A few weeks back, I had the pleasure to join a friend of mine for dinner before heading back to his studio to record an episode of his podcast. We easily decided on one of the hottest restaurants in Pittsburgh, Morcilla. Please check out Garrett Titlebaum’s Podcast It’s Nice to See He’s Working and listen to our episode here. It was a wonderful meal, with equally outstanding company.
Our waitress was an excellent guide to the expansive and complex menu during the entire meal. She initially helped us decide on cocktails and we both went with (two different preparations) of their house gin and housemade tonics. I went with a lovely lavender, juniper berry, mint, and orange citrus accent. The gin was perfectly smooth with just the slightest twist of that alcoholic finish. The tonic equally matched the gin and created an outstanding, craft cocktail. I look forward to working my way through their gin and tonic menu as much as I do their food offerings.
You can’t say “Morcilla” without their charcuterie program being the next, immediate thought. Justin Severino is the undisputed king of in-house charcuterie (with some outstanding contenders at Spork , Altius and Butcher and the Rye). What he does with nose-to-tail usage of an animal and his unique approaches to butchery are second to none. I was extremely impressed with their offerings and due to my inability to pick a few of the options that I wanted to sample, we went with the aptly named “All the Meats”.
From the top left, working clockwise around the entire plate are: Fuet (a fattier hard pork salami with garlic), the Morcilla Achorizada (pork salami darkened through the usage of pigs blood, with a fine mince of pimento), Salchichon (pork salami darkened through a heavy portion of nutmeg, one of our favorites of the night), Chorizo (another dark spicy pork salami, topped with dates and vanilla, it was like a spicy porky sweet explosion).
Under the Chorizo was the Serrano Ham, an 18 month aged sliced ham, one of only two meats on the menu not made in-house. To the left of the Serrano Ham, overlapping slightly, was the finest ham available for purchase, the world famous Jamon Iberico de Bellota (Iberico ham). Much like Kobe Beef, Chardonnay, or Parmigiano-Reggiano, Serrano and Iberico hams are made in such a unique, proprietary way, that nowhere else in the world are you able (or legally allowed) to duplicate the process (nor could you if you tried). The flavor profiles were both extremely unique both to each other and to all of the other hams I’ve sampled before. The Serrano has a buttery mouthfeel, with an inherent smokey flavor that lingers between the ribbons of soft fat. The Iberico on the other hand, was far nuttier, with a deeper and more intense pork flavor. The fat melted in your mouth and coated the deep red pork meat beautifully. It’s a rare experience, but I don’t think your enjoyment of the meal will suffer much if you go with the delicious Serrano over the Iberico.
Directly below the two Serrano and Iberico, on the right side of the plate, was the incredible Sobrasada. A spreadable pork salami with dried chilis and Spanish paprika (pimenton), it was a gorgeous rough, paste, not unlike a bacon jam or a smoother chopped liver. The flavor was intensely meaty, rich like a lardon but with the texture of a finely diced carpaccio. Below that was the lomo, a dried pork loin seasoned with adobo spices. Not far from a pork jerky, it stripped nicely along the lines of fat, with a good deep smoke from the adobo.
Finishing off the plate were the slices of crispy bread and Manzanilla olives, strongly flavored with citrus, rosemary, and olive oil, providing a nice acidic bite through all of the fatty, heavy meats. The Marcona almonds served on the plate were lightly toasted with olive oil and sprinkled very lightly with sea salt. They worked to enhance the flavors of the pork slices that they were served atop. The almonds in a huge bowl on the side were enhanced even further with an outstanding lavender sugar and sea salt coating, making them the perfect bar snack to enjoy throughout the meal with both our charcuterie and cocktails.
Easily the best plate of the entire night (so good, in fact, that we ordered a second one) was the Oxtail montadito. The montaditos section of the menu is small, with only 4 options (from anchovy, shrimp, sausage, or oxtail) and each served on one- or two-bite slices of thinly sliced crispy bread. The oxtail, slow braised for hours, had such an intensely beefy flavor, you could tell it had been treated with care and aplomb for the hours it had taken to prepare. The thin slice of melty, rich oxtail was served over caramelized onions and topped with melted Mahon cheese, created a small, but powerful bite of roasted beef, sweet and salty onions, rich and creamy cheese, and crispy bread, which was (fittingly) described to us as “deconstructed French onion soup”. The flavor profile, the deep richness of the entire dish is something that cannot be faked and can only be captured through hours and hours of slow-roasting a beautiful cut of meat, braising it perfectly, and serving it simple enough to highlight each of the flavor and textural nuances. An outstanding dish and an absolute can’t miss.
Unfortunately, I was less impressed with the Crab churro. A long crispy pastry tube, filled with a well-balanced and sweet seafood mixture filling, it just didn’t work for me overall. The texture was fine and the concept was unique, but the flavors of the crab and seafood weren’t balanced enough with the heavy churro pastry. The citrus aioli was a nice companion, but couldn’t serve to save the entire dish which I feel was a holdover from the earlier summer months.
The Pulpo Escabeche was a classic Spanish dish, handled wonderfully, with some of the best octopus I’ve ever had. Perfectly chargrilled, smokey, with a wonderful seafood snap and smooth interior of the meat, it was unlike any other octopus I’ve had. Nothing chewy or resistant in the texture whatsoever, it ate like a cross between a giant shrimp, slow-cooked chicken, and scallop. The wonderful briny sweetness of good fresh seafood worked with the salty new potatoes and creamy potato foam to balance each other out. Acid from the diced tomatoes and a delicious olive oil balanced the dish wonderfully. A beautifully composed and balanced seafood dish in a pork-heavy menu.0
The last dish that we shared of the night was the Pork Belly a la Plancha. The meaty, smoky cut was prepared a la plancha (or on a griddle) allowing it to gain that excellent crispy bacon exterior, while the fat within renders and makes the meat more pliable and melty. The exquisite cut of meat was served with Chistorra (a quick-cure Spanish sausage), chopped hazelnuts, and sprigs of fresh dill. The crunch and deep earthiness of the nuts worked wonderfully with the bounce of the sausage and equally crispy and smooth pork belly. An expertly crafted dish from an expert craftsman.
It’s hard to read about all of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh and not feel a slight bit of apprehension or concern when viewing it all from a critical eye. That being said, with all of the hype, with all of the attention, I had an outstanding meal at Morcilla and can’t wait to return and explore the ever-changing menu even deeper.