Cooking Class: Berkshire Pork Chops With Apricot Mostarda at Altius
Jessica Bauer had worked for seven years as a chef at Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon when members of the Mazzarini family approached her and Bistro 19 co-owner Josephine “B” DeFrancis with a proposition the two women could not refuse.
The Georgetown Inn was closing, and the Mazzarinis, who own the Mt. Washington restaurant property, “liked Bistro 19, so they came to us,” says Bauer, 33. “They wanted someone long-term” to open a restaurant in the Grandview Avenue space.
“We knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says DeFrancis, 49, of Baldwin. “We worked on our concepts for over two years” — everything from the food to the presentation to the wine list — “even the way the bathrooms look.”
The women dined at restaurants in New York and Chicago, gathering ideas for the new venture.
The result was Altius, which opened in May after nine months of renovations. The former traditional restaurant was gutted to make way for a contemporary space with gray and earth-toned furnishings and carpeting, and blue glass light fixtures and candle holders. Bauer and DeFrancis are Altius co-owners, with Bauer the executive chef and DeFrancis the operating partner. The restaurant seats up to 200, including the second floor.
But the hip, new space plays second violin to the symphony of the spectacular Mt. Washington views and the Altius food.
The name Altius, part of the Olympic motto, means “higher” in Latin.
“We believe we are higher in location, but are also looking to give higher service” as well as the “elevated cuisine” that is the restaurant motto, Bauer says.
“The space lends itself to fine dining,” she says, so the staff attempts to use the finest foods available, such as Duroc pork, a heritage breed that is pasture-raised, all-natural and used in the Berkshire Pork Chop. The dish comes with apricot mostarda, smoked gouda fingerling potatoes, bacon-wrapped asparagus and candied pistachios, for $28. Another entree is Jamison Farms Lamb Rack, with whole-grain mustard rub, morel jus, roasted black garlic risotto and baby carrots, for $42.
Other entrees include the Sheep's Milk Ricotta Gnocchi, with yellow tomato coulis, roasted peppers, Pennsylvania mushrooms, artichoke hearts and ricotta salata, for $22. Duck, Duck Goose is a seared duck breast with leg confit, whipped goose pate, cherry duck juice, soft polenta and sauteed kale, for $32.
“The neighborhood is definitely old-school. We didn't want to come across as new-school, but as approachable,” Bauer says. Patrons “want it for special events, but they don't want it to be stuffy.”
So, the Altius fine-dining experience has a casual touch or two. Flavored popcorn — the flavors change periodically — is set out on tables when guests arrive.
Altius staffers give out an amuse bouche — literally, “amuse the mouth,” but, in actuality, a culinary gift from the chef. Each amuse bouche “makes you want more and gets your palate excited for the dinner to come,” Bauer says. These bites have included bacon and gouda arancini and fruits of the season, such as peaches with marscapone cheese and honey.
Altius gives patrons who are leaving a “last bite,” too, a takeaway wrapped in a bag, such as a tasty oatmeal raisin cookie.
“I want to make sure everything's going perfectly, but I have a lot of great help,” Bauer says, including dessert chef Heather Deraway, a Pittsburgh native who has worked in Las Vegas, Miami and France.
Breads are baked fresh “the minute you walk in the door,” Bauer says.
On staff is sommelier Alan Uchrinscko, who has expanded the wine list to include organic, sustainable and biodynamic wineries. Biodynamic wineries plant according to traditional, old methods, such as planting by lunar cycles, DeFrancis says.
Bauer, a Pittsburgh native who was partly raised in Michigan, is a graduate of the former Pennsylvania Culinary Institute here. She had graduated from high school in Michigan, but had always wanted to return to her Pittsburgh roots. After culinary school, she did her externship in Boca Raton, Fla., where she gained a lot of culinary experience, and came here to work at the Carlton House.
DeFrancis is a close friend of Bauer's aunt, who has known Bauer since the younger woman's birth; a mutual friend reintroduced them.
DeFrancis says having a good staff is especially important, as the partners are very busy these days. Bauer is executive chef for both Altius and Bistro 19, and DeFrancis is operating manager-partner for both restaurants.
“We have a talented staff. That's where it all starts, with the people on the team,” DeFrancis says.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Berkshire Pork Chops With Apricot Mostarda
Altius uses a thick Duroc pork chop for its Berkshire Pork Chops With Apricot Mostarda. The savory-sweet mostarda gives a flavorful tang to the chops; serve any extra mostarda as a dip, with cheese and crackers, mixed with rice, or over chicken.
Because pork chops and dried apricots are available year-round, the dish can be prepared at any time of year with pork chops, either by grilling the chops outside during the late-summer season, or preparing them inside when the weather chills.
1 pound dried apricots
1 shallot, julienned
1 teaspoon crystalized ginger, chopped
1⁄4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon rice-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water, plus more during cooking
1 tablespoon sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mustard seed
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon salt
4 Duroc pork chops
Seasoning: salt and freshly ground black pepper, or preferred spice blend
Rosemary, for garnish (optional)
Place all the ingredients except the pork chops, seasoning and rosemary in a saucepot. Cook on low heat for 30 minutes, adding more water as the mixture cooks down, to make a jamlike consistency. Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor, and add more water, if necessary, for that jamlike consistency.
Season the 4 pork chops with your favorite blend of spices and/or salt and pepper. Broil or grill the chops until a meat thermometer registers 140 degrees internal temperature.
To serve, spread some of the mostarda onto each of 4 plates, and place a chop on each plate. Garnish with rosemary, if desired.
Makes 4 servings.