Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Late june … in search of ballparks never visited – A quick baseball weekend outside the NY metro area

My son had planned to take me (host me!) on a baseball road trip in late June … perfect timing for interleague play at baseball stadia never before visited – PNC Park in Pittsburgh (the Pirates versus the Detroit Tigers) and  Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia (Phillies versus the Tampa Bay Rays). The trip was "constructed" (and scheduled) for only the two of us (allowing for a pere-fils bonding event, of a sort ) and would, perhaps, signal a precedent … the first in similar projected road trips in coming years to ballparks we hadn’t ever visited  (next year, say, in Ohio, covering Cincinnati & Cleveland?). We planned to meet at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and “supp” at the game. He’d bring the rental car up from Washington, DC and I would travel via Amtrak from Metro Park, NJ to downtown Phillie.

Well, we were rained out on that Friday night, the game cancelled at about 9:45 p.m., although every preparation had been made just in case, with tarps rolling in and out as the weather rapidly changed, for better and then for worse.  We managed, however, to eat a variety of outsize barbecue sandwiches – beef & turkey – and filled up on coleslaw, grilled onions, baked beans & local draft beer.  We would, it turned out, come back to Citizens Bank Park for the evening game of the upcoming Sunday (same weekend) doubleheader, a la our rain-check.But immediately following our rain-out game “barbecue fest,” we were off on the PA Turnpike heading west to Harrisburg where we planned to spend the night.

Then, on to Pittsburgh, post-buffet breakfast, to see the city; check into our rather expansive DoubleTree suite (my son spares no expense!); and watch a late-afternoon ballgame, in a picture-perfect park, with 3rd-base-side seats facing a movie-set-like view of architecturally diverse downtown skyscrapers and a golden, sun-dappled bridge (not the Andy Warhol bridge) over the Allegheny River, one of the three rivers crisscrossing center city Pittsburgh.  (It must be noted here that downtown Pittsburgh is walk-able, welcoming, clean, safe, and hopping … and very intriguing, culturally; a far remove from the steel-town legend – and reality – of yore.)

From the hotel we shuttled to the ballpark on their relatively new (now, still, free!) underground system, convenient & clean as you might imagine. On entering the stadium, we received a free "official" Pirates “First Pitch” score card cum info magazine and an also gratis Pirates cap (indeed, such would never happen in NYC, at either ballpark). The home team triumphed, as we figured it would, thanks to Andrew McCutchen & Co., and off we went … back to our suite above the city to plan the evening’s non-ballpark eating adventure.

We settled on SPOON, a short drive from downtown Pittsburgh, at 134 South Highland Avenue.  Both the restaurant and its chef had been highly recommended in Pittsburgh Magazine’s new and awarding-winning restaurants section and the menu looked particularly appealing to both of us in all areas (including valet parking at a mere $3.00). We chose two appetizers to share, a few glasses of red & white wine, and two mains and were offered a warm basket of freshly baked breads and small rolls, along with an olive-oil based dipping sauce and a side of butter, as well.

Specifically, we began the meal with the pristine looking  gorgonzola blue cheese soufflé served with McConell’s Farm stone fruit salad, “sylvetta” arugula, candied walnuts, blue cheese, honey, & lightly invigorated (the salad portion of the dish) by a white balsamic vinaigrette dressing (very nice, indeed, @ $9.) … and the soba noodles, a complex appetizer comprising a bowl of tender noodles, a sous vide duck breast (yes, slowly cooked in a vacuum at low temp), “torched” scallop, bok choy, endive & mushrooms, all  gently enmeshed in an orange-chili vinaigrette and adding up to a moderately rich, hearty & appealing first course easily shared (@ $8.).

A fruity but well-balanced Riesling (2009 Weinkeller Erbach / Rheingau, Germany @ $ 8. a glass) was selected to accompany our first courses, which paired particularly well with the soba noodles; and for my main (my son stuck with water only), I chose a glass of the Petite Sirah (2010 Cycles Gladiator / Lodi, California @ $10.), with initial scents of black cherry, bramble fruit & spice, leading to flavors of boysenberry and pepper – perfectly paired with the veal to come.

Though my son was determined not to order fish in this inland city, he did so anyway, somewhat regretting his choice of the wild striped bass. The fish (@ $26.) proved, unfortunately, not very flavorful despite having been “dressed” in a creative mix of sugar snap peas, caper aioli, “Bloody Mary” essence & charred tomato broth, along with a side patch of spinach & goat cheese ravioli. I, on the other hand, was intrigued with the duo of veal, a plate of bacon wrapped boneless, tender, upright “chunks” of veal loin, coupled with house-made veal sausage, all lying in an inviting amalgam of fennel puree, sautéed tomato & whole grain mustard buerre blanc. Though the dish was a bit steep (@ $29.), the taste of the whole was superb, the duo of veal forms utterly enticing – creating a blend of the urbane & sophisticated (the chunks of veal loin) and the “country” (the freshly made veal sausage).

For dessert we shared the almond cake (@ $ 7.), surrounded by raspberry frozen yogurt, white chocolate almond mousse & macerated berries ... a light, summery concoction which I coupled with a strong, rich  black coffee.

Following our meal at Spoon, we drove over to Carnegie Mellon University (not far from the resto) for a nighttime look; we needed some air, along with a bit of movement, and a walk around & through the campus would do the trick before getting back to the DoubleTree and calling it a day!

After another full buffet breakfast – replete with Starbucks coffee, oj, fresh fruit, sausages, bacon, yogurt, and one of the better onion & cheese omelets I’ve ever eaten – we retraced our proverbial steps along the PA Turnpike, heading back east, to Philadelphia, for the 2nd game of the doubleheader, our make-up game from Friday night. 

Philadelphia fans:   Don’t hold my son (a Nats fan) and me (a Mets fan) responsible … but Cliff Lee and the Phillies were on the losing end of this rain-free event, beaten by Tampa Bay by just a run or two … 

I certainly look forward to next year’s baseball road trip and to another father-son “escape” ... next time, perhaps, further westward … to another memorable outing!

No comments:

Post a Comment