Paint Nite at Notion. No, really.

Written by Gretchen McKay on . Events


Chef David Racicot is well-known for the ultra-creative, modernist dishes he cooks up at Notion and the absolutely gorgeous way he plates them. It's the very definition of culinary artistry.

By hey -- we eaters like to dabble in the arts, too, given the chance. Especially when booze, good food and a few friends are involved.

Nice guy that he is, Chef Racicot (pictured below) has cooked up a series of events that give all you would-be Picassos that chance in exactly that scenario.

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 22, and every Tuesday after that for the foreseeable future, he'll host Paint Nite at his East Liberty restaurant.  

dave1Unfamiliar with the sip-and-paint movement? It's basically a step-by-step art class during which students get to knock back a few drinks. For a set fee, participants get everything they need to create a masterpiece from scratch:  a 16-by-20-inch canvas, primary-colored acrylic paints and artist's brushes. You even get a painter's smock in case the drinks fly too frequently and things get out of, ahem, control.

Which, of course, is kind of the point. Adding alcohol to mix, say organizers, helps customers loosen up and not worry so much about whether their work is any good.

It's a philosophy shared by a lot of aspiring amateur artists, some of them sober: Established in 2012 by a pair of Boston entrepreneurs, Paint Nite now has events in 87 cities across the U.S. and in four countries. Some 2,200 painting parties are held each month, entertaining more than 65,000 people. 

On July 22, Pittsburgh artist Ben Carley, who studied graphic design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, will be teaching the painting "Morning Break Through." Rated a "2" on a difficulty scale of 1 to 5 (so relatively easy), it depicts a schooner sailing through a big puff of clouds into a brilliant sunrise. morningbreakthrough

Along with the "ultimate social painting experience," Notion will offer a special menu during the event. The small bites and sweet treats will range from Beef Tartare Lettuce Wraps ($8) and Truffle Popcorn ($4) to Chocolate Nutella Cake and Vanilla-Berry Cheesecake (each $8).  If fine wine isn't your thing, there also will be a selection of handcrafted cocktails, including a Ginger Julep for $11, an Aperol Negroni for $11 and Strawberry (Vodka) Lemonade for $9. 

The two-hour class normally costs $45 (with food and drinks extra), but for next week's kick-off event, the artist is offering a special rate of $25 here; simply type in the coupon code PNBEN. Space is limited.

Notion is located at 128 South Highland Ave., East Liberty (412-361-1188). Ben Carley also will be teaching Paint Nites on July 29 and Aug. 5, 12 and 19.

Paint Nite and Notion photos

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This week, drink wine on Mount Washington

Written by Melissa McCart on . Events

altiuswine1Altius in Mount Washington will host its first weekend wine tasting starting at 4 p.m. this Saturday, dubbed "Alan Uchrinscko's School of Matching Food and Wine."  For $35, you'll learn about six different organic or biodynamic wines. Light repast, including focaccia, Parker House rolls and oatmeal stout-caraway bread is provided. No matter where you'll sit, you will have a terrific view.

Mr. Uchrinscko knows his way around wine, having joined Altius from Lautrec, where he was the wine-and-spirits manager for one of the largest cellars in Pennsylvania. Before that, he was a wine specialist for Christie's auction house and worked at New York's Burgundy Wine Co. after wrapping up a degree at University of Chicago. 

If you can't make the tasting, the restaurant features happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, during which Mr. Uchrinscko pours wine flights and Rieslings, part of the nationwide Summer of Riesling festival that started in 2008. Weeknight cocktail hour runs from 9 to 10 p.m., featuring barrel-aged cocktails, among others.  

Melissa McCart photo

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Slow Supper: Big Table

Written by Hal B. Klein on . Events


Last night, Brooklyn Brewery chef Andrew Gerson collaborated with Chef Kate Romane of E2 and Kate Romane Productions for a "Big Table: Slow Supper" dinner in the John V. Heimeman Co. warehouse in Lawrenceville. (Here he is, welcoming guests.) Chef

Thommy Conroy and Quelcy T. Kogel of Harvest and Gather transformed the raw space into a candlelit indoor picnic, and Lone Pine String Band’s bluegrass jams served as a live soundtrack for the evening. The $75-per-person event was a benefit for Slow Food Pittsburgh.

