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On a recent snowy evening, Ben and I made our way to Alma (corner of S Braddock and Forbes). Alma is a spot I have been eyeing up since its opening last summer.

Alma describes itself as a Pan-Latin restaurant, serving dishes from various Latin countries. The Alma website speaks of the desire to showcase the African based nuances of many traditional Latin dishes. Additionally, the owners of Alma also own Abay, a popular Ethiopian restaurant located near Penn Circle. I’ve been to Abay and definitely enjoyed the unique menu.

A call to Alma let me know that the space does not take  reservations for parties under 6. When we arrived around 8PM (on a Friday), we were told there was a half hour wait. This didn’t prove to be a problem as we were able to hop over to Alma’s ‘Cantina’ space, a recent addition to the restaurant. Alma Cantina can be accessed through the restaurant or via a separate entrance on Forbes Ave. The space is pretty small (2 or 3 hightops, one table, 4-5 seats at the bar) but we snagged an open table and quickly ordered mojitos. The mojito was a great contrast to the wintery mix swirling past the windows. You can ordered a small menu in the cantina – tacos, a cuban sandwich. We ended up being seated in about twenty minutes.

The main dining space is not particularly large but is cheerful and has a casual feel. Our server had great energy and quickly informed us of the evening’s specials after being seated. Based on her recommendation, I ended up ordering a scallop special. Also, we were actually visiting during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week and so Ben opted for the $25 pri fix restaurant week menu. Regular entree prices range from the mid teens to low twenties.

Our meal opened with Ben’s arugula salad. It was well contructed and dressed with fresh ingredients, including mango and red pepper. Our mains quickly followed. My scallops were seriously amazing. They sat on a bed of pureed root vegetable and were served with avocado and a ginger sauce. Something magical was happening on that plate. The combination of flavors had Ben and I scraping every last bit of the sauce from the plate and I savored every one of the perfectly cooked scallops. So good. I actually did not end up tasting Ben’s pork – he said it was good but my scallops beat his plate for sure.

Dessert was a taste of the tres leches cake that came with Ben’s meal. I wasn’t sold on my first bite (colder and more custard-y than I expected) but I quickly changed my mind and enjoyed the almost eggy/milky texture of the cake. Now I want to make tres leches cake at home 🙂

I would definitely like to return to Alma. The fact that Ben and I can walk to Alma also certainly adds to its appeal. I am not sure I have been to another spot like this in Pittsburgh – a spot with upscale Latin American food. My visit makes me want to check out the other Latin-American restaurants that popped up this year in the ‘burgh (thinking of Verde and Aji Picante).  Any restaurant with flavors that can transport you from the cold P-burgh winter to somewhere warmer is a favorite cold weather spot of mine.

Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Cibo (1103 S Braddock – Regent Square):

Ben and I had been trying to coordinate a double date with some other med school friends for awhile when we finally got together over dinner at Cibo. I read some varied online reviews of the space but was ready to give it a try due to the lovely company and the proximity to Ben’s apartment. 

Unfortunately, the night got off to a bit of a rocky start. We arrived on time for a 9PM reservation. As I scanned the small space, I didn’t see any tables that were near completing their meal – not a good sign. The host was very nice but did inform us that they were running behind. He handed over some drink coupons for The Loft (a bar above D’s Six Pax and Dogz that I did not know existed) and took down our cell phone number. As we were in no particular rush, we took it in stride and met our friends at The Loft. After a round of drinks, we released it was nearly 9:40PM and we still had not been called. We decided to walk back over to Cibo to investigate.

As we arrived, the host rushed over to tell us they were just clearing a table. We were seated and offered a complimentary meat and cheese plate due to our inconvenience – a very nice touch. Our group was in good spirits and took the wait in stride. However, I could see circumstances where this wait would not be acceptable. However, everyone we encountered was very friendly and helpful and I understand how the small space could get backed up and affect a late reservation. I know Ben and I are abnormal in making 9PM dinner reservations in the ‘burgh. Someday we will learn.

