Per Mie Figlia | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
Location: Forbes and Murray avenues, Squirrel Hill; 412-521-1818
Hours: Tue.-Fri. 4-9 p.m.; Sat. 5-10 p.m.;
Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 5-9 p.m.
Prices: Starters $8-12; entrees, $18-38
Fare: Creative Sicilian
Atmosphere: Expansive dining room with a view
Liquor: BYOB

The corner of Forbes and Murray in Squirrel Hill is one of Pittsburgh's major crossroads and, as such, a prime spot for people-watching. Sure, Oakland is the place for punks and all manner of student poses, and everyone who's ever bought or sold food has strutted their stuff in the Strip. But the constant flow of humanity at the corner of Forbes and Murray marks one of the few spots in Pittsburgh where pedestrians rule the road.

And what better vantage point than high above it all? Three stories up, the bus exhaust disappears and the occasional honk of an impatient motorist is just part of the background din. And recently, the replacement of a Gulf station with a retail/office block has opened this view for anyone willing to buy an Italian meal.

Per Mie Figlia ("For My Daughters") is related to another restaurant with an Italian name: Allentown's tiny Alla Famiglia is famous as Pittsburgh's answer to Rao's, the New York dining room whose 10 tables are likely to seat DeNiro or maybe a Gotti. Chef Paul Johnson left Allentown this year for the bright twinkle-lights of Forbes Avenue, opening his own large, crescent-shaped dining room overlooking the street on one side and an open kitchen on the other. Tomato-colored walls and handsome cherrywood seats add warmth to a space that is the opposite of intimate, while dishes named after Johnson's daughters remind you that this is a family business.

The menu is of medium length and in-depth, showcasing the fact that Johnson -- though hardly a paisan, hailing from an Irish mother and a Native American father -- has made a serious study of Sicilian cuisine. Seafood and piquant Mediterranean ingredients including olives and capers are prominent, but we found grilled chops and a few pastas in tomato sauce on hand as well.

Presented with a basket of warm bread accompanied by three toppings -- cannellini beans mashed with pimiento and parsley, goat cheese with spinach and artichoke, and olive oil with lemon, garlic and red pepper -- we limited ourselves to a single appetizer. Frito bufala, breaded and fried disks of mozzarella topped with tomato sauce, bore as much resemblance to pub grub as filet mignon to a bar burger. The roasted tomatoes were firm and sweet, the breading crispy and herbal, and the cheese itself substantial and chewy, like a mozzarella steak.

Next up were our salads, generously portioned with roasted red peppers, crumbled gorgonzola, chewy bits of dried fruit and half a roasted Roma tomato each. Between this and our main courses, a pasta course appeared: small plates of penne just coated -- not doused -- in a light marinara and finished with coarsely chopped fresh parsley.

Already stuffed, we tackled our entrees. Jason had indulged his love of shellfish by ordering linguine cozza de mare: shrimp, lobster tails and scallops studding a plate of al dente linguine. The only flaw was an underseasoned tomato sauce, but in a dish so simple, this oversight stood out. Nonetheless, with a little salt and pepper, the demands of Neptune were met.

Angelique had bracciole, thin slices of steak rolled around a filling of chopped spinach and cheese. This arrived in a pool of its own stewed juices with large specimens of roasted vegetables. Rich as it was -- the steak was very tender, the spinach very fine and almost creamy with the warm grated cheese mixed in -- the dish was so subtly seasoned, we tasted little to set it apart from the comfortable stew of pot roast.

Since banana tiramisu, the house's signature dessert, did not appeal to us, we tried the more seasonal peach pie instead. It was everything soft, sweet and summery that peach pie should be -- nothing less, nothing more. It was, in other words, the average of our experience at Per Mie Figlia, where some dishes exceeded our expectations, and others fell just short. The view, however, is always superb.

Jason: 2.5 stars
Angelique: 2.5 stars

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