By | March 30, 2006

709 Bellefonte St
Shadyside 15323
M-Sat: lunch 11-2 ; dinner 5-9 (10 on F and Sat)

“Automatic Pizzutti, Zero to Tutti Frutti”
-Beck, on ravioli

To please me, Pizzutti had a steep hill to climb. My original trip to Pizzutti was really a bust – my salmon was dry and salty, the zucchini melted our gums, and all but one of my dining companions had a complaint. I vowed I would never go back, for it was not up to snuff. But, at TastyBurgher we have a rule about having to eat somewhere twice before writing a review. For Pizzutti this meant some amount of salvation, because our second trip to Pizzutti was Bzooty!

Truth be told, we were quite reluctant to go in. We stood outside the door in the rainy cold with a paper menu, being torn away by the bad memory of our previous experience. An old woman waiting for her daughter to return with the car stood outside with us, having just finished dining inside. We didn’t talk to her, but while we all stood there together a waiter came out to keep her company. I thought to myself, ‘that’s awfully nice….but I won’t get distracted – it doesn’t mean the food is any better than it used to be!’ I’m a cold, hard, biznatch. Whatever their intention, it worked, and we soon felt compelled to go inside.

The inside of Pizzutti is charming! Pizzutti is located in Shadyside in what was formerly the French restaurant, Le Perroquet. In fact, I believe the owners of Pizzutti were the owners of Le Perroquet. (I believe this because the owners of Le Perroquet were named Alain and Susan Pizzutti!) The décor of Pizzutti is remarkably the same – or rather, it is the same. Regardless, I love the comfy feel of a little European bistro with warm walls and wooden beams. It was the perfect antidote to the rainy street we had come in from.

Now, I’ve already established my skepticism regarding the food. We read the menu for a long time, deliberating what would be a wise choice. I decided to stay away from the non-pasta entrées, which were the worst part of our first meal. During that meal, the only person in our group that especially liked their dinner had the home-made ravioli. It clearly had the potential to be a winner on this occasion as well. Pizzutti has many home-made pasta selections on their menu, including spaghetti with meatballs and two kinds of ravioli, one kind being spinach and ricotta and the other a ravioli du jour. Also on the pasta menu was a surprising number of dishes using whole wheat noodles, which are my choice when cooking at home. It is so nice, and surprising frankly, to see whole wheat noodles on the menu at a restaurant. I hope this trend catches on, despite the fact that I probably won’t order the wheat noodles at Pizzutti for their prices are too high. For that kind of money, I want a noodle I don’t usually make at home. I’d love it if there were fast-food noodle-huts with whole wheat noodles though (these huts exist in other places, just not in the ‘Burgh).

Hypothetical noodle-huts aside, we followed our intuitions and took a leap. Reed ordered a pasta dish with Italian sausage and spinach in a creamy sauce, while I ordered the Ravioli of the day: three kinds of mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce. We also took a little extra hop and ordered the beef carpaccio to start. As far as drinks were concerned, Pizzutti is BYOB, but they very kindly offer you wine with your meal for free! You can choose from two kinds of red and two kinds of white. We both had Chianti. They weren’t miserly with it either – they took care of me, oh yes. The woman we spoke with on our way out (who I theorize was Susan Pizzutti) told us that they aren’t planning to get a license and that she just feels like it’s weird to not have the opportunity to drink wine with dinner. I didn’t argue. Of course, you can bring your own if you like too – there is some nominal corkage fee.

All these things are well and fine, but the food is the real test, starting with the appetizer. I’m not sure if the carpaccio was good. It was very tasty, but on the other hand, it was sliced so thin that it practically evaporated when you touched it. I suppose this is some kind of feat of knivery, and I can envision a carpaccio-obsessed individual thinking that thinness is the pinnacle of the carpaccio dish. But, I’m not so sure for this one…I think it might have been just a hair too thin. Also, on top of the thin beeves was a tall pile of spinach and large shreds of parmesan. These were also delicious, but far too overpowering for the beef’s flavor. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so overpowering if there was more beef to begin with, but at the ratio it was served at, the beef never stood a chance. I ate my beef with a leaf and one shred, leaving a giant pile of left-over cheese (which I used on my bread because I am a sneak like that). Incidentally, the bread was not too bad but not amazing either, and though I don’t usually dip into olive oil (lie), they served their bread with a spicy, peppery oil that was delicious.

As for dinner, the pasta was surpisingly good! Reed’s creamy sausage pasta dish was not too heavy, and so the dish was quite nice. The sausage was good, the noodles were good, and the sauce-age was good – the whole dish actually came together. I have heard people complain about their pasta dish NOT being a cohesive set of flavors at Pizzutti, but thankfully this time it was . My ravioli was delicious. The filling of the mushrooms was @m@zInG! (just a little haxor for emphasis) I believe there were morels, porcinis, and I can’t remember the third. I also think there was plenty of pepper and parmesean mixed in. The best part was that the ravioli was stuffed to the brim, absolutely huge! There were only five, but each one was like an over-sized throw cushion. With every bite, there was so much filling that I could cover the entire surface area of my tongue, and not just some thin layer either. This leads to a kind of ethereal eating experience, which Reed likens to popping an entire truffle in your mouth and letting it slowly melt until the chocolate has gone into places in your mouth that you’ve never let chocolate go before and you’ve become one with the purity of the cocoa bean. This ravioli was a little like that, but with mushrooms. The tomato cream sauce was only so-so. I am a real sucker for tomato cream, but this one wasn’t much on the creamy end of things. Each pillow-ioli was generously topped with the thick and slightly chunky sauce, but on the bright side, it never took over the dish. Rather, the sauce allowed the ravioli to shine. For the record, even though this means Pizzutti has two good ravioli marks in my own experience, I have heard other people complain that they thought certain ravioli du jours were not so great (the roasted red pepper ravioli is an example).

Next stop on the Pizzutti Train: Dessert. Two espressos with a lemon twist and a slice of tiramisu (we were weak). Tiramisu has at least three dimensions: chocolate, espresso, and liquor. Everyone likes their tiramisu with different ratios of these dimensions, and I’ve never been able to conclude that there is one that is agreed upon to be best. I’m not sure where I stand – I guess I prefer that all flavors be present in almost equal amounts, but that there be more chocolate flavor than liquor and more espresso than chocolate. Anyway, at Pizzutti it is all about the chocolate dimension, with no real discernable espresso or liquor presence. It was still delicious of course, and we ate it with verve.

It is worth mentioning that Pizzutti also has a prix fixe menu for around $22 where you can choose a salad, one of about 10 of their dishes, and either tiramisu or their interesting sounding biscotti amaretto gelato cake. It isn’t a bad deal as long as you want one of the entrées on their list. Home-made spaghetti and meatballs is there, but ravioli is not. Sad! Anyway, Pizzutti successfully redeemed itself in my eyes, at least for the pastas. I cannot speak as to the non-pasta entrées because I did not feel confident enough to order one of them again – maybe some other time. Also, it is still a little more expensive than I think it ought to be, except for the Prix Fixe lunch menu for only $9.95. In the grand scheme of Pittsburgh Italian, I still like Il Pizzaiolo better, be still my heart. But for a romantic, quiet meal that isn’t such a drive, Pizzutti may just be high up on my list.

Homemade pasta of some variety

Pizzutti has the tiniest of all sidewalk outdoor seating I’ve ever seen. BUT, you can eat outside with the summer breezes if it is available!

I heard Le Perroquet closed because they saw more than a 40% drop in business with the anti-French sentiment surrounding the Iraq War. Hmmm….Maybe this fact isn’t so fun after all…

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