Our waiter did not rush us at all, which was appreciated. Unfortunately, they were out of a few things on the menu though. I ended up ordering the Zuppa de Pesce which was a huge portion of juicy shrimp, clams, mussels, and lovely white fish in a light garlickly broth. To be honest, I am not sure what the others ordered although everyone else ended up with pasta. And everyone cleaned their plates. Plates with big portions of pasta on them. Could have been the hour, could have been the drinks (Cibo is BYO, yay!) – but everyone was happily slurping through their meals. I tasted Ben’s pasta and it was perfectly al dente.

I give Cibo a definite thumbs up, despite the reservation issue.  They handled the mishap with as much hospitality as possible (we had all but forgotten about it by the end of the meal which I think it a great sign of customer service) and in the end served us a solid meal. This place is a step above the normal Pittsburgh Italian American food but still serves big portions in a casual environment. I would definitely recommend Cibo to others but please do make a reservation. The space is small.

Cibo on Urbanspoon

Las Velas (Market Square – Downtown) –

I have been trying to get to Las Velas for awhile. I believe I bought a Groupon (maybe LivingSocial?) for the spot in 2010. Then Las Velas experienced a devastating fire which forced the restaurant to temporarily close. And then my Groupon expired before they reopened (which I still probably look into – never got my money back on that).

And so, I made my first trip to Las Velas about 2 weeks ago for lunch. I was with a group of six so we tried to arrive on the early side to get seated and attempt to avoid a bit of the noon rush. We were seated quickly but unfortunately things went downhill a bit from there. It probably took 10 minutes to get drinks, another 10 to order, and then a good 25-30 minutes before the food arrived. And then we had no silverware. Hmmm. This didn’t seem to be a well polished lunch service. I ordered the carnitas tacos and they were just ok.

Although I think I would return and give this place another try for dinner (I have seen positive reviews!) I know the other people I was dining with were not impressed and likely will not return. That’s a bit of a shame. I know lunch hours can be crazy but this just seemed like too much disorganization and wait time for average food.

Las Velas on Urbanspoon

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Here are some quickie thoughts on recent restaurant visits:

Park Bruges (5801 Bryant Street – Highland Park):

Ben and I had Sunday brunch here about a month ago. This is a sister restaurant to the popular Point Brugge in Point Breeze.

For brunch, I had a lovely butternut squash and goat cheese frittata and Ben had an Italian breakfast sandwich. Service was friendly (although we did wait awhile for the food) and the space is really bright and lovely. This would be a great place to catch up with family or friends. This is a spot that is much more polished than a diner but not prententious or unapproachable or anything like that. Also, as I am a huge fan of moules and frites, I would like to return for dinner and try those dishes. A solid addition to Bryant Street and Highland Park.

Park Bruges on Urbanspoon

Meat and Potatoes (649 Penn Ave – Cultural District – Downtown):

Ben and I joined another couple for dinner here on Light Up Night. As I had read about service issues in several reviews, I was a little concerned about what we might encounter on Light up Night, a sure-to-busy evening. Meat and Potatoes bills itself as a gastropub. The menu is small but predictabley very meat heavy.

I was pleased to find we had no service issues. Drink orders were promptly taken. My wine was served in a jelly jar type glass – not sure how I feel about that but I rolled with the gastropub-ish theme. The bar here is beautiful. I would gladly return here for a drink before any downtown event. They had an interesting and unique cocktail list. The bar was all light marble and black accents and pretty bottles. Casual but sexy.

