Produced + Written by Andrea Bosco • Photographs by Michael Fornataro • Styling + Art Direction by Samantha Casale + Jason Solak • Assisted by Brianna Pflugh • Illustrations by Cheney O’Neal
We’re welcoming our second annual Chef’s Best Dish feature and event with open arms and appetites, as last year’s success proved extra special. Pittsburgh chefs are back at it, creating handpicked dishes with fresh, seasonal ingredients. We’ve changed up our tablescape to blue hues in Chinoiserie and toile, our original inspiration. The following dishes will give you a taste of what to expect on November 18. Join WHIRL Magazine and hundreds of Pittsburgh foodies and chefs for a fall fest of cuisine. We’ll gather from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Circuit Center & Ballroom, where an array of samplings will be on-hand for tasting — then voting! Choose which dish belongs in the following categories: Best Seasonal, Best Presentation, Best Dessert, Best “Pittsburgh,” and Best Overall. Complimentary cocktails and a cash bar will be available, and a portion of the profits will benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Come hungry, come all!
For tickets, visit whirlmagazine.com/bestdish.
[Special thanks to Whitney Kevech of All Occasions Party Rental for the tableware; Susie Perelman and Gianni Scarpino of Mosaic, Inc. and John Gurman of LOOM Exquisite Textiles for the linens; and Bill Chisnell of Bill Chisnell Productions for the florals.]
In true whimsical fashion, Altius Executive Chef Jessica Bauer whips up the “Duck, Duck, Goose,” served with creamy polenta, wilted kale, and housemade brioche smeared with goose liver mousse. The witty entrée is prepared with duck breast, duck confit, and cherry duck jus. It’s the perfect playground for a creative palate.
Pasta Angelina is one of the most popular choices at Angelo’s Restaurant in Washington. Executive Chef George Austin combines Cavatappi macaroni; tomatoes; onions; and Fontinella, Romano, and Feta cheeses. Then, he sweetens it up with a colorful peck of peppers. “We call this our grown-up mac ’n cheese,” says Austin.
Bella Sera owner Jason Capps and Executive Chef Giuseppe Di Gristina chose a fall favorite: Pollo Pavarotti. Made with tender chicken breast, lightly breaded and stuffed with sharp Fontina, prosciutto, and mint, the dish is served with a crimini mushroom sauce. Says Di Gristina, “Jason and I love to work with wild mushrooms, and the Pavarotti sauce is somewhat sweet with the anisette, Marsala, and brandy in there.” Bellissimo!
“I love food, so for me cooking is an offering. I’m giving some of myself to the public,” says Bigham Tavern Executive Chef Les D. Murphy. He cooks up the Big Hammy Mac ’n Cheese, a signature item, which features baked ham, cured ham, honey ham, housemade pulled pork, mesquite seasoning, chopped bacon, macaroni noodles, white cheddar, sharp cheddar, and Monterey Jack cheese. Says Murphy, “The ability to create is why I do what I do.”
Braddock’s Pittsburgh Brasserie Executive Chef Jason Shaffer features his Bourbon Candied Pork Chop, a hit he introduced at this year’s Savor Pittsburgh. The People’s Choice award-winning combination incorporates grits from Delta Grind in New Orleans, La.; bacon and onion confit; and whiskey barbecue glaze. This comforting meal is Southern, Pittsburgh, and a signature at the restaurant.
Celebrating 35 years in business as Pittsburgh’s premier artisan bakery, BreadWorks, a North Side neighborhood staple, produces and delivers bread seven days a week (with its 24-year-old sourdough starter!), donating many loaves to those in need. Curbing our cravings, co-owner Fred Hartman presents the Mini Sour Boule, Sourdough Rustic, Walnut Raisin, Tuscan, and Eppi. This Thanksgiving season, pop in for a loaf of Sweet Egg Bread or Pumpkin.
Burgh Bites Cart
When picking the best ingredients for the Burgh Bites Cart menu, owner Ricci Minella often starts in his own garden. Here, he plates braised pork, pickled cucumber, red onion, dill sour cream, and fresh cilantro on a sweet potato chip. Minella says he’s inspired by Pittsburgh’s ever-evolving food scene, and, in fact, this creation won Best “Pittsburgh” at last year’s Chef’s Best Dish event! In one crunchy bite, it all makes sense.
