What a fun evening we had with friends this weekend when we had the privilege of enjoying a private dining experience at Merante’s special upstairs kitchen where “Mamma” Maria and her long-time assistant, Linda, made us feel like family around the Sunday supper table!
What a unique experience this was! Merante’s is a quaint Italian gift shop in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where beautiful gifts from pasta bowls and fine ceramics (and even the game of Italy-Opoly) are sold and cooking classes and Italian-themed events are hosted.
My sweet, long-time (Italian!) friend, Mary, found this little gem and invited a group of friends (several months in advance, which is necessary due to its popularity) to bring a few bottles of wine and dine Italiano style (complete with clear plastic covered dining table cloth!).
Are you ready to see all the amazing food?!
A special thanks to Mary and Jill for sharing their iPhone photos with me to feature here.
I may have forgotten to bring my camera…
my iPhone may have been down to 3% battery…
and I may have been a bit too tipsy on red wine and sweet red sauce to take clear photos, but they were awesome to share!
We arrived at 6 pm and climbed the stairs to the “apartment” above the shop. We were escorted to the parlor where wine glasses and cork screws awaited our unloading of a “few” bottles of BYOB wine.
An amazing array of appetizers was served…
Seriously enough for a meal, and we could have been done!
There were stuffed mushrooms…
and stuffed tomatoes (MY FAVE!).
There was succulent shrimp…
and there were spicy meatballs.
There was a cheesy quiche…
And the most divine version of Caprese with sweet roasted red peppers and plump mozzarella.
But this was only a teaser of what was to come!
After a few cheers and intros, we moved into the kitchen where we began with the most amazing bowl of Stracciatella – an Italian soup that is made from a simple but flavorful chicken stock kept at a delicate simmer until a creamy mixture of eggs, Parmesan cheese and Italian parsley are whisked in to form the “little threads” that take the place of pastina. Grandma’s polish version was called “Egg Drop” soup.
This may have been my favorite course, if it weren’t for the next, which was the pasta course! Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is Maria’s handmade ricotta gnocchi gently turned with her creamy, dreamy red sauce and topped with tiny bits of fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. THIS was absolutely my favorite course!
As if we weren’t absolutely full-bellied by now, the main course was served next. Mary chose the juicy, tender roast tenderloin of pork, which was surrounded by a ring of seasoned roasted root veggies. My favorite was the fresh beets!
And because you get to also pick a vegetable (since cauliflower, beets, butternut squash and green beans are not enough!), we also had rosemary roasted potatoes.
In true Italian style, the salad was served next (last before dessert), which is completely opposite of how most American restaurants serve salad first. And this salad…. OMG…. if I weren’t so full, this may have won for my favorite course! We had the most amazing Apple, Pecan, and Gorgonzola Romaine Salad with tart dried cranberries drizzled with tangy balsamic vinaigrette – a perfect combination of sweet, salty and crunchy…Yum!
It was then time for dessert.
First, Maria placed an overflowing tray of Italian cookies in the center of the table.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, a beautiful parfait of chocolate hazelnut gelato, shipped fresh from Italy, was served to each of us with a cup of freshly pressed and sweetened Espresso.
I still can’t believe we ate all that food…
I can’t believe how sweet Maria and Linda were…
I can’t believe how reasonable the whole experience was!
And all of the leftovers were packed up in “to go” containers for us to continue to enjoy!
I couldn’t even bring myself to each a cookie that evening, but oh how glorious did the chocolate dipped biscotti taste the next morning with my coffee!
The only thing better than the amazing food was the wonderful fellowship of friends! If you live in, or are ever planning to travel to the Pittsburgh area, what a treat it is to enjoy this special dining experience at Merante’s!
One day, I will actually get to visit Italy…
Until then, I will visit Maria at Merante’s and experience a little taste of Italy in the “Burgh!”
Cheers and Ciaos,