For dinner, I ordered the tacos. They were quite tasty. Deliciously tender brisket meat and salty/sweet/spicy accompaniments. The order came with 3 well stuffed tacos. Two others at the table went for sandwiches and the other got the fish and chips. We also ordered the poutine (fries topped with gravy and cheese curds) as an appetizer. This was a ton of heavy/borderline greasy food – portion sizes were large. While everything tasted really good, I think we all left feeling weighed down and parched. I admit my insistence on briskly hiking up to my Steel Building office minutes after signing for the bill may have added to this feeling. But what better way is there to view the fireworks?

Not sure I would rush back to Meat and Potatoes. To be fair, this is mostly due to my veggie leaning tendencies. However, although everyone liked their meals but no one seemed overly wowed.

Meat & Potatoes on Urbanspoon

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A Walk Through Shadyside

calvary episcopal

 

squirrel!

 

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Happy Thanksgiving

My aunt and uncle hosted 40+ people at their beautiful home for Thanksgiving.

thanksgiving set up

 It was a lovely holiday, full of family. Both sets of my grandparents were there. I always feel so thankful and blessed when I have them all in the same room. Makes me heart happy.

We had all the staples – turkey, green bean casserole, vegetables, corn, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes. My addition was roasted brussel sprouts with a bacon/mapple glaze.

I plan to spend the rest of the break relaxing, seeing friends, decorating for the holidays, and (maybe) shopping. I hope your holiday has been as lovely and enjoyable as mine. I truly have so much to be thankful for.

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Shenandoah Valley

Last weekend, Ben and I embarked on another random getaway, this time to the Shenandoah Valley.

shenandoah national park

The drive from Pittsburgh is about 4 hours. Fairly scenic. In the daylight. Not so much at around 8PM on a Friday night but such is life.

We stayed at the Stonewall Jackson Inn. Lightly civil war themed, this bed and breakfast was pretty nice. A big airy light filled room, good food, and a cool old house with interesting architecture.

When considering staying at a B&B, I always imagine myself conversing with the innkeeper and other guests and joining in the social scene of  the B&B. But then I get there and remember sometimes I don’t like to be social. Oops. Everyone we came across was very friendly but we stuck mostly to our private room when we weren’t out and about.

Stonewall Jackson Inn did put together some pretty killer breakfasts. We had eggs benedict one morning and croissant french toast the next. I cleaned my plate both mornings.

foyer of Stonewall Jackson Inn

Our main point of interest in the area was Shenandoah National Park.  On Saturday, under a shockingly blue sky, we drove along Skyline Drive.

skyline drive

We stopped at overlooks, took lots of pictures, and hiked a very small part of the Appalachian Trail.  Here is Ben posing enthusiastically next to a trail marker.

appalachian trail

We have both recently read Bill Bryson’s ‘A Walk in the Woods’ – a book in which he chronicles his attempt to hike the enitre AT. The AT runs from Georgia to Maine.  Based on Bryson’s trials and tribulation in the book, I think I saw plenty during our quick walk.

After beautiful Shenandoah, we made our way to CrossKeys Vineyards. In an ideal world, I would always schedule a wine tasting as a follow up to a nature based event.  The winery and tasting room were very nice (bigger and more modern that I expected) and CrossKeys has an amazing patio overlooking the rolling hills of Virginia where you can sit and enjoy a bottle or glass of wine you have purchased inside. Loved this place.

cross keys winery

During our weekend we also had dinner at the Joshua Wilton House and explored downtown Harrisonburg. All 3 blocks of it 😉

It was a lovely and relaxing weekend. Great thanks to my sweet Ben for planning it 🙂

 On the drive back we passed Bedford Springs and I decided that is the location of our next random getaway…

Until then…

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Sweet Potato Soup

After seeing this Sweet Potato, Apple, Carrot, and Lentil soup linked over at Lindsay’s site, I decided to give it a try.

chop chop

It turned out pretty good.  I did puree it and it was smooth and creamy and well balanced (although I did add a little more broth/apple cider I had on hand to thin it out). Sometimes soups like this can leave me a bit gaggy to be honest – too thick and one note. However, when served with some greek yogurt and chopped walnuts, I wolfed this right down. As did Ben.  I served this with a salad and some hearty crackers. Another great fall dish.

