If you travel down Ohio River Boulevard, you might speed past Cafe Notte on your commute to and from work. One day, I suggest you make a pit stop for a glass of wine or a cocktail and a sampling of tapas.
Cafe Notte is housed in a former motorcycle shop with multiple dining rooms, a quaint bar and plenty of inviting outside seating.
The menu is divided into small tapas plates that are perfect for sharing and larger, hearty entrees. No matter if you come here for a quick drink or are staying for a multicourse meal, an absolute must-order is the fresh house-baked focaccia served warm and in thick slices topped with sea salt and rosemary. Accompanying the bread is a dipping oil that includes tart-and-sweet balsamic vinegar and salty parmesan cheese. Truly a magnificent start to your meal.
The homemade focaccia also comes served with a white-bean bruschetta, which I had high hopes for because the bread was absolutely outstanding. But, this build-your-own version of the dish fell short for me. The bread was sliced very thin and served cold alongside a warm white-bean mixture with fresh garlic, olive oil and a few tomatoes. The topping was flavorful, but it was hard to eat on top of the cold slices of bread. The beans kept falling off. What I had hoped for was those thick slices of focaccia toasted to perfection and topped with a white-bean spread (think hummus-like) and then topped with thinly sliced or cubed tomatoes.
Other small plates include crab cakes, mussels, stuffed banana peppers and deep-fried eggplant ribbons stuffed with a creamy cheese mixture and topped with a creamy pepper and tomato sauce and ribbons of fresh basil. The eggplant was crunchy and still firm while the warm cheesy filling was smooth and creamy. I’m typically not a tomato sauce fan, but the one served on this dish had me dipping pieces of focaccia into it to be sure that none of it was left when the lovely waitress came to clear my plates. Another definite must-order.
Now that the warm temps are here, you might be looking for lighter fare for dinner. The Harvest salad — fresh field greens tossed with dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, tangy crumbled blue cheese and a port wine pear vinaigrette — is a nice option. Steak, chicken or salmon can be added for an additional fee.
Heartier options consist of a few pasta dishes, including the orecchiette pasta, which is on the menu because it’s a favorite of Debbie Santucci, one of Cafe Notte’s owners. Pasta is combined with grilled chicken, roasted pine nuts and fresh asparagus and tossed in a cream sauce. This dish was decent, but it was dry and needed more of the creamy, silky sauce. If you’re a seafood lover, try the shrimp and crab ravioli served in a saffron cream sauce and topped with spinach and red peppers. Although the pasta is not made in house — it’s purveyed from the Strip District, this dish will delight.
Protein dishes include comfortable classics such as salmon served with creamy polenta, veal bolognese, chicken and eggplant parmesan, filet, flat iron steak, and a house burger served with chips. I ordered the braised short ribs served in a red wine sauce with mushrooms on top of a creamy and cheesy butternut squash risotto and�crisp snap peas. The meat was tender and the sauce flavorful. The best part of the dish was the risotto that was cooked to absolute perfection — a hard-to-master skill that the chef team at Cafe Notte has gotten right.
Desserts here include a limoncello cake, raspberry ricotta cheesecake, layered chocolate cake, gluten-free flourless chocolate cake and a chocolate-covered cannoli shell filled with a ricotta that’s hardly sweet and served with chocolate chips and fresh raspberries.
Even though I thought some of the dishes could have been better, it’s an overall solid place for date night or for catching up with friends over a bottle of wine, which is $10 off on Wednesdays. Whatever you decide to order, make sure to get the focaccia!
Sarah Sudar is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com, who contribute a weekly Dining Out column to the Tribune-Review.