New East Liberty restaurant Spoon definitely a scoop above
Spoon opened July 16 at the site of the former Red Room, which closed in January.
It's a partnership between Rick Stern, who also owns Willow in Ohio Township, and Brian Pekarcik, who is also Spoon's executive chef.
Pekarcik, a Murrysville native, had served as executive chef at restaurants in San Diego and Cleveland before returning to Pittsburgh in 2007 to serve as executive chef at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center and its Steelhead Brasserie & Wine Bar.
Pastry chef is Krista Owens, who recently relocated to Pittsburgh from Tucson, Ariz., where she was the pastry chef at the Ventana Room.
Stern and Pekarcik chose the location for its convenience to other neighborhoods such as Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, says Spoon's general manager Alec W. Chipman.
"We're definitely in East Liberty," says Chipman. "It has been a hot spot for restaurants for the past few years and we definitely wanted to be part of it."
Spoon's dining areas have been completely redesigned and re-outfitted -- except for the antique floor of russet-and-ochre ceramic tiles.
"We liked the beat-up look. We like the richness of its colors," Chipman says. Designers chose to play off of those hues, creating a softly lit, upscale dining room of dark wood with accents of terra cotta and brown.
The large dining room is L-shaped, which creates the feel of two smaller dining rooms.
Dark wood tables are set with round place mats of woven fiber and shaded candlelight. All those hard surfaces make it a little noisy when tables are filled and conversation is flowing.
If you're looking for something quieter and more private, ask for one of the small tables in the tiny open-air space separated from the main area by a glass door.
When asked, our waiter provided helpful opinions and appeared to be well-informed about both food and wine menus. Service was deft and swift, except for one prolonged, unexplained wait between ordering and receiving dessert.
For a more casual dining experience consider a table in the former 2R space, temporarily known as the Lounge. It offers many of the same items as in the main dining room, but has a more relaxed setting -- wooden floor, seating at tables along a wall of banquettes and at hi-tops, plus access to television monitors.
By fall, the owners plan to transform the Lounge into Brgr, a separate casual restaurant featuring gourmet burgers and milk shakes.
Spoon is committed to offering items made from seasonal, fresh and locally made ingredients.
That can be as close as the kitchen where many of the breads and all of the desserts, including ice cream, are created or nearby from suppliers who include Kistaco and Golden Harvest farms, Fede Pasta and Randy "the mushroom man" Danielson.
Entrees encompass a wide range of prices -- $9 to $34. That's deliberate.
"We want to serve everybody," Chipman says. "We want people to join us multiple times a week, if they like."
You could easily put together a light meal from the appetizer list alone. Selections for smaller appetites include: Ahi Tuna "Two Ways" ($14), a sushi plate of crab roll, avocado puree ponzu poke and noodle salad with chilli aioli; and Maryland Crab Hot + Cold ($15), a crab cake with asparagus and corn relish, plus a crab, cucumber and avocado salad.
But don't miss the Sweet Corn Chowder ($4 a cup, $6 a bowl), a rich bowl of satiny soup made more interesting with prawns, fresh corn kernels and bits of tomato.
We also enjoyed the Crab, Spinach and Brie Strudel ($7), an interesting blend of tastes and textures wrapped in crisp, buttery tissues of pastry.
There's an elegant simplicity to the Bacon Wrapped Day Boat Scallops ($26), which offered a taste of the seashore on a sultry evening. The hefty, perfectly cooked scallops were sweet and tender. Served with crisply cooked asparagus, a small mound of sauteed sweet corn and bits of shrimp and a splash of roasted red pepper puree for color, it made for a pretty as well as tasty plate.
We also enjoyed the Blackened Chicken + Fettuccini Pasta ($15). The huge serving outstripped our appetite, leaving plenty for next-day lunch. House-made pasta was tender yet sturdy enough to stand up to the Asiago cream sauce and the garnish of fresh-tasting salsa. Despite its nicely blackened, spice-encrusted exterior, the chicken itself was moist and juicy.
Although they took some time to arrive, our two desserts were definitely worth the wait. Who could pass up Chocolate 4 Ways ($8)• Not us.
Presented with a tiny chocolate truffle beignet, a white chocolate encrusted bon bon, a small loaf of firm dark chocolate mousse sprinkled with ground pistachio and a shot glass of milk chocolate milk, the biggest decision was which to try first.
We couldn't resist digging into the mousse which was as rich and flavorful as it was light and airy. But the biggest surprise was the chocolate milk that was as rich as it was subtly flavored and certainly several cuts above our childhood experiences.
Local Apricot "Tart" ($7) took a surprising, nontraditional approach. We expected a small pastry crust filled with baked fruit. What arrived was a tasty, hand-built concoction. Its base was a crispy, sugary almond tuile or thin cookie atop which sat a round of creamy honey-sweetened semifreddo embellished by three thin slivers of fresh, just ripe, slightly tart and uncooked apricot.Additional Information:
Cuisine: Modern American
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Dinner: 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays. Lounge serves cocktails until 1 a.m.
Entree price range: $9 to $34
Notes: Accepts most major credit cards. Reservations accepted. Valet service available after 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. 14 craft beers on tap. Bar menu. Personal wines welcome with a $20 per bottle corkage fee. Outdoor dining options available. Casual dress.
Location: 134 South Highland Ave., East Liberty
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