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©2009 Sommelier Journal. May not be distributed without permission.

Sonoma Grille Pittsburgh

Sonoma Grille

947 Penn Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (412) 697-1336


Laura Taxel, author of Cleveland Ethnic Eats and editor of Cleveland’s Feast! Magazine, has been writing about food and drink for 25 years.

28 December 2009

A wine-centric restaurant celebrates a French chef’s love affair with America. Chef Yves Carreau is a double transplant, having cooked his way from Lyon, France, where he was born and trained, to Los Angeles, and then in the early ’80s from California to Pittsburgh. He opened Sonoma Grille in 2004, and as the name makes clear, his time on the West Coast profoundly influenced his approach to food and drink. The wine list is 100% American. Most are California labels; the remainder come from Oregon and Washington. The selection, reflecting both big names and lesser-known boutique

brands, is the most extensive in town: 285 bottles, 115 wines by the glass, and 60 cult offerings for what management has dubbed “the wine junkies.” “There’s nothing else like this here,” Carreau says. “Because we are the biggest wine buyers in western Pennsylvania, we get fi rst pick of what’s available from our vendors.” “Guests see things on our list that they don’t fi nd anywhere else,” adds general manager Randy Wright, “including highly allocated vintages like the Pinot we just got from Au Bon Climat.”

restaurant spotlight

Sonoma Grille bar (left) and dining room (above); owner and chef Yves Carreau (bottom).

Located in Pittsburgh’s downtown cultural district, Carreau’s casually sophisticated restaurant boasts an attractive bar, a lounge outfitted with armchairs and couches, and a spacious dining room decorated in shades of honey and sun. The cellar holds about 2,000 bottles. Although Carreau insists he’s in the business of selling wine rather than aging it, he does stock verticals of labels such as Bryant Family Vineyard and Beringer Reserve. The goal is to offer noteworthy wines in every price range, including a 2004 Screaming Eagle Cabernet for $2,900, a 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia for $350, and an unusually large number of choices in both red and white between $100 and $200—the category that seems to generate the most questions about grape varieties, vineyards, styles, and producers. Guests looking to spend $25-50 are not ignored, Wright insists: “If somebody signals they are looking for an inexpensive wine, I want to be able to point to a bottle and say with confidence, ‘This is a very good buy for the money.’” The original collection was assembled by

Carreau’s former partner, Uriel Marcovitz, an Advanced-level sommelier. Still a partner in the business, Marcovitz stepped away from day-today operations in June 2009, but continues to have a significant influence on the wine program. Wright, who had trained under him, is filling in until a replacement sommelier can be found. Wright is currently responsible for updating the wine list and for leading blind tastings and pre-shift samplings for servers and managers. There’s no phone book for guests to page through: reds are listed on one side of an 11-by16-inch laminated page and whites on the other. “We gave up descriptions and ratings in favor of a more casual and accessible presentation,” says Wright. “Staff are trained to provide more details about everything we offer in face-to-face interactions.” Because more wine is ordered by the glass than by the bottle, the restaurant relies on a wall-mounted Le Verre de Vin unit that quickly and easily reseals a bottle by creating a vacuum.

Sommelier Journal 29

menu excerpt Signature Dishes Study of Duck


Smoked Breast, Wilted Watercress, Roasted Pearl Onions, Black-Eyed Peas, IPA Duck Jus; Duck Confit Benedict, Grilled Muffin, Sunny-Side-Up Quail Egg, Fines Herbes Beurre Blanc; Duck Pastrami, HeirloomTomato-and-Haricot-Vert Salad, Basil Vinaigrette, Preserved Lemon

Belgian Endive Tarte Tatin


Goat-Cheese Quenelle with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Basil, Roasted Tomato, Petite Greens Salad

Sourdough Salmon


Cherry Tomato, Roasted Corn, Romano Beans, Roasted Garlic, Crispy Trotters, Smoked-Salmon-and-Tarragon Broth

Black-Sesame-Honey-Glazed Pork Tenderloin $17 Sonoma Grille dining room.

Shiitake-Shallot Risotto, Wasabi-Jalapeno Emulsion, Sautéed Spinach, Red-Bell-Pepper Syrup