The chefs collaborated on a five-course dinner as part of Brooklyn MASH, a 12-city international tour sponsored by Brooklyn Brewery that’s intended to celebrate the food, music and culture of the host city while at the same time building brand loyalty for the brewery.

The MASH tour first visited Pittsburgh this past October, when the event co-hosted the first dinner held in Downtown’s Butcher and the Rye.

This time the tour included a Justin Severino supper at Blackberry Meadows Farm, Chef Gerson teaching the art of beer pairing at Marty’s Market, a roundtable discussion on craft beer with Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy and several Pittsburgh brewers at Church Brew Works, and stand-up comedy at the just opened Rowhouse Cinema in Lawrenceville.

MenuLast night’s menu (at left) was a bright transition from spring to summer. Sour cherries added pop to the scallop-and-apple crudo. Course two (my favorite) took advantage of a late pea season; the earthy, yeasty, barrel-aged Brooklyn Wild Streak was a funky counterpart to the sweet green dish. The meal grew heavier with course three’s grilled sausage, braised fennel, and spinach emulsion; crisp Brooklyn Local 1 helped cut the richness of the sausage and fennel. Course four was a transition into summertime featuring grilled lamb chops (on the grill below), turnips, charred onion emulsion, and a giant bowl of salad greens. Kate Romaine’s doughnuts — a brunchtime E2 staple — rounded out the meal, dressed with a tart apple caramel and spiced cherries; Brooklyn’s Cuvee Noire, 10.6 abv and aged for six months in bourbon barrels, provided a potent compliment.

Another interesting beverage, mixed into a pre-dinner cocktail, was the shrub from Wild Purveyors (at bottom).

Lamb 1

The Pittsburgh MASH has two more events on Saturday: homebrew education at 2 p.m. at the Copper Kettle Brewing Co., Greenfield, and the “MASH Bash” at 8 p.m. at South Side's Club Cafe with Speedy Ortiz, Legs Like Tree Trunks, and The Lopez. Both events are free, but have limited space, so get there early.


Hal B. Klein photos

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Good run, good beer, good people

Written by Gretchen McKay on . Events

run for beer mag
It's been a month since the Pittsburgh half and full marathons. Time to get back on a training plan, people, if you haven't already.  

But it's also summer, a time for kicking back and having a little fun outdoors after a hard day at the office. 

Elite Runner's summer Pub Run series kills those two little birds with one sweaty stone.Runners-Legs1

Staged the second Thursday of the month at various locations, the Mizuno-sponsored fun runs begin at 6:30 p.m. and offer participants their choice of two relatively easy distances: 5K or 5 miles. Afterwards, everyone gathers for beer (you're responsible for your own bar tab), the opportunity to compare split times and brag about recent PRs, and the chance to win some cool prizes from the shoe company.

The first run is this Thursday along the Montour Trail in Robinson (Mile 3). Runners will meet at The Brothers Grimm parking lot, 136 Old Beaver Grade Road. 

Future meeting dates are July 10, Downey's House, 6080 Stuebenville Pike, Robinson; and Rivertowne North Shore, 337 North Shore Drive, next to Root Sports, on Aug. 14.

If you want your runs to also include carbs, Elite last week kicked off its Wednesday Summer Outdoor Race Series. The chip-timed evening trail runs alternate between the Panhandle Trail's trailhead in Oakdale and Settlers Cabin Park (Alconquin Pavilion) in Robinson. All races begin at 7 p.m. , cost $10 and include beer and pizza afterwards. You can register here

Organizers swear the races aren't competitive. Yeah, right!


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Eleven turns 10

Written by Gretchen McKay on . Events

A sampling of dishes served at Eleven's 10th anniversary dinner, clockwise from top left: Roasted Chicken with Grilled Escarole and Risotto; House-made Prosciutto with Rhubarb, Candied Shallot and Nasturtium; Three Sisters Farm Mesclun with Brioche and Chicken Rillettes; and Herbed Pappardelle with Morels, Summer Truffle and Riverview Farms Chevre.

Eleven Contemporary Kitchen turned 10 yesterday, and to celebrate, big Burrito Restaurant Group threw itself a big party. 

Instead of cake and balloons, or a complimentary glass of Champagne at the start of a meal,  the Strip District restaurant marked the day by giving back to the community.11 menu
11 chefMore than 200 diners made reservations for Executive Chef Derek Stevens' anniversary dinner, served as a tasting menu with four courses, each of which came paired with a different wine. (Five if you count the amuse bouche that preceded the first dish.) For lovers of good food, the meal was a reward in itself. But here's the twist: big Burrito donated all proceeds from the sold-out event to charity.

