Déjà Vu Lounge and Restaurant | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Déjà Vu Lounge and Restaurant

Location: 2106 Penn Ave., Strip District. 412-434-1144
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
Prices: Appetizers, salads, sandwiches and pizza $7-12; entrees $16-22
Fare: A little of everything
Atmosphere: Is the martini craze over yet?

In dining as in every other social pursuit, there are leaders and there are followers. The leaders are the true originals and, because really original cooking is rare and usually very pricey, there is a big appetite for imitation. It is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.

Perhaps this explains why, when we walked into Déjà Vu, we had the distinct feeling we had been there before. The plummy colors, the curvy modern furnishings, the vaguely Asian-inspired artwork on the exposed-brick walls … they added up less to a distinctive theme than to a sort of decorative pastiche of the trendy urban eateries of the past five minutes. At first glance, the menu, likewise, was a predictable hit parade of classic and come-lately morsels: spinach-artichoke dip, bruschetta and seared ahi tuna all jostled for attention, their disparate origins and methods of preparation belying a specialty or knack for innovation in the kitchen.

But a second glance revealed some stabs at genuine novelty amid the checklist approach to culinary fashion. On a menu that alternated between Asian-esque and modern Italian favorites, occasional items attempted to fuse the two traditions, as with the salmon in ginger-butter sauce or the prosciutto-wrapped shrimp with cilantro-lime aioli and spicy teriyaki. And, indeed, some of these ventures beyond the tried-and-true succeed.

Others did not. Intriguing though they may have been, the aforementioned salmon and shrimp were not successful experiments. The prosciutto wrap, once grilled, turned black and overwhelmingly salty, overpowering the delicate shellfish and disagreeing with the spicy-sweet sauce. We weren't convinced that we had gotten the right entrée when the salmon arrived, shrouded in a purple sauce which betrayed little evidence of either butter or ginger, its supposed main ingredients. All but flavorless, it led us to think we would have preferred no dressing at all on the salmon, whose succulent texture begged to be enjoyed. Its bed of risotto bore only a passing semblance to the tender, creamy rice dish that we adore. Here, the grains were gummy and bland with little evidence of herbs.

We were of two minds on the sweet-and-sour Asian meatballs. Pleasantly surprised to find a fresh, tender-crisp seaweed salad on the plate, Jason limited his compliments to that, as Angelique -- not even usually a sweet-and-sour fan -- scarfed down meaty spheres covered in a thick, sweet, chunky sauce. Spicy crab-rolls in fried wrappers with Cajun sauce were crispy, creamy and piquant, giving us a tantalizing glimpse of Déjà Vu's ability to offer familiar fare with a delicious twist. Angelique also had praise for the house salad, in which roasted red peppers, olives and bite-sized bits of cooked cauliflower and broccoli added savor and substance to the typical bunch of mixed greens.

For those disinterested in culinary trends -- even those that have become clichés -- Déjà Vu has pizza. While the pepperoni pizza didn't approach pizzeria quality, the crust was baked cracker-crisp on the outside, fluffy and airy on the inside, and featured a thick blanket of browned cheese, though scarcely any tomato sauce.

Plainly, Déjà Vu's main aspiration is to be a swanky nightclub, and the menu points in that direction, eschewing deep-fried bar food for more upscale restaurant fare. And despite the pre-packaged feel of many of the dishes, the kitchen has clearly given some thought to their assemblage. Yet, ultimately, the attempt to be all things to all partiers has sabotaged all but the very best efforts, leading to an inconsistent dining experience that doesn't bear repeating.

Jason: 2 stars
Angelique: 2 stars