While Mr. Locke and I may torment each other on what we love (and don’t love) to eat, there’s always a silver lining, especially when it comes to menu tasting. We had the pleasure of being hosted to taste test Braddock’s Pittsburgh Brasserie’s Valentine’s Day Prix Fixe menu this weekend and literally tried everything on the menu. So why not have a little fun (all’s fair in love and food, right?) and choose winners in a he said, she said style?
It’s such a pleasure to sample new, creative flavor combinations and Chef Houck from Braddock’s really gives it his all in regards to special events menus at Renaissance Hotel’s in-house restaurant. In our home, having different favorite flavor palettes may not be ideal for everyday (I want this for dinner. But, I want THIS. You get it.), having those varied foodie favorites comes in super handy when dining out.
No kidding, choosing winners from each of the four courses was super tough, so we narrowed them down based on flavors combinations, plating, and all-over appeal. And, while we each ordered our own courses, we sampled off each other’s plates as well to give our true opinions.
First Course: Salad
Grilled Hearts of Palm, Avocado, Arugula, Balsamic Vinaigrette, Toasted Pine Nuts
Mixed Greens, Orange Segments, Pomegranate, Grapefruit Vinaigrette
Plating and All-Over Appeal: The Mixed Greens Salad won. Nutshell? It was prettier and had more color appeal.
Flavor Combinations: Arugula and Grilled Hearts of Palm won this one. The Vinaigrette was better balanced with the arugula’s bitterness. The textures of the sliced almonds and the woody arugula, combined with the softer hearts of palm and avocado, was very pleasing.
Plating and All-Over Appeal- I had to go with the Mixed Greens Salad. The vibrant colors were like a rainbow in a bowl compliments of the de-skinned orange slices and pomegranate arils.
Flavor Combinations- Again, the Mixed Greens was my favorite. The zesty, citrus-y Grapefruit Vinaigrette was the perfect compliment to the salad greens and orange segments.
Second Course: Appetizer
Chocolate Espresso Braised Pork Belly, Cheddar Grits, Maple Bourbon Glaze
Smoked Salmon Flat Bread, Caviar, Dill, Sherry Honey Cream Cheese
Plating and All-Over Appeal: I thought the Braised Pork Belly was beautiful. Its presentation made me want to grab a fork and dig right in.
Flavor Combinations: The Salmon flat Bread won for me. I’m a huge fan of Smoked Salmon and the flavor balance was beautiful. The caviar was a nice pop of flavor. The highlight was the melding of the salmon, dill, and cream cheese flavors for sure.
Plating and All-Over Appeal- Smoked Salmon Flat Bread gets the award. When it arrived at our table, I seriously make a happy sigh. It was just so pretty (Girlie, I know.) The small dollops of caviar on top of the smoked salmon made the dish look like a piece of art.
Flavor Combinations- Ok, I’ve enjoyed Pork Belly in the past, Braddock’s version outshines everyone I’ve ever tried. It’s really easy for the dish to be greasy or tough, but Chef’s version was tender and flavorful. The combination of the Chocolate Espresso Rub with the Maple Bourbon Glaze was both sweet and savory. As for the Cheddar Grits, they were exactly how they should be. The cheese flavor was not overpowering, but instead light to compliment the sweeter flavors.
Third Course: Entree
Seared Scallops, Hen of the Woods Risotto, King Trumpets, Beurre Blanc
Filet, Candied Bacon Brussels, Parsnip Puree, Demi-Glace
Plating and All-Over Appeal: The scallops dish won for this round. It had a unique plating appeal and basically just screamed, “Eat me!”
Flavor Combinations: Even though the filet was cooked perfectly and was a wonderful piece of meat, the scallops won. They were perfectly cooked and cleaned (a feat for any kitchen). Overall, the risotto was so good I was still eating it even though I was stuffed.
Plating and All-Over Appeal – The Seared Scallops dish comes out ahead, but only by a smidgen. I’m not a fan of seafood, but the look and appeal of the plating all but said decadence.
Flavor Combinations – I’m going with the Fillet on this one and here’s why. I’m not a fan of Brussel Sprouts. I’m just not. I remember eating them as a kid and I would literally peel off each leaf and try to swallow them. Chef sauteed them with candied bacon and they were crispy and light – and I’d have no problem eating them in this style everyday. Add in the parsnip puree (sweeter than potatoes), and a lightly crispy exterior on a lovely, juicy filet and we’ve got our winner.
Side note: the Hen of the Woods Risotto was superb. I’d happily enjoy it at least once a week. It wasn’t mushy or watery, but instead perfectly cooked and flavorful.
Fourth Course: Dessert
Red Velvet Pierogi, Vanilla Ice Cream, Cream Cheese Frosting, Oreo Crumbs
Flourless Chocolate Cake, Salted Caramel Ganache, Blackberry Compote, Pistachio Crunch
Plating and All-Over Appeal: It was a Valentine’s Day menu, so the flourless chocolate cake took it. The heart and the colors shouted romance.
Flavor Combinations: To be honest, I have to say the flourless chocolate cake. You just don’t get that combination everywhere. The pierogies were unique and the red velvet batter yummy, but the cake was the best.
Plating and All-Over Appeal- As a Valentine’s Day dinner menu should, the Flourless Chocolate Cake’s plating was all about love. The blackberry sauce in the shape of a heart was so adorable that I almost hated to dive in, but I did.
Flavor Combinations – This one’s a tie. When I think of traditional Pittsburgh food, pierogies always make the list. Combine the hearty dough texture with an inner red velvet batter and we’re sold. Then add cream cheese frosting for a sweet kick and ice cream to balance the flavors and we’ve got a winner. As for the flourless cake, its rich, chocolate flavor was total decadence. Topped with salted caramel ganache, the flavor combination was perfectly balanced.
My winner was its signature drink, the Braddock’s Smash. A refreshing blend of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Fresh Lemon, Simple Syrup, Seasonal Berries, and Bitters was so delicious. The berries are crushed so you get hints of the flavor with each sip. If you’re not a liquor fan, no problem: you can order it without the bourbon. I’m a sweet drink kind of gal and the Smoky Manhattan was just too, well, smoky.
I loved the Smash. However, I do dig classical cocktails, too. The Smoky Manhattan was an interesting take on a classic. The vermouth is smoked in-house – a nice touch. The smoke comes on strong at the end and lingers which might be too much for some folks. Personally, I loved it. It paired well with the smoked salmon appetizer – a perfect combination.
In a Nutshell
It was such a pleasure to taste test the Valentine’s Day menu at Braddock’s this weekend. The Prix Fixe option comes with four delicious courses and is 65 dollars per person. So, let’s do the math for a second. If you were to head into a swanky restaurant and order a filet of this caliber individually, you’re going to pay anywhere from 40 to 50 dollars alone or more. Add in three additional tasty courses and you’ve got yourself a decadent bargain.