We love dining near home; Pittsburgh is great to get around in (especially since the advent of Lyft and Uber!), and there’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to restaurant choices. But each time Pittsburgh Restaurant Week rolls around, we use the occasion as an excuse to step outside the city limits and visit some of the great options that exist out in the suburbs.
This time around, we trekked a bit north of the city to Sewickley, in order to dine at Vivo Kitchen on Beaver St. So how was the experience?
In a word, it was incredible! The menu gave us so much to consider; every item on it had something eye-catching and enticing. So, even though Vivo’s Restaurant Week menu looked quite good, we decided to order a handful of items off the regular menu and put together our own little tasting.
While valiantly attempting to narrow our top picks down to a manageable count, we sipped on cocktails from the cute little bar in the corner of the dining area. On the right, you’ve got the Fox standby, a Cosmopolitan (“Made with Cointreau, as it should be,” notes Fox). I opted for a house cocktail called the Beaver & Broad (for the intersection outside the restaurant, you naughty kids). It was made with dry gin, elderflower liqueur, Aperol, grapefruit, and rhubarb. What a great balance it had; the bitterness of the grapefruit and Aperol provided an excellent undertone beneath the elderflower’s sweetness.
As we debated, our server Stephanie also brought by some fresh sliced bread and olive oil. It was simple with clean flavors, and it thankfully gave us the strength to bring our menu picks down from “you take this half of the menu, honey, and I’ll take the other half” to a more reasonable level.
Well, reasonable by 101 Achievements standards. We still ordered three apps and a pair of entrees. (Because, moderation: I could spell it in a spelling bee, but I couldn’t tell you what the hell it actually means.)
Our first starter was the Brussels sprouts with garlic scapes and pancetta. Oh wow, were the Brussels firm and supple; just perfectly cooked. The scapes brought a nice kick with them, while the pancetta provided a savory note, along with some crunch along its seared edge. These Brussels just might have been the best we’ve had in Pittsburgh.
Alongside the Brussels, we had an order of pork and chèvre meatballs in a spicy pepper cream. Again, these just killed. They were truly substantial, with perfect density and tenderness. And the cream sauce added a layer of heat that really enhanced everything. (We were happy that the bread kept coming at this point, too, because otherwise we’d have had to lick our plate clean rather than sop up the leftover sauce like civilized folk.)
All that raving and I haven’t even touched on the star of our entree round!
That would be the crispy pork belly with raspberry fig jam and honey. How many ways did this dish impress? Let’s see: 1) The skin cracked under your fork like a creme brûlée. 2) The sweetness of the honey and the jam was incredible, reminiscent of super-slow-cooked barbecue. 3) The spice was notable but not overpowering, even with the jalapeños. 4) The sprinkle of seasoning you see added a pleasant tartness that really harmonized with the savory meat and the sweet base. 5) Did I mention that the name of said seasoning was sumac? (Fear not, though; it’s not the poison kind, just its delicious cousin.)
All the while, we enjoyed some wines from the list — Fox a yummy Cabernet Sauvignon from Les Alliés, France, while I had a Super Tuscan Blend from Piccini Memoro. The blend had a nice note of leather and was surprisingly hearty for an Italian wine. Very sultry.
Once we finished our application to the Clean Plate Club with our apps, it was time to move on to the entree round. I had a totally scrumptious pheasant breast wrapped in bacon, with cherries and peppercorns, accompanied by a green bean and squash salad. The side dish had a very smart combination of textures going on, between the snap of the green beans and the smoothness of the squash. As for the pheasant, it was cooked perfectly (these folks really know their meats). The bacon wrapping gave the tender pheasant a firm surface to play against, and also heightened the savory qualities. And the cherries just burst with sweetness, with the peppercorns hiding amongst them to stab out with spice. Very cool stuff here.
I paired my pheasant with a Malbec from Tussock Jumper in Argentina. It was a heaven-made match, with the chocolate-y tones of the wine locking together with the cherries on the plate.
And what about those beets? They were just right. Granted, quinoa does not have a texture that would fall under “Fox’s Favorites,” but I personally really dug how it worked with the beets. The steak, as we’d come to expect by this point, was a spot-on medium rare. And lastly, the stone ground mustard on the steak added some quite welcome spice; it was definitely a strong addition.
After that totally satisfying main course, it was time to pile on and have some dessert. Fox opted for the flourless chocolate cake, paired with a glass of Taylor Fladgate 10-Year Port. The cake was creamy, gooey perfection with bursts of berry flavor and a pleasant crunch provided by the rolled cookie-like shell on top. It was very rich, but miraculously the richness didn’t weigh the cake down. It was a perfect finisher on the evening.
As for myself, I closed out with a piece of sea salted caramel cheesecake topped with whipped cream. I paired it up with a Cynar & soda, the bitterness of which helped to rein in the sweetness of the dish. But seriously, what amazing cheesecake. It was rich, dense, and everything one could dream a cheesecake to be.
So yes, we had a tremendous time at Vivo Kitchen. The food was mindblowingly good, the service was amazing, and the music inside was right up our alley — a mix of Motown, Cake, Tracy Chapman, Beck, and the original version of “Wagon Wheel” (not that Darius Rucker nonsense). If you’re able to leave the city limits, make a trip here. It’s definitely pricey for a two-person meal, but what a meal it will be!
Vivo is closed on Sundays, so today is the last day to eat there this Restaurant Week. So grab a reservation at Vivo Kitchen via OpenTable immediately!
(Click this link for more recommendations for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Summer 2014.)