Along Fifth Avenue, Shadyside's Millionaire's Row, one stately house sits literally and figuratively above the rest. The McClelland House, built on a rise by a Civil War doctor, is older and architecturally more significant than its neighbors. It's also the only one of Fifth Avenue's surviving mansions that is open to the public, now the location of Sunnyledge, a boutique hotel, restaurant and lounge that opened nearly a decade ago.
Family members lived in the house through the 1980s, and the architecture has stayed astonishingly intact. It was artfully converted to its new use with original walls and woodwork extant; entering the front doors feels as much like stepping into a home as into a public establishment. While the intimate lounge, with gorgeous green-tile tables, has a hip, urbane feel, the main dining room has an antique ambience more in keeping with the house's provenance. Elaborate wallpaper and silver tea sets on display evoke Victorian tastes in a wholly earnest fashion.
Those with an appetite for aspic will be disappointed, however; the menu is quite up to date. The new chefs, Shawn Carlson, Mike Knoll and Eason Granberg all alumni of the landmark Baum Vivant offer fresh ingredients, especially seafood, in modern preparations, with scarcely a nod to the era evoked by the décor. Our bread was a promising start, a sweet, corn-scented loaf with the airy, crumbly texture of a muffin beneath a hearty crust. It beautifully complemented the red-pepper bisque, a gorgeous vermilion broth with true, tangy red-bell flavor. Jason caught a trace of bitterness, but Angelique was too busy cleaning the bowl to notice.
Duck sausage was served on a bed of just-cooked parsnips shaved into broad strips that were the size and very nearly the texture of egg noodles. The savory meat was rich and faintly spicy, standing out boldly against a cream sauce imbued with the parsnips' sweet and earthy flavor. Foie gras with poached pears was another unique dish. The liver was so rich and creamy that it seemed to reduce the act of chewing to mere formality. The pears, their sweetness released by poaching, contrasted beautifully with the savory meat.
Jason's predilection for beef Wellington, tenderloin wrapped in pastry crust, is a running family joke, so Sunnyledge's winking offer with "Wellington" in quotes was an obvious selection. A tower of food arrived: stacked mashed potatoes topped with a modest filet and sliced wild mushrooms, then crowned with a disk of airy pastry. While the impressive presentation had to be dismantled before eating, the rich flavors remained intact and impeccable, even as the steak held center stage.
Angelique indulged a taste for shellfish with an entrée of seared scallops. Four plump, perfectly tender buttons reposed elegantly in a small sea of orange-grapefruit au jus, a mild and citrusy complement to the scallops' savory brininess. Asparagus and green beans, cooked to the narrow precipice of crisp and tender, rounded out the dish.
It would be extremely uncivilized to go to a restaurant the caliber of Sunnyledge and turn down coffee and dessert. We proved our propriety with Kahlua crème brulée. Smooth and creamy with none of the egginess or graininess we often find in crème brulée, it resembled a fine mousse more than a custard.
Everything old is not necessarily new again, but Sunnyledge is far from fusty. Its contingent of young chefs serves up a blend of then and now which is palatably unique.
Jason: 3 stars
Angelique: 3.5 stars