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Pittsburgh, PA: Altius

My mom found a list full of restaurants with amazing views. There are two located in Pittsburgh, one is a seafood restaurant, the other a usual American fare. The fish place seems to have great food, including a very visually stimulating sushi plate; unfortunately, they are fully booked the weekend we are there. Begrudgingly, we got the reservation of the other restaurant. The prices on both restaurants are very reasonable, which is odd for places with great views. I’m not used to the prices of Pittsburgh. Amenities of larger cities, but at the cost of a small town. There is not a single reason to say no, so Altius, here we come.

Line all across the street!

I have never been to Pittsburgh, but after surveying the local geography, it is clear that the restaurant is situated on the hills of Mt. Washington. There is valet services at Altius, but we could park at the bottom of the hills and take the Duquesne Incline, killing two birds with one stone. The parking is not cheap, being a big tourist attraction; then again, it would probably cost more using the valet option. So, we pack our bags and line up for the ride up. Our day ended a bit early, so we have hours to spare before our 8pm reservation. There are well-dressed people in line, probably to eat at one of the restaurants at the top of the hill; however, many left midway because the line just isn’t moving. There are only 2 cable cars, each seating 15 people, so it takes a long time to move people up and down. Tickets are purchase at the bottom station for $2.50 each way, and exact change only. I don’t think they renovated the place since the 60s, and the trolley is close to a 100 years old.

Look at the lamp.
Coin exchanger
Such long line.
Going up!

The car ride up the hill is pleasant but stuffy; there is no ventilation installed. The view of the “Golden Triangle” slowly gets better as we ascend. It is hard to imagine but the city of Pittsburgh sits on islands surrounded by a few rivers and hills. Gorgeous steel bridges were built to connect the islands, giving the city the nickname “city of bridges”. Our trolley creep slowly towards the top station, looking like the doors wouldn’t line up to exit outside, but it does. The weather is a bit cooler up here, mostly due to the breeze from below. Altius is located right next to the station. There aren’t much to do up here except to eat and live. Most tourists are crowded by the little deck at the incline station; to get a better view with less crowd, take the 5 minutes’ walk to the Grandview Overlook. It is worth it.

The golden triangle.

I’m concerned about eating at Altius. We aren’t exactly dress for success, and as I check our reservation with the hostess, a note on the door request for proper attire. On checking their website, “business casual dress attire, or better, is required.” Just in case we aren’t wasting time to be rejected a table later, I ask the front desk about that. She is very kind, informing me it is not enforce and that the main concern is graphic T-shirt. Moreover, she recommend for us to take seats at the bar area, which has the best view and immediately available, as opposed to waiting for another hour for our reservations. We’re famished by now, and accepted the offer. A mom and son walk in and ask for that exact table just as we are about to be seated, but is turn down by the hostess. They are rather mad at us for the rest of the evening. As much as I should be grateful of the offer, I thought the view is alright. It looks like the same as what is seen outside, with pillars blocking the panorama. However, we get to enjoy the view sitting down with food as oppose to being outside and fighting for a good view of the city. I guess money does buy some happiness and lots of privilege.

Watermelon and Arugula.
Local root beer company.

Altius, just like Gauche, is also mentioned by online reviewers as a top steakhouse in the Pittsburgh area. Our dinner includes bay scallops “Coquilles St. Jacques”, NY strip steak, bone-in ribeye steak and crab, mascarpone and corn ravioli. It never hit me that Pittsburgh could be good with beef – we have steaks two nights in a row. As our dinner is being prepared in the kitchen, popcorn and watermelon salad are served. The slightly salty popcorn prepares our appetite while the small watermelon salad isn’t very appetizing. As we chat, the crowd starts to arrive at the restaurant. There are a few large tables, but mostly couples enjoying the long weekend. More tables are available upstairs but I’m not sure if they are more people upstairs. As a whole, people dress rather nicely, but only a few observe the full business attire rule.

Assortment of bread
View from our seats.

We enjoy the sunset with the dinner. I guess that’s the draw to eat here – the view might not beat the public areas, but it will be hard to find a spot and observe the change in color in the skies. The NY strip and ribeye are cooked similarly, both are crispy on the outside and juicy meat. There isn’t a big difference between the two cuts. NY strip might have a bit more flavor, but the ribeye juicier? The potatoes and vegetables add a nice contrast to the meat. Ravioli offers a much contrast to an otherwise all meat and potato meal. In all honesty, meat and potatoes are the best and there is definitely nothing wrong with that. Back to the ravioli – is it a trend to add squid ink to noodles, I think I’m seeing more of these on the menu. I do not have the taste palette to notice any difference, but the dark black color is an eye catcher. I thought the cheesy ravioli is delicious, but I much rather go back to my meat and potatoes.

Crab, Mascarpone & Corn Ravioli – squid ink pasta, candied shishito peppers, Calabrian chilies, bay scallops, toasted hazelnuts, lemongrass crema
16oz bone-in Ribeye.
Allen Brothers Grass Fed 14 oz. Strip Steak – duck fat fried fingerling potatoes, herb Dijon crème fraîche, asparagus, baby carrots, maître d’hôtel butter.
Bay Scallops “Coquilles St. Jacques” – wild Pennsylvania mushroom and Swiss chard duxelles, red curry oil, béarnaise, crispy shallot gratin.

Traditionally, I don’t order all courses of a meal at the same restaurant. It is a known fact that restaurants import desserts from elsewhere, and many including the surf and turf at steakhouses are schemes to trick patrons for more money. What caught my eyes on the menu is the in-house executive pastry chef. That alone is enough for me to conclude that the dessert here is worth as much as the entree. I save some space for the affogato. Elsewhere, an affogato is usually a dish of gelato in espresso; here, it is a cake with rich chocolate sauce pour over on the table, melting the hard chocolate, kind of like a fancy lava cake. The gold flakes made the dish even more luxurious. The slight bitterness of the cocoa balance out the sweet parts of the mocha sauce. It is tasty and worth the space in my stomach.

Affogato – Brown butter cake, coffee Semifreddo, mocha sauce, coffee tuile, cinnamon marshmallow fluff, Irish cream foam
View of Pittsburgh at night.

The crew bid us farewell with homemade brownies. Considering the atmosphere and location of the restaurant, the price is beyond reasonable. I dare say they have undercharge us. Pittsburgh is such an interest city. Rusting, but efforts have been put in to revamp and attract more people. If the cost of living continues to stay low while the food scene grows, I can see this being a more competitive Mid-western city. Altius is new, and seems to be one of many that’s leading the charge in the right direction. The large metropolitan area is usually what we think the United States is, but this might be where the real American dream is all about.

Night view.

Visited: September 2nd, 2018 at 7pm for dinner.
Address: 1230 Grandview Ave, Pittsburgh

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