Despite the torrential downpour on Saturday evening, we decided to try a new restaurant. My girlfriend and I went back and forth (as we usually do), and finally decided on Café Zinho in Shadyside. We had heard good things from a few friends, and were ready to give it a try.
We arrived at 7pm, and the restaurant was packed; there was a two-top right next to the door, so we took it. After a few minutes of contemplating our undesirable seating assignment, we asked to be moved away from the entrance. The hostess obliged, and seated us in the center of the room- a much better destination. The décor of Café Zinho can best be described as “shabby chic” with decorative light fixtures, colorful chandeliers, and warm-mismatched colors on the walls.
The menu at Café Zinho is small; there were probably eight different entrees to choose from with two nightly specials, six appetizers, and three desserts. Before we chose our entrees, we decided to have an appetizer; steamed mussels with tomato-cilantro broth and toasted crostini. While were waiting for our appetizer to arrive, our waiter brought us some warm crusty bread with ice-cold butter squares. The yeasty rolls were a great prelude to our meal- warm and tasty, but not too filling. Our mussels were served next. The mollusca were exceptional; cooked perfectly so that the flesh was tender and juicy. The tomato-cilantro sauce was a nice accompaniment as well. The sauce was finished with some unsalted butter; perfect for lapping up with our left-over rolls.
Salads were next. We ordered the house mixed greens with feta cheese, grape tomatoes, toasted pecans, and lemon vinaigrette. The greens were bitter, as was the dressing. Some honey, or a sweet currant would have been nice here- something to cut the acidity. The pecans were burnt; I didn’t bother with them.
For our entrees, we chose chicken with roasted pepper sauce, spring veggies, and red potatoes. My girlfriend opted for the buffalo burger (cooked medium) served with chips and homemade cole slaw. After 40 minutes our server came over and apologized for the delay, “The Chef accidentally over-cooked your burger, it will only be a few more minutes.” In translation, that usually means, the Chef forgot to fire your burger… you’re going to have to wait. Finally, 20 Minutes later, my chicken dish arrived- by itself. I waited for a few more minutes until the burger was served. I glanced over at my girlfriend and notice a horrified look on her face. “What’s wrong?’ I asked. She turned her plate to face me, and I saw it. The meat was rare on the inside, and that wasn’t the worst part; a huge stream of viscous blood had streamed out of the buffalo meat and saturated the bun. The meat was sent back, of course, to be re-cooked. My chicken was ok. The meat was over-done, but the roasted red pepper sauce was flavorful. The Swiss cheese on top of the chicken and under the sauce was cut thick, and didn’t have a chance to melt. The red potatoes we soft and moist and the baby green beans were sweet. The buffalo burger was brought back to our table. It was now cooked well (instead of medium) but the meat was palatable. The cole slaw was unseasoned (where’s the sugar, salt, and pepper?).
Feeling guilty, our server offered us dessert “on the house.” We took a piece of chocolate cake to go.
We didn’t have a good experience at Café Zinho. It’s too bad, because we were really enjoying the vibe of the restaurant. Everyone is entitled to an off-night, we’ll have to go back and give it another try.
Chef Chuck Kerber