Notion was one of the few Pittsburgh restaurants I kept up with while living in San Diego. Whether it be by Chef Racicot’s twitter account, the restaurants facebook page, or eating vicariously through a favorite reviewer – another visit to Notion became a top priority upon returning to the area.
I was joined by my best friend Kate for the Chef’s tasting menu. “Deal” is not commonly associated with fine-dining, but I really feel it is worth mentioning here. This type of experience for such a price seems beyond generous, and that’s before even considering the quality of the dishes. Speaking of which…
The amuse was really a bonus course. Barely seared bay scallops, roasted onions, and tart grapefruit were covered with a sweet white chocolate soup. The addition of crisp onion chips and chopped hazelnuts added a great textural element to this sweeter side of savory meal opener. A great start.
I think the tartar may become a signature dish at Notion. It was the only menu item that had remained since my last visit, and even better than I remembered. Our great server, Kenneth informed us that the bulgogi sauce was actually inspired by GM Jennifer Jin’s family recipe. My compliments all around.
Several forms of cauliflower referred to a base puree, pieces roasted with olive oil, and dehydrated florets placed on top. A warm apple cider was poured table-side to complete the dish. This was a deceivingly heavy course, but the spice from the red curry aioli moderated the richness. I still had to finish my dining companions portion…though there may have been a bit of suggestion on my part.
A thick base puree displayed the starchier characteristics of white beans. Sweet ham, tart granny smith apple, cherry and molasses gelee, and toasted rosemary crisps provided a great balance of textures and flavor. Meanwhile the maple bubbles added an additional sweet element without weighing the dish down. I’m always excited for new dishes, but I hope this one sticks around.
Like an avant-garde play on lox. This dish had all the classic components in more refined forms. Katy actually disliked salmon before trying this sous-vide prepared piece. Another standout.
The final savory of the tasting was a nicely seared ribeye presented alongside a mushroom and cabbage farce. The crisped kale pieces we’re good enough to be bagged and sold on their own. The vermouth bubbles added a touch of sweetness to an otherwise aggressively seasoned dish. I’m a big fan of bold flavors, but I could see this being too much for someone sensitive to salt.
We decided to add a supplement for our true final savory course. Another dish with a seafood broth poured table side. I appreciated the oceanic flavors, and especially the beautiful presentation, but I wasn’t as impressed as I was by the items on the set tasting. Not a let down, but not a highlight.
This is a fine example of Racicot and team taking creative flavor pairings and somehow making them work. Prominent citrus flavors cut through the rich chocolate ganache and slightly bitter coffee flavors. I can’t say I got much from the rose water gelee, but I can’t say I missed it.
As successful as our first dessert was, this was hands down the winner. The airy licorice cake was lighter in both color and density, while the darker parsnip brought a buttery weight . Tart granny smith and sweet honey crisp apples came atop a birch custard before everything was drizzled with warm crème anglaise. A great seasonal dessert, and a great way to finish.
When I first visited Notion, I mentioned that a few of the dishes were among the best I ever had. After having a quite a few more memorable dining experiences, I’m happy to report that they have kept their position and I’ve found a few more favorites. Racicot’s style would stand out anywhere, let alone in an area that has not traditionally been a culinary hot spot.
If your interest in food stems beyond simple sustenance, I whole heartedly recommend a visit. I used to say “you won’t find anything like it near Pittsburgh“, I can now say that you won’t find anything like Notion for much, much further.