- Location: 930 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-697-3120
- Hours: Mon.-Sat. 5 p.m.-1 a.m.
- Prices: $7-12
- Fare: Seven styles of seviche and tapas
- Atmosphere: See and be seen
- Liquor: Full bar
- Smoking: None permitted
We're always happy when a new restaurant opens, of course, but especially so when it fills a heretofore empty niche in local dining. Tapas, south Indian, Ethiopian -- all these cuisines were absent or underserved just a few years ago, and now are thriving. Best of all, though, is that rare restaurant that fills a gap you didn't even know existed.
Enter Seviche, the new hot spot in the Cultural District, the second restaurant venture in a single block for Yves Carreau, the proprietor of bustling Sonoma Grill, and Pittsburgh's only source for Latin American-style tapas. Until we went there, we did not know how much we'd been missing a restaurant specializing in citrus-cured fish.
Despite the crushing crowd of a gallery crawl, we lucked into a little table that provided Angelique with superb people-watching from her banquette. And what a stage for it. The double-height space accommodates a lot of style without feeling overdone: The wall with the bar features artfully lit boxes holding objets d'art and large canvasses that appear to depict Cuban life, while the opposite wall is defined by the seviche bar, accommodating the "cooking" technique for which the restaurant is named. Here, you can sit at a counter made of pressed sugar cane and watch chefs toss a variety of raw and blanched seafood with any of seven citrus-based marinades that cure and flavor the meat.
In addition to the seviche, the menu offers a half-dozen each of Latin-inspired tapas and finger sandwiches. The prices are modest for a place with such an upscale ambience, but then so are the servings. We thought we were being ambitious when we ordered six tapas plates, but we soon picked two more to round out the meal.
Nearly every one was a great success. We began with the special seviche, a meaty, moist yellowtail tuna, crusted with ramp and chipotle, seared and served in a rich, ruby-colored malbec sauce. It was accompanied by boniato -- Latin American sweet potato -- risotto, which had the supple texture and sweet taste of a pudding, and tender, petite haricots vert.
Boniato made another appearance in a pair of croquettes, where its sweet smoothness mingled beautifully with savory salt cod, herbal cilantro and garlic. The croquettes were creamy on the inside and crunchy-crumbly with breading on the outside. We used microgreens to mop up every last drop of the tangy dressing, a red chili mayonnaise.
From the seviche bar, we also ordered tiradito, Peruvian-style sashimi cured in a balanced mixture of lemon juice, cilantro, red chili and sea salt. The fish, walu, had a buttery texture and substantial flavor, like a cross between a scallop and a snapper. Jicama and calabaza slaw was a fresh, crunchy accompaniment.
A third seviche selection, tomatillo and curried mango, we had on velvety ahi tuna. The marinade was comprised of lime, jalapeno, scallion, red onion, green curry, fresh mango and a disk of blackened tomatillo. Served with plantains and malanga chips, the dish was a triumph of sweet, sour and salty flavors all brightening and heightening one another.
We diverged from seafood for only two dishes: pork empanadas, which were more like stuffed, fried baguettes, and an excellent tostada filled with black beans and sweet blackened yellowtail.
By the end of this supremely satisfying meal, we realized that "Latin tapas" doesn't do justice to what Carreau has created. In truth, he has brought a whole new concept of a seafood restaurant to Pittsburgh, one which surpasses all our expectations of that venerable category. And he's done it with style and at surprisingly reasonable prices. Seviche is both a revolution and a revelation.