I am pleased to check off yet another Big Burrito restaurant off my list. For a belated birthday dinner with my gentleman caller, we enjoyed a lovely evening at ELEVEN, located in Pittsburgh's Strip District.
Curious about the naming of this restaurant, I asked the hostess how Eleven came to be. She said that #1, it is located on 11th street and Smallman, and #2, when the Big Burrito Group was setting up all of its restaurants, this was the 11th one. To be honest, I was hoping for a more jaw dropping explanation, like, "11 unsolved murders happened in this building before we turned it into a restaurant." Oh well.
And now without further adieu, here are ELEVEN reasons why I loved this place:
- The atmosphere. In a nutshell, the atmosphere at Eleven was urban and chic with a side of classy/fancy. The incredibly high ceilings and towering windows were marvelous. Above the entry way sat a most impressive window to the wine collection. Bottle upon bottle of wine neatly stacked and highlighted with muted lighting.
- The cocktails. I was nearly salivating at the cocktail menu, as it had so many refreshing summery concoctions to choose from. The Eff'd Up Collins (Effen black cherry vodka, lemon, soda), Bees Knees (Tanqueray gin, orange, lemon, honey), and White Sangria (white wine, fresh fruit, peach schnapps, which cranberry juice) were all in the running, but in the end I went with the Pear-secco which was the perfect blend of Absolut Pears vodka, peach nectar and Prosecco sparkling wine.
- The bread. Freshly baked by Pastry Chef, Ericka Idler, the bread selection was splendid. Fresh fluffy white bread, seeded rye, and Parmesan crusted bread to name a few. Utterly scrumptious.
- The "gift from the chef". After the bread and before the entree, our waiter presented to us with a "gift from the chef". I felt so special. I thought, "Oh my, maybe they read my blog, and want to pull out all of the stops for an A+ review! How exciting! I'll have my own column in the newspaper or a show in TV in no time! Hooray! It's finally happening!" And then I realized that everyone received the same gift. Regardless of my brief whim of false hope, this addition to the meal was a nice touch. On a teeny glass plate, sat a teeny circular piece of bread topped with cultured butter, a ribbon of white onion, and salmon roe. It was pretty, petite, salty and yummy.
- The pork chop. Frankly, the best looking and meatiest pork chop I've ever seen. The jalapeno-cheddar spoon bread side complimented the flavor of the meat really well with it's robust flavor. The braised greens soaked up the natural flavors of the meat, along with the sour cherry barbecue sauce. A few big, thick, crispy onion rings added the crunch this dish needed. This dish was nothing shy of hearty, tasteful, and all around yummy.
- The chicken. The Heritage Farms Chicken was cooked bone in and skin on. heavily seasoned and with a crispy top, yet a tender and juicy core. Served with full-bodied risotto which was obviously carefully cooked with aromatic and fresh ingredients and topped with Swiss chard. The thyme jus that accompanied the entire dish was a home run. Slow cooked with fresh herbs and homemade stock made for a delightful, flavorful, and yet simple sauce.
- The service. Our waiter, Yves, along with the rest of the staff treated us like we were important people. Really important people. They were kind, courteous, and attentive without being overbearing.
- The portions. At a place like this you might expect to get itty bitty portions of food and wind up ordering a pizza an hour after your get home. Kudos to the folks at Eleven for steering away from the pretentious perception of fine dining. A far cry from the mountain of food you'll receive at many popular chain restaurant's (and ultimately stuff yourself), yet plenty of food to fill you up.
- The banana cream pie. Like most people, perhaps, I had envision a triangular wedge of sweetness to arrive at our table; yellow on the bottom and white on the top with maybe a banana slice to garnish. What the waiter placed in front of us was a statuesque compilation of dulce de leche mousse, perfect banana slices, and banana-graham cookies in the shape of flowers. The mousse was thick and rich, a paired nicely with the caramel sauce which was drizzled on top. By perfect banana slices, I mean they didn't taste green and they didn't taste brown, rather, sliced and prepared in that small window of time when a banana is, well, perfect. The cookies were thin and extra crispy which made for a lovely contrast in texture from the creaminess of the rest of the dessert. This is/was the best banana cream pie I've ever had (sorry, Grammy).
- The birthday coupon. If you visit the Big Burrito Restaurant Group website, or visit any of their restaurants, you can sign up for the birthday club. This is a free, no obligation service, that I urge anyone and everyone to take advantage of. Right before your birthday, you will receive a birthday card in the mail offering a free entree for your birthday worth up to $30. Ca-ching! You are not able to use this coupon on Saturdays, or at the restaurant, Umi. I'll be honest: Eleven ain't cheap, but you certainly get your moneys worth. Having a birthday coupon makes what would be an unreasonable cost for a nice dinner for some, doable.
- The idiot who sat next to us. While this could ruin a perfect night out for some people, Ross and I rather enjoy when a character is seated near us, whom we can laugh about the rest of the night. When the waiter asked him if he'd like a drink, the man looked at his date and back at the waiter and said, "and the answer is, ABSOLUTELY", with a sly wink and nod to his lady friend. I won't go into further detail, as this has absolutely nothing to do with the restaurant or the food, but let me say this - he could have been a Saturday Night Live character, or a lousy date for Elaine on Seinfeld. Get the picture?
- Potato & Goat Cheese Pierogi with a caramelized onion-veal jus
- Rock Shrimp with a cornmeal crust and bourbon-chili sauce
- Eleven Burger - house -ground short rib & chuck, braised veal, black pepper bacon, crispy onions, fries, choice of cheddar, Maytag Blue, gouda, goat cheese, or Emmenthaler Swiss
- Lobster Roll - Maine lobster salad and mesclun greens
I would recommend Eleven to anyone who is looking to an upscale meal to suit a special occasion. It would also be a lovely place to entertain business clients. The best advise I can offer on ordering: get a cocktail. AND dessert. You won't be sorry.