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At Acanthus, six-course dinner soars with a paired wine flight

| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 10:51 p.m.

The renovated Boggs mansion, reincarnated as The Inn on The Mexican War Streets in 2000, is an impressive sight.

Unlatch the iron gate and climb the steps to a large porch where draperies flow in a dramatic touch that suggests privacy and sophistication. One of our wintry plans to get through this season is the daydream of sipping cocktails on a balmy June evening on this very porch, the perfect setting.

The beautiful stone building -- built in 1888, the former home of department store magnate and financier Russell H. Boggs -- has found a new life as a charming bed and breakfast, owned and operated by Karl Kargle and Jeff Stasko.

But it's not just a destination for out-of-towners in search of a Victorian experience or romantic city dwellers hoping for a weekend escape.

The R.H. Boggs Library Bar has become a neighborhood watering hole of sorts where tapas and appetizers can be ordered. A cushy red bench stretches the length of one wall with bolsters separating one party from the next. Comfortable high seats line the granite-topped bar where small, red-shaded lamps add to the handsome effect.

You'll get lost in the list of well-researched martini and specialty vintage cocktails. The variety of Collinses alone takes up a whole page.

Some have been created with names that coincide with the history of the place. The Trolley Car-Tini, for example, is a pucker-inducing concoction of Grand Marnier, Cointreau with fresh lemon and lime juices, served in a sugar-rimmed glass. The Emma Boggstini mixes vodka with coconut rum and creme de cocoa Disaronno.

Still on the anticipation list are the Chocolate Cherry Martini and the Almond Joy.

The grandeur of the setting and perfect mixes are matched by the glassware. Drinks are aptly served in beautiful Mikasa stemware.

And then there's the restaurant, Acanthus, which opened in November and seems destined to become one of the darlings of the Pittsburgh dining set.

Cross the patio in back -- summer plans are under way to add a canopy and outdoor seating -- and enter the two-story carriage house.

Soft lighting from kerosene lamps hanging from the ceiling offers a sense of intimacy and comfort.

Below, tables gleam with a collection of wine glasses -- six per place setting -- awaiting turns in the paired wine flight. Also catching the light is an army of silverware lined up in precise military formation alongside and above the plate.

It's all those little touches that separate a truly fine dining establishment from the crowd. Take the butter, for example. It's not just a molded or sliced slab. The butter is a work of art, created with the care a pastry chef would use to form a delicate rose intended to top a birthday cake.

On our recent visits, service exceeded expectations. The waitstaff was personable, knowledgeable on both wine and food, while remaining completely professional.

The menu is an exciting production, well-balanced in flavors and textures, and beautifully presented.

The Acanthus menu, created by executive chef Doug Ferrero, offers a six-course prix fixe dinner ($65), with individual items also offered a la carte. An incredibly priced wine flight ($22) pairs wine with the dinner progression. Bonus points there!

Within the prix fixe menu, choices are offered in appetizers, entrees and desserts, with the menu changing each month.

Beginning the evening, the amuse bouche is made up of pretty Ginger Soy Glazed Prawns ($10) served on a tangle of spiced mango strips in a citrus buerre blanc sauce.

A crisp Sokol Blosser Evolution is the wine pairing here. The sassy white wine is a masterful blend of nine different wines, including pinot gris, chardonnay, riesling, pinot blanc and gewurtztraminer.

From the appetizers, the Acanthus Pierogi ($7) is a modern take on a traditional Pittsburgh food. Here, it's a deconstructed beauty. A crisp round of pierogi pastry tops a ball-shapped Yukon Gold potato pancake set upon caramelized onions in a sage buerre blanc. Exquisite.

Another happy choice, the Yellow Pepper Bisque ($10) is a creamy soup with a sprinkling of andouille sausage -- diced, blanched and fried to a crisp.

The paired Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay 2005 holds up well against the creamy soup and the pierogie's white sauce.

Salad ($9) is a mix of the freshest organic greens with a mere glance of roasted shallot vinaigrette. (We despise salads drowning in dressing!) Nicoise olives, blue cheese and tarragon bread sticks complete the course.

Glazed Rack of Lamb ($32) is presented like savory meat lollipops, cooked to order, with Yukon Gold potatoes wedges, roasted shallot and mint relish.

Tender Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon ($34) arrives with hearty and flavorful wild mushroom bread pudding over a clear broth mushroom stew dotted with carrots.

Both are paired with Moon Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 with rich blackberry and current flavors.

Another main course is the Soprosetta-Stuffed Chicken Breast ($27), which is served with a deliciously rich gorgonzola risotto and tomato scallion salad. St. Hallet Gamekeepers Reserve 2005 Grenache Shiraz provides the balance here.

The cheese course brings a bit of nibble to await the grand finale. Triangles of asiago, Allegheny cheddar and Stilton arrive with tiny toasted bread slices. The balsamic vinegar-soaked blueberries are a tangy delight.

The two desserts could be used in a personality quiz. Are you a lover of tart, citrusy flavors• Or a sweet chocoholic• Circle one - or convince your tablemates to share.

The Jeweled Lemon Tart ($10) is superbly done with raspberry and citrus flavors, while the Chocolate Strawberry Mouse Cake ($10) is the smoothest of cocoa-inspired treats. Dipped berries and a rich creme anglaise join the party.

A slow sipping Churchill's10-year-old Tawny Port is a fitting finish to this magnificent meal.

But never fear. We'll be back.

Ticket restaurant reviewers visit restaurants anonymously. They pay in full for all food, wines and services. Interviews are done only after meals and services have been appraised. Additional Information:

Acanthus

Cuisine: Fusion

Entree price range: $27-$34

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays

Notes: Full bar and specialty martinis. The six-course prix fixe dinner is $65. Dishes also are offered on the menu a la carte. Menu changes monthly. Paired wine flight with prix fixe dinner costs $22.

Address: The Inn at Mexican War Streets, 604 W. North Ave., North Side

Details: 412-231-6544 or www.acanthus.biz

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