We visited on a less-crowded weekday night and were awarded the choicest table near the window. The menu here is small, but it seemed there were at least as many off-menu specials -- so many specials that I had to ask for the list to be repeated, which our server graciously did. Even then, I was afraid I'd missed remembering something amidst the elaborately detailed descriptions.
I chose to construct a meal from the antipasti side of the menu -- soup, salad and a small meat dish. I arrived too late for the advertised rosemary and leek soup, a minor disappointment since one doesn't often encounter leeks and they make a tasty soup. I accepted the replacement, a pasta fagioli.
This was a good hearty soup, filling and warming for a winter's night. In a substantial tomato base were light kidney beans, chopped carrots, onions, celery and small strips of fettuccini pasta, all topped with grated cheese. A simple enough dish, but it was well seasoned and tasted wonderful.
I chose a salad from that evening's specials, a mixture of arugula lettuce, chopped fennel and red onions dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and ringed with segments of blood oranges and whole kalamata olives. The arugula was soft and buttery, the fennel slightly crunchy. Both sat nicely with the balsamic dressing, but the surprise for me was how delicious the orange segments tasted: The sharpness of the slightly sweet vinegar perfectly complemented the tartness and sweetness of the orange.
My third dish I'm still dreaming about -- filet mignon carpaccio. Slices of beef and slender shavings of parmigiano reggiano were propped up around a bed of arugula. The extra-rare meat was sliced so thin that I feared it would melt under the tines of the fork. Fortunately, it held intact so that it could melt on my tongue. The beef was so sweet and moist, the cheese dry and sharp -- each taste accentuated by the lemon and olive oil dressing.
A caution: Ordering several small dishes makes a wonderful meal and lets you sample many great tastes, but the teeny tiny tables can be quickly overburdened. We were simply lucky that our table sat next to a wide window ledge where I was able to temporarily relocate some condiments.
The fresh-fish special that night was striped bass, which my companion eagerly ordered. The fish -- grilled with lemon juice, olive oil, a little garlic and parsley -- was wonderfully light, well complemented by its seasoning but not drowning in their stronger flavors. The bass was accompanied by two side dishes: a creamy saffron risotto and a mélange of eggplant, olives, tomatoes, celery and capers. Both sides were tasty in their own right, but on a shared fork with the fish their heady flavors overwhelmed the bass's tenderness.
The portions at Dish are standard-sized, in contrast to the mountains of food other Pittsburgh restaurants feel obligated to deliver. (Our basket of bread -- with its accompanying bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar -- was refilled three times without prompting, so if people feel the need to stuff themselves as my companion did that night, there's that back-up.)
The list of dessert choices -- rattled off by our server with a deep breath -- was almost as long as the list of that night's specials. My companion took the chocolate bread pudding, which wasn't a plain bread pudding dressed up with chocolate, but a very dark pure-chocolate sort of dish. What it lacked in looks -- it resembled something like a moist chocolate cake blob (fancied up with a large dollop of whipped cream and raspberry sauce) -- it made up for in taste. The pudding was a divinely sanctioned union between a high-class brownie and a chocolate mousse.
I was tempted by the panna cotta, which is similar to a créme brulee, but I can never resist a creamy cake. White cake, sweetened cream and fresh fruit is so simple yet is always a sublime combination. That night Dish offered a mango and cream cake; the idea of fresh mangoes in the middle of a Midwestern winter seemed positively sinful -- almost as naughty as driving back to Dish at 11 p.m. for another steak carpaccio. * * *