Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spoon - a different perspective than expected

The Squiggle and I are pretty normal people, relatively speaking. We're both nerds, she more of a tech-nerd and way hotter than me, but we're normal people. We go to a restaurant, eat the food, check out the decor, talk about the food (I think about reverse-engineering the food), and then we go home (and I sometimes blog about it).

But on Thursday night, we had dinner with friends at a restaurant that we have been meaning to try for a while, Spoon in East Liberty. The other two people that we were with made the night into a 3 hour dinner that we wished could have lasted even longer, because of their connections to Spoon and the great conversation we had with them.

The lady knows the co-owner very well, so as a result she has gotten to know the other co-owner well, too. The 2nd co-owner is the Executive Chef of Spoon, Brian Pekarcik. When he heard that we would be eating there on Thursday night, he made a point to roll out the foodie version of the red carpet for us.

Brian came out to the table and asked us how adventurous we were feeling that night. We all pretty much said we would give anything a shot one time. He started us off with an espresso sized cup of roasted fennel and pickled beet soup. I'm not a huge fennel guy, but the strength of the fennel had been mellowed by the slow cooking of the soup. The beets chunks added a nice punch to this tantalizing starter.

When that was done, three appetizers (also courtesy of Brian) were brought to the table. The first was one of the most popular appetizers ordered at Spoon, the Bacon 'n Eggs. This dish was a section of pork belly, perfectly cooked to be soft on the underside and crispy up top (like a thick slice of bacon), underneath a poached egg that upon any contact released the yolk on to the dish. Like nearly everything we ate tonight, it was edible art. You almost felt guilty ruining it by putting a fork into the dishes. Almost.

The second appetizer was Sashimi Tuna Duo. This was ahi tuna (the pink tuna) and yellowfin tuna (the brownish tuna) served raw with a delicate glaze of soy and sesame. The wasabi was dotted in little green circles along the plate. DB~ and I are sushi wimps. We prefer our sushi to be wrapped in rice where we don't have to think about it, but both of us devoured this dish. It was perfectly presented and our dinner mates weren't super wild about sushi, especially the gentleman of the pair.

Our third appetizer was the Lemon and Goat Cheese Souffle. Brian has recently changed the menu to reflect some more springtime ingredients. If you go to Spoon within the next few months that this menu will be in effect, I recommend this appetizer the most of the three we tried. The goat cheese souffle is done, I believe, in a tian form in which it is placed into a 3 inch high metal mold and then lifted off when done to create a mini tower of culinary delight. This dish had a more standard bacon, with pieces of applewood smoked bacon criss-crossing some arugula and a poached egg. Lemon + Goat Cheese = DBS is in food heaven.

Who's ready for dinner now? Both of the guys ordered the Grilled Filet with Braised Short Ribs, with the short ribs resting on some ultra-smooth garlic mashed potatoes. DB~ had the Crispy Skin Striped Bass, as Spoon had her at "hello" with the artichoke/spinach/goat cheese ravioli that it came with. Our lady about town ordered the Kennedy Chicken 2 ways and seemed to enjoy this simple yet elegant dish as well, in between telling a wide variety of stories that kept DB~ and I near tears with laughter.

After dinner, Brian came out to our table again to get our feedback and converse. I asked him about his background, as he said that certain dishes have followed him through all 5 restaurants that he has Exec Chef'ed at in his career. This is his first major Pittsburgh restaurant, as most of his experience was on the West Coast in San Diego and San Francisco, including working at one of famed restauranteur Bradley Ogden's joints. He came back after 10 years to his hometown to the Marriott before hooking up with Richard Stern, the other co-owner. His skill and passion for food will keep Brian successful no matter what.

Brian insisted, after we all demurred on dessert, that he bring us two desserts to try. I was glad, because my high metabolism had already burned off the meal to that point. The portions at Spoon are not large, they are "fancy gourmet size", but completely worth it. The Bananas and Cream dessert (toffee cake with bananas and caramel, topped with deep fried chunks of banana) and the Brioche French Toast with Poached Pears were brought to our table. There was nothing left by the time the 4 of us were done.

The best part is that thanks to our insider connection, we only paid for our entrees. It was a great way to see the restaurant in a way that DB~ and I may not have seen. With having a chef at our nigh-disposal, I regret not asking him to prepare me (us) something totally off the menu. Would have been the perfect chance.

As for the decor of the restaurant, it is a deep earth tone, near ochre shade motif. There are wall sconces adorning the walls, but not much else. Bridging the gap between the two main seating areas are a set of huge leather couches by a fireplace, which were quite inviting on this cold and rainy March night. DB~ didn't care for the tile floor, though, and was overall unimpressed with the decor.

Spoon is one of the best meals I have had in a long time and one of those gourmet restaurants that is worth going to for a special occasion. The taste, plating, and presentation (in Iron Chef terms) were all at a level that you just don't always see. Highly recommend checking it out.

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