This is Pittsburgh, after all, so we see a lot black and gold. On clothes. On cars. On towels. Face paint, even. But there’s probably a reason the classic Steel City color combo has never taken off as an interior decorating palette. And then, take away the gold, and the effect turns downright bleak.
Such was the atmosphere in which we dined at Station, a little bar and restaurant hip enough to be in Lawrenceville, but located firmly in Bloomfield. Station’s space spans two storefronts on Liberty Avenue. Patrons enter through the bar; with its deeply polished oak backdrop, silvered surfaces and an elevated booth at one end that is essentially a giant throne, that space was appealing enough. But we were led through it to the dining room next door, where walls and ceiling were painted black; the floor was tiled in dark gray slate; and the only light, aside from the natural light coming through the storefront windows, was emitted rather harshly by exposed light bulbs. Little, black-and-white art works hung on the walls.
Fortunately, the food provided some color. An English pea tart did not come in a crust, as we expected, but spilled across a buttery cracker placed on the plate as if its greenness could not be contained. Diced snap peas complemented the plump, sweet English peas, while translucent clusters of orange trout roe — their orbs the same size, brilliantly — added salty bursts. Occasional dollops of a sweet-pea pudding completed this deconstructed dish.
Corned beef tongue was a sort of savory stew, spread on toast, studded with slim broccoli florets, and garnished with paper-thin cheddar crisps. The concept seemed to be almost a reduction of shepherd’s pie to its most concentrated essence. To say it was rich would be an understatement.
“Crispy wings” actually came smothered in a parmesan-cream sauce with fluffy bits of chevre-like cheese. The tang was pleasant, but the sauce had a mouth-coating effect, perhaps intended as a nod to ranch or bleu cheese dipping sauce. Once we got to the wings underneath, they were fantastic, cooked in olive oil with chili peppers and herbs. Their coating was thicker and crisper than most, yet with plenty of tender meat beneath, flavored by plentiful red pepper rings, both spicy and sweet. Chicken this good really required little or no sauce to be complete.
More richness followed in the form of asiago fondue on the house burger, but here the excellent, beefy patty held up to it, and the cheese was appropriately sharp. The deep-brown brioche bun was just the right size, and the caramelized, but not completely softened, onion jam added texture and sweetness. But the burger still wanted a zinger element. Two enormous onions rings would have added crunch, but not punch, and we set them aside to be eaten on their own (quite good). Garlicky aioli, on the side, enhanced both burger and fries.
Tagliatelle with smoked pork shank, soffrito and a one-hour egg on top was another indulgent dish. The pasta had the wonderfully supple texture of homemade, and the choice not to drown it in a heavy sauce was a good one. Instead, the egg, once broken, melded with the olive oil — coating the noodles, shredded pork and finely diced vegetables, creating a lush mouthfeel without becoming something that pooled at the bottom of the dish.
An entree of roasted pork shoulder steak offered much promise and a deeply disappointing resolution. Rosy slices of tender, juicy meat were interleaved with deep scarlet discs of apparently dehydrated red cabbage. Beneath this stack, dried fava cannelloni — which is to say, tender pasta sheets wrapped around a coarse puree of favas — made for an intriguing combination. Unfortunately, it all suffered from a deeply unpleasant, sour molasses sauce, reminiscent of sauerbraten gone wrong, that frankly ruined this dish. On the side, firm little turnips served as little more than vehicles for more sauce.
Perhaps the gloomy surroundings affected our palates, but we found many dishes at Station to be heavy and intense, crying out — like the dining room itself — for some light contrast. The venue’s basics were great: the burger, the wings, the roasted pork. But the more that was piled onto them, the less appealing they became. To paraphrase Coco Chanel’s famous fashion advice, we would suggest that before serving a dish, Station’s kitchen take one thing off.