Or, the Whale inside the boutique Distrikt Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh offers sustainably sourced seafood and steaks in a trendy atmosphere. 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, Evangeline, 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.
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.
A Few Very Unfortunate Detractions Occurred
A few odd missteps happened throughout the meal, but the way the staff responded to these speaks volumes about their high level of hospitality and service.
First, one of the staff members dropped a wine glass that ricocheted throughout the dining room- with shards landing on our table and onto a dozen or so plates of food in the window that were just about to be served (and had to be made again).
Naturally, this caused a bit of delay for the entire restaurant as that food was going to a large table that likely already waited a fair bit to begin with. Without us even asking the waiter immediately brought out a second round of drinks for our table on the house.
Second, although I had explained my tree nut allergy when ordering and our waiter had noted it to the kitchen, they had accidentally prepared my scallop dish with pine nuts and realized the mistake right when our order was about to come out. I can only speculate why this was missed.
The rest of our table got their food while I had to wait a bit longer for them to re-make my dish (which for scallops was not long at all). This prompted our waiter to bring out the creme brulee at the end of our meal, also on the house and without us asking for a dessert at all, in apologies.
Both of these incidents were very unfortunate occurrences in a once-in-a-lifetime situation, but getting beyond the delays we give credit to Or, the Whale for the response as they rose to the occasion all without anyone in our group complaining in the slightest. Now that is service we like to receive during a mishap!
When it comes down to it, yes Or, the Whale is pricey. But it's one of those instances where the experience is well worth it as they offer what we believe is some of the finest seafood in Pittsburgh.
Now we just have to return for their chop house menu!
Or, the Whale is located at the Distrikt Hotel at 463 Blvd of the Allies in downtown Pittsburgh.
For more upscale restaurants in downtown Pittsburgh, check out Butcher and the Rye.
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