Several months ago I wrote an unfavorable review of Del’s restaurant in Pittsburgh. The article got a lot of attention from loyal Del’s diners. How could I criticize a Pittsburgh staple? I also received letters from other disgruntled diners, and even employees (former and present) who had complained about being mistreated. Eventually, I received a call from the Food Network show. In doing pre-show research, they had come across my review. One of the producers from the show Restaurant Impossible called asking if I would be interested in participating. They were coming to town to do a complete makeover of the restaurant. I wasn’t told specifically what I would be doing, but that didn’t matter; this was Food Network after all!
On Thursday, a crew was to arrive at my work and do some filming. Long story short: I got an e-mail a few minutes before they were to arrive stating that they would not be able to make it down.
“There’s drama on the set; this is reality TV… we’re so sorry!” I was told.
I was invited to attend the grand re-opening, which would be filmed by the Restaurant Impossible crew. Of course I would attend.
Off to the restaurant…
Katie Lane and I made our way to Bloomfield. We noticed a hundred people standing outside the restaurant waiting to get in. Our reservation was for seven o’clock; we didn’t make our way in until eight.
It was difficult to tell what had been done to the interior of Del’s, as it had been quite some time since I was last there. We noticed red shutters that had been placed around some of the lighting fixtures. The floors were covered with a neutral-colored carpet and the tables were white, sans tablecloths. Small vases help fresh tulips, and were placed on every table; nice touch. Symmetrical picture frames held photos of seltzer bottles, spoons, and other food –related items.
“Why wouldn’t they have photos of Pittsburgh on the wall?” Katie Lane asked.
One of the oddest design choices was the baby-blue paint that adorned the walls. Light blue paint in an Italian restaurant? Surely they could have come up with a more traditional, appropriate color choice.
The remaining décor was minimal, as was the feeling of warmth.
After standing outside for an hour, we were famished and ready to eat. Our starters were Caesar salads, bruschetta and mussels.
Our Caesar salads arrived first. The salad was exceptionally cold and crispy. The dressing was authentic, and tasted of anchovy, Worchester sauce, and parmesan cheese. Large croutons were soaked with the tasty dressing, and the salads were topped with fresh, blonde anchovies. Delicious!
Bruschetta came next. Long pieces of toasted bread were topped with a zesty combination of olive, parsley, fresh tomatoes, and fresh lemon juice.
Although the appetizer was flavorful, it was difficult to cut into shareable pieces. The bruschetta would have been better served on small, bite-sized crostini.
The mussels arrived looking plump and appetizing, but to out dismay were served cold and completely raw.
As we waited for our entrees to appear we watched as the Restaurant Impossible crew moved throughout the crowd filming guests as they ate. It was interesting to see how incredibly focused, organized and diligent they were, even after working 36 straight hours. The host of the show moved among the crowd when necessary directing the guests to lower their voices when needed. Food was being served in an organized manner considering the entire restaurant was seated at once (every server’s worst nightmare!)
The entrees arrived, and the first dish was a cod served in red sauce. I didn’t have a chance to try it, but I was told the fish was tasty and fresh.
My veal marsala was… inauthentic. The veal was undercooked, and lacked the brown color from a proper sear. Most troubling was the “gravy” that was served on top of the dish. This particular dish should be served with a sauce that results from sautéed, caramelized mushrooms. The mushrooms should be added after the veal is cooked, and removed. Next, the pan should be de-glazed with veal stock, sweet marsala, and finished with butter, parsley, salt and pepper- NOTHING ELSE.
Also troubling were the hard, floury gnocchi that accompanied the veal. Gnocchi are a potato-pasta that are light, fluffy, and cooked per-order. Hopefully they will revisit this dish.
Katie Lane’s large portion of osso bucco was tender. The meat was cooked properly, but the dish lacked flavor. As with the marsala, the sauce lacked richness, color, and depth of flavor.
As we sipped our coffee, we pondered dessert. We had eaten so much already, but surely could force down some sweet Italian pastry. Our waitress returned to our table, and we placed our dessert order.
“We would like some tiramisu please.”
“I’m sorry, we don’t have tiramisu,” she shot back.
If you own an Italian restaurant it’s a good idea to have tiramisu on the menu- it’s a traditional Italian dessert, and people expect to see it on a dessert menu. It’s also essential to have a cappuccino machine on hand; another missing menu item.
A frozen piece of cheesecake with raspberry coulis, and German chocolate cake eventually made their way to our table. I’m not sure if the desserts were made in house, but a few easy-to-make signature desserts would really perk up the menu.
Even though food wasn’t on-point this particular evening, we enjoyed watching, and being part of Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible. It’s a gift to have food-service professionals revamp and breathe life into a struggling restaurant, all at no cost to the owners.
Will the citizens of Bloomfield, a small Pittsburgh neighborhood steeped in rich Italian history, embrace a new, contemporary Del’s? And will the owners of Del’s adhere to the new menu and décor?
Only time will tell.
Chef Chuck Kerber