I have been privileged to eat at some fantastic restaurants. It seems that these mostly occur while we are traveling. We have eaten our way through the US from Maine to Florida, Ohio to Washington and many of the states in between. We also have had the privilege of eating at some wonderful places in France. Lately I have not been able to travel as freely and far as I had grown accustomed to in years past, due to a series of years of lost jobs, returning to college, and new employment. That being said I felt like I needed to get to know the area around me as I realized all the traveling I had been doing had left me really no time to explore all that the local area had to offer.
As I have said once before, Eric and I live in a small town in Ohio. For foodies like us there is really little newness on the food frontier to be discovered here other than in our own humble kitchen through cookbooks, food magazines, a variety of resources on the internet, and our own eager and fantastical imaginations. But we like to get out frequently to try new things. Our adventurous spirit lies beyond our palate, which means we don’t mind driving an hour or so to try out a new place and find an amazing meal. This gives up great leeway in our tristate area. We have the local amazing haunts of close by Youngstown (beer lovers should really explore Vintage Estate), the great city of Pittsburgh, and even Cleveland is within our reach. This is how I began my Links and Loves page. Whenever I discover a cool, decadent, hipster, unusual, or unique place I want to try, I add them to the page so I have them all in one place for our next meal out.
With the recent holiday past, Eric and I have some extra time off. So I took a gander at my list of places and choose one to try. I am not sure exactly how I originally stumbled across Cure. I think I was looking at Pittsburgh Magazine’s top 25 restaurants. Whatever or however I came across it I am so glad that I did. Back in 2012 Chef Justin Severino’s Cure was listed as one of the top 50 best new restaurants by Bon Appetit magazine. After doing a little bit of research about the Chef, I noticed that he was no stranger to such accolades. Ohio born, he eventually moved to California where he worked at The Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant, you can read his profile as butcher in the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. In 2011 he was nominated for Food and Wine magazines award the people’s best new chef while working at the now closed Elements in Pittsburgh.
More press had preceded and followed this Chef and the opening of his restaurant Cure in Lawrenceville and in my humble opinion for good reason. The menu is inventive (see a sampling of just a few of the inventive dishes for the fall/winter 2013 menu here), changes frequently, and is sourced from local vendors and farms. He sources food from such local purveyors as Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, Otterbein Farms, and Clarion River Organics. This is something I truly appreciate. I really love knowing where my food is coming from, that I am supporting local farms, and the products I am eating are sustainable. From the products he receives from local farms, Justin makes his own succulently wonderful charcuterie as well, which is something that he mastered long before opening Cure. While living in Santa Cruz, California he owned and operated Severino’s Community Butcher from 2004 to 2007. Cure’s large salumi platter alone is worth the drive, be sure to order it!
My appetite was really peaked before I even entered the restaurant after all the press and reviews I had read. I had also worked up on appetite from the earlier shopping. After about a 30 minute drive from the shops in Robinson, we arrived at our dinner destination. Cure sits on the corner of the street and gives off a unique vibe along with aromas that pull you in off the street. Opening the door and entering we were greeted by a lovely hostess who sat us immediately. We were a little early but our reservations were before the rush because the place quickly filled up about 30 minutes after we had arrived. I loved the decor of the place. It reminded us both of a cross between a Parisian bistro where the locals would eat meets a trendy but comfortable haunt of the Pacific Northwest. The dining area was right inside the door and had a large built in bench along one wall of the restaurant with tables close together. More separate tables dotted the rest of the dining area. The left hand corner of the restaurant contained the bar where the wall was covered with what appeared to be reclaimed gray worn lumber. Thin shelves one bottle deep showcase all the spirits. The bartender/mixologist was very chic looking and I enjoyed watching him make up the drinks from my vantage point. He did his job well muddling, shaking and embellishing each drink with care. All the cocktails were beautifully garnished and served up in glassware I was coveting. We were sitting right next to the kitchen which was housed elevated a few steps up from the dining room. I also enjoyed watching the chef and staff work. It was a neat setup I felt, the diners got a little glimpse of the movements and goings on of the kitchen while from the kitchens elevated standpoint the staff could see the diners enjoying what they had made. There is also a bar along the kitchen island where a few lucky diners got to sit and enjoy the show of the kitchen full on.
We had heard that the place was BYOB. We explained to our server that we had heard this and inquired if it was true. She explained that when the restaurant had first opened they did not have a bar and it had been. They now have a truly great and extensive wine list, both bottled and by the glass, many beer choices, along with unique mixed drinks, but she explained if we had a bottle of wine we wanted to drink the corkage fee was $15. We had brought a bottle but we decided to save it for a later time and order off the menu. I started the night off with a lovely cab and Eric one of the dark beers. We ordered the afore mentioned large salumi platter which when presented reminded me of an artists palette. It included bresaola, black strap ham, coppa di testa, pancetta, coppa secca, lomo, fiocco, pepperone, finocchiona, toscana, sopressata, negroni salami, ciccioli, pate campagnola, lardo, and ndjua along with a variety of house made mustards, spreads, and bread. Another server brought out the platter and explained each and everything item the board contained, he said that all the charcuterie was made in house and some had been aged for 2 years. It was really a masterpiece on a plate that we appreciated but ultimately devoured. I informed our server later when she asked if we needed anything, that they really should include a card with the board so you could remember what everything was!
Dinner was even better than imagined. Eric ordered the duck confit served with kabocha squash, red cabbage, orange, ginger, ras el hanout, black tea soaked prunes, and maple-lavender mustard. The duck was prepared perfectly. It was moist but had a slight sweet crust on the outside that was so divine. Everything that accompanied the dish seemed to just belong and work so well together. It was succulent. I had the walleyed pike, which I really don’t think I could explain what exactly walleyed pike means, but it didn’t really matter. It was so good, it was great. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was a symphony on a plate. Our server said that this was one of her favorite things on the menu. I really like it when the servers are personable like this. They really make you feel like you belong. The walleye pike was accompanied by brown butter potato fondue, roast brussel sprouts, roast shallot, chervil, bearnaise, and bordelaise. We were snapping pictures here and there of the dishes but failed to get any really presentable pictures. We were trying to be discrete but our server asked us later if we were chefs ourselves which made us giddy with delight. “No,” we answered, “just people who love to cook and appreciated good food.” She responded, “there is really a difference, isn’t there?” Yes, there sure is, Justin Severino’s presentations at Cure are pure artistry. A symphony for the palate, this dinner out will not soon be forgotten and I hope to dine here soon again, the menu has much more to offer.
For those interested in a truly unique experience Cure also hosts a variety of events from time to time. Check out their events page to keep up to date on whats current. In the past they have offered 5 course menus based on the current season complete with beer and wine and charity dinners with 10% of the dinner’s proceeds benefiting Grow Pittsburgh. Coming up December 29th is a hog butchering demonstration and family supper for $85 which includes a family style buffet and beer from East End brewery, this same event has been offered before. Also on New Year’s Eve is another opportunity for either a 5 ($75 pp) or 7 ($95 pp) course meal with optional wine pairings for an additional cost.