I have a new hero. His name is George Merrick. He owns the luxe restaurant Isabela on Grandview located atop Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh. Mr. Merrick…George….is the quintessential entrepreneur who greets his guests at the front podium treating them like long lost friends, calling them by name, making them feel like a million dollars so that a relatively expensive prixe fix tasting dinner goes down like a spoon full of sugar. He is suave. He is sophisticated. He will take your picture. He will shower you with champagne…and he is 78 years old having just bought the place in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis. Since his purchase, he has turned Isabela’s into THE destination restaurant on Mount Washington having been voted best overall and most romantic restaurant in Pittsburgh in 2010 and 2011.
George is a retired engineering consultant, born in the south and transplanted to Pittsburgh. He liked it so much he decided to stay although his southern roots are demonstrable in his suave behavior and appearance…silver pony tail and all. He got to know the previous owners of Isabela through his consulting business, and when they decided to sell, he decided to buy. He had no intention of spending his senior years in a rocking chair in front of a television set.
Because it was Light Up night in Pittsburgh, it was impossible for us to get a cab back across the river. George pulled his car up to the front door and told me and my wife to hop in. He drove us back to our hotel through the throngs of reveling revelers. The traffic was gridlocked, and we got to talk to George about all sorts of things. What a great guy showing how to give service with a smile and how to make a business succeed.
And what a great restaurant!!! Its kudos are well earned. Isabela is on the cozy side. It has a small bar on the first floor which is sometimes used to hold events if one desires to hold an event. The restaurant is on the second floor, completely surrounded by windows offering stunning views of the city across the river. For as often as I have been on top of Mount Washington, the view is still breathtaking. During Light Up night, all the lights in the all the buildings are turned on in addition to the lights of both stadiums. Words cannot describe how beautiful it is.
The space is small…seating maybe 50 people tops. The chefs are a husband and wife act who had an outstanding reputation before going to work with Mr. Merrick. On the weekends, Isabela offers a “prixe fixe” tasting menu…soup to nuts so to speak…with the guest being offered a choices within the meat course, the fish course, the appetizer course and the dessert course. In between these courses are tasty tidbits that are offered to stimulate the senses and clear the palate. The meal is well paced, not too fast…not to slow…just right!!!!
The food here is innovative. Most of it works, some of it doesn’t. For me, the strongest courses were the fish course and the appetizer course, the corvina fish with bacon brined mushrooms and brussel sprouts was the highlight of the meal. I chose exquisitely prepared scallops for my appetizer course…this is about as good as it gets. My wife chose the pumpkin and baked apple soup…perfect for a fall evening.
The weakest course was the meat course. Of the three offerings, two were wild game. I picked the coffee rubbed elk loin…I didn’t like it. My wife had the veal shank. She said it was good, but not as good as the rest of the meal. If I were to offer George a suggestion, it would be to be a little less adventurous on the meat, offering something like a sliced filet of the cow variety with a port reduction for people like me.
Isabela is not an inexpensive place to eat. It is pricey. But folks, this is dinner as theater. Mr. Merrick and staff provided one of the most enjoyable evenings out my wife and I have had in a long time. With a place like this, it is the totality of the experience that counts. The outstanding food it offers is the surprise bonus. The service is impeccable. Perfect.
If you are looking for that special night out…nix Le Mont and give Isabala on Grandview a try. If it is a special occasion, make sure to tell them when making your reservation. Also check the website to see special peculiarities about the place…for example, no split checks. Valet parking is available for $6.00. But there is street parking and park yourself lots (for a fee) across the street. In addition, if you have Pittsburgh phobia and are afraid of getting lost driving to the top of Mount Washington, you can ride up on the Duquesne Incline located on Carson Street, which will deposit you right in the center of the Mount Washington restaurants. Please note that the Duquesne Incline is NOT the one directly across from the Grand Concourse end of Station Square by the Smithfield Bridge. It is at the other end…the west end… of Station Square. Here is the a link.
Finally a five meatball winner…Thanks George for a great evening.
Isabela on Grandview
1318 Grandview Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15211