“Pumpkin seems to be all the craze,” says Cioppino Restaurant & Cigar Bar Pastry Chef Meghann Walsh. With that said, Walsh delivers with her tasty pumpkin cheesecake, topped with graham cracker crumble, served with cinnamon liqueur-marinated cranberries and a cranberry crème fraîche mousse, and garnished with spun sugar. The dessert is so popular that Walsh says she cannot keep up with demand! I’ll have another, please.
Common Plea Catering
Common Plea Catering Executive Chef Tom Dunne and his team frequently change up the presentation of this versatile dish. The roasted, stuffed pork tenderloin is wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon, filled with a grape and walnut stuffing, and served with Parmesan- and potato-layered strudel. Comprised of all local ingredients, the dish is plated with corn purée, a fall Brussels sprouts and cranberry medley, and a garnish of corn shoots.
Cornerstone Restaurant & Bar Executive Chef Jason Mooney sources his menu from six farmers and game rangers in Western Pennsylvania. Here, he presents venison sausage, wild boar chop, and elk strip loin over turnip, rutabaga, and sweet potato hash. Mooney tops it off with a juniper berry red wine reduction for “an earthier flavor that cuts into the gaminess of the meat itself.”
D’s Six Pax & Dogz
Chef Corey Flesse of D’s Six Pax & Dogz brings back a crowd favorite. The Franksgiving Dog is all things Thanksgiving over turkey sausage on a poppy seed bun. The works include a bread-based stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, gravy, and a side of cranberry sauce. “It’s always a good prelude into the season,” says Flesse. Pair it with a pumpkin beer and, for that, you’ll be thankful.
Donato’s owner and Executive Chef Donato Coluccio finds balance “between classic, traditional, and creative items” on his Fox Chapel restaurant’s menu. Here, he presents all-natural Piedmontese New York Strip; steak frites, made of organic fingerling potatoes; and a truffle aioli. “We stick to seasonal and local as much as possible,” says Coluccio. “I attribute our menu balance to the kitchen, too. We have seasoned, veteran chefs and rookies who complement each other well.”
“We hand select Greater Omaha, grain-fed beef and grill on an open flame using just sea salt and pepper to enhance, not mask, the great beef flavor,” says Eddie Merlot’s Executive Chef Raymond Dial. His 16-ounce filet is grilled to perfection and finished with whipped, unsalted butter, truffle shavings, truffle oil, and chives. It’s definitely decadent.
Girasole Executive Chef Jennifer Gerasole combines the Shadyside restaurant’s expertise in serving fresh seafood and its infinite love of seasonal dishes to create a fall crudo. The thinly sliced, raw sea scallop is plated with butternut squash and truffle cream. “I really like the idea of featuring raw fish at its freshest point, since we use such fresh fish daily,” says Gerasole.
Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar
Head Chef Fernando DaSilva runs the kitchen at Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar, a next door neighbor to its sister restaurant, Mallorca. Here, he presents a bestseller on the Tapas Calientes menu. The Costillar de Cordero con Salsa de Soja Barbacoa y Guisantes Wasabi is a rack of lamb with hoisin soy barbecue sauce and wasabi peas. Bring on the heat!
Kaya Executive Chef Benjamin Sloan loves playing with his food. Using stellar ingredients, Sloan crafts three unique tacos: The Tuna Poke Taco, made with raw, sushi-grade tuna, cucumber, scallions, sesame seeds, avocado, soy, citrus juice, ginger, garlic, radishes, and micro-greens; the Vegan Mushroom Taco, comprised of a variety of mushrooms, including Hen and Chicken of the Woods, and Chanterelles, oil, garlic, “a hit” of ancho chile, pea shoots, and pickled red onions; and the Steak Taco. While noshing, pair it with a Grapefruit Basil Margarita — guaranteed to put you on island time.
