Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week: Habitat

Several months ago, we made the pleasant discovery that our friends S & A also subscribed to the PNC Broadway Across America Series. The difference is we chose the Saturday matinee while they chose Saturday evening. Happily, there is a nice amount of time in between the matinee and evening shows for us to meet up with fellow food lovers and enjoy a tasty meal. This past Saturday was Les Miserables (terrific show!) and it just so happens that it was also Pittsburgh Restaurant Week. So we all perused the participating restaurants near the Benedum Center and finally decided upon Habitat, located in the Fairmont Hotel.
Les Miserables was one of the longer shows (running until nearly 5 pm) and our reservation was for 6 pm. We took our time leaving the show, but it's maybe at most a 5 minute walk to Habitat. After using the restrooms and checking in on the score of the Pens-Flyers game and being smartphone dorks for a while, we decided to go on in and relax with a cocktail. It's dark inside, lots of brown colors, lots of glass windows for gazing out at the city, and in general, it says 'upscale dining.' Our server came over and poured us water from an adorable frog shaped pitcher which, after I commented on it being shaped like a frog, he informed us was designed by a local artist for Habitat and is sold at the restaurant for $150. There is a photo of the pitcher here on Sabor Pgh's blog.

I ordered a glass of Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier and SP chose a Lechthaler Pinot Grigio. Habitat is one of those 'upscale, fancy' restaurants where the bottle is brought to your table, you get to confirm the label is what you want, and then you get to have a taste of your wine and approve of it before an entire glass is poured. This happens so rarely for us that I am always a bit surprised! I think this is the third or fourth restaurant we've ever been to that does it that way.
I debated for a long time about whether to order the PRW meal or to order off the menu. Habitat is into local, sustainable food when possible, and we both were happy to see organic, grass fed, happy meats. I also liked that tucked into the menu is a card with dining options listed under categories like Gluten Free, Diabetes, Raw, Vegan, Heart Healthy, etc.
In the end I ordered off the menu, choosing to start my meal with a side of Lobster Mac & Cheese.
It was good, but I wasn't blown away. The pasta was delicious, spiral pasta, it was cheesy & moist without swimming in cheese sauce, there were tiny diced bits of red pepper and tomato throughout, but while I expected little bits of lobster throughout, I found only one huge hunk in the middle of the dish, so after I popped that morsel in my mouth, it was just mac & cheese.
SP opted for the PRW menu so his appetizer was an Artichoke Risotto with Trout. This was one reason I didn't order the PRW menu - I'm not a huge fan of fish. I sampled a tiny taste of risotto, too tiny to really get a sense of the dish. SP says it was creamy, tangy, there was a hint of smokiness, and while he enjoyed it as an appetizer he doesn't think he would like it as a whole meal (if it were to be offered as a meal).
My entree was Braised Shirt Ribs with pumpkin gnocchi, vegetables, and maple sauce. The short ribs were very tender and moist and easily pulled apart. The gnocchi were not at all what I expected. They were shaped like little barrels, or little marshmallows, and seemed a bit dry; there wasn't any sauce/moisture on my plate save for the moist meat. I did like that one end of the gnocchi barrel had been browned and had a nice crunch. There was a tiny amount of carrot and perhaps parsnip thin coins but not what I expected. I expected the usual gnocchi shape with pieces of roasted/cooked carrots/onions/parsnips in a bit of the braising liquid with either a hunk of short rib on top or already shredded short rib bits mixed throughout, similar to the roasted lamb gnocchi I had at Bistro 19 but with short rib.
S ordered Honey Glazed Duck duck confit and goat cheese puff, wilted arugula, pear, puree of carrot & orange. When asked how he wanted his duck prepared, S said however the chef recommended/did it best. It looked rare to me, but since I do not order duck, it might have been more medium-rare and just looked pink because of the color of duck. He said it was tasty.
SP's PRW entree was Chicken Leg, red wine marinade, winter vegetables, bacon, braised onions, toasted white bread. I assume the lacy looking bit in the top right is a super thin piece of toasted white bread. He said the chicken was moist and easy to pull off the bone and it had a sweet tasting glaze. The veggies were a little crisper than he expected but still tasty.
R chose Pan Roasted Golden Trout artichokes, almond streusel, roasted walnut cream. Her fish was perfectly cooked and she said she enjoyed her meal.
I was too full for a dessert, plus nothing on the dessert menu really grabbed me, so I settled on decaf coffee, which was quite good. S chose the German Chocolate Cake, above, flourless cake, coconut pecan zuckerguss, milk chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce. It was beautiful. He said it was good but somehow he had spaced on the coconut part it's not one of his super favorite flavors.
SP's PRW dessert, and R's dessert choice, was Citrus Cheesecake, orange mascarpone cheesecake, Meyer lemon curd, lime gel, poppy seed meringue, toasted graham cracker. Both SP & R really like tart citrus flavors. I like citrus flavors, but not when they're too tart. I found my tiny bites of lime gel and lemon curd too tart, as expected, but SP & R said the dessert was delicious.

Our server was attentive and friendly, knowledgeable about items on the menu. Tables were very nicely spaced, I barely noticed the other people dining there.

But I'm torn in my opinion of Habitat. I was unsure of our choice in PRW restaurants going into our meal. The average rating on both Urbanspoon & Yelp is just so-so, and usually I avoid places with that kind of so-so rating. I was a little disappointed in my appetizer but I did really enjoy my short ribs, even if I was a little... taken aback by the gnocchi. The plates were beautifully presented, service very good, atmosphere was great, and the price point for this kind of places does not surprise me nor do I have an issue with it BUT if I'm going to pay $100+ for us to dine out, I can think of several places we've been to where I enjoy the atmosphere just as much, the service is just as good, and I enjoy my food just a little bit more. On the other hand, it is located conveniently close to the Cultural District. Would I go back? Yes.


Habitat on Urbanspoon

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