WALNUT STREET GRILL | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
I knew I was in trouble when the red pepper hummus arrived. An appetizer should whet the appetite of a diner -- be a tease. The platter before me was no joke. I reckoned it contained enough food to tickle the appetites of a dozen diners: a bowl with at least a cup-and-a-half of hummus surrounded by a sliced baguette. I should have noted that the big bowls and plates at the adjacent table held starters, not main courses. And I shouldn't have assumed that the cheapest appetizer on the menu would be the smallest.

The hummus was meant to come with toasted flat bread, but the baguette proved an able substitute. The bread had been sliced just prior to serving and it was still fresh. The hummus was sharp from the garlic, but smoky and sweet from the roasted red peppers. Smooth, creamy and fresh, it seemed a real shame to let it idle; even before the second appetizer arrived, I'd "sampled" most of it.

I had a delicate bite of each stuffed portobello mushroom ($8), concurring with my companion's raving that the two were so deliciously different. The mushroom flavor reigned in the one topped with spinach and feta; here the fresh spinach and browned cheese provided complementary accents. With the second mushroom, the slightly salty lump crabmeat triumphed, and the mushroom simply acted as a vehicle for it.

Still nibbling on the hummus, I took in the decor. I was entranced by a chandelier made from slender bars of twisted metal, which ended in thin cylindrical lights -- a look somewhere between industrial and gothic. Eclecticism was prevalent: painted walls of earthy ochre supported both a large brushed metal abstract sculpture and a framed illustration of Fallingwater; a heavily sculpted carpet ran into a tile floor; and smooth blond wood banquettes sat beneath a copperish metal tree. The many wide windows overlooking Walnut and Bellefonte streets would give some, especially daytime diners, an amusing perch by which to ogle the mercado spectacle below of turned-out shoppers and super-sized SUVs trying to parallel park.

The 12-ounce New York strip steak au poivre ($18) had been generously covered in cracked black peppercorns. Ordered medium-rare, the meat was juicy, and with a mouth full of pepper, juicy is good. The accompanying brandy cream sauce unfortunately was too delicate and was utterly lost against the peppery steak or the garlicky potatoes. We'd each ordered the vegetable medley (snow peas, carrots, cauliflower and squash). They were warm but crunchy -- which is how I personally prefer my vegetables -- but others might argue that they were "slightly undercooked."

Meatloaf is often stodgy, packed with everything but meat, yet still tasteless. "Veal meatloaf" ($14) sounded lighter and less apt to resemble a slab of grayish-brown mystery meat, so I impulsively switched my order from salmon. "You hate meatloaf," said my companion. I agreed, but this entree had intrigued me.

I was not disappointed. Four generous slices of veal meatloaf had been grilled, which gave the meat an extra smokiness that nicely boosted the sweetness of the veal. The loaf itself was mostly meat, seasoned with rosemary. The veal stock reduction, served on the side, was tangy, and the forkfuls of meatloaf, sauce and mashed potatoes were immensely satisfying. Warm, meaty, comforting. It won my heart, or what little of it was left after the love affair with the hummus. I was embarrassed to ask the waitress to wrap up what appeared to be an untouched meal, but she graciously complied and even asked if I'd like more of the reduction sauce in my to-go box. Yes, please. I'd just realized there hadn't been enough sauce for all that meat anyhow.

After I left (down the stairs past the mountaineering store -- stuffed as I was, who could even dream of scaling a cliff face?), I stood by the menu posted outside, checking out what desserts had eluded me. A woman walking by said without prompting, "It's good! And beautiful." I was startled -- could she read my mind? Maybe, but at least she hadn't seen I was toting two big doggie boxes (the waitress, bless her heart, had wrapped up the remaining hummus) labeled with the restaurant's funky logo. She'd have wondered what my problem was. It was quite simply: too much hummus. ***

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