Location: 215 Allegheny Ave., Oakmont. 412-517-8115
Hours: Lunch: Tue.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner: Tue.-Sat. 4:30-9 p.m.
Prices: Soups, salads and appetizers $4-11; entrees $19-29
Fare: Local, seasonal Continental
Atmosphere: Late '80s elegance
Liquor: Full bar
How is locavorism -- the practice of eating almost exclusively from local sources -- like surfing? Both originated in California, a state whose fertile farmland (in the case of the first), idyllic beaches (in the case of the second) and temperate climate (in the case of both) make a year-round abundance of local produce as much a gift of nature as the perfect wave.
If locavorism is almost inevitable in California, it's a bit more of a challenge here in the land of root vegetables. Yet driving through the southwestern Pennsylvania countryside can feel like driving through a children's book about farm animals. All those cows grazing in the fields, as opposed to being fattened in feedlots, aren't put there by the tourism board. A few meat producers, like Elysian Fields in Latrobe, have even gained national reputations.
Mirabelle, a new restaurant in a mini-strip mall at the southern end of Oakmont, does more than offer a few token dishes made with local, seasonal ingredients. It claims to spend 80 percent of its food dollars locally, while supporting sustainable, cage-free, free-range farming techniques.
Its commitment to the regional agricultural community is typified by, of all things, its flour. Nothing is more quotidian than flour, yet this ubiquitous ingredient has become such an international commodity that local sourcing is unheard of ... until now. Mirabelle gets its whole-wheat flour from Saxonburg, a fact that's mentioned in passing on its menu, but makes its distinctive presence felt in a number of dishes.
First was the bread, slices of whole-wheat loaf and olive focaccia which were hearty (without being heavy) and much more robustly flavorful than standard breadbasket filler. Then there were the house-made crackers served with our appetizer of country pate. With seeds and melted cheese melded to their surface, they were almost too good to top. But top them we did, with tender, coarsely ground pork pate that had whole strips of moist white-meat chicken running through it. The cranberry mustard served alongside was irresistibly sweet, spicy and grainy with whole mustard seeds; Angelique could have eaten it with a spoon.
Pear-leek crostada, from the salad list, was a tender tart topped with warm, but not wilted, leeks and soft, but not mushy, pear slices. A champagne vinaigrette -- Mirabelle also bills itself as a champagne bar -- added its delicate flavor to the fruit and vegetable's balance of sweetness and pungency.
Reuben flatbread used the Saxonburg wheat flour to create, instead of the ersatz pizza crust that "flatbread" tends to signify, a crisp base more like a hearty cracker. The topping contained traditional Reuben elements with an added twist: thin slices of apple, tender yet still crisp, brightening and lightening the saltier, more savory ingredients.
Angelique overcame an aversion to Brussels sprouts to find that this ingredient distinguished the cannelloni, filled with pureed butternut squash and goat cheese, and topped with sweet onions, plump juicy cranberries, crispy Brussels-sprout leaves and sage cream sauce. Whole-wheat flour here transformed the texture of the cannelloni to that of a sort of rustic crepe, while the combination of autumnal flavors in the filling and toppings was felicitous. The cabbagey, bitter-earth notes of the Brussels-sprout leaves and their texture, crunchy as potato chips, made this dish extraordinary.
Jason's roasted duck featured rich slices, rosy as rare steak, over an equally luxurious lamb-bacon risotto. The risotto was especially effective, the smoky bacon balancing the gamy yet mild lamb for a flavor that was savory and satisfying. The only misstep was the sweet-potato sauce, which was thin and sweet, yet failed to harmonize with the other ingredients. Something simple, green and crisp would have gone a long way toward perfecting this dish.
Mirabelle as a whole comes quite close to perfection, taking its locavore mission as seriously as it takes its recipes and preparations. Such food deserves a more inspired environment than its current space, which appears to have last been decorated in the bland style of the 1980s. With more refined surroundings, this could truly be one of the region's great restaurants, featuring the region's best produce.
- Heather Mull
- Cod Veronique with bay scallops, red brussels sprouts and grape verjus