Work has calmed down and I am finally back in the kitchen and realizing how much I missed it 🙂

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I am forever behind on write-ups of places and spaces I have recently dined. Here are some thoughts on (semi) recent visits to two new-to-me spots; Vivo in Sewickley and Gypsy Cafe in the Southside.

Vivo – Sewickley

I ended up at Vivo (432 Beaver Street, Sewickley) after a classmate of Ben’s (hi Wynne!) discovered my blog and was surprised to see Ben’s smiling face plastered amongst the pages. She extended an invite to try Vivo on a recent Friday night. Ben and I made the drive to Sewickley, easily found parking, and found Wynne and her husband seated at a great table. I loved the vibe of Vivo – somewhat minimalistic (whites, blacks, greys) but warm, with great light fixtures and a pretty backlit bar. Even though Vivo does have a liquor license, they welcome you to BYO, which is what we did.

To start, Ben and I ordered the short rib appetizer to share. This was really good. The portion was hearty and a great thick, slightly sweet, gooey, crunchy crust covered the meat. The table also tried to the marrow appetizer – it was novel, tasty and rich but not something I think I could eat alot of!

For my entree, I ordered the scallops. The meal came with roasted baby carrots and a black bean/succotash-like side (note: we dined about a month ago and it seems the menu has already changed, FYI). While my meal was very good (the roasted carrots were exceptional – sweet and perfectly crisp/tender), I think it fell a little short of my expectations after the appetizer. Nevertheless, the conversation, ambiance, and service were great and I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at Vivo. If I lived closer, I would definitely give it another try – just not sure it’s worth the drive from Shadyside on food alone. There was also an outdoor seating space that looked pretty amazing though. Maybe I’ll head back next summer 🙂

Gypsy Cafe – Southside

A month or so ago, Ben and I enjoyed a Thursday night meal at Gypsy Cafe  (Corner of 14th and Bingham Street, Southside) using an about to expire Groupon. We arrived around 6PM and were barely seated due to reservations. This place must be more popular than I thought!

After getting settled and ordering drinks (a Magic Hat and a zinfandel) we perused the menu. According the their website, the Gypsy Cafe menu offers “a path through Europe, offering an eclectic selection of homestyle dishes“. Fair enough. I ordered the Szekely Goulash, a dish of slow cooked pork, onions bacon and saurkraut, spiked with Hungarian Paprika and served over noodles. Ben ordered a pasta, peppers, and sausage based dish that no longer appears to be on the seasonal menu.

Our meals arrived quickly and I enjoyed my comforting bowl of noodles and slowly braised meat. The dish had a slight kick but nothing overpowering. The portion was very generous. Our entrees came with a nice little house salad.

I am not sure Ben was overly enamored with his dish – it was a bit spicier and contained almost too much sausage. Overall, I am not sure how I feel about Gypsy Cafe. I liked my dish but it’s not something I would generally crave or seek out. The space was a bit more sparse and casual than I anticipated.

Nevertheless, I am glad we tried Gypsy Cafe and would love to go back for dinner and a tarot card reading. There was nothing really wrong with the food and it is certainly a unique spot but I am just not sure where a Hungarian leaning restaurant fits into my normal dining out routine.

Also, I recalled recently reading something about the Gypsy Cafe closing or being for sale. A little googling turned up this Pittsburgh Business Times article from August that speaks to the possible sale of Gypsy Cafe. I am not sure of the status of the sale at this point. In anyone has any info, drop me a note in the comments!

Vivo Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Gypsy Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Smiles on a random weeknight.

Ben and I made these Bourbon Pumpkin Pie Milkshakes from Jessica at How Sweet It is. This girl is a fellow ‘burgher and has an awesome blog full of amazing looking recipes. These were darn tasty and very rich. I could have went for slightly more spice but the general idea of adding bourbon to a milkshake is life changing.

