In this week’s Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Lola Bistro, a gem of a restaurant in the North Side.
Traipse up the steps and into the angular door of Lola Bistro, situated on a hushed corner of the North Side behind the hustle and bustle of Western Avenue, and you’ll find yourself transported.
The world as you know it will grow quiet, save for muted musical numbers dancing out of a radio and reverberating throughout the small window-laden restaurant. Outside those windows, trees and houses dot the street. Inside, 10 or so tables dot the intimate dining room. A small, wall-mounted chalkboard augments that feeling of intimacy, as guests peruse the same menu with scrawled specials as if letting everyone in on the same secret.
Lola Bistro is a relatively new addition to the restaurants on the North Side, but it has already made a big impact, attracting locals and turning them into regulars who know the chef and owners by name. The husband-and-wife team have made the space and menu so inviting, it’s as though patrons are pulling up a chair in a home instead of a restaurant.
Many meals at Lola begin with a bottle of wine. As a BYOB establishment, Lola charges a small fee and invites you to uncork while you unwind. My most recent trip began just that way. With a full glass in my hand, I made my dinner selections, which included several starters, soups and entrees.
The menu, while limited, includes dishes with various flavor profiles, creating a melting pot of cuisines. The lineup is ever-changing and often includes seasonal root vegetables, thick gravies and rich creams, paired with seasoned meats and housemade pastas. Starters and entrees are meticulously prepared and hearty without being overwhelming.
I chose to imbibe with an order of the Pelmeni, lamb and beef dumplings, and goose pastry. Both dishes were packed so full of flavor and made with such care and quality, it was an absolute pleasure to indulge.
The dumplings are one of Lola’s best-sellers, and for good reason. The dough, made to order, was pressed tightly and beautifully around bite-sized bits of lamb and beef and drizzled with dill sour cream. It was plentiful enough to be a meal.
That same dough was enjoyed as a casing for the Lamb Butternut Ravioli. Brown butter and walnuts rounded out the makings of a spectacular seasonal special, which was topped with freshly grated cheese.
The goose pastry was another must try, as the pastries are made in-house. A special, the slivers of stuffed pinwheels on a bed of dark gravy made for a rich, buttery treat and paved the way for homemade soups. Bowls of Butternut Dal and Russian beef and barley were brought to the table, with accoutrements artfully arranged, adding even more class to an already-exquisite environment.
A handful of entrees are offered each night, ranging in ethnicity from Russian to Serbian to Italian, depending on the day. Poultry, fish, beef and vegetable options are always available in some form or another.
The preparation is what makes Lola Bistro particularly intriguing. Few restaurants can place a chicken gumbo next to a carbonara and a whole trout, let alone excel at creating pleasurable and memorable meals out of all three.
The generously portioned gumbo was Creole-seasoned with just enough punch to make each spoonful a mini party. The creamy carbonara paired fresh-made noodles with hardened, flakey cheese and salted pork. (By far, the standout of the night.) And the whole trout (no head, no bones) was stuffed with risotto and laid upon Brussels sprouts and beets.
Dessert was not to be missed, as Lola Bistro is lucky to have an in-house pastry chef. The end-all, be-all dessert is a Russian Honey Cake with its layer upon layer of cream and thin, flaky cake. The HoHo Cake, a homemade version of the snack cake, and the apple tartlette with ginger ice cream was nothing to scoff at, either.
Lola Bistro is well on its way to becoming a North Side staple and is definitely giving reason to venture beyond Western Avenue. Warm service, sumptuous-yet-simple dishes, and the option to uncork a BYOB should make this a destination for anyone looking to be transported.