When a local flood advisory was issued, I couldn't resist dining at La Recette, a restaurant perched high above the Allegheny River. From my window table, I thought might spy something terribly out-of-place floating by. Thankfully that night -- I must admit that weather is not for my amusement -- the Allegheny River presented nothing more alarming than a barge calmly going about its business downstream.
La Recette has a rather ordinary exterior, but inside, the place is bright and clubby with a small bar, an orange dining room that faces Allegheny River Boulevard, and a glass-walled rear dining area with views up and down the river. On a warm summer's evening I suspect the window-side diner would see a steady stream of pleasure craft coming and going from the Fox Chapel Yacht Club, which sits almost directly across the river.
The menu here is deceptively basic -- a dozen or so entrees listed quite simply: "salmon du jour," "New York strip." Yet, without exception, each dish we received that evening was presented with elegance and proved to be anything but basic.
We began with a hometown creation, crab Hoelzel. Jumbo lump crabmeat had been tossed with a tarragon vinaigrette, seasoned with chives and cracker black peppercorns and piled into a hollowed-out tomato. (An accompanying wedge of lemon had been wrapped in a piece of bright yellow cheesecloth to prevent the seeds from interfering -- a small touch that bespeaks of attention to detail.) The crabmeat was sweet and moist, its rich flavor perfectly complemented by the light vinaigrette.
We also ordered the soup du jour (five-onion soup is the usual house offering), which was lentil soup -- split lentils, thin strands of pasta and vegetables in a smoky brown broth -- and a small house salad. The salad was a simple gathering of fresh baby lettuces with red onions, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, yet the cucumbers had been elegantly carved and ringed the greens as pedestals for delicately balanced tomatoes. Tangy walnut apple vinaigrette added a nice tartness.
We had each chosen one of that evening's specials -- I had the prime rib and my companion opted for the barbecued pork ribs. Between the appetizer course and the entrée, I received a palate cleanser -- a tiny scoop of lemon sorbet with wee sprig of mint.
I'm not sure why I received one and my companion didn't -- perhaps because he had ordered the down-home-style special: ribs, beans and greens and coleslaw.
The "queen cut" prime rib I'd ordered was frankly fit for a king; it was a huge slab of beef basking in its own juices, perfectly tender and lightly seasoned. The beef was served with a side plate of baby carrots sautéed in an herbed butter until just slightly soft and new potatoes whose skins had been carved before being halved and broiled, resulting in a "rougher" potato with more crunchy edges.
My companion's pork ribs were double-stacked on a large plate prompting the immediate comparison to the giant bones Fred Flinstone favors. The ribs -- while a surprising entrée -- were excellent: Doused with a slightly spicy tomato-based sauce, the soft generous hunks of meat simply fell away from the bone. Definitely finger food. The greens and beans were more sophisticated than your standard BBQ hut might offer: sautéed escarole and spinach mixed with white beans.
For dessert we swooned over a Nutella pie. Nutella, the Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread, had been whipped with cream into a light velvety goodness before being molded into a thick graham cracker crust. We scooped up every last bit, including whipped cream and caramel sauce.
There's no need to wait for the next batch of inclement weather to visit. The river is charming in any season. And La Recette's revamped menu has prices to suit all; with a $7.95 sandwich or a $10.95 pasta plate, a diner gets the same pleasant service and lovely setting, view and all. ***