Guests, who paid $150 per plate, got to choose which organization they wanted their money to go to from a list of more than 50 pre-approved, locally operated or based nonprofits. All told, they raised more than $50,000 for groups such as Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Bethlehem Haven and Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force. 

As top dog of one of the city's most heralded restaurants, Chef Stevens -- sporting a newly shaved head  --  has attracted a faithful following over the years. Last night's menu was a perfect example of why.

Diners could choose from three tasting menus, including vegetarian. 11 prosciutto

When he was writing the menu a few weeks ago, said Chef Stevens, he knew he had to include a few favorite dishes served over the years along with a few new ones. 

That of course meant making room for its much-loved roasted chicken with grilled escarole and Eleven's house-made hams, which have been hanging and curing since August 2012. Offered as a first course, the thinly sliced prosciutto was served with rhubarb, artichoke, dried raspberry, candied shallot and nasturtium. 

Other choices included herbed Fede pappardelle tossed with morels, dusk ham, peas and River View Dairy chevre; grass-fed strip steak paired with porcini, green tomato and balsamic sabayon; and wild Alaskan halibut in a delicious pool of ramp broth, topped with asparagus tempura that looked kinda, sorta like a big (but very delicious) daddy long legs spider. 

For the gourmands in the crowd, thy served, during pre-service with staff, crispy veal sweetbreads that the chef jokingly referred to as "really good McNuggets." Gently poached, breaded and deep-fried, they were served atop lobster risotto dotted with English peas.11 veg

In addition to the pasta, pickled green strawberry soup (which actually was pink), Carolina Gold rice arancini (fried rice balls)  and raw porcini and artichoke salad comprised the vegetarian options. 11  chicken

Desserts included a blueberry tart stuffed with lime curd and cheesecake; a "hazelnut candy bar" of chocolate-olive-oil cake, hazelnut brittle, hazelnut praline and malted-milk ice cream; and a blood-orange ice-cream sandwich. 

In reflecting on his decade in service, Chef Stevens didn't mince words. 

"I have a love-hate relationship with this job, but I'm still proud of where I am," he said. "We've had so many ups and downs over the years, but I love where the restaurant is right now."

He knows it's unusual for a chef in his position to stay in one place for 10 years. "But big Burrito has given me a lot of support," he said. "I get a lot of freedom to do what I want to do. They stay out of my hair." That hands-off attitude has resulted in three 4-star reviews over the years for big Burrito CEO Cary Klein, who was unable to attend last night's event because of another celebration -- his mother-in-law's 80th birthday in Chicago. 

11 fishThe dinner was especially bittersweet for banquet manager (and familiar face) Ron Ausnehmer. One of just two original hires still on the job (with Chef Stevens), he retired today. He was toasted before service by the staff with plastic cups of Budweiser. 

"It's been a great ride, but it's time for me to move on," he said, adding, "I've worked in the best restaurant in the city. Where is there to go?"11 speech

11 dessert 1Apparently there's no rest for the weary: Tomorrow, with too-little sleep under his belt, Chef Stevens will compete in the North Face Endurance Challange in Washington, D.C.  The 50-mile ultra marathon, which starts and ends in Algonkian Park, including tip-toeing and rock-stepping along buffs high above the Potomac River in Great Falls Park.

"I know, I'm crazy," he said with a laugh. Like a fox.

Gretchen McKay photos

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A total pig-out

Written by Gretchen McKay on . Events

(Clockwise from top left: Pig face torchon on a bao bun with eel mayo; BBQ pork shoulders with corn bread crunch; smoked pig head and sweet pea crochettes; and carne fria spiced pig pate with pig-shaped Cuban lard crackers)

How do you know when a celebrated culinary event lives up to the hype?

A. The whiskey cocktails and craft beer prove so tasty, you drink a little more than you wanted to. (OK, a lot more than anticipated.)

B. You wish you'd worn a big 'ole dress instead of close-fitting jeans because you can't stop stuffing your face, it all tastes so good. (So much for the post-marathon diet.) 

