Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bona Terra

While searching for new restaurants in Pittsburgh, I happened across Bona Terra, in Sharpsburg. Being vegetarian, I am always leery of new places, so I called to see if they had anything for me to eat. They said that as long as we called a day ahead, they could make sure to have something delicious. I was reassured, and vowed to get there soon. I recently found the opportunity to go while I was moving apartments. I made a reservation (which is, apparently, necessary, if you expect to eat there) for 8pm on a Saturday night.

The restaurant itself is impressively difficult to find, but we called the restaurant from the road, and they helped us find it. From the outside, it looks unassuming but charming.

From a vegetarian's perspective, my first time here was unsettling. Nothing on the menu was vegetarian-friendly (for a non-fish vegetarian), but the wait staff kept reassuring me that anything on the menu could be made vegetarian. I didn't, however, understand how a "Sirloin" or "Filet of Sole" could be made vegetarian. When it came time to order, the waiter recommended that I just ask for the chef to "do his vegetarian thing," and I went with it. I was asked about my preferences for sauces and items on the menu, and was left without a clue as to what was coming.

My girlfriend and her mom had a much easier time, ordering a filet of sole and a sirloin steak, respectively.

For appetizers, we ordered a communal gnocchi (without crab to please me), and a soup and salad. When they came, I got to the gnocchi first. I cannot say this any more simply, but this dish was sublime. One of the most amazing things to pass my lips in a long time. The sauce was fresh and sweet and piquant, and the gnocchi was soft, velvety and luscious. I don't know what Faustian bargain the chef has made to cook this stuff, but I am glad he did.

Subsequently, we were served an amuse and some bread. The amuse was a little peach slice with raspberry coulis, mint, and some blue cheese. It was quite refreshing, but nothing spectacular. The bread was a rosemary-infused challah, I believe, which was tasty, but a bit weak on the rosemary. During this period, we suffered a pregnant pause in the arrival of food, which may have been unintended, but we did not mind, as we were tired from moving, and enjoying the discussion.

Eventually, the entrees arrived. The chef decided to make me some polenta triangles, covered in an olive-relish, and drizzled with a basil oil. Alongside, it came with an assortment of sauteed veggies, including some beans and baby bok choy. The baby bok choy was a bit oily for my taste, but the rest of the dish was, once again, sublime. The polenta was light and creamy and unlike any polenta I've made before (perhaps a high cream content is the secret?). The beans and the olive-relish were beyond-heavenly, and again, unlike anything I've ever cooked. I have something new to strive for. Although I did not partake, my girlfriend and her mom thoroughly enjoyed their meals as well.

In gustatory Elysia, we decided to continue with dessert. We ordered two desserts --- I believe they were a chocolate torte with hazelnut ice cream, and a strawberry parfait with peach ice cream. Unlike my companions, I had prepared myself for this moment throughout the evening, by pacing myself and not stuffing myself on bread. Thus, I was prepared to eat quite a bit of both desserts. The parfait was quite refreshing, although when I go for dessert, I want it rich and decadent. The torte, rich and decadent, was more my style. Sadly, I thought that the torte and the ice cream did not complement each other well --- both were too dark and chocolatey to accentuate each other. I thought that the peach ice cream from the parfait would have been a much better foil for the torte, and ended up spooning from both dishes.

The waitstaff at Bona Terra are pretty much exceptional. They were warm, friendly, and welcoming throughout the entire meal. The service is a little formal --- our waiter continually refilled our wine and water glasses throughout the meal, and presented us with tiny silverware just before they were necessary. For a special occasion, however, it makes one feel quite rich.

It is fortunate that the service makes one feel rich, since the prices at Bona Terra are not cheap. Our dinner for 3 ended up costing somewhere around 150$, which is definitely no bargain. I daresay, however, that I do not regret spending a dollar of that tab: the service, and more importantly, the food was well-worth it. I can't wait to go back for my next special occasion, if only for the gnocchi.

erm, so you seemingly count it against the restaurant because they constantly refill your water and wine?
I'm afraid so. I need some time to eat. When my water gets refilled after every sip, I start to feel like every sip is an inconvenience to the wait staff. It's rooted in my Catholic upbringing, I'm sure.
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