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Pittsburgh Restaurant Week: Habitat

13 Aug

Last night, we were out and about in the city taking advantage of 2013 Summer Pittsburgh Restaurant Week!  Their website is really interactive and it allows you to narrow your restaurant search down using options like “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” or “Special Diets.”

Surprise, surprise…we picked a participating restaurant that proudly supports local growers (and also happens to be an old favorite) – Habitat.  Since their menu is seasonal and changes periodically, it was completely unrecognizable to me!  Luckily, it didn’t matter because for PRW they offer a 3-course fixed menu.


Since there were 3 of us and we all ordered different variations, I got to try everything on the menu!


Christina and her mom both ordered the Arctic Char Salad:


Those are pickled cucumbers, smoked sour cream (very interesting taste!), squash blossoms, and onion crumble (a nice twist on the cruton).  The Arctic Char was very mild, but tasty.

On the other hand, my Caesar salad tasted fishier than the salad with the fish!


The salad was excellent – the bed of Romaine was placed on marscapone cheese, which also filled the lemon garlic croutons.   It served as an interesting variation from the traditional creamy Caesar dressing.  Each crouton was topped with a salty fried anchovy.  It was honestly the perfect portion considering the salty bitterness of the salad.


Christina’s mom ordered the Grilled Ribs


One word: Bazinga!  The cherry BBQ sauce was no joke, especially when you tasted the tangy cherry with the pork puffs.  We weren’t really sure what to expect from the menu’s claim of “pickled vegetables and black rice gel.”


Well, its exactly what it sounds like.  It had the exact consistency of gelatin, which I’m assuming was used along with pickling liquid to make this nugget.  I am a lover of tart, salty tastes so this was right up my alley.  I have honestly never seen gelatin treated this way before!  It was the strangest thing I think I’ve tried recently buy man was it good.  Also, I don’t think its coincidental that the only two times I’ve ever had black rice was at Habitat.  Both times I found it to be phenomenal!

There was also cornbread with whiskey butter:


This dish was a delightfully new twist on a savory, home-style favorite!  I preferred my dish, however.  The Alaskan Halibut was PERFECT.


It was seared to perfection and plated over a summer bean salad.  The fish was the total star of this plate, I wanted there to be endless amounts of it.  The burnt squash were so good that Christina asked why I don’t make her burnt veggies!  (To which I replied:  “Honey, I do make you burned food all the time.  It just doesn’t taste as good as this.”)  The menu said a leek puree, but I swear our server said this was an arugula puree and it tasted more peppery than oniony.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this was an arugula puree.  No matter what it was, I am in love with it.  I would have traded in my salad and my dessert for a double portion of this – it was that good.


Let me backtrack for a second.  I would have traded in my dessert for more halibut BEFORE I tasted dessert.  Once I had a taste, I doubt I would be willing to trade.  I mean, COME ON.  Is this real life?


The bottom layer is a blueberry panna cotta, topped with a blueberry compote, jasmine ice cream, and then had a piece of blueberry crunch and vanilla meringue sticks.  I wanted to cry.  I suddenly felt like I needed to eat this exact thing every single night of I would die.  I got up this morning and ate a handful of blueberries.  Just wow.  I tried to get a little bit of each aspect on the spoon with every bite.

If you haven’t yet been to Habitat, you are honestly missing out on one of Pittsburgh’s best restaurants.  Each time we visit there, I love it more and more.  Each dish I’ve had is better than the previous and for the $35 price tag, you would be absolutely crazy not to have this meal.

Review: Habitat

9 Mar

Let me start by saying that I think this is one of Pittsburgh’s hidden gems.

I’d like it to stay that way because I want it all to myself, but my experience there has to be shared.  Since we visited this schmancy place during normal dinner hours, I only took photos of my own table.  While I love food and food writing, there is a time and a place for everything and I chose to be discreet with my camera.  I do want to share some photos of the restaurant, but I borrowed them from other sites.  🙂

Habitat is located on the second floor of the Fairmont Hotel, which is in the gorgeous LEED-Certified Reed Smith skyscraper in Downtown Pittsburgh.  (PS – I’m working on a post about the LEED program!)

