Location: 1469 Bower Hill Road, Upper St. Clair. 412-221-1232 or www.wildrosemary.com
Hours: Tue.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.
Prices: Entrees $27-41
Fare: Sophisticated, seasonal American
Atmosphere: Country cottage
Liquor: BYOB; $2/person corkage
"Good things will come to you." This, simply, is the motto of Wild Rosemary, a small restaurant opened last fall by three friends in a woodsy hollow between Upper St. Clair and Bridgeville. As a promise of the dining experience it provides, these words are elemental, humble -- and true.
In their expansiveness, they belie the exquisite particularity with which Wild Rosemary's co-owners -- chef Gloria Fortunato, baker Lynne Bielewicz and front-of-the-house manager Cathleen Enders -- have designed every aspect of the restaurant, from the place settings to the fresh, seasonal menu.
Although located in the spacious suburbs, Wild Rosemary seems to live by the city dictum of making the most of a small space and a few well-chosen things. The narrow, mid-century Modern building is, we guess, approximately the size of the kitchen in most suburban restaurants -- it seats just 28. But, in her corollary role as chief designer, Enders has managed to create the ambience of a contemporary, candlelit cottage: warm and intimate, never cluttered or fussy. Chairs, silverware and decorations are mismatched, but in the ultimately harmonious manner of an eclectic, happy family. Service, similarly, is friendly, verging on the casual, but knowledgeable and, in this tiny setting, respectful of diners' privacy and space.
We scored what must be the best seat in the house in winter, the table next to the red-tiled fireplace. Outside, where pretty plantings along a stone retaining wall soften the roadside setting, there's a small, sheltered garden seating area with a chiminea. Here we noticed a hanging basket of grape tomatoes; sure enough, they showed up throughout our meal, fresh in salads and seared on the side.
Wild Rosemary's Italian- and Mediterranean-inspired menu changes every two weeks to showcase the freshest in-season ingredients, but each iteration is brief and to the point: about eight entrees, matched with a small suite of carefully selected sides (no substitutions, please). Vegetarian meals can be prepared on request. There are no a la carte appetizers, soups or salads, but the kitchen provides a complimentary starter before each meal. On the night we were there, this was a stack of homemade flatbread "crackers" topped with eggplant and the aforementioned seared grape tomatoes.
We both wanted to try the rack of lamb; after Jason won the coin toss, he relished a generous, but not gut-stuffing, serving of four chops, well seared and intensely flavorful. The bed of "sauce oregano" was a reduction, not too rich, that augmented the supple meat and spotlighted the double-roasted potatoes, which were tender and deeply flavored.
A New York strip steak was simply grilled to highlight the flavor of excellent beef and a side of chili-tomato jam. We wished the kitchen had been a bit more generous with the jam, as our dollop was soon lost in the little salad that shared the plate. Potatoes mashed with Maytag blue cheese were a great success, striking the balance between enriching the simple starch and saturating the palate.
Wanting to sample the kitchen's mettle with seafood, Angelique ordered the dayboat scallops. Despite being frequent diners of the shellfish, neither of us has ever had a scallop dish as phenomenally good as this one. The scallops themselves were perfectly seared, savory-sweet pucks in a nest of extraordinarily tender bucatini from Irwin-based artisanal pasta maker Fede. Roasted grape tomatoes and peppery wilted arugula accompanied the shellfish in a light, aromatic broth of white wine, lemon and shallots. Most wonderfully, matchsticks of firm, nutty parmigiano reggiano cheese stood in the dish like the tendrils of an anemone, a gorgeous presentation equaled only by the symphonic combination of flavors and textures chef Fortunato created. A green salad on the side added earthly balance to this seafood-centered meal.
Any excuse to linger at Wild Rosemary -- yes, we'll see the dessert menu, please! Lynne Bielewicz's cakes, tarts and cheesecakes, which we saw being carried to other tables during our meal, were visual delights, but most were sold out by the time we were ready to order dessert. No matter. Sherried berries with crème fraiche was the epitome of a fresh summer dessert, the berries at the peak of their juicy ripeness, the sherry drawing out their natural sweetness, the cream round and luxurious in the mouth.
Our only word of caution about Wild Rosemary is that it is hardly a well-kept secret. The restaurant's growing reputation and diminutive size mean that you should make your reservation well in advance. It is worth the wait. Go to Wild Rosemary, and good things will surely come to you.