Grit & Grace

535 Liberty Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15222 • (412) 281-4748gritandgracepgh.com

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This was the best meal I had in Pittsburgh, not that my time there has been of any impressive duration that you should ever misconstrue my minute sampling as extensive. But in those four short days I managed to pack in a few highs and lows, with Grit and Grace taking pole position.

The winning performance of which I speak takes place in a narrow, subway car-shaped dining room decorated with a minimal contemporary touches so as not to distract you from the small plate army about to descend on your table. From dim sum to sandwiches and then sum, Grit & Grace fills your plate with anything goes. But that’s what makes this place a blast, especially for larger parties so you get to try a little of everything. And per the list below, you will soon see, I truly mean everything.

So, listing them in hierarchical fashion, here we go…

The Brisket Sandwich: It’s all you could ever hope for in a sandwich. Moist. Beefy. Contrasting textures and brightness from the kohlrabi slaw and pickled red onions. A little kick from the horseradish cream and thousand island sabayon. All on a wonderfully fresh baguette that would make any Frenchy proud.

The Mortadella Bun: No. Not a sandwich. A bun. As in dim sum. As in get some. Because this is definitely the best Mortadella sand- er, “bun” I’ve ever had. Loaded with the additions of chicken thigh meat, kimchi and bread & butter pickles, then sauced with coriander mustard and chili aioli. It’s definitely not your usual suspect, but hot damn does the road less travelled taste good!

Pot du crème: I’m normally not a huge fan of the Pot, but then again, I had never eaten at Grit & Grace before. And now I’m a changed man. Probably an Ultimate in the category since the competition is all but non-existent in my eyes. And note to Crème brulée, eat your crème out, ‘cause you’ve got nothing on this.

Lettuce Wraps: Okay, not exactly the sexiest of names, nor is it much of a looker to be honest, but look deeper… and open wide, because the duck confit piled on top of these leaves is loaded with flavor, along with even more kohlrabi (of the fermented persuasion), peanuts and cilantro.

Pork belly bites: Anything that starts with the words “pork belly” is already halfway to the promised land by default. Which can be both a blessing and a curse, because it’s that much harder to stand out in land where the bar is pre-set to high. Nonetheless, these “bites” had a favorable showing, glazed with orange, chili, garlic and a nice kiss of ginger.

Roasted octopus and mussels: This was the most conflicted dish of the night, being both good and bad at the same time. The octopus itself being the good, done nice and tender, as are the potatoes, which soak up the lemongrass broth like a champ. On the flip side, the mussels are the Bad. Tiny and overcooked, tasting like shriveled up wads of mollusk.

Carrot salad: In the midst of such culinary wizardry, it’s a bit hard for salads to make a lasting impression, but I do have to say that this one has a nice Asian kick to it.

Tomato salad: Conversely to the Carrot Salad, this one takes a decidedly Mexican approach to its flavors, which, while good, didn’t fare quite as well with the overall theme of cuisine.

Kimchi: It’s fine, but to present it as its own dish is a bit remiss. It’s a gloried condiment to be fair and that’s all you should use it for, to add some nice kick to the other dishes you find lacking.

Meatballs: I’m not sure if these were the ones normally served with ramen, but perhaps they should’ve been, because by themselves they were a tad underwhelming.

Pastrami sandwich: I wanted to love this one so much more than I did, but compared to the Mortadella bun or the Brisket Sandwich it’s an ugly stepsister. But not for a lack of trying, with accouterments like broccoli rabe, roasted garlic aioli and provolone cheese whiz you’d think it was Philly’s second coming. Sadly though, it’s just a false alarm.

Short ribs: Like the pork belly, this is another one of those dishes that usually has me at “hello.” And when you place it on a biscuit smothered with friggin’ béchamel, you’re definitely going for broke. But that’s what happened. It broke. They pushed this little dish so far, it overshot decadent and landed right splat on the face of “I wish I hadn’t done this.”

Soba noodles with crab: Remember that kimchi I mentioned? Save it for this dish. It’s crazy bland and in dire need of some kimchi lovin’, which is the worst name ever for a Korean porno.

Peach cake: Speaking of worsts, this was the most unfortunate of recommendations from our server and easily the lowest point of the meal. Dry, bland and unworthy of the term “dessert,” bringing no joy and only caloric guilt in its wake.

Other than that final transgression, the service really was excellent and the wine choices by the glass, while minimal, were fantastic. I had one white and one red and both were much better than your average bear.

So now that you’re done reading my novel about Grit & Grace (I told you we tried everything) you can certainly see that there are some land mines to be avoided. But with so many highs and two Ultimates, I find it hard to dole out anything lower than a quad.

4 teeth

Westchester Burger Co.

106 Westchester Ave. White Plains, NY 10601 •  (914) 358-9398westchesterburger.com
353 N Bedford Rd. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 218-3200

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Please don’t take these three knives lightly. I mean these guys custom season every burger to match its accoutrements. And as a result, there are burgers on the menu that easily make their way into the four knife realm. The problem, is that there are a lot of two knife burgers as well. And the sweet potato fries that everybody raves about are just “eh.” If you really want sweet potato fries to rock your world, go to Blue Smoke in Manhattan. Also, the shakes, while good, get by more on the guilty add-ins as opposed to the ice cream base.

But back to some of those four knife burgers… Numero uno would be the Napa Burger- WOW! Almost every time I don’t get this, I regret it. Fortunately it’s too big for my wife to finish, so I usually get a few bites anyways. So what makes this burger so good it guaranteed a return visit all on its own? Well, first, they marinate the patty in a Zinfandel sauce and top it with goat cheese and watercress- all aboard a sweet brioche bun. It’s somethin’ special.

Another high would be the Ba Da Bing, made with spicy Italian sausage, as opposed to ground beef, broccoli rabe, provolone, balsamic glaze all atop a focaccia bun. It’s quite inventive and quite good.

And coming in third for me would be the lamb burger served with squash and zucchini, a yogurt sauce and once again, focaccia. They can go a little crazy with the sauce on this one, so I’d recommend asking them to go light or to put it on the side.

In the middle of the road would be their namesake, the TWC – their classic with a twist, or as I like to call it, a high end Whopper. Good, but nothing I would ever order again.

Same goes for the Graziella, The Balboa and The Firehouse. Just nothing about any of them makes a big enough impression to make it worth ordering again. Especially the Firehouse. I mean with a name like that, you’re expecting some heat. C’mon, break out the habaneros or jalapenos or chili peppers- hell, break out something other than just chili.

Service was friendly and fast and they are always great with the kids. Decor is nothing THAT special, however. Not sure why so many people rave about how cool it is. Guess they don’t spend much time in the city… or at Chipotle. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s pretty normal by my standards. Like a Chipotle.

3 teeth