While I’ve heard that many foodies steer clear of restaurants associated with corporate entities, I think this is foolish.  The Fairmont Hotel, which I had visited previously to attend the 2011 Beard Symposium, is an amazing example of sustainable building design and Habitat restaurant focuses on combing a variety of local ingredients into their menu.  Corporate America embracing sustainable values is a good thing and in my opinion, it can begin to shape the identity of a business region.  Pittsburgh has more potential to be a leader in sustainability than it realizes – we are a city that has easily embraced environmental policy in the past, we have a wealth of natural resources, and most importantly: a population with deep historical and cultural roots.  We’ve turned our toxic and dead mill sites into beautiful high-density, mixed use neighborhoods.  We’ve protected green space and developed a vast network of city parks.  We are friggin awesome.  Hello.

Pittsburgh is in the TOP 10 cities for constructing LEED certified buildings, we are currently even watching a living building grow from Phipps Conservatory which will exceed LEED platinum.

Not sure what LEED is?  I will be posting some info about LEED in the next few days!  For now, back to my yummy food…

For the life of me, I cannot remember what kind of wine we ordered.  Our server, Raj, was AMAZING!  He knew so much about the menu and the sourcing of the food, so when he recommended a wine – we figured that we should just go for it.  I feel like he said something about pear, but it escapes me.

Since it was our♥ THREE YEAR ANNIVERSARY (woop woop!), we decided to treat ourselves to an delicious, intimate dinner and opt out of giving each other gifts.  I’m glad we did, because we were able to try a few appetizers and not feel guilty about the bill.

I, of course, forgot to snap pictures of the appetizers.

I will tell you that following a recommendation by Blake, who writes the amazing Taste of Pittsburgh blog, we ordered the Roasted Organic Local Beets.  The goat cheese was so yummy and came from a dairy farm in Emlenton, PA (yes, its part of our foodshed!).  We also ordered the Pennsylvania Mushroom Tart.  So friggin good.  It had a tart crust and then had mushrooms in a leek-Parmesan cream, sourced from Cheswick, PA.  The fresh tandoor baked naan bread was deliciously fresh and made on site, but I didn’t care too much for the chutneys.

After talking the host, server, and assistant manager’s ears off about food – the chef must have realized that I am an insane foodie and sent us the homemade ricotta gnocchi with braised organic oxtail and root vegatables and red wine au jus.

My mouth is literally watering as I look at this picture.  The oxtail and root vegetable au jus was literally the richest, tenderest thing I have eaten in a long time and the gnocchi were absolutely perfect.

We decided to try things we wouldn’t normally try for dinner.  (Trust me, without the wine, she♥ would have gagged at the thought of oxtail and gnocchi.  But even the picky eater took a leap.)

She ordered the braised short ribs with root vegetables…

She couldn’t take a bite without talking about how tender the ribs were.  I mean, they gave her a butter knife to eat with and she didn’t even have to use it.

I ordered the roast duck with pickled beets and watercress emulsion…

The menu claimed that there were apples, but instead my duck was plated with sauteed greens and black rice.  Let me tell you, I didn’t miss the apples.  I’ve ordered dishes before where the description says things like “pickled beets with watercress emulsion” and after tasting it I just think: “Yeah, ok.  If you say so…”  This was not the case.  Each bite I took was different because each bite had different elements on the fork.  The beets were the most amazing crisp texture and the perfect amount of tart to offset the rice.

And those little discs to the roasted duck…

I have no idea what a chef would call it, but it tasted like a duck sausage.  Literally the best thing I have ever eaten, especially with the beets.

I really can’t explain how pleasant it is to speak with so many employees of this restaurant during our visit (partly because we are freakishly easy to talk to and partly because we are freakishly inquisitive), and each one to be so passionate about the values of this establishment.  I felt more passion from the workers at Habitat, a corporate restaurant, than I’ve felt from people working for a family-owned small business.

For dessert, pear dream with handmade ice cream.

I really couldn’t have asked for a better meal, a better girlfriend, a better experience or a better city to write about.

Cheers to three years of domestic bliss ♥

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