The real estate on Mount Washington has the potential to become more of a destination than it already is. Yet transition in the neighborhood has been modest, marked by a smattering of fixed-up homes, a new sign on a bar or a restaurant’s change of ownership.
Progress has been especially glacial when it comes to Grandview Avenue. Despite offering some of the best views of any city, most restaurants have catered to customers who pay 2014 prices to dine like it’s 1994 on filet of sole almondine, scallops l’orange and chicken tangerine. The exception is Isabela, which is for sale.
Having opened mid-May, Altius reaches for change, its name chosen for its higher Latin denotation.
Speaking of higher powers, the opening of Altius seems like fate. When the Mazzarinis learned their tenants from the Georgetowne Inn were closing after nearly 40 years, they wanted to update the neighborhood.
So they sought out their favorite restaurant folks, Josephine “B” DeFrancis and chef Jessica Bauer from Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon. What chef wouldn’t want to be tapped to run a place in such a great location?
Driven by a love of fine dining, the pair looked for inspiration at icons in New York at Per Se, Le Bernardin, Public, The Modern and Aureole, as well as Chicago’s Alinea.
Combining their favorite elements of tasting-menu restaurants with a dining public averse to pretension, Ms. DeFrancis and Ms. Bauer came up with Altius. They’re hoping an a la carte menu, a sleek but comfortable space, and pampered service will lure regular patrons and destination diners.
The dining room looks like a stylish international airport meets the Starship Enterprise, with clean lines, sensuous lighting, expansive tables and leather chairs on swivels.
Although the view is the draw, service will define the place. Three hosts, four managers, 10 servers and seven assistants fawn over customers at the two-level restaurant. With room for more than 50 diners on the first floor and 75 upstairs, that’s five customers to every employee on a busy day.
The lead server during one of my recent visits was a burst of energy, a little nervous but clearly sold on his employers’ wares.
“Everything on the menu is out of this world,” he started, an effusive but charming assertion that continued throughout the dinner.
Here’s what I’m sold on: The wine list from Alan Uchrinscko, the general manager and sommelier. Although I’m not always in love with organic, sustainable wines, he has put together one of the most compelling selections in the city.
Pours range from an easy-drinking New Mexican sparkling wine, a high-acid Greek Assirtiko to a more serious Barbera d’Alba. The list parallels ambitious selections in bigger cities that are hard to find in Pittsburgh, where people’s appreciation for wine has been choked by mealy distribution and byzantine liquor laws. If he’s able to attract customers willing to explore, he may be able to deepen selections.
The kitchen also has debuted a bar menu, with lobster corn dogs, duck confit nachos and a burger made from grass-fed strip, in a price range from $8 to $17.
Dinner is punctuated by gifts from the chef. A server brings truffled popcorn with a flourish. Served in a stainless-steel cone, it reinforces dinner-as-a-show.
Ms. Bauer switches up an amuse bouche every day, such as white asparagus soup, thick in a demi-cup but a disconcerting reminder of mid-spring in July. Berries and cheese or lamb meatballs have also marked the start of the meal.
Bread service reminds diners of the bygone practice, as restaurants hampered by budget and poor sourcing have done away with it. Parker House rolls wear a sheen of butter, and rosemary on the focaccia perfumes the table.
This is the work of Heather Deraway, who came to Pittsburgh after having cooked in Avignon, France, for Alain Ducasse in Las Vegas and Norman Van Aken in Miami.
Savory starters and entrees up the ante for Ms. Bauer, who until now has been cooking casual bistro fare in Mt. Lebanon. Dishes range from elegant to comfort food.
She hits the mark with a starter of chilled oysters ($13), a half-dozen dressed with a pique of fermented pineapple, chili, oregano and garlic, served with a side of cucumber angel hair.
The beet terrine ($12) is a showy dish. A gelatinous loaf with beets layered from red to gold, the terrine is seasoned with dill and sherry vinaigrette. A little undersalted with beets sliced thick, it’s righted by goat cheese with hazelnuts.
For “Tongue ‘n’ Cheek” ($14), crispy tongue has been braised for a very long time, while beef cheek pierogis are made in-house. Melted leeks and sauteed mushrooms round out the stack, finished with veal demi-glace and horseradish creme fraiche. There are one too many ingredients for me, but it’s popular.
Panzanella ($9) wears toasted croutons from that bread service, tossed on a square plate over heirloom tomatoes, caramelized onions and fried kale chips. I wish that the flavors married — that at least the bread soaked the flavors of the salad — and the balsamic reduction were swapped for something more subtle.
Sustainability threads the entrees, such as the Mexican Paradise Blue shrimp ($28) with a garlic lemon froth and parmesan risotto studded with peas and yellow pepper coulis. It’s harvested in ways that don’t harm other species.
The American red snapper ($31) from the Gulf is my favorite dish. Delicate and crisp, flavored by saffron-leek broth, it’s more luxurious with cannellini beans and a leek and carrot saute.
Another quotation dish, “Duck, duck goose” ($28) is less resonant: a flat of polenta in the center, seared confit duck leg to one side and breast on the other, with dollops of liver mousse around the plate. The components don’t quite come together, and it looks as redundant as the name.