Ligonier Country Inn
Ligonier Country Inn in the Laurel Highlands hosts a music series, a wine-making course, weddings, and much more. The restaurant, run by Executive Chef Maggie Nied, features “down home favorites,” such as Chicken Ligonier. Made with a boneless chicken breast, stuffed with Provolone and garlic butter, and rolled in seasoned breadcrumbs, it’s baked to a golden hue and served with rice, farm fresh vegetables, and flour pot bread — a Nied specialty.
Mallorca Head Chef Fernando DaSilva shares with us his 2.5-pound lobster, stuffed with crabmeat and shrimp. Featuring fine dining from the heart of Spain, the 23-year-old South Side restaurant prides itself on its Spanish cuisine and award-winning wine list. We suggest pairing this seafood lover’s dream with a buttery Chardonnay!
McCormick & Schmick’s
McCormick & Schmick’s Executive Chef Ricky Kirsop builds a beautiful, deconstructed paella, a dish he first learned in culinary school. He uses Portuguese chorizo, smoked red pepper powder, saffron risotto, peas, tuna, mussels, clams, scallops, lobster, shrimp, and radish in a smoked saffron tomato sauce. “I always keep in mind execution,” says Kirsop. “I like a balance of something that’s easy to execute, but still maintains the integrity of how I created the dish to be.”
Monterey Bay Fish Grotto
This “visually inspiring feature” at Monterey Bay Fish Grotto is one of Sous Chef Joe Shandor’s favorites. The colorful dish showcases citrus-broiled Alaskan halibut, cider-braised kale, and roasted parsnip and butternut squash with sea salt, pepper, and sage. It’s finished with pickled onions and micro-greens. Beverage Director Nick Hayes suggests pairing it with a wine that would cut the dish’s acidic undertones, like Calera Viognier, Mt. Harlan, 2011.
Famous for its innovative sushi rolls, Nakama Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar serves up sushi in South Side, Wexford, Heinz Field, CONSOL Energy Center, PNC Park, Carnegie Mellon University, and via two food trucks. Here, Head Sushi Chef & Manager Sang Woo presents the Spicy Typhoon Roll, made with spicy tuna, jalapeño, shrimp tempura, salmon, avocado, and a spicy mango sauce. The Nakama maki is comprised of crab, avocado, and cucumber, and is topped with spicy tuna and fresh tuna. Next, the Red Dragon roll is made with spicy tuna, cucumber, fresh tuna, and avocado, and is topped with eel sauce. Lastly, the Green Dragon roll features seaweed salad, asparagus, fresh mango, and is topped with avocado and spicy mango sauce.
Pastitsio owner Matt Bournias awakens our senses with his spin on traditional baklava. Using walnuts, simple syrup, honey, cinnamon, cloves, and orange zest, he garnishes the Greek dessert with blackberry compote. “In Greece, we call them spoon sweets,” he says. “The compote gives it a homey, pie flavor. We add different berries to it, which makes it appealing during any season.”
San Lorenzo Ristorante
This dish is San Lorenzo Ristorante owner David Ariondo’s go-to during cooler months. He keeps it seasonal and “rustic, authentic Italian” with polenta, Cotechino sausage, a sunny-side-up egg, and Ricotta Salata — an aged Ricotta cheese, sliced and flaked, for a finishing touch. “This combination of ingredients makes for a heartier type of dish,” he says. The Lawrenceville locale finds its Cotechino sausage at Parma Sausage in the Strip District — an added bonus.
SAVOY Pastry Chef Ericka Idler is skilled in whipping up award-winning desserts. Last year, her Salted Caramel Torte triumphed, leading to the restaurant’s Best Overall win. Here, she serves up Apple Pie Cheesecake, comprised of a roasted Granny Smith apple, vanilla bean cheesecake, cinnamon sugar graham cracker sable, apple cider ice cream, and Tennessee honey whiskey caramel. Garnished with white chocolate pearls, the dessert won Best Dessert at Savor Pittsburgh and is the product of Idler’s quest “to think outside the box.”
We’re crazy for the Pato Loco, the barbecue duck confit taco on Seviche’s taco menu. “It’s different,” says Seviche Executive Chef James Rogers, who has revamped the taco menu to make it more “fun and playful, using cured and braised meats.” Served with avocado crema, pickled red cabbage, smoked pineapple, and Fresno chile hot sauce, Pato Loco won Dish of the Year at Savor Pittsburgh — an honor duly deserved.
