I rarely go to restaurants. After dining out I am always thinking of what I could have done at home for the same cost, or how something could have been done much better. I recognize that dining out is a social experience and there is no cleaning up required. Running a successful restaurant is incredibly difficult. On top of the cost of ingredients, you are paying salaries, insurance, utilities etc. It would be interesting if the check came out with all of the costs of the meal printed out. The reality of running a food business smacks the inspired chef in the face. Many things that would be great to do simply can't be done. However you can do it at home. For example, the classic Caprese salad. I never order it. Typically it consists of some rubbery mozzarella, under-ripe tomatoes, basil and some cheap gallon-jug olive oil. At home I can make fresh mozzarella, and serve it, still warm, with heirloom tomatoes and great olive oil. What restaurants can do is access difficult to source product, like toro (fatty tuna), aged steak, fresh fish and they can things that are really time consuming or need to be made ahead of time, like stocks or pickled items. They can also bring interesting ideas and presentations.
What I am looking for is a restaurant that serves things that I don't or can't do at home. I also want wait staff that is committed to what they are doing and has a knowledge of what the restaurant is serving. So many restaurants go to great lengths to create an atmosphere and interesting food only to have the server drop a gigantic stink bomb on the whole thing.
If you have a favorite restaurant that is worth trying post it.
The one restaurant in Pittsburgh that ticks all the boxes is Legume. Chef Trevett Hooper serves American/French fare that is locally sourced and always interesting. Pickling, canning, and butchering, are done on-site. He writes a prolific news letter that exudes his enthusiasm and clearly shows what makes Legume special; a sincere commitment to the farm-to-table, home made, and non-GMO food. Even though there are easier, more profitable, ways to do things, he has steadfastly stayed the course and the results are really incredible. Maybe even more unusual is the fact that he actually is an excellent writer.
What is good to order? His soups sometimes don't really sound so good, like "watermelon buttermilk" soup, but are always phenomenal. Recently, a kimchee soup was spicy and just incredible deep layers of flavor. I frequently order anything on his menu that sounds weird or unappetizing; it's a venture off the beaten path that is usually an eye-opening delicious experience. If he offered bass and kumquat smoothies as a main course I'd order it!
I have always found the waitstaff to be professional knowledgable about what they are serving. The last time we ate there I complimented our server for not barging into our discussions with the all to familiar "HOW'S EVERYTHING TASTING?" He explained that he prefers to walk by the table and give the diner the opportunity to easily catch his eye if they need something. So simple but unfortunately uncommon.
Try it out and let me know if you like it. Check out the reviews on Yelp. Chuck