The Library | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Location: 2304 E. Carson St., South Side. 412-381-0517
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. seven days
Prices: Starters $2-9; sandwiches $7-11; entrees $15-20
Fare: Contemporary American with Mediterranean influences
Atmosphere: Bibliothematic
Liquor: Full bar
Smoking: Designated sections

If a person who loves food is a foodie, what do you call a person who loves books? Because, you know, a bookie is something else. Never mind, call us whatever you want -- just don't call us late for dinner, especially not dinner at The Library.

After all, Pittsburgh may be full of theme restaurants, but the theme is always the same: sports. So we were not quite sure what to expect from a restaurant that calls itself The Library -- was it in an old library? Were its walls lined with books? Did it serve literary recipes? But we warmed to the bluestocking theme on a street otherwise lined with sports bars.

Except for one cozy nook furnished with a leather couch, the spaces inside don't feel particularly bookish, and any librarian worth her salt would wear out her shusher in minutes. Rather, the bibliotechnic theme is manifest in the décor -- each tabletop features a mosaic of pages -- and the menus, glued onto the pages of old library books. (In an especially clever touch, the dessert card is typewritten and tucked into a pocket on the inside front cover.) Inside, executive chef Steven Harlow has named each of his dishes after a famous author or title.

A pair of appetizers quickly established that Harlow's concepts work as well on the palate as they do on the page. Billy Goats Gruff is an excellent variation of chiles rellenos, open-face poblano peppers stuffed with silky goat cheese and well matched with a lively chipotle cream sauce and colorful minced bell peppers. The poblano was slightly spicy -- and maybe a bit too crisp -- which contrasted winningly with the creamy cheese.

Bright Red Dark Green is a visually appealing plate of bruschetta topped with sweet halves of sea scallops on small, lightly toasted rounds of bread with diced fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, all in a pool of green peppercorn pesto. The toast rounds were a bit too flimsy for their load, and upon his first bite, Jason's impression was that the four or five distinct flavors and textures together were too busy. But before long we were mopping up the peppercorn pesto with the last of the bruschetta, having discovered that the contrasting ingredients were complementary, not competing.

The entrée list is short, which we always take as a good sign that the chef is focusing on the strengths of both his kitchen and the season's freshest foods.

Of eight entrees representing the main preferences of most restaurant-goers (beef, pork, poultry, seafood, pasta), we quickly agreed on two: Rolland's Roulade and Yellow Brick Road.

The roulade -- named for Romain Rolland, a French author -- combines three meats: ground lamb rolled in veal and wrapped in bacon. Again, contrasting textures -- tender-firm lamb, resilient (but not tough) veal and crisp bacon -- worked together. And while the fruity aspect of the pomegranate-peppercorn sauce was subtle, the effect was superb, adding flavor without being too assertive. Potatoes on the side were pureed save one chunk; whether this was an escapee or yet another textural contrast, we weren't sure. Regardless, they were potatoes at their starchy, hearty, creamy best, and the wilted spinach, generously studded with pressed garlic, was top notch.

Yellow Brick Road featured mussels, chorizo and tomatoes in saffron chipotle broth. Studded with minced garlic, the broth was intense, but the flavors and textures of both the succulent, saline mussels and the toothsome, spicy chorizo stood out. The dish was accompanied by a salmon corn biscuit textured with cornmeal and whole kernels. While there were no obvious chunks of salmon, the fish's rich seafood flavor permeated the batter.

For dessert, Charlotte Cake -- after the most famous Brontë sister -- was new to us. Prepared by pastry chef Christen Biddinger, it was an edible geodesic dome comprised of thin slices of raspberry jellyroll mounded over a light, mild chocolate mousse. In recognition of the importance of balance, the mousse contributes more creamy texture than intense chocolate flavor, and a superb conclusion to an enjoyable meal.

Chefs Howell and Biddinger have created a menu that would be worth a visit no matter how it was presented. Whether you find the library theme clever or cloying, the food, with its fearless combinations and successful preparations, is something to check out.



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