6-8-16 / Poros / Pittsburgh, PA

After my delicious lunch at Poros in Market Square, I was anxious to share the amazing find with my parents and my Aunt who was in visiting from California. The meal was very enjoyable, but very different from the lunch service. I absolutely stand by my strong recommendation of their lunch (the $19 prix-fixe is still excellent), but their dinner program is very disjointed and expensive. I really don’t like to harp on or focus on cost, but it’ll become clearer as to why it was so distressing.

 

I’ll get into it further below.

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Of course we had to start off with the three dips, (from left to right: hummus, baba ganoush, tzatziki. Definitely a great deal at $12 for all three, with unlimited homemade pita and grilled bread from Mediterra bakery. The baba was still extremely smooth, topped with those pomegranate seeds again, and packed with garlic. I’ve always preferred a chunkier baba ganoush, especially to texturally differ it from the pureed chickpea texture of hummus, which in this case was equally delicious. Both well-blended with tahini and roasted garlic, they served the sea salt and rosemary pita quite nicely. The bread, grilled and drizzled with olive oil, still paired beautifully with that tzatziki, the bitter and sour burnt flavor of the grill marks with the cool and creamy cucumbery yogurt of the tzatziki just makes for a really nice summer snack.

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As a shared vegetable for the table, we went with the asparagus (after being told they were out of artichokes and to avoid the cauliflower) served with a lovely Blood Orange yogurt sauce. The thick stalks of fresh asparagus were grilled beautifully, tossed with olive oil and lemon and paired with that aforementioned sauce. Really a unique and different addition to one of my favorite vegetables, the tart acidity and sweetness of the blood oranges and yogurt worked with the creaminess to balance out the grilled bite of the smokey vegetables. A really nice, really fresh accompaniment.

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My father went with two scallops and two shrimp (more on the “plate” structuring below) but we were all very impressed with the skill and preparation of the two shellfish. The shrimp were chargrilled, crunchy and smoky with that good snap of a fresh shrimp. They were also the best kind of oxymoronic, huge shrimp. The strong sweetness of the shrimp held up quite nicely against the strong grill flavors, as did the gorgeous sear on the day boat scallops. Buttery-soft inside with that ideal crispy sear on both ends, the scallops were expertly cooked and wonderfully fresh.

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For my entree, I chose to share two 8 oz portions of fish with my mother. We decided on the boneless Lavraki (Branzino) fillet and the Ahi Tuna. We chose to go with both of the two very similar grilled/seared preparations with salt/pepper/spices, and some olive oil. The sauces they were served with were excellent additions to the fresh and flavorful fish. The sauce on the left was a smooth garlic yogurt sauce, like the best of a hollandaise creaminess and tartar sauce without the relish crunch. The other sauce was even better, packed with capers, olives, lime, lemon, and vinegar, it was like a salty sour citrus punch and really worked to elevate and bring out those fresh fish flavors. Perfectly cooked, obviously as fresh as can be, and delicious, my only complaint was how the menu was laid out.

The menu was broken up into 2 major sections: the small plates/appetizers/mezze platters/salads and the Fish. While the inventive dishes created and offered from the restaurant sounded interesting or new, it was hard to pair those with a main protein to create a cohesive plan. My aunt chose to bypass the balancing out completely and went with a salad. For the fish, each piece of fish, whether it’s whole fish, or fillets, or pieces of shellfish are sold in deli-like amounts, per ounce, per pound, and per piece. All fish comes a la carte, so to build a meal with side dishes, as one would at a finer steakhouse, the customer must order off of the seafood/meat/vegetable mezze sections and pair that with a piece of fish or go with one of their 3 fish entrees that are already paired with anything else other than fish. What you saw above is what we got, big empty plates full of the fish portion, half a lemon or lime, and one of two sauces. There’s absolutely a better way to do this (start with smaller plates) or throw in some kind of rice/vegetable/whatever to take up some real estate on the empty plates.

