Last Updated on August 14, 2020 by Angie
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On our recent visit, we appreciated the attention to detail in the food and service, as well as the creative and well-executed mouthwatering seafood dishes.
Or, the Whale Stands Out as Soon as You Step Inside
The design of the restaurant is unique, with the majority of the seats being down a flight of stairs from the street level, while the bar and just a few tables are at the entrance level.
The open kitchen is also downstairs, offering a glimpse into the action and also a somewhat high level of noise – try sitting upstairs if you're looking for a quieter setting.
Within a few minutes I sensed we were in for a treat as our waiter took the time to explain the concept behind Or, the Whale, including their sources for a lot of their seafood and meat, and that they dry-age their meat in-house. We were given a bit of time to decide what to order, and our delicious seafood feast began.
Go for the Cocktails Here
Although the beer and wine menus were appealing, we went the cocktail route as we'd been to the cocktail bar in the Distrikt Hotel before and were very impressed with the offerings.
We knew that Or, the Whale, had the same management and most of the same cocktails, and figured they would be equally delicious.
We tried the Queen's Park Swizzle which was like an amped up mojito made with really good rum (Bacardi 8-Year), minus the club soda, and plus two kinds of bitters. We also tried the Atlantic Specific, an interesting tequila-based drink that also included sherry, Contratto Apertivo, a gin liqueur, and orange and chocolate bitters.
You might think that with so many contrasting flavors going on that this drink could be overwhelming, but this was one of those rare cocktails where you could taste each individual component and they all worked together harmoniously.
One of the Finest Seafood Meals in Pittsburgh
The meal started with some complimentary foccacia-style bread- a crunchy top layer dotted with lemon zest and honey gave way to a soft, spongy interior.
To start we ordered the wood-fired octopus appetizer with olives, potatoes, and arugula that was drizzled with a garlicky chimichurri sauce. We could have eaten an entire plate of this octopus, it was so good.
The sauce really complemented the charred flavor of the octopus well, and the meat itself was deliciously tender. If you are a fan of octopus at all, this one is a must try.
There were several specials of the day including a whole sea bass and a pork belly dish that sounded insanely good, but we decided to stick with some of the regular menu options. To combat the cold weather we opted for the fish stew, and because I have a love affair with them, the scallops.
You know how sometimes when you order a seafood soup you are fishing around in the broth, just hoping to find a piece or two of seafood? The fish stew here was the exact opposite of this, filled to the brim with monkfish, clams, mussels, and shrimp. A rich, almost creamy tomato broth held all of these goodies along with a few toasted bread hunks for dipping.
The scallops were some of the plumpest, juiciest ones I've ever had, perfectly cooked with a nice buttery crust on the outside and a melt-in-your-mouth center.
These gems sat on a smooth butternut squash puree, and were topped with a few sunflower shoots and fingerling potato crisps. The potato crisps may seem an odd addition but they gave a great textural contrast to the rest of the creamy dish.
A Return Visit for the Chophouse Menu
On another more recent visit we dined with the goal of trying their meat focused dishes as they dry age their own steaks in house.
We of course had to try the NY strip which was cooked exactly as we ordered it (medium rare). There was a perfect char on the outside and the meat itself had a delicious complexity from being dry aged. Sides are a la carte and we chose the smoked smashed potatoes which exceeded our expectations with their crunchy skins and creamy insides and surprising smokiness.
We also heard that the braised lamb neck was a standout, so we ordered that as our other entree. I can't say we'd ever had lamb neck before so we didn't know what to expect, but it turns out lamb neck is extremely flavorful and the preparation here was super rich, meaty, and melt-in-your-mouth tender. The meat was so rich and tender I'd say it didn't really need a sauce, but a port wine reduction took this dish to the next level.
A creamy mushroom and rosemary risotto was served with the lamb neck, along with some grilled asparagus to lighten things up.
It is Hard to Say No to Desserts, Too
Last, but not least, we tried the creme brulee which was everything I never knew I wanted in a creme brulee dish. White chocolate custard was topped with a toasted sugar layer, which was then topped with a sprinkling of cocoa nibs and cocoa powder.
Two crispy crepe-like shells filled with dark chocolate espresso mousse rested on top. I love creme brulee, but creme brulee with chocolate? Even better.
On our second visit, we also indulged in dessert, which we are so glad we did. We tried the baked Alaska: a rich, dense chocolate cake topped with a layer of raspberry sauce, ice cream, and ethereal dollops of toasted meringue. The whole thing was almost too pretty to eat, but don't worry – we devoured it and contemplated ordering another.
When it comes down to it, Or, the Whale has impressed us on all of our visits, and whether you visit for seafood, the chophouse menu, dessert, or simply drinks, the restaurant serves up a stellar offering that makes it one of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh.
Or, the Whale is located at the Distrikt Hotel at 463 Blvd of the Allies in downtown Pittsburgh.