Dessert is accessible and generously portioned. Berries dress cakes, panna cotta, and creme brulee as gelato and coulis. Pretzels show up in a pie, and pineapple makes an appearance in an upside-down cake.
To the end, servers tend to drinks and crumb tables, yet allow diners time to linger.
A few inconsistencies can be ironed out as the restaurant gets its legs. Yet when it comes to service, attention to detail leaves an impression as lasting as the view.
Altius1230 Grandview Ave.
- Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
- Basics: In a sleek, redesigned interior, Altius is the most modern restaurant on Grandview Avenue that showcases straightforward dishes with fine ingredients, strong service and one of the city’s most interesting wine lists.
- Dishes: White asparagus soup, chilled oysters, baby kale, spring lettuce, wild-caught paradise blue shrimp, American red snapper, Jamison Farm lamb rack, veal tenderloin.
- Prices: Starters $7-$17; entrees $20-$42; sides $6-$9.
- Summary: Valet and street parking; $25 corkage, wheelchair-accessible, private dining.
Eight years ago wunderkind sommelier Paul Grieco dreamt up The Summer of Riesling. You probably haven’t heard of the Summer of Riesling because up until now, no one in Pittsburgh has celebrated it. Now, at Altius on Mt. Washington, this all changes. But first, a bit about Paul.
In 1995, Paul accepted a job as a waiter at the three-star Gramercy Tavern, where he hoped to learn the aspects of “enlightened hospitality” from its creators Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio. After working as a captain for two years, Paul was promoted to Assistant General Manager, responsible for both the $3 million dollar-a-year beverage program and the three-star service program. During Paul’s tenure, Gramercy Tavern won both the James Beard Award for Outstanding Service 2001 and the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service 2002. In the fall of 2002, Gramercy Tavern was named the most popular restaurant in New York City by the Zagat Survey. Along with Chef Marco Canora, Paul currently heads up Hearth Restaurant and Terroir Wine Bar, with several locations throughout Manhattan.
In celebration of the 8th-annual (and final) Summer of Riesling, starting June 21st and for the duration of the summer, we will be pouring Rieslings from various countries and terroirs. These wines will be available by the glass to all diners and also available individually or as a wine flight at the Altius Bar. Check our wine page for information on the weekly selections. Beginning Monday, June 23rd, Summer of Riesling Wine Flights will also be available at a discounted rate during Wine Hour from 5pm-6pm Monday-Friday. (We will also offer free valet parking during wine hour, whether you drink or dine!)
For more information, visit Summer of Riesling.
While we will be joining such renowned wine destinations such as Daniel, RN74 and Acker, Merrill & Condit in this endeavor, if you find yourself in Lawrenceville, please visit The Allegheny Wine Mixer, who will also be celebrating the Summer of Riesling. Jamie picks great wines too!
General Manager/Wine Director
We haven’t been open that long, but to our guests who have already visited: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
Our diners have spoken and we have already catapulted to the top tier of Open Table’s Diner’s Choice Awards! We are now featured as Pittsburgh Winners for “Best Ambience”, “Contemporary American”, “Romantic” and “Special Occassion”!
Your unbelievable support has inspired us, and we strive to become better each day. Our sincerest gratitude.
Click here, to make your next reservation!
Everyone keeps asking, “Are you open?”, and we can now say with resounding confidence, “Yes! Altius on Mt. Washington is open!” We still need to put a few finishing touches on the outside, but we would love to welcome you!
We have included reviews from our overwhelmingly positive opening weekend:
Amazing Experience *****
Altius is going to become one of the hardest reservations to book in Pittsburgh. I think the only reason I was able to get in was because people didn’t know it was open yet…While most restaurants on Mt. Washington seem to rely on their view and don’t put much effort into innovation of their food, Altius combines a stunning view with a unique, high quality menu….
Meticulous Attention to Detail *****
The ambiance of this restaurant is a step above anything else in Pittsburgh, it has a chic modern feel. The food was excellent, the presentation showed an attention to detail and the sauces superb!
We stopped in on a whim and I’m so very glad that we did. The decor, view, and FOOD were amazing. We will absolutely be returning!
NEW IN MT. WASHINGTON *****
“service was wonderful and the food was excellent…”
“Fantastic place, great location and best view of Pittsburgh. Nice interior , appetizers were great any one you pick…”
Two years ago B and I met the Mazzarini family and began our journey. After years of passion and planning, the result, Altius, is finally nearing completion. A second restaurant has always been a twinkle in my eye. Being at the helm of Bistro 19 for the past seven and a half years has been rewarding, but as a chef, I’m always looking for opportunities to grow. Altius has given me the chance to step into a new space.
Growing up in Michigan, away from my hometown of Pittsburgh, has always made me appreciate the view from Mt. Washington; with the opening of Altius, I get to experience this view each day. It has also given me the chance to learn new things. I have been able to try cutting edge techniques with the best quality food this area has to offer.
I am so thankful to our many supporters, friends and family that have all been a part of this process. Their unwavering confidence in us has made our vision a reality. Along the way I have developed relationships with our managers, chefs, local store owners and farms. I can’t wait to introduce these people and experiences to you in my blogs and in my menus. Love people, cook them great food!
– Chef Jessica Bauer