Shadyside's Up Modern Kitchen has a flair for the tasteful

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 8:56 p.m.

The five owners of the old Walnut Grill in Shadyside decided it was time for a change in their restaurant. So, they closed the second-floor eatery they had run for a dozen years at the corner of Walnut and Bellefonte streets, gutted it and reopened the space in June with a new name, a new look and a new menu.

“It was time for a facelift and a taste-lift,” says co-owner Greg Caliguiri of the East End. The owners, who include Matt Turbiner of Fox Chapel, Kirk Vogel of Pine, Marc Hourvitz and Harris Wainwright, both of the East End, and their staff decided to feature a menu of American food and to forego “overbearing sauces in favor of great ingredients,” Caliguiri says.

The new incarnation, Up Modern Kitchen, features work by executive chef Eric Wallace and sous chef Galen Blyth, who favor “the food speaking for itself — really, really good food,” says Wallace, 34, a Pitcairn native now living in Avalon.

“We built our kitchen around the name,” says Blyth, 40, of Fox Chapel, a graduate of the Community College of Allegheny County's culinary program.

Wallace began his work in the restaurant business at age 7 in his parents' Trafford pizza shop, cleaning mushrooms and crushing cans. But at his Serbian grandmother's house nearby, Wallace learned to make noodles and soup.

“That's where my love of food started,” he says.

Wallace and Blyth have “really been able to lead the charge,” Caliguiri says. “We provide the canvas. Eric and Galen are the artists.”

The canvas on which Wallace and Blyth present their work is a chic, modern dining area with butcher-block-topped tables, black chairs and brown-leather banquettes. The walls feature white line drawings of edible plants and fish against vivid backgrounds. The bar seating includes tables and chairs, along with black industrial stools with wooden seats. About 100 people can dine in what Caliguiri calls “a neighborhood restaurant.”

“We're trying to teach our diners about food,” Blyth says, and appeal to their existing palates. So, with Pittsburgh's status as a meat-and-potatoes town, Up Modern Kitchen offers steak specials on weekends. But the main menu is built around seafood and pasta, sometimes with an unusual flair.

“We sold a lot of octopus” when that dish was on the menu, Blyth says. The octopus was prepared simply, stewed until tender, then grilled and served with a sweet-and-salty caponata of celery, eggplant, red onions and capers.

All soups are made in-house and are $6 each. They have included soups such as lobster bisque, toasted garlic, tomato and chickpea and rapini and garlic with toasted barley.

The restaurant serves many lunches to workers and tries to accommodate their lunch hours accordingly.

Dinner entrees recently included gnocchi and duck ragu for $16 and grilled tuna, cold cucumbers and onions with mustard sauce for $27.

“All behind it lies love,” Wallace says. “You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone as passionate as I am about food.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

Seared Trout, Bacon, Neeps and Mushrooms

Up Modern Kitchen likes to feature seafood dishes made with simple ingredients and plenty of taste and flair. So, its chefs decided to share a recipe for Seared Trout, Bacon, Neeps and Mushrooms with Cooking Class. For the uninitiated, neeps are a type of rutabaga or turnip. But the trout is the star of this dish.

“It's like cooking trout by the campfire after you've gone fishing,” Up Modern Kitchen sous chef Galen Blyth says. With Pennsylvania trout season opening April 13, this dish would appeal to trout fisherman — or anyone who would savor the mild flavor of trout juxtaposed with the salty, smoky flavor of the bacon and the dryness of the wine sauce.

Note: The skin of the trout is not only edible, but nutritious and delicious, executive chef Eric Wallace points out.

1 fresh trout, whole (have your fishmonger debone, but keep the fish intact)

Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 slices thick-cut bacon, preferably pecan-smoked bacon

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus additional if desired

3 green onions, minced finely, plus additional if desired

1 medium-size turnip or neeps, small dice

½ pound fresh mushrooms, assorted

1 cup dry white wine

Pat the fish dry with paper towels to remove any excess water. Season the skin of the fish with kosher or sea salt and black pepper (remember that the bacon will add a salty component to this dish).

Wrap the fish firmly with the bacon, stuffing the extra length in the slit made by the deboning process.

In a large nonstick saute pan, add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Lay the trout in the pan and reduce the heat to low. Gently cook the fish and the bacon so they are finished in unison. Do not move the fish around, as it is delicate.

Using a fish spatula and/or tongs, turn the fish gently after 6 to 8 minutes, and add the green onions, turnips and mushrooms. Increase the heat to color the turnips and mushrooms.

Add 1 cup of dry white wine, flame off the alcohol and immediately add the remaining butter. The butter and wine will combine to make a creamy sauce; reduce by half. You might want to add a pat or two of butter.

Taste the sauce and re-season with salt and pepper as desired. Add in additional minced green onions to finish.

To plate, spoon the mushrooms and turnips onto a platter, saving the sauce. Place the trout on top of the vegetables and the remaining sauce over the fish. Garnish with additional fresh green onions.

Makes 1 serving.

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