot I was taken back to high school. During high school bake sales a friend of mines mom would make these chocolate and peanut butter brownies, probably the best thing I have ever ate in my life! This Peanut Butter Cake Shot took me right back to that, I haven’t had anything that brought me back to that moment since high school and when food takes you to any place in your mind you know you have just ate something worth eating. The cake push up pops were seemed very similar to the cake shots but in a push up pop form (remember flinstone push up pops growing up? like that but with cake!).

One thing that I was a little saddened that I didn’t see at The Cake and Cookie Spot were cupcakes, especially since that is the real craze right now in dessert. However, with their focus on the cake shots and cake push up pops I think they will grow into their own market and craze. When I went the mother and daughter said they had only been open for about 2 weeks. I look forward to many return trips and wish them a long and successful business!

Sesame Inn – May 11, 2012

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I went to Sesame Inn recently for lunch and I honestly couldn’t believe I have never blogged them before! I have worked in the North Hills full time for 7 years now, so it really surprised me in the 3 years I’ve had this blog I haven’t talked about one of my favorite Chinese restaurants! In my defense I guess, I don’t usually eat in at Sesame Inn, when I am at work we usually just get it to go and eat at the office.

Walking into Sesame Inn they have some fountains and zen rocks in the hallway, then once you get into the restaurant itself the inside has a sushi bar to your left and then all seating straight ahead. The restaurant is designed with warm colors to provide a relaxed and calm atmosphere while dining. Soon as we sit down our waiter comes by and fills the glasses with water and gives a green tea kettle. I love when Chinese restaurants provide tea with the meal, you don’t think it matters but when they do it makes it so much better.

The main event of the day was my favorite and the name sums the dish up… Amazing Chicken! The chicken strips are dipped in a light batter and lightly fried to a crispy perfection, accompanied with a delicious tangy sauce. That is straight from the menu and I couldn’t write the description much better! Downside of the meal is that I ordered fried rice with it but received white rice, oh well I’m not that picky about rice. The thing that surprised me the most is the lunch portion size at the restaurant, the take out portion is just right but eating at the restaurant was a full dinner size. DELICIOUS! I also received a side of wonton soup and was phenomenal, plenty of wonton’s inside and flavorful. I noticed when I get take out I usually get 1 wonton in the soup, so overall I think the portion size and quality is so much better when eating in at Sesame Inn but I can’t complain about the lunch portion because it is always so damn tasty!

Other menu items that I would recommend if you make the trip are : Chicken Fried Rice, Combination Lo Mein and Orange Chicken.

Del’s Bar & Ristorante DelPizzo – Saturday April 21, 2012

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I wouldn’t have this blog if I didn’t have a passion for food, I love all kinds, but I grew up on Italian. My nunnie is 100% Italian and most of our dinners growing up, and still are, at her house so I have high standards on Italian food. I don’t go to Olive Garden because it isn’t even close to authentic. However you would think in Pittsburgh we would have great Italian restaurants. I believe that will be my sole mission of this blog for all future blogs.

Growing up my family would go to Del’s a decent amount, but around 5 or more years ago we stopped going. Mostly because we felt there was a decline in the overall quality in the food. Listening to other customers and bloggers over the years we weren’t alone. Del’s I’m sure will always have a strong following no matter what, but I guess something took its toll along the way. Recently Del’s in Bloomfield was given national spotlight when Chef Robert Irvine and Food Network came in to help the struggling restaurant and give them new life. On Restaurant Impossible Chef Robert gave the restaurant a new look and tried to help as much as he could with the menu. He told them what he liked and didn’t like food wise and overall quality. With a little hesitation at first the owners seemed to listen and help with the changes.

I took my time to visit Del’s because I figured a lot of people would flock and want to check out the changes. So this past weekend I had a chance to visit. The place looks nice, I think the new look is very modern, it might not scream Italian but who ever said it had to? The tables aren’t very modern and reminded me of my bathroom growing up mostly because the pattern was the exact same thing!

The most important thing, the food! I started with Italian Wedding Soup. It was alright, I liked that they put chicken and meatballs in it like my family does because not many places do. That was about all I like about it. I also ordered Chicken Parm, for two reasons: 1 being it is one of my favorite meals and 2 because it was a heavy focus on Restaurant Impossible. I also received a side of penne and marinara sauce. The penne came out and it was a small side dish, didn’t look bad at first glance but when I started mixing it up I noticed how watery the sauce was. BIG turn off. The other turn off was how tasteless the sauce was, it reminded me of why I stopped coming to Del’s in the first place. Turning to the Chicken Parm I noticed that they were using 2 chicken breasts like before Restaurant Impossible came and it wasn’t the recipe Chef Robert taught them. I’m not sure if it was back to the microwave version as before because I wasn’t in the kitchen, but if it would’ve been fried like he did on the show the chicken breading would’ve been somewhat crispy and not soggy. The chicken itself wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t anything to write home about.

My mom ordered gnocchi and wasn’t happy with the meal, I took a taste and it may have been the worst gnocchi I have ever had. The texture was so gritty, not sure if they are homemade, but I dont know how my mom even got through what she ate. I can honestly say I will not be returning to Del’s any time soon. From my experience and from what I have heard of others it just doesn’t seem like they get the message, you can change the look of everything but until the quality improves that will be Del’s downfall.

Las Velas – February 25, 2012

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This past weekend my sister and I took our uncle out for his birthday and after a cousin of ours talked Las Velas up that is where my uncle wanted to go. I haven’t been to Market Square since the renovation was completed and I was pretty impressed with how nice it has turned out along with all the new restaurants. I am sure I will be back to check out many of them in the near future. Las Velas sits above Market Square which means you will need to walk up some stairs to get to the restaurant and the view makes dinner even nicer while eating.

