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15 June 2014

Tonight's Episode: Hold the fries

I'll admit that when The Girl and I were first contemplating a move to Pittsburgh, the culinary scene scared me. Internet searches showed little in the way of excitement about the food. Blog posts were formulaic and seemed to show a cuisine that is either trying too hard to be somewhere else or so rooted in local niche cuisine that one would wonder if anyone knew the outside world existed. It is into an unknown world, one I feared would have fries on everything, in which my wife and I find ourselves.

Two weeks into our new world, and we have just began to scratch the surface of what Pittsburgh has to offer. I'll let you in on a secret: Pittsburgh food is actually pretty stellar. From amazing tacos and sandwiches from street vendors in the Strip, to a growing Food Truck scene, all the way to a relaxed take on fine dining, Pittsburgh is proving to be more than just Primanti Brother's and burnt almond cake.

For my first Pittsburgh post, I'm flying solo as The Girl is out of town, but this dining experience is one I want to share with her soon. The location - The Wine Room at Bar Marco. The Wine Room dinners are an intimate affair, 10 seats in a beautiful space in a restored firehouse. Unlike the main dining room, whose music is loud and the energy level set at TURN UP, the Wine Room is set up for relaxed and easy conversation among current and future friends. This dichotomy of space and energy works to the favor of the young Executive Chef Jamilka Borges, as it allows her to flex her culinary wings in multiple directions at once. Her enthusiasm and energy come across clearly in her food, and it is obvious her creativity would not be best served by a more traditional service.

On to the this case 10 courses with wine pairings for $125. If you balk at that number, let me reiterate......10 courses WITH wine pairings. This isn't "pop a couple bottles of Pinot and walk away" wine either. Thoughtful, distinct, low-volume wines crafted with love and paired with thought,  not only with how they compliment the dishes, but how they progress throughout the meal. If you have a half hour ask Sara, Bar Marco's Sommelier, how she went from Renaissance literature and a future in medicine to being one of the brightest young minds in wine I've ever come across.

First course, meat pickle on mint. Inspired by a dish Sara's mother made for Chef Borges, this lightly spicy and utterly delightful take on the south Indian condiment awakens the palate with bright bold flavors in a single, perfect bite.

Pairing: Lillet Rosé

Second Course, plum arugula and goat cheese salad. I am as surprised as you by the lack of fries on this salad, but the bright flavors and pepper notes of the arugula were delightful if a touch blasé after such an inspired first bite. Competent, well-executed, but without the excellent wine selection this dish could have been forgettable.

Pairing: Domaine Tessier Cour-Cheverny 2012

Third Course, white asparagus custard with ham and pigs head reduction. It is in this course you begin to see Chef Borges brilliance in playing with flavor profiles, textures, and artistry. The subtle sweetness of the custard playing off the salt of the ham, the creaminess to the ever so slightly crisp, a beautiful and engaging plate.

Pairing: Cantine Agriverde "Eikos" 2012

Fourth Course, Traditional lamb carpaccio with olive oil and lemon. While this dish may lack some of the creativity of the other dishes, its timing is perfect. Interjecting a saltiness to the meal that was most welcome, and bridging perfectly to the more savory dishes.

Pairing: Colle dei Bardellini pigato 2012

Fifth Course, a trip to culinary school. Seafood roulade of lobster and scallop mousse. Here Chef Borges humor comes through loud and clear with an homage to one of those classic dishes culinary students the world over have suffered through. Technique is perfect, but this elevation of the dish shows a knowledge of the interaction of flavors that no mere technician can achieve.

Pairing: Pares Balta Calcari 2012
(Perhaps my favorite wine of the night)

Sixth Course, nettle soup over baby beets, crispy beet leaf. This is the dish I keep going back to, and also the best paired of the evening. The earthiness of this soup is divine. You taste the soil, the earth, richly distilled. A wonderful bowl singing praise to the start of summer.

Pairing: Francois Pinon "les trois argiles" 2011

Seventh Course, Foie gras marries rhubarb, produces love child that looks like a macaroon. You use finger to wipe the bowl. Self respect be damned.

Pairing: Terrees Dorés FRV100

Eighth Course, pork with onion asparagus and cherry. If you need more than those 6 words to tell you that this is going to be a tasty dish, perhaps we need to start seeing different internets.

Pairing: Cascina Tavign ruchi 2010

Ninth Course, Pistachio cake with black pepper and first of the season strawberries. Next to the nettle soup, this is my favorite course. The beautiful light little cake plays so well off the minimally treated strawberries. Sometimes it is the simple dishes that truly wow.

Pairing Fleur d'Or sauternes 2010

Tenth Course, white chocolate pot de cremé. A delightfully light and not overly sweet way to finish the meal, beautiful texture, just a total delight.

Pairing: The greatest way to end a meal, Chateau St Aubin Armagnac

Bar Marco has such a glut of young talent that it is frankly amazing. If Chef Borges isn't recognized as a rising star on the national scene soon, I'll start writing about Fast Food exclusively. The wine program is diverse and stellar given the restrictions set on restaurants by the state. This passionate, youthful, masterful staff put together one heck of an amazing dinner, one that leaves me feeling excited about my new home.

Bar Marco on Urbanspoon


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