A separate spigot dispenses carbon dioxide for bubblies. Most glasses run $10-15 for 6 ounces, reflecting an average 50% markup, but there is an audience for much pricier pours. “An individual dining alone who doesn’t mind spending $36 for one drink can still enjoy a 2004 Silver Oak Cab,” says Wright. “We’re able to offer these upper-tier wines this way because we’re confident that our preservation system will protect the quality down to the last drop.” The food, prepared by executive chef Andrew Hebson, reflects Carreau’s fascination with the melting-pot style he fi rst encountered on the West Coast. An avocado-and-crabmeat tian comes with harissa mayonnaise; pork tenderloin in a black-sesame-honey glaze is served with shiitake-shallot risotto; and a piece of grilled mahi-mahi can be ordered with wasabi-jalapeno emulsion, a green peppercorn demi-glace, or Jamaican jerk hot sauce. Classic French technique meets the global grocery cart in Hebson’s Study of Duck, a three-part dish comprising a smoked breast, a confit, and duck pastrami. The menu is specifically designed to complement the wines. To help guests fi nd appropriate matches, it’s organized not by courses, but by pairing possibilities, with five flavor categories: Subtle/Delicate, Tangy/ Lively, Fruity/Jammy, Fleshy/Hearty, and Spicy/Muscular. Portions are generally smaller than usual, encouraging diners to sample multiple dishes with matching wines. It’s also part of an effort to appeal to women, who like the option of eating less. Because the restaurant is connected to the Courtyard Marriott Pittsburgh Downtown, however, the kitchen also prepares a few larger, more traditional entrées for business travelers, such as a 12-ounce fi let mignon and a 16-ounce rack of lamb. “We have 150 seats,” Carreau explains. “To fi ll them, we have to give people plenty of choices and address the needs of many different kinds of customers.” Carreau, who also operates a nuevo Latino tapas restaurant, Seviche, in the city, admits that “people think it’s odd for a Frenchman to have a place like this. But I fell in love with the progressive, multicultural cuisine of California and the wines being made there that complement it so well.” Six years of positive response from critics and consumers confi rm that bringing the two cultures together in Pittsburgh was a good move indeed.

Cucumber-and-Roasted-Red-Pepper Salad, Fresh Mint, Coriander Vinaigrette, Jumbo-Lump-Crab Rangoon, Spicy Korean Barbecue Sauce

30 December 2009

Fresh Seasonal Fish

Grilled Filet Mignon

Market Price


Green-Peppercorn Demi-Glace, Chive-and-Gruyère Scalloped Potatoes, Grilled Asparagus

Bacon-Wrapped Veal Tournedos


Applewood Bacon, Warm Morel Chanterelle, and Tat-Sol Salad with Local Peaches, Whipped Potatoes, Black Garlic Sauce

restaurant spotlight

wine list excerpt By the glass Sparkling Kenwood, Brut, California Gruet, Blanc de Noirs, New Mexico Domaine Chandon, Brut Rosé, Napa Valley, California Gloria Ferrer, Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, California

N.V. N.V. N.V. 2003

$7 $11 $13 $16

2004 2005 2004 2006 2005

$8 $9 $11 $13 $17

2005 2005 2005 2005 2004

$6 $9 $11 $11 $13

2005 2006 2005 2005 2006

$8 $9 $11 $11 $13

2004 2004 2001 2004 2005 2004 2005 2004 2005 2004 2004 2005 2004 2005 2005

$6 $7 $7 $8 $9 $9 $10 $11 $12 $13 $14 $17 $20 $26 $32

2005 2003

$9 $17

2005 2004 2003 2004 2004 2004 2005 2005

$5 $7 $8 $9 $12 $13 $13 $16

White/Rosé Sauvignon Blanc Camelot, California Guenoc, Lake County, California Raymond, Reserve, Napa Valley, California Honig, Napa Valley, California Cakebread, Napa Valley, California

Pinot Grigio/Gris Camelot, Pinot Grigio, California Echelon, Pinot Grigio, Clarksburg, California Estancia, Pinot Grigio, California MacMurray Ranch, Pinot Gris, Sonoma Coast, California Airlie, Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, California

Riesling/Gewürztraminer Covey Run, Riesling, Washington Alexander Valley, “New Gewurz,” North Coast, California Columbia, Gewürztraminer, Columbia Valley, Washington J. Lohr, Riesling, Monterey County, California Dr. Konstantin Frank, Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York

Chardonnay R.H. Phillips, California Heron, California Diamond Oaks, Carneros, California Pine & Post, Washington Butterfield, California Mark West, Sonoma County, California Cosentino, “The Chard,” California Forestville, Reserve, Sonoma County, California Pellegrini, Russian River Valley, California Toad Hollow, Mendocino, California Kenwood, Reserve, Russian River Valley, California Trefethen, Napa Valley, California Jordan, Russian River Valley, California DuMOL, Russian River Valley, California Kistler, Russian River Valley, California

Viognier Smoking Loon, California Michael David, “Incognito,” Lodi, California

Other Whites/Rosés Coastal Vintners, White Zinfandel, California Wild Bunch, California Cline, Oakley “Four Whites,” California Herzog, Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, California Wine by Joe, Pinot Blanc, Oregon L’Ecole No. 41, Sémillon, Columbia Valley, Washington Saintsbury, “Vin Gris” Rosé, Carneros, California Conundrum, California

For Sonoma Grille’s complete wine list, click on the link in the online version of this article at

Roasted-beet-and-goat-cheese salad (top); signature tapas platter (above).

Sommelier Journal 31


December 2009 28 Sonoma Grille ©2009 Sommelier Journal. May not be distributed without permission. 947 Penn Ave. Pi...


December 2009 28 Sonoma Grille ©2009 Sommelier Journal. May not be distributed without permission. 947 Penn Ave. Pi...