The first thing we ordered was a pitcher of margaritas along with chips and salsa, guacamole and queso. Our waiter, Justin, recommended that we add chorizo to the queso to give it extra flavor and I think he hit a home run with that recommendation! The chips were crunchy and I am guessing made fresh at the restaurant. The salsa was fresh and flavorful, which you may think that should be all salsa’s but its sad how many actually lack flavor when you go out to eat. As I said the queso with chorizo was a nice addition and we all enjoyed it but I think the real highlight out of the three was the guacamole it was so smooth and creamy, sometimes I get tired of digging around big chunks of avocado in guacamole that this was a nice treat. I know we polished that off in no time!

While we waited for our dinner we began drinking our pitcher and the first one went down so quickly (like Frank says in Old School “Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!”). A gentlemen came over to the table and took the pitcher and said he was going to freshen it up for us, turns out it was the owner, David, and we began talking to him for a bit. My uncle saw an article about David in Pittsburgh Magazine recently (link below) and they were able to have a conversation from that. A really nice guy, he was telling us about where he came from and how the restaurant has been going since he opened up. Oh and the margarita’s are delicious! We ended up with about 2 and a half pitchers and WOW was I feeling good by the time dinner was over! We just went with a classic margarita but I am looking forward to a return trip to see what other varieties Las Velas offers.

Now onto the main event of the evening… I ordered the Tacos del Paisa (fish) aka Fish Tacos (pictured above). My sister has made fish tacos before but that is the only way I have had them, so when my cousin recommended the restaurant he spoke very highly of the fish tacos and figured I would give them a try. The dinner includes three tacos with freshly breaded tilapia, shredded cabbage, pico de gallo and a creamy chipotle sauce. Served with rice and beans. I squeezed some lime over top of the taco’s and that really helped enhance the flavors of the tilapia and chipotle sauce. The tacos weren’t heavy, they were very light and extremely flavorful.

Since we went out for a birthday we just had to get dessert and Justin our server recommended a dessert that I don’t remember the name of but I believe he referred to it as their version of a fried ice cream. It was ice cream inside of a tortilla and on the side Justin provided a flambe show where he heated up a pan with butter and cinnamon and sugar along with bananas and strawberries but the extra flavor came from the Grand Marnier and then he lit that SOB on fire and poured it over top the tortilla and ice cream. We were contemplating ordering dessert in the first place, but this tasted so amazing and wasn’t heavy at all that I really can’t complain about ordering it. I would definitely order it again, for the taste and to see the show again!

I have to tell any of you reading this that if you haven’t been to Las Velas yet, you really need to right away! The dinner was so awesome I really can’t tell you enough good stuff about Las Velas, the food and drink quality was excellent along with the great service from not only our server Justin but from the owner David as well! From one trip I know they are going to quickly rise to be one of my regular spots when I am in the mood for Mexican, or possibly even when I want a drink.

Don’t forget to check out Las Velas in Pittsburgh Magazine –

Nardi’s Fine Dining – December 10, 2011

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I hope everyone had a HAPPY HOLIDAY with lots and lots of delicious food! Earlier this month I got to go to Nardi’s with some friends for an early Christmas dinner and it was my first trip to Nardi’s. Nardi’s sits on top of the Jonet Building (10th Floor) in Monroeville, when the elevator opens up you see a small room with a bar and a fantastic view of 22. If Monroeville was more well lit I would think with that view it could compare to Vegas. The whole restaurant had a very classic look and feel to it, our party was a little large so they took us into another dinning room but we weren’t alone there were plenty of other tables with us.

I knew from looking at the menu ahead of time what I was going to order, filet mignon, but our waiter strongly recommended the Chicken Parmesan and I think the majority of our table ordered that. It looked delicious when it came out, and I will be ordering that on my next trip. Enough of what I didn’t order and onto what I actually ate. I started with a very fresh shrimp cocktail with 3 jumbo shrimp. Nothing out of the ordinary for a shrimp cocktail, it was just something I wanted. If you want to try something different, Nardi’s offers a Fried Shrimp Cocktail that actually has the cocktail sauce on shrimp before it is fried, something else to try on the next trip. Each meal comes with soup or salad and I ordered the Caesar Salad which was prepared in its classic form. A downside however is that the Caesar Salad was an up charge of an extra $7, so remember that if you plan on going. A couple of pre-meal items that seemed to go over well was the french onion soup and stuffed banana peppers, I tried a taste of the banana peppers and they were excellent with a nice amount of heat to them.

The main event for me was the 10 ounce Filet Minon and I believe every item on the menu is ala cart so I ordered a baked potato on the side (pictured above). The filet I ordered was medium and was perfectly cooked and came with mushrooms in a cabernet sauce. The potato was baked with sea salt and it gave it a nice flavor, and I usually don’t like sea salt.

I was ready for dessert and wanted cheesecake and unfortunately all they had for cheesecake that night was a pumpkin cheesecake, I ordered it but knew I wasn’t going to love it. The pumpkin flavor was strong and was just alright in my book. I knew I wouldn’t love it going in but went wahead anyway so thats my fault. Overall the service was very great but their downside was not explaining the desserts to the group, they only mentioned them when people asked what they had. I think most restaurant managers would want every wait staff to up sell, don’t pick and choose. I would give Nardi’s a 4 out of 5 rating and really looking forward to my return trip.