Lawrenceville's award-winning Tamari brings Chino-Latino fusion cuisine to new heights, providing Pittsburghers with a glorious global flavor mix. The chic room glistens with its crinkled copper-sheet back bar, dark woods and flattering lighting while service is attentive and friendly, never fawning. An upstairs lounge provides a secondary seating area to the tidy ground floor dining space. You're quickly made to feel like an old friend at this elegant bistro where chef Roger Li and owner Allen Chen have assembled a menu of small-plate tapas, entrees and creative sushi selections emphasizing ingredients and techniques from disparate continents. Tamari's open-grill concept provides charming theater, bringing exciting sound and scent to the room's enthusiastic diners.
We chose a flight of tapas, beginning with the decadently lush chipotle tuna tartar. A disk of silken fish cubes subtly commingled with smoky, sweet pepper puree was topped by a layer of creme fraiche infused with citrus yuzu, finally surmounted by a crown of wasabi-gilded tobiko roe -- sparkling green jewels.
This stunning color and texture mix was bested only by the delirious blend of flavors: rich flesh, cool dairy and the bright pop of tiny, briny fish eggs. Spectacular and a must-have.
Next came a mushroom salad, composed of a masterful blend of low and high palate notes. Warm bass provided by sauteed shiitake and oyster mushrooms, mid-tones of thin-sliced raw fennel and the pleasantly bitter high of watercress all fused to create harmonious melody. Marrying the vegetables was a salty, protein-inflected dressing with a kiss of sweet while the lengthy tendrils of watercress provided pretty visual counterpoint to the chunky nubbins of fungi.
For our third tapa, we enjoyed the oxtail tortellini with sweetbreads. Here, four deep-fried pasta packets filled with shreds of meltingly tender oxtail share space with a like number of half dollar-sized sauteed rounds of lightly breaded veal sweetbreads. Underneath, a thin pool of coral-colored lobster emulsion holds center of the plate with twin dabs of transparent green-tinged cilantro oil abutting left and right. Sublime hues and a delight of texture -- the crunch of each protein's shell played against their tender fillings, both sauces roundly embracing all.
We followed our tapas with a shared entree of osso bucco, uniquely presented with a sublime vegetable trio. The unctuous, unassailably tender veal saw its upright bone gilded with twin smears of roasted red pepper coulis. To either side of the adequate if not generously portioned shank were the every-bit-equal stars of this dish -- a veritable veggie trifecta of braised kale, caramelized fennel and shatteringly crisp straws of gossamer fried leek. The kitchen shows their mastery here of all things from the ground as each vegetable had every bit of flavor nuance coaxed from within, the mix providing proud company to the meat.
As our schedule did not allow for dessert, we vowed to sample the kitchen's ways with the sweet on a return visit, which there will surely be. Warm weather soon upon us, the restaurant's outdoor patio will again be open and this stalwart of the Lawrenceville scene rolls into yet another season of providing ingenious fare via its compelling blend of culinary cultural reference. Evoking its condiment namesake, four-year old Tamari continues to build its dishes upon a solid conceptual foundation; we can hardly wait to see what delights this always evolving menu will bring next.
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