Well, my fellow Yinzers, welcome to Pittsburgh Restaurant Week. As of today, the event is officially in full swing, which means it’s prime time if you want to take in a new restaurant at a likely-discounted price.
We, unfortunately, only get two days together to try out the restaurants, as Michael leaves for a conference down in Texas shortly, but we wanted to make the most of this time, so we ventured out into the rainy evening for dinner at Toast.
Toast is one of those restaurants you always hear about, but never seem to make it out to try. Formerly in this location on Baum Boulevard was a restaurant called Baum Vivant that we heard about with semi-regularity, as people decided to protest outside of it (foie gras protest, if I remember correctly). Thankfully, the only reason I can imagine anyone protesting outside of Toast would be if they couldn’t get a table in this charming, intimate spot.
From the moment we walked in, I was in love with this place. Imagine that you were filthy rich and had a swanky log cabin somewhere in the woods where it snows ALL THE TIME but you’re always warm by a big, glowing fireplace. Oh, and it just so happens that the cozy log cabin is fully stocked with every variety of wine you could imagine. That’s what walking into Toast feels like: you’re tucked into in a comfy but classy hideaway where you know you’ll be safe and warm and full of good food and wine.
While the full menu is available during Restaurant Week, they’ve also got a special on their tasting menu: four courses for $30 per person, with the option to add a wine pairing with each course for $20 per person (a savings of $10 and $5 respectively from their regular menu). We decided to go for this tasting menu, of which there are NO details listed on the menu. We are adventurous. We are foodies. We were curious and maybe a bit apprehensive, but we were sold on this delicious bread basket and knew that we were in good hands.
For me, Round One was a plate of shrimp and grits. I have tried grits once or twice in my day (usually somewhere in the south where it just feels like I have to give them a go), and I’ve never liked them. Tonight, I was taken to a new level of grits-y-ness. This was cheesy and smooth and delicious. And best of all, this is something I would have NEVER ordered of my own free will, but through the magic of the mystery tasting menu, I got to sample something and wound up loving it.
While we were looking over the full menu before ordering the tasting sampler, I saw frog legs on the appetizer list and immediately pointed it out to Michael. He’d had them at Coney Island and loved every minute of them, and when we heard ‘frog legs’ being tossed around in the kitchen, we were instilled with a tiny bit of hope. Sure enough, out came this delectable sampling of frog legs, and I even enjoyed them with their miso barbecue sauce and snap peas.
The first round of food came with our first round of wine. Michael got a glass of Napa chardonnay, and I had the Feteasca Regala wine from Transylvania. Yes, readers, I had a Transylvanian wine tonight, because our sommelier could apparently tell when a girl just needed to tap into her gypsy roots with a glass of Romanian wine. So good!
Round Two brought a Caesar salad for Michael, crisp and not overly-dressed, complete with a handful of croutons that had a crunchy, buttery flavor. This was paired with an Italian pecorino, which is a wine I’ve never heard of before, but thoroughly enjoyed (yes, we were swapping wine glasses and plates pretty much non-stop throughout the meal). Dry and light, and a good accompaniment for the salad.
I received a cauliflower soup with lump crab meat, accompanied by a Washington Riesling that was light and crisp and remarkably leggy. (Leggy is a special wine term that I learned while reading about how to write about wines, for the record. It makes me feel like a million bucks when I use it in the presence of other wine connoisseurs.)
Throughout the meal, each time we had finished a course, our waitress/sommelier Holly would take our plates and silverware and bring out a new set. This suddenly went from ordinary dinner to the madness my dear friend Jon and I put each other through prior to the start of each song at Dave Matthews Band concerts. Instead of trying to guess the upcoming song by analyzing Dave’s and Jeff Coffin’s guitar and sax choices, I was despeartely trying to figure out what dish was coming next based on the silverware we received. To keep us guessing, she brought us both spoons when only one soup was delivered. And then, prior to the entrees, she brought us each a sharp, pointy knife, which could only mean one thing…
At least one of us was getting steak. Oh, how I hoped and prayed it was me.
And then, our main courses arrived. Each time the food was brought to the table, our server took half a second to think before deciding which of us got each plate. Much to my extreme delightment, the hangar steak landed in front of me. It was served on top of mashy sweet potatoes and cauliflower with some kind of heavenly reduction that was syrupy and sweet. It was cooked to total perfection (Holly had started our meal by saying, ‘In the event there might be… steak… how would you like it to be cooked?’), and the sides just blew me away.
Michael got the salmon, served on beans and little bitty bean-like things whose name we are uncertain of. Again, perfectly cooked, perfectly dressed in sauce, and perfectly accompanied. We split our plates down the middle, as well as our wine (he got a pinot noir, his former favorite wine, and I had a glass of the cabernet, both of which were from Chile, which we were excited about after our South American wine class).
Michael got the carrot cake bread pudding, a surprisingly filling slice of sweet dessert. And to make dessert even better, each one was served with a tiny flute of icewine! It was just like wine tasting in Canada, but with dessert thrown in for good measure.
We really enjoyed our trip to Toast. The service was unmatched, and the food was incredible. I loved the element of surprise, as it definitely led me to try (and discover that I love) dishes that I would never have even glanced at otherwise. With the four-course menu between us, we were each able to sample eight different dishes, plus eight different wines.
Toast is offering their Restaurant Week special from now until Saturday, but I do recommend getting a reservation, as part of the charm of this place is their small, intimate dining area. And if you go, please post about your experience! I am super curious to see what else pops up on the tasting menu (which of course means we’ll have to return again soon anyway)!