CAFE GEORGIO | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
I suppose the word is eclectic, but Café Georgio has the effect of having been decorated by several over-eager dabblers. One corner has an old Hoosier cabinet repainted in half-a-dozen colors. The walls are pink, purple and pale yellow with barn-wood wainscoting and hung with paintings of flowers and poultry. A large mirror is surrounded by little elephant heads, their trunks all upturned. I can't be sure if it's art or a kooky coat rack.

But I soon settled into the place's quirky décor. Cafe Georgio is casual -- the staff had broken out the shorts -- and lively, and if that means dining beneath a gilt-framed painting of what looked like a chicken wearing a Phyllis Diller wig, then that's OK by me. My seat was placed just right for me to look out through the front windows of this converted Cape Cod bungalow and see only dense spring leaves highlighted by white fairy lights. It was like the "fake outside" view one gets through the windows of a stage backdrop, and it was oddly relaxing.

A little of the room's goofiness spills over into the menu descriptions, and it's hard to resist ordering the Killer Tomato salad (presumably these tomatoes bear no relation to the bloodthirsty fruits in the fabled drive-in flick, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes). I get a large bowl of peaceful, gorgeously red, quartered plum tomatoes combined in a balsamic vinaigrette with capers, red onions, celery, red and green sliced peppers, feta cheese and baby asparagus.

Inclusion seems to be another operative word here. The killer tomatoes had a lot of veggie pals join them in the salad, but the starter my companion ordered boasted an astonishing number of ingredients. The Tanglewood platter held hearts of palm, stuffed grape leaves, prosciutto wrapped around cheese, two types of olives (some were pitted while others were not, which required careful eating), lupini beans, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and four large pieces of creamy St. Andre cheese. Café Georgio also offers flatbreads in several popular varieties like tomato, olive oil and four cheese, but there's a list of another 15 or so toppings if you're in the spirit of stacking up the ingredients.

The menu listed about 30 entrees -- from pastas (two labeled "SPICY!") to a wide selection of meat and fish: steaks, duck, veal osso bucco, ostrich and elk chops. Most of the preparations here, like the décor, show a real mix-and-match sense of adventure. I had the veal Champagne Gruyere. The veal was pounded, breaded and sautéed with butter, garlic, lemon and mushrooms. It arrived covered in a fairly substantial mushroom sauce that had been finished with Champagne; atop it all was melting Gruyere cheese. The mushroom sauce appeared heavier than it was -- it started a bit heavy then finished up light on the lemony accents. The Gruyere cheese -- which sounded so appetizing in print -- proved to be a bit much.

My companion ordered one of the evening's specials -- grilled tournedos of beef tenderloin served with a wild mushroom bread pudding and two sauces (a mushroom brandy cream sauce and a cabernet reduction). The meat was tender and had a nice smoky edge. The mushroom bread pudding was a hit, and my companion agreed, it was an imaginative and tasty way to stretch both stronger-flavored and dearer mushrooms.

Both entrees came with a serving of couscous with a slightly sweet and tangy dressing and slivers of snow peas. We each received a pasta side dish that in any other circumstances would have been a meal on its own: rigatoni in a light marinara sauce mixed with a lot of primavera -- snow peas, carrots, mushrooms, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, plus cheese.

The desserts that night were all pastries: baklava, triple chocolate cake, cheesecake. I chose the Captain Morgan rum cake because it looked the lightest. Indeed it was: The wedge of cake was airy, had a crunchy sugared top, and had been crisscrossed with the good Captain's spiced rum. On the plate were drizzles of vanilla cream and berry sauce, as well as a few sliced strawberries and powdered sugar. Sweet, indulgent and -- like the room -- a trifle over-decorated. But who was complaining? * * *

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