Location: 515 Allegheny Ave., Oakmont. 412-828-0570
You want to be in Pittsburgh when the world ends, the old saw goes, since everything happens five years later here.
But geez, it's not as bad as all that. Take the local restaurant scene: It's far from provincial. When hunger strikes, we've got choices representative of most tasty foreign cuisines, including Italian done any which way but loose (and, come to think of it, we've had it that way too).
What is avant-garde dining anyway? We've heard of "concept" restaurants in some big cities where the ingredients are things we would not even normally think of as food. Maybe it's sour grapes, but between that and a staid American grill with décor dating from the Reagan administration, we'd much prefer the latter.
One such place is located in Oakmont, a family-oriented community closely identified with its landmark country club. The pace of life is leisurely in Oakmont, and the Chelsea Grille, hopping on a Friday night, is welcoming if not exactly up-to-the-minute in its dusty rose booths and diagonal oak paneling. Its menu covers mostly familiar ground, with red-sauce pasta, chops and an unusual predilection for Mornay sauce (a béchamel with cheese).
Which is not to say that dinner here is rote. Quite the opposite.
The first dish we tried was simultaneously new to us and classically Pittsburgh. Fritto baguette consists of a narrow loaf of Italian bread with provolone inserted in slits along its length; the whole is then battered, deep-fried, and served with marinara and Mornay sauces. With its tender crust and mix of astringent and creamy sauces, it was simultaneously simple and decadent. We're not sure why this isn't on every menu in the region.
Chicken Wisconsin consisted of not one, not two, but three tender moist breasts, loosely coated in panko and served with melted Dijon cheddar cheese, chewy-crisp bacon and chopped fresh tomato. This made for a rarebit-esque combination that was supremely satisfying in its balance of flavors -- salty, smoky, creamy, tangy and sweet -- and textures. We'd go back to Chelsea Grille for this dish alone.
From the pasta list, cannelloni contained the same high-quality, flavorful chicken cut into small pieces and combined with shredded spinach, cheese and the chunky plum-tomato-and-basil marinara we encountered on the baguette. It was a savory filling, and we liked the way the marinara and the cheese mixed to make an impromptu tomato cream sauce. Unfortunately, the pasta which was the basis for this dish was a little tough.
Veal is well represented on the menu, and was offered as a special as well: with leeks and gorgonzola in a creamy sauce, with roasted red peppers alongside for a bit of brightness. The thin veal was mostly tender, but with a couple tough areas. The sauce was subtly flavored by the leeks, but the leeks themselves were also a bit tough; the gorgonzola and peppers, however, combined superbly.
The Chelsea Grille isn't the place to bring that hip out-of-town guest who demands the very latest in cuisine; there are plenty of trendy places for that. But if you want a near-flawless meal that, instead of trying to show off, merely tries to please your palate, head over to the Chelsea Grille.