I absolutely can draw the parallels further between fine steakhouse dining and this deli-style breakdown of fish. While you might walk into a restaurant and order a 10 0z Ribeye or a 16 oz Porterhouse, I’ve never seen it broken down to Porterhouse – $8/oz, “how many ounces do you want?” Possibly that’s a calculation unique only to fresh fish and fish selling (they do have their own Poissonnier as they inform you on their menu), but it still can lead to great confusion even with those who have an idea of what they want. Concerning to me are the upcharges between the fish, as fish is almost always the cheapest protein on a menu and even most upscale places charge between $30-$40 for a full fish entree with a side/sides, sauce, and specific preparation. The whole fish Branzino comes out at $25/lb, that’s bones and all, you do the work, go to town, enjoy the cheek, fight the bones, all that good stuff. However, if you want them to prepare the fish, fillet it, remove the bones, and cook it for you, the cost goes up to $56/lb. Again, I understand, the fish fillet is a central piece of the fish and the restaurant has to prep it and there is only so much fillet on a fish (due to spine+waste+guts) and a whole fish really is a lot easier to prep (assuming), but a full 2x increase in cost is concerning. When you’re trying to make a meal and the Halibut or Seabass or Ahi Tuna fillets are coming in at $80/lb I think there might possibly be a breakdown somewhere. Again, I’m not a restaurateur, so I don’t understand the overhead, all I’m looking at is a pure cost perspective. It created quite unexpectedly costly entrees, from which I can’t easily find a solution outside of just not ordering any of the fresh fish from their “fish market” and sticking with the mezze and pre-constructed entrees. The fish market concept was not offered on their lunch menu, and I was far happier for it.

5-28-16 / Poros / Pittsburgh, PA

Friday afternoon I had the pleasure of joining an old coworker down in Market Square for lunch. We chose Poros, a new restaurant in the Y Group (which includes Perle, Ceviche, Nola, and Sonoma). It was a beautiful day, so they opened up all of the exterior walls to their patio area. They’ve got an open floor plan, so it made for a bit of confusion (walking through the dining area) to get to the hostess stand, not a huge deal at all. Right behind the hostess stand is a huge deli case filled with all sorts of fresh seafood (I saw a few fish, shrimp, and clams). It really adds to the authenticity that this is fresh-caught seafood you’re about to enjoy. We chose to sit outside and enjoy the weather in anticipation of this great meal. It did not disappoint. The prices are extremely affordable, but I can only speak for the lunch offerings. I will definitely return to try dinner. I chose the three course tasting lunch for $19.

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To start off, I chose the baba ghanoush, tzatziki, and homemade pita. The baba ghanoush was an extremely garlicky but obviously homemade version of the traditional pureed eggplant dip. The house-made pita had a very strong chickpea flavor, so I’m thinking they’ve got chickpeas actually blended into the dough itself. They were nicely herbed and sprinkled with sea salt and provided a nice vehicle for the baba ghanoush. Of note were the pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top of the baba ghanoush, which I’ve never seen before in my Mediterranean eating. I asked the waiter about it, but he was unable to provide much background or guidance as to why the sweet seeds would be sprinkled on top of such a savory spread.

There were also two slices of grilled wheat bread underneath the four pieces of pita which provided a nice textural break from all of the soft pita and dips. The bread was simple, crusty, and dressed with a nice light olive oil. It paired beautifully with the bright and creamy tzatziki sauce. Far thicker than I’m used to, it was more like a dip than a sauce as I’m used to with tzatziki. It also had some kind of grain within it which I couldn’t place, that added mostly texture (and difficulty with dipping) than flavor. It was quite a large portion for an individual appetizer course, but it was all delicious, so I’m not complaining.

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For my main course, I chose the fish of the day, which was an Arctic Char. Seemingly identical with salmon in preparation, flavor, texture, and consistency, so much to the point that I asked the waiter if this was, in fact, salmon, but he assured me it wasn’t. The only obvious difference I could tell was that the skin was more of a copper brown color than the silver I’m familiar with in salmon. Confusion aside, it was an outstanding piece of fish. Extremely moist, flavorful, and mild in its fishiness, it was cradled wonderfully by the cracker crispy skin. It was served atop a mixture of roasted cauliflower, a mediterranean bean salad with cannellini beans and house-cured black olives, and a roasted chickpea spread. It all worked together very nicely, the bright acidity of the salad paired with the vinegary olives, the smooth earthy spread, and the earthy creaminess of the cauliflower with the piece of fish shining above and beyond as the star of the dish. An excellent plate from a restaurant touting to specialize in Mediterranean Seafood.

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My third course choice was the Baklava Ice Cream. There seemed to be some confusion in the kitchen as to whether or not the freezer was working, so we’d “resigned” ourselves to greek yogurt, honey, and walnuts, but were pleasantly surprised when this arrived instead. Unfortunately after tasting, the surprise lost some of its appeal. The cinnamon-based ice cream was creamy and delicious, but unfortunately the honey-coated pieces of phyllo dough within the ice cream itself turned soggy. I would have much rather been served a “deconstructed” baklava ice cream, with their tasty cinnamon ice cream, walnuts, and honey, with the tasty and fresh-fried phyllo dough served on top. Nonetheless, it was only a small misstep in an otherwise excellent meal.