“This dish shows how Shady Grove takes bar food and elevates it to another level,” says owner Matt Turbiner. He serves the sushi-grade ahi tuna on potato latkes with wasabi crème fraîche and Sriracha. Says Turbiner, “It’s heavier with the potato element, yet has the lightness of the ahi tuna.”
Sirena Taco Joint & Bar
Aside from nearly 20 taco choices at Sirena Taco Joint & Bar, the paella is a staple entrée. Executive Chef John Bingham, who hails from the U.S. Virgin Islands, personalizes this dish with yellow rice, seafood sofrito, shrimp, scallops, chorizo, and mussels. The Baja-inspired McMurray restaurant features favorites like Mexican Street Corn and Crispy Pork Belly, too.
Six Penn Kitchen
Six Penn Kitchen Executive Chef Cory Hughes utilizes his rooftop garden to incorporate as many homegrown plants and herbs into his menu as possible. Here, he displays a new fall entrée, osso buco, made with Jamison Farm lamb and served over celery root purée, with cauliflower salad, chermoula, and a black currant jus. John Jamison provides specialty cuts of lamb just for Hughes, who is already planning winter dishes, which include local venison.
Slate Bistro owners Cheryl Tacka and Dave Sgro are celebrating the Bethel Park restaurant’s two-year anniversary with their go-to fall menu item: Flat Iron Sea Scallops. Grilled with a heavy sear, the scallops join pancetta, lentils, an apple cider reduction, and a garnish of grilled apples for a perfectly balanced plate. “It’s seasonal and really easy to make,” Tacka says.
Soba Executive Chef Dustin Gardner whips up a tasty, buttery Chilean Sea Bass, plated with Brussels sprouts, Hen of the Woods wild mushrooms, and miso mustard. He adds extra aroma with his use of garlic and ginger. Says Gardner, “This dish represents what we do at Soba during the fall season.” Simply delicious.
Inspired by the seasons, Sonoma Executive Chef Jeffrey Caulkins creates dishes “from earth to plate.” Utilizing local purveyors, he presents Kurobuta Tenderloin, wrapped in pancetta, and served with savory chorizo bread pudding, curry creamed kale, and cherry gastrique. “It’s very Pittsburgh,” Caulkins says. “It’s comfortable but refined.”
The Fluted Mushroom
The Fluted Mushroom chefs Chris Snee and Tracy Edwards present a traditional Moroccan feast using tagines, or earthenware pots, which originated in North Africa. The curried lamb with cous cous is served with roasted tri-colored carrots, chanterelles, baby fennel, and olive oil-poached baby leeks. Colorful additions to the spread include a salad of butternut squash, purple fingerlings, chick peas, sweet peas, and potatoes; charred heirloom tomatoes with feta and extra-virgin olive oil; red and pink poached baby beets; caramelized quince; and spicy red pepper tapenade.
The Terrace Room
Fresh for fall, The Terrace Room at the Omni William Penn Hotel has introduced a new, seasonal menu. Tempt your taste buds with the Skuna Bay Salmon. Sous Chef Mike Zawojski says the restaurant makes little alterations to it here and there, and that it’s a cross between a salad and an entrée. Beautifully plated, the dish is served over black “jeweled” rice, a lemon-frisé salad with a beet vinaigrette, beet strings, and crispy chives. It is as pretty as it is delicious.
Vallozzi’s Pittsburgh Executive Chef Josiah Henry provides a dish oozing with comfort. The braised short rib is served with buffalo ricotta, egg raviolo, and flavorful Swiss chard. “This is one of those awesome comfort foods I love this cooking this time of year,” says Henry.
Walnut Grill Corporate Chef Randy Simpson prepares a Burgundy-braised lamb shank with minted red onion compote; garlic, red-skin mashed potatoes; and grilled asparagus. Says Simpson, “I chose this dish based on its seasonality and flare for the fall. It brings together the ending of summer vegetables, braised with the wine to give an overwhelming fantastic feeling of rustic comfort food.”