After the milkshakes, I went a little bourbon crazy and also made the Salted Brown Butter Bourbon Rice Krispy Treats from last week’s Post Gazette. I took them to a party and people kind of went nuts for them. The novelty of bourbon in a childhood snack pretty much had everyone talking about and trying the treats. I would definitely make these again, possibly adding a little bit more than six cups of rice krispies – mine were a little overly gooey.

I also enjoyed a nice bourbon and coke while dressed up as Wonder Woman for Halloween. I might be bourboned-out for a bit. I’ll be back though.

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When I started thinking about costumes I have worn through the years, I was convinced that I have been very creative. However, after reviewing Halloweens past, I am not so sure about that (please see the cat below). Regardless, it is fun to reminisce. I only have photographic evidence of Halloweens 2005 and beyond, although I did have some killer costumes as a child. I recall a borrowed Chiquita Banana costume that was pretty bad-ass and something I would love to wear today.

Anyways, just for fun, let me present – ‘Snickie, Through the Years (In Costume).

Halloween 2005

 In 2005, I decided to do Halloween as a bag of frozen broccoli. This was impossibly hilarious to myself and my pictured friend (The Jolly Green Giant of course!) and likely puzzling to anyone else we came in contact with. I was proud of that broccoli hat though. I had a guy suggestively tell me that broccoli was his favorite vegetable that night. Oh, college.
 

Halloween 2006

 
Although you can’t see me very well, I spent Halloween 2006 as ‘Sexy Shrek’. Oh boy. I am pictured here in my Shrek ‘ears’ with a bunch of my sorority sisters in the Southside. I believe the cops broke up this party shortly thereafter with some confusion as to whether they were actual cops or costumed guests. Oh boy, I really do miss college.
 

Halloween 2007

 
Halloween 2007 included a party in my brand new grown up apartment in Shadyside. My angel costume was a bit uninspired but I recall having had Lasik (for the 2nd time – grr) the day before the shin-dig. I briefly considered going as a one of the three blind mice but couldn’t get my act together in time. Wings and halo it was.

Halloween 2008

 I hit my creative Halloween low in 2008.  An old dance costume, a tail, and a mask were purrfectly lame. I don’t even have any proper fuzzy ears. Sad.

Halloween 2009

Halloween 2009 is when I realized that as a busy working woman, I needed to plan ahead in order to be looking sharp for the Halloween holiday. This was the first year I ever ordered part of my costume on-line and I think I made a solid pick with the Kate Gosselin wig. She was at the height of her celebrity and general shenanigans.  Other parts of the ensemble were from my personal collection. This was a well received costume. I did have a Jon with me, dressed in an Ed Hardy shirt, baseball cap, and shades.

Halloween 2010

After the success of my 2009 costume, I decided to go the wig route again in 2010 and ordered my Snookie wig well in advance of October 31st.  I was worried the parties I attended would be littered with Snookies but I only came across one other. With my (homemade) bejeweled glasses, it was no competition. I am ‘around the shore-house’ casual Snookie in the above photo but I brought out some leopard print the next evening – in case you were questioning my authenticity.

Halloween 2011

Halloween 2011 was another success. Ben and I dressed as Captain America and Wonder Woman. Although my costume turned out slightly more revealing than anticipated, I was still happy with the end result. Ben made an impressive showing by putting together his costume from random clothing items, dollar store foam paper, and medical tape a mere hour before gametime. I also made a clutch decision by traveling to my parents’ house to retrieve my beloved childhood Felicity (of the American Girl Dolls) cape. Great thanks to the Pleasant Company for producing such a well made cape.  It has far exceeded my expectations of usability beyond my younger years.

And so that concludes my Halloween story. Sort of randomly personal for Snickie but I do what I want around here.

Any favorite costumes past you would like the share? Please do!

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