Take a culinary journey to Or, The Whale
Dennis Marron has done it again. He moved to Pittsburgh to open up The Commoner inside the Kimpton's Hotel Monaco in January 2015 and now has another success on his hands, Or The Whale inside one of downtown's newest hotels, the Distrikt Hotel.
The Distrikt Hotel is located on the corner of the Boulevard of the Allies and Grant Street in the home of the former Salvation Army. Or, The Whale is housed in the redesigned gymnasium. What makes the space unique is the attention to design, like the second-floor loft track that houses catwalk seating and an upstairs bar. The first-floor dining area showcases the open kitchen and a wood-fired hearth.
From the sailor girl wallpaper to the staff uniforms, no detail is left undone in this Moby-Dick seafood-themed restaurant. The menus are books, like the novel itself, and the food is the climax of the story here.
Before we get to that part of the story, one of the craft cocktails from the bar should be a prelude your meal. There's the Tuxedo made with gin, sherry and orange bitters and the house-made gin and tonic. Looking for something darker? Try the Broken Arrow: Knob Creek bourbon, local Maggie's Farm spiced rum, Smith & Cross rum, allspice dram, demerara sugar and Angostura bitters.
As those settle in, you'll want to balance out the alcohol with some starts. Chapter One of the menu includes shareable loomings. The radish dish must not be overlooked. Crusty and toasted pieces of baguette smeared with whipped foie gras butter and topped with earthy farm radishes, lemon and a touch of salt. If you're unsure if you like this delicacy or have been meaning to try it, this is a phenomenal way to dip your toes in.
Since seafood is somewhat the main character here, a seafood tower, featuring oysters, clams, shrimp cocktail, king crab and smoked mussels can be ordered. There are three sizes, all including the aforementioned. The Whale at $180 includes lobster tail as well.
Chapter Two includes hearty and warm soups and salads. For vegetarians, the carrot salad is worthy. Carrots are prepared in various ways, chilled and fire roasted, raw and pickled, served with granola and cashew cheese. If looking for something to warm you up, I can't recommend the cod chowder enough. It's more of an entrée than a side in my opinion. A piece of tender and flaky Atlantic cod is presented with fingerling potatoes and crispy sunchokes and leeks. It's served tableside where the waiter pours the creamy chowder over the top. Large chunks of bacon provide a much-needed smoky flavor to balance out the creaminess. Be sure to save a piece of the complimentary chive cheddar biscuits to dip into the chowder. For entrees, look to Chapter Three. There's a half of a roasted chicken with braised endive, a gigantic ravioli stuffed with an egg yolk and mustard chicken jus, as well as a ground duck burger and slow-roasted short ribs. I tried the scallop dish twice and loved it equally both times. Scallops are seared and served with creamy butternut squash, sunflower shoots, black radish and fingerling potato chips. It might be me, but I found it salty both times but that didn't overshadow my love for the dish.
To experience the wood-fired hearth, move on to Chapter Five. Here you'll find the seafood towers, as well as steaks, chops and vegetables. Items on this part of the menu are served al la carte, meaning you can choose your protein or vegetable, accompanying sauces and sides. A whole lobster and whole fish can be ordered at market price and there's a 35-ounce bone-in dry aged ribeye for $125, as well as a porterhouse, rib eye, New York strip and Bavette for the carnivores. Vegetable lovers should try out the broccoli or cauliflower cooked on the open fire. They are burnt to perfection if you love that type of open-campfire flavor. I ordered the broccoli without a sauce, as per my server's recommendation and I definitely think it needed a sauce. Though not on the menu, a creamy, dare I say buttermilk ranch/blue cheese-type sauce would have been nice. I mean, this is Pittsburgh.
Closing the story at Or, The Whale is the dessert menu and the pot de crème is divine. Rich and silky smooth chocolate is served with house-made granola. A few bites are sure to be enough, but you'll keep going back in for more. After an evening here, you'll want to re-read Or, The Whale's book of a menu and experience the culinary adventure over … and over again.
Sarah Sudar is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.