Mt. Washington dining gets another entry in the height of fine dining with Altius
Mt. Washington dining has become synonymous with special occasions. With a view of the two rivers merging into the Ohio, complete with a sparkling city skyline, it is no wonder couples take to the hilltop to commit to a lifetime together and out-of-towners beg for a window seat while slurping down salmon.
The meal always plays second fiddle to the magic of the moment and the breathtaking skyscape. It is time, however, for a shift; tastebuds should be tantalized along with the eyes. Enter Altius, the newest high-end dining destination on Grandview Avenue. Opened in late spring, Altius seems up to the challenge of serving meals that match the iconic eye candy that is Pittsburgh.
Altius proprietor B DeFrancis, who also owns Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon, was approached two years ago to create a new dining destination on Mt. Washington. She knew this opportunity could not be passed by: “It is the holy grail of locations. You can’t get a better view.”
And the views from Altius do not disappoint. Situated directly beside the Duquesne Incline, the two-story space makes excellent use of the expansive windows by positioning tables on graduated levels. The second floor features several cozy banquettes that face the Golden Triangle. The Gateway Clipper streaming through the waters, the stadiums buzzing with fans, the Duquesne Incline gliding up and down the hillside, and the Point State Park fountain bursting into the air, are all on full display.
While outside is the aesthetic star, the interior of Altius is no slouch. Minimal and sleek, the space has a cool glow with white, blue and gray hues. It is modern and unfussy, with white leather chairs and contemporary light fixtures. The ambiance from the outside-in certainly suggests more formal attire, so skip the jeans and running shorts.
A visit to the restroom continues this soft modernity, with spa-like finishes and sinks that are a sight to behold. Make a hand-washing trip at the very least just to watch the water magically cascade down the sloping fixture.
DeFrancis and her team, including Altius’ business partner and executive chef Jessica Bauer, spent time researching fine-dining establishments in New York City before the restaurant’s opening, gleaning trends and tips that would easily transfer to Pittsburgh. Evidence of their time is seen immediately upon sitting down with a fun, free popcorn starter and then, later in the meal, with a complimentary amuse-bouche.
“We want Altius to be both accessible and a fine dining experience,” DeFrancis says.
The menu is centered on organic, local and sustainable food, which certainly keeps on trend. Entrees include a good assortment of land-variety proteins like lamb sourced from Jamison Farms of Latrobe with a mustard rub, duck paired with goose pate, and a pork chop resting on swoon-worthy Gouda smashed potatoes.
The sea is also well represented with dishes like a bagel-crusted salmon and shrimp accompanied with Parmesan risotto. While some options allow chef Bauer to flex her creative muscles, dishes on a whole are easy to interpret.
And let us not forget the bread! The roving bread basket is a serious delight. I easily consumed an entire loaf’s worth on a recent trip, eating all three options of sea-salted potato roll, multigrain and focaccia. Bread choices are complemented with soft, easily spreadable honey butter and sun-dried tomato pesto with a delicate oil base. If bread was not available, I could spread these heavenly concoctions on paper, wood chips, DVDs — anything. Thankfully, the bread steward appears each time the bread plate looks lonely.
The bread service is just one component of good hospitality that the restaurant employs. This is not a dine-and-run type of joint. Anticipate spending a solid two hours, or more, enjoying a leisurely, yet adequately spaced, meal. Servers make sure you are well-attended to but not bothered. It would be easy to spend a solid evening here catching up with friends over a bottle of organic, sustainable or biodynamic wine (the only kind Altius offers). If organic wine isn’t your jam, bringing your own bottle to the table will cost you a hefty $25 corkage fee.
With great service, quality meals, interesting wine offerings and sweet desserts made in-house, Altius is a welcome addition to the dining scene. Even in its infancy, Altius is already giving Pittsburghers a reason to venture to Grandview Avenue, even without engagement rings in their pockets.
Laura Zorch is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com, who contribute a weekly dining column to Trib Total Media.