Pittsburgh certainly isn’t known as a “food” city. Though the culinary scene has made marked improvements in recent years, most would agree that it pales in comparison to New York, LA, or as much as it pains me to say…Philly. I long to visit the well known contemporary restaurants in such cities; I often read about them, their menus, their chef’s, and even go as far to make lists of “must visits”. It was while doing such reading that I first heard of Dave Racicot and Notion. I couldn’t help but be excited, this seemed to be the type of place I had been waiting for, the type of cooking I had dreamed would come to Pittsburgh. I knew right away that I had to try it.
If you have visited the links, you’ve already seen that Racicot is extremely accomplished. You will also note that he’s from Indiana, PA (my home town). These and my own culinary interests were enough reason to arrange a visit. So on the rainy evening of April 12th my good friends Emily, Brian, and Steve joined me for my first visit to Notion.
A forewarning, this review is lengthy. The meal was quite an event for my party, and I chose to document it as such. If you don’t care to read feel free to just look at the wonderful pictures provided by my friend and photographer Steven Brewer.
The meal began with the most generous amuse I’ve seen. Instead of a bite, we were provided with a quarter filled glass. I suppose it did it’s job of awakening the palate, and the texture was fun, but the authentic grapefruit taste was a tad bitter for my liking. To be fair, I should note that I had several Diet Coke’s before the meal began – I’m told the artificial sweeteners may have made for additional bitterness.
The first course restored my faith in the meal to come. I will never complain about the addition of lobster, but the cauliflower (both panko crusted and puree) was surely the star. The brown butter powder, dijon mustard discs, grapes, lobster sauce, and minute egg combined to bring “sweet and savory” to another level.
The wild rice risotto was served atop a very rich, and somewhat sweet creme of fines herbs. The sweetness was cut by a parmesan sauce that accompanied both the risotto and the wonderfully meaty helix snails. This was Steve’s favorite dish of the evening. 2/2.
The last of the starters was sweet enough to have doubled as dessert, and that’s not a complaint. I’m well aware that peas are sweet, and this dish really brought their saccharine qualities. Our wonderful server Donny instructed us to eat the liquid honey sphere in one bite. The texture reminded me of a large piece of fish roe though the gentle honey flavor was very different. The lemon shortbread further sweetened the dish, and provided a great texture to go along with the thick pea soup (poured table side). Meanwhile the calamansi pudding added an additional sweet citrus component.
Banana and caper powders, sea beans, vinegar clear gel, olive oil pudding, honshemeji, and those are just the accouterments. The first of the proteins may seem a bit too busy, but I assure you it was not. All of the components combined with a perfectly cooked piece of char and flavorful fava bean custard to make for one of my favorite mains in recent memory.
This dish was the closest one will get to a “standard” preparation at Notion. A classic meat and potato pairing, brought to another level. The prime rib was tender and provided a great beefy flavor. The horseradish sauce was quite strong, but cut in part by the sweetness of the pickled vidalia onions. My favorite component may have been the confit potatoes topped with large rocks of sea salt.
The cheesecake was the first of our desserts. Here we were provided with another sphere of fun, this time with a morello cherry flavor. The cheesecake itself was pleasant, but I wasn’t as much a fan of the black sesame sponge. According to Donny, the sesame sponge was microwaved for exactly 26 seconds. I found the texture too dry and the sesame flavor disconcerting. This was the sole dish my party was not raving about.
The second dessert offering brought a close to our meal. Racicot and team ended on a high note for sure. The light chocolate spheres, nutella whole wheat cake, freeze dried dark chocolate, created a fantastic array of chocolate flavors and textures. I’m not sure how the small dollops of orange sauce had such an authentic and powerful flavor, but the seeming reserved amount in presentation was a perfect amount for taste.
Service throughout the evening was flawless. Our waiter Donny was friendly, attentive, and incredibly knowledgeable about the menu and Racicot’s precise techniques. He let us in on just how much of a perfectionist Racicot is to his craft – and it showed.
I was hoping to have some interaction Racicot, I would love to be able to speak to the man who created such a great menu – maybe even even a word about our hometown. Instead I somewhat shyly and awkwardly thanked him for the meal, perhaps a proper wine pairing would have loosened me up enough to formally introduce myself – next time.
In any event, I believe I will get the chance for a proper introduction as I certainly plan to return. Though still an amateur I know enough to say that Racicot’s many accolades are warranted, and Notion is most definitely worth a visit.