Well, there’s nothing I like more than starting off a new year on the right track. And in this case, we started our year off by completing an Achievement the moment the clock turned to midnight (yes, I know, we designed it that way when we made the list, but still – accomplishment!). For the fourth consecutive year, we attended Pittsburgh’s annual First Night celebration, and what follows are a ton of photographs of the fabulous evening we had!
After depositing our little red dog at her grandparents’ house for the evening, we headed into town for our dinner reservations, arriving a little earlier than planned. This meant there was time to grab a cosmopolitan at our favorite home of cosmopolitans in Pittsburgh, August Henry’s.
Then we headed across the street for our 5pm reservation at The Sonoma Grille. We first had dinner at Sonoma on a previous First Night, when we had failed to get reservations anywhere and were pleasantly surprised to stumble in here without having to wait for a table. Now, it’s our favorite NYE dinner spot, and it did not disappoint.
For the holiday, Sonoma Grille was featuring a prix fixe menu of either three or five courses. Since we weren’t about to start any weight-loss resolutions until morning anyway, and since we do so love to sample a restaurant’s offerings, we each decided to try the five-course menu.
Sonoma Grille is also regularly recognized as having one of the best wine lists in the city (so yeah, you KNOW we love this place). We chose a bottle of the Cline Cellars Mourvèdre, off a tip from a friend of Michael’s who lives near the Contra Costa area. We were really pleased with this wine – it was smooth and velvety, with some deep fruit flavors. The markup on wines is a bit high here, but you get some unique Californian wines.
Then it was on to the first course! This was the ‘Trio of Amuse’. From left to right are oysters with caviar (a little too salty for my taste), the beef carpaccio (which was a perfect little nibble of heaven), and a parsnip bisque. Sonoma also prides itself on ‘farm to table’ cooking, so the ingredients are from local and sustainable farms, something else we love!
Next up was the main appetizer, and while we normally try to get different things so we can share, we both had to try this lump crab with avocado dish. Oh, it was like a crab guacamole, with a little crispy crostini lining the bottom and fresh cucumber slices on the side. This was so huge we could have easily shared one of them.
For the salad course, Michael got the fois gras salad (not pictured, and which I was too squeamish to try, although he loved it), and I got this amazing pile of beets. Between each level of beets is a generous helping of goat cheese, and the entire stack is topped with greens and a delicious reduction. I wish I could eat this every single day. Oh, beets, how I love you.
And then, even though our tummies were soooo full, it was on to the main course. We had five different options to choose from, but we both had our eye on the same thing: the filet mignon. This was cooked to a perfect medium, and the meat was tender and juicy and everything you expect a steak to be. It came with whipped potatoes and broccolini (although those I pushed to the side politely – sorry broccoli, you and I will never be friends). And, since I (of course) could not finish mine, Barb had it wrapped and then offered to keep it in the refrigerator in the kitchen for me for the night so I didn’t have to carry it around while we enjoyed the rest of the night’s festivities!
We ended the evening with some coffee and dessert. This was the dessert trio (I had the chocolate ravioli, not pictured). It was the perfect ending to our delicious dinner, and I’m sure that our NYE splurge at Sonoma Grille will be a tradition we carry on for many years!
After dinner, it was time to take to the streets to enjoy First Night! Each year at First Night, there is a parade down Penn Avenue (all of Penn Avenue is closed to traffic so everyone can walk through the streets and enjoy the sights and sounds).
After the parade, we visited the Resolution Sculpture in Katz Plaza. The sculpture differs each year, and this year’s was an environmental theme. If you weren’t aware, Pittsburgh is really up on the ‘green scene’ and very ahead of its time for environmentally-friendly buildings and behaviors. This year, you could write an environmental resolution on a slip of paper, put it into an empty water bottle, and add it to a piece of art.
My resolution was, “Walk more and drive less.” I want to enjoy more of our city, and walking is the best way to do it! I started on this yesterday morning, when I walked to Giant Eagle to pick up a few things instead of driving there.
We weren’t able to get vouchers to any of the ticketed performances (which was a bummer, because we wanted to see Bodiography, but they were all out), so we wandered around to look at art. And this turned out to be one of the highlights of the night: the Path art installation. I don’t want to give too much away, because it’s there until June, and you should definitely check it out (it’s free!), but it was every bit as thrilling as a rollercoaster ride, yet even less risky. And the staff moderating the exhibit that night cracked us up. If it’s crowded, there’s a bit of a wait to get in (only one person can go through at a time, and it takes about 5 minutes start to finish), and they kept us laughing the whole time, even when some cranky girl got moody and complained about them not taking the art seriously. I hate when people are grumpy. Boo to you, girl who was taking herself too seriously!
Normally on First Night, we have brownies at the Culinary Institute, home of the best brownies in the world… but it closed!!! This year, we settled for red velvet zucchini bread (or something like that) at Crazy Mocha. Not the same as my old favorite brownies, but what can you do.
Once our friends Jim and Liz arrived (they are the couple we go to First Night with every year), we went to the August Wilson center to see Joy Ike, who is an amazing local singer/songwriter/musician. We first saw her at an Unblurred event a few summers ago, and she’s just incredible to hear. If you can catch her at a show in town, do it!
Our final stop of the night was the new location of Awesome Books. They’re a local independent book shop that does mostly used books, and highlights local authors as well. They have a location in Garfield, which we frequent on Unblurred First Fridays, and they now have this downtown location as well. I was super excited because they had a copy of Mercer Mayer’s I Was So Mad, which is probably one of the best books ever written. So, I read it. And felt like I was 6 again. And it was great.
At last, it was time for the main attraction: Rusted Root! I have loved this band since the mid-90s, way back when we were using their song “Beautiful People” for ballet barre (I could write an entire blog entry on songs that are important in my memory because of dance – I’m looking at you, “Wishing Well” by Terence Trent D’Arby, aka ‘jazz warmups circa 1991’).
So, I was pretty excited to finally get to see Rusted Root perform live. And mostly, I wanted to hear my favorite Rusted Root song, “Lost in a Crowd.”
Well, as we approached the stage area, guess what song they launched into? Yep. “Lost in a Crowd.” Except that it was like… “Lost in a Crowd,” as if it was… well, remember when you were a kid, and you would put your 45 record on at 33rpm speed because it made everyone sound like they were singing in slow motion? That’s how “Lost in a Crowd” sounded. Yuck. I kept waiting for them to pick up the speed, but it never happened.
The rest of their set was good though, and as Liz and I are both reformed Rusted Root junkies, and our gentlemen are of the ‘you silly hippy girls’ mindset, we had a good time. Here is how it would go:
Jenn & Liz: OMG WE LOVE THIS SONNNNNG.
Michael & Jim: Really. Did you girls bring your glowsticks and patchie pants?
Jenn & Liz: OMG “FOOD AND CREATIVE LOVE” THIS SONG IS THE BEST.
Michael & Jim: Should we start a drum circle?
Rusted Root: WE WROTE A NEW SONG THAT NO ONE KNOWS!
Jenn & Liz: Umm. How has it only been a minute since the last time we looked at the clock?
Michael & Jim: Ah yes, NOW you get it.
Jenn & Liz: OH REMEMBER ‘BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE’? “BRUSHED YOU ON DOWN YEAH, BRUSHED YOU ON DOWN YEAH!”
Michael & Jim: We’ve lost them again.
All in all, we had a great time though. After the debacle that was “Lost in a Crowd,” we got into the music, and I chased down every vendor on the street until I found these blinky 2012 glasses that gave my husband seizures every time he looked at me.
Finally, the countdown began…
I’m thinking yes. 🙂