One of the best nights of each Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is the semi-annual food blogger dinner. You don’t have to be an exclusive restaurant-reviewing food blogger (we certainly aren’t), but you do have to be a total foodie and love to have a good night out with other like-minded people. Generally held on the Tuesday of Restaurant Week (although we had Saturday brunch during Winter Restaurant Week back in January), it’s a great chance to meet other bloggers and get pumped about the week.
This summer’s event was held last night at Tamari in Lawrenceville. And when we walked in, I admit I was a little apprehensive, because the event was a bit more intimate than previous ones, with six of us in attendance.
And you know I only manage to function in one of two ways in small groups, either sober & panicked, or hammered & incredibly charming.
Lucky for me, this group was relaxed and funny and I felt at ease right away. We even reminisced about college. OMG, my favorite thing! (Featured in this photo are Brian, Restaurant Week director & blogger at The Pittsburgh TasteBuds, Heidi of The Steel Trap, Alex of everybody loves you…, and Terri of Parmesan Princess. Add them all to your reader!)
It’s not to say that the temptation to get smashy wasn’t high. It was REALLY high, because as we learned when we visited Tamari during Winter Restaurant Week, their bartenders makes some mean cocktails. I started with my standard Last Word, and husband checked out their house Day of the Dead cocktail (Espolón tequila, blood orange liqueur, Aperol, lemongrass, lemon twist garnish).
After some socializing at the bar, we moved to our table and got down to the business of menu-perusing.
Tamari is offering a three-course tasting menu, but you can, of course, still order off the full menu. We decided to do a bit of both. (And since our bartender and server Mark was so keen on mixing good cocktails, we tried to keep him busy all night – that’s a Vieux Carré you see to the side of the menu there. Delish!)
Michael opted for the Restaurant Week Menu, which started with this plate of the empanada with corn, lentils, shiso, and Chihuahua cheese, with a side of poached beets. First things first, let’s call this dish what it is: a Ukrainian broad’s Asian Fusion DREAM. Empanada? Ehhhh that was pierogie-enough for me! SO GOOD. Creamy but crispy, a light-pastry-like texture with this gooey, hearty interior. Beets could have been just the *teeniest* bit more tender for me, but the flavors were top notch, and I let it slide.
With his first round, Michael also got a mezcal smash. They’re featuring two summer smashes this season, with either bourbon or mezcal. This was a great drink: the smokiness of the Ilegal mezcal shone through alongside the fresh berries. Well-muddled and well-mixed.
For my first course, I got the potato confit from the side dish menu, and the hanger steak and bacon with quail eggs skewers from the Robata menu. (Robata is just a type of barbecue preparation of slow-grilling foods on a skewer over hot charcoal.) While I loved the two skewers – the meat was so tender, and I loved the tiny little quail eggs with the bacon – the potatoes were the true star here. Served with gorgonzola crème, bacon, jalapeño, cilantro, and truffle oil, these were the home fries I wish I could have every morning with breakfast. The bacon was ultra-crispy, and the truffle oil lent just that right amount of savory flavor to the potatoes.
Round two of the Restaurant Week menu was the Summer Maki: white tuna with jalapeño, mango, and a cilantro creme. This was as fresh and summery as sushi comes. The only complaint we had was that the jalapeño didn’t seem to be evenly spaced throughout, so you’d get a terrifically spicy bite, and then one that had hardly any kick. But those bites with heat were just right, and the sweetness of the mango was the ideal pair.
While waiting for the next round to come out, Mark brought us a few more drinks: a Hennessy Sidecar for me, while Michael went with one of the house cocktails, the Sixth Ward (Maker’s Mark, fig brandy, apple, and cherry). Very refreshing and the perfect interlude to our final courses.
The final course for the Restaurant Week menu was an orange-miso seabass with Guajillo potato cake. The seabass was quite buttery (as it is naturally), but the zestiness of the orange-miso sauce really cut the butter and improved the balance of the dish.
I went with two sushi rolls for my final course, the spicy tuna and the TNT roll (tempura fried albacore, salmon, yellowtail, masago, and avocado). These were both delicious – I’ve had the spicy tuna roll before, but the TNT was a first, and it was excellent. The light frying added an enjoyable crunch, while the avocado gave the roll a creaminess that balanced the spice. Tamari always does their sushi well, and this was no exception.
I’m not going to get into the details of how one of our churros wound up on the floor… but… it happened. Three churros on a plate, and then suddenly, as if in slow motion, a churro plummeted to the ground, giving way to a new term in the food industry: Flooro – the churro on the floor.
From start to finish, our blogger dinner at Tamari was a great time. Although I was initially apprehensive about the intimate nature of a six-person dinner, we all got along so well and had such great dinner conversation that it wound up being awesome. And our server and bartender Mark could not have been more kind and accommodating, letting us linger over our drinks and conversation long into the night. And as in January, I loved sampling the different ends of the Tamari dinner spectrum, from sushi to grilled barbecue meats to yes, even churros.
If you’re looking for a wide-ranging menu and great service in the city, jump on OpenTable and get a reservation at Tamari!