With breathtaking views of the Pittsburgh skyline and top notch seafood, Monterey Bay on Mt. Washington is one of the city's premier fine dining destinations. Although it would be easy for the food to play second fiddle to the scenery, the chefs here go above and beyond to make sure the food is just as memorable as the views.
The Best Seat in Pittsburgh for a Meal
Until recently we hadn't been to Monterey Bay in about five years. We knew we had to make a return trip when we found out the decor and menu had been updated and modernized. It's true- the menu is getting a breath of fresh air while still executing the classics perfectly, and the decor is much more subdued and modern.
Obviously the menu here includes all manner of seafood (think oysters, calamari, lobster, crab, and ten or more varieties of fish), but there's also options for non-seafood loving patrons as well including steaks, chicken, and pasta.
We had our eyes set on the ceviche appetizer until our server described the specials of the day, one of which was a seafood trio appetizer with a crab cake; skewers of salmon, swordfish, and tuna; and blackened cajun shrimp.
We immediately set our eyes on this one and are so glad we did. The crab cake was little more than huge huge chunks of sweet delicious crab, not really formed into a patty or cake (which was just fine with us) but with a light crust on the exterior crab pieces. On the fish skewers, each piece of fish was cooked perfectly. Normally I don't care for swordfish or tuna because they tend to be overcooked and dried out, but these were so dense, juicy, and meaty and served with an ancho chili mayo. Finally, the blackened shrimp with cajun seasoning were just a touch tough but with an Old Bay-esque spice rub and a sweet orange marmalade sauce, the flavors were on point.
Jeremy had wanted to order the brandied shrimp tagliatelle for his entree but they were unfortunately out of it. Instead he ordered the grits with shrimp and scallops. The grits were cheesy and creamy, the shrimp and scallops were cooked perfectly, and on top was a surprising tomato-based Creole sauce studded with onions and peppers and a little smoked sausage.
After asking our server to describe the differences between some of the fish (which he did very well and was very helpful), I chose the halibut prepared with a parmesan crust and a lemon pepper cream sauce.
The fish itself was, of course, cooked to perfection. It was a very nice and meaty fish but still quite flaky and tender. The parmesan crust was crisp and unctuous. The sauce was so rich and creamy but the occasional bite of black pepper and a squirt of lemon balanced things out.
On the side we ordered the seasonal vegetable which was a 14-hour carrot. First of all, the sides here are massive and definitely shareable between two to four people (and are priced to match). But we weren't complaining because these carrots were fantastic: cooked low and slow for 14 hours, the sugars caramelized and created a layer of crusty deliciousness on the outside while the interiors were super creamy.
Who would have thought you could ever gush this much about carrots? But here we are.
The Best Dessert in Pittsburgh?
We kept seeing desserts come out to all the tables around us and knew that that was for sure happening. Our server keyed us in to the angel food grilled cheese sandwich with angel food cake slices as the bread and a cream cheese filling- a dessert that is so popular they will likely never remove from the menu (his words).
Instead of being grilled, the top of the cake was bruleed with sugar. A strawberry-blueberry compote was served on top and a scoop of vanilla ice cream came on the side. Normally it's topped with almonds but alas we had to forgo them due to my allergy.
The bruleed sugar gave the dish the appropriate amount of contrasting texture. The cheese was so creamy and the cake was denser than what you'd normally think of for angel food cake but not as dense as, say, a pound cake.
The berry sauce was a little tart and was an excellent and much appreciated contrast. Before we ordered this we saw a guy at the table next to us get this and down the entire plate himself in less than two minutes.
Now we completely understand why- this is truly one of the best desserts in Pittsburgh.
Bonus Tip for Getting the Best Seat
Our only complaint about Monterey Bay, if you could even call it that, is that not all seats have a stellar view. Some tables are the second in the row and have a bit more obstructed view of the windows, and some seats at those tables are facing reverse- so larger groups are not all guaranteed the window seat (naturally).
But we have a bonus tip direct from the bartender on how to improve your chances at getting the best seats in the house!
If you make a reservation for right when they open (and sufficiently far in advance) you have a higher probability of getting a window seat. Going further, if you arrive for an early drink at the bar (which typically opens 30 minutes before the restaurant does), you'll be able to walk up a few minutes early to score the first seating of the evening.
The bar is located down a flight of steps from the main dining area and there are a ton of seats and a couch or two- almost all along the windows with their own stellar views.
Maybe he was just trying to sell us an extra drink, or maybe there is some truth to it. All we know is that the bar is stunning and we'll be taking the bartender up on that idea in our next visit. Or perhaps we'll go straight to the bar and order from the food menu there.
Drinks and dessert with the city's best view? We're in.
Monterey Bay Fish Grotto is located at 1411 Grandview Avenue on Mount Washington.
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