C. Despite being an out-of-towner who's traveling by train, you get sweet-talked into buying a 9-pound fresh ham from a hog that's just been butchered in the next room so you can try to recreate the flavors at home. (You better make good on your texted promise to guide me, Kevin Sousa.)

cochonbigtableWhen the answer is all three of the above, we're talking Cochon555's traveling pig show, which unfolded at Philadelphia's Le Meridien hotel this past Sunday. 

Philly was the last stop in a 10-city culinary competition, which started in New "Pork" City on January 26 and wound its way south to Miami and as far west as San Francisco. It ends on June 22 with the Grand Cochon for the individual cities' winning chefs at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo.  Whoever garners the most votes at that competition will walk away with a four-day wine experience in Rioja, Spain. Plus bragging rights among foodies as the "King or Queen Porc."

In the City of Brotherly Love, more than 200 paid $125 or more for the chance to pig out on more than two-dozen chef-prepared dishes (a VIP ticket that bought guests early admission ran $200) during the annual event, which was cooked up six years ago by wine/cheese expert Brady Lowe to raise awareness and appreciation for family farms raising heritage breed pigs. 

Attendees -- who got to eat, drink and generally make merry for two-plus nonstop hours before voting for their favorite chef -- weren't disappointed. porkrind

The nose-to-tail cooking contest is not for the timid: Each of the five competing chefs (Douglas Rodriguez of STARR Restaurants, Patrick Szoke of Alla Spina, Jason Cichonski of Ela, Mike Santoro of The Mildred and Jeremy Nolen of Brauhaus Schmitz) were charged with preparing up to six dishes for the crowd from a whole 200-pound heritage hog. As a result, every body part but the squeal made its way into hundreds of bite-sized gourmet eats. Plainly speaking, you got to sample some pretty creative uses of pig face, skin and trotters along with the more traditional belly and loin.

At the Brauhaus Schmitz table pictured above, for instance, diners could choose between a cooked egg white filled with head-cheese salad and chives; pork schmalz (fat) with fresh bay leaves and crackling spread on tiny squares of pumpernickle; German "ramen" made with pork bone broth, pig skin spaetzle and roasted pork belly; and plump, sweet Italian ramp sausage.

Around the corner at Alla Spina, conversely, the spread included house-cured cherry peppers stuffed with pork-shoulder confit; prosciutto cotto and slow-roasted loins with polenta and red and green salsa; nduja-stuffed pretzel bites with pecorino fonduta; and smoked pig head and sweet pea crocchettes with sweet pea maionese. All were terrific.

cochonicecreamWhen the votes were counted a little after 7 p.m., Chef Rodriquez came out on top for a menu that included pozole verde with pickled pig skin; spiced pig pate with Cuban lard crackers; Cuban sandwiches with mustard glaze (which looked like spring rolls on skewers); and bacon ice cream on chicharron cones with smoked pecan bacon candy. 

My favorite dishes were prepared by Ela's Jason Chichonski. While I passed on the Top Chef's smoked scrapple croquettes, his pickled pork jerky -- tossed in a bowl with pretzle spaetzle, parmesan and melted lardo -- was the culinary equivalent of crack: totally addictive. So was his salty-sweet puffed pig skin "caramel corn." I also very much enjoyed Chef Santoro's 48-hour grilled pork belly, which he served on crema di lardo biscuits topped with ramp salsa verde. Ditto the restaurant's giant crackling, which took three days to prepare and was almost as big as sous chef Noah Poses. 

That, and the many glasses of Goose Island Beer Co.'s Sofie, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale with hints of citrus. 
Along with a beef-tartare bar in the lobby, the evening included a "Punch King" competition among five local barkeeps featuring Breckenridge Bourbon; an artisan cheese bar with Di Bruno Bros.; and a chupito bar for mezcal tasting. Guests also got to watch a  whole pig being butchered at a "pop up butcher shop" led by Marc Pauvert of Spring House Farm, after which the various cuts and parts were sold to raise money for culinary education. (That's how I ended up with my $60 ham, which is currently residing in my son's Philadelphia freezer. I couldn't bear the thought of hauling it home on Amtrak on a busy holiday weekend.) It concluded with Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream and mini mason jars filled with Manhattans. 

cochonbutcherI was too full, and old, to attend the after-party at Alma de Cuba, where a sixth whole pig prepared by chefs from Pub & Kitchen was to be served. But I hear from my son, who's much younger and has a much bigger appetite, that it was a rockin' good time. 

Gretchen McKay photos

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