Ending 2016 with Guns, Gingerbread Houses and Fancy Tacos
First, the guns…
Last Thursday, I had so much planned on my day off and it started with handguns. I learned how to properly and safely handle a 9mm Glock 26 and a .380 Ruger LCP, then set off to A&S Indoor Pistol Range in Youngwood. I never had any experience with guns, so learning about how they work and how they feel when in action was very new to me. Also, for my first time at the range, I was told I did very well and actually did significantly better than my partner which was secretly my secondary goal.
Then, the Gingerbread Houses…
Following the gun range, I went to the PPG Place Wintergarden where there are hundreds of gingerbread houses displayed. The exhibit is open Nov 18th – Jan 7th and even open on all holidays in between. I started to make this a tradition to visit the gingerbread houses a few years ago after my best friend introduced me to them during a bike lunch date on a warm November day. It’s a heartwarming experience, and it’s fascinating to see the levels of creativity of the gingerbread houses from people of all ages.
Finally, the Tacos!
The final activity of the day consisted of visiting one of the most taco’d ’bout restaurant in the ‘burgh besides Las Palmas. Ever since I started the blog, the most common response was “have you ever been to täkō?” And then after I would say no, the most common response was “OMG, I can’t believe it, you have to go!” My friends also said it was a little pricey, but worth it and that I would need reservations unless going late night during the week. Four months later, I decided to make the call for täkō. On December 2nd, I had my work schedule in my hand for Dec 4th – Jan 1st and I was ready to call for reservations. Unfortunately, there were no Fridays open for regular dinner times (before 9pm) in the four week time frame so I went on a Thursday on my day off.
täkō is located in the heart of Pittsburgh on 214 6th St in the Cultural District right next to Butcher and the Rye. (täkō, along with Butcher and the Rye, Meat and Potatoes, and Pork and Beans are all owned by Richard DeShantz) Outside, täkō has a unique cinema marquee listing items like tacos, tequila, cold beer, and margaritas. It was like I was about to enter a movie theater with the entertainment of the night centering on tacos, tequila, and rum.
Underneath the sign, you could look into the kitchen through a roll-up window that you’ll find open during the warmer months. This way you can come up and grab a quick taco to go! The kitchen was crowded with cooks but no one appeared to be rushed or overwhelmed. Each cook had a smile each time I took a glance while outside or inside from the table.
Before walking in, I saw the kitchen hours. Unfortunately, I cannot make it to täkō on one of my lunch bike trips as the kitchen hours are Monday-Thursday 5-11pm, Friday & Saturday 5-Midnight, and Sunday 3-9pm but that is okay because I am usually late to every bike lunch date anyways so reservations for a specific lunch time may not be ideal for me.
The second door (a repurposed walk-in freezer door) opened up to a dimly lit, funky decorated, trendy restaurant. My date and I were taken to our two person high top table. The first few things I noticed were the narrowness of room, the pink chandeliers hanging above, the octopus tentacle light fixtures, and the house music that I would totally play hosting a classy apartment party. After a certain time, a live DJ starts playing music as well. täkō, meaning octopus in Japanese, is the reason for all the octopus decorations, along with their namesake täkō well…taco! Now for a photo disclaimer…It was quite dark inside, so thanks to that and the photos being taken on an iPhone, the photos came out quite dark and red hued.
Our waiter, Mike, was excellent. He knew the menu inside and out and would give us recommendations when needed. He knew how each taco on the menu would be prepared from cooking technique to specific temperatures. With his presentation of the featured items, appetizers, the build your own guacamole menu, and drinks, Mike made it hard for me not order everything off the menu. I even had to tell Nate (my date on this taco excursion) a few times that we are here tonight just for the tacos.
The menu itself was interesting, in the form of a newspaper. I skipped over the appetizers this visit and focused more on the taco list. The taco options included chorizo, Korean short rib, mushroom, octopus (täkō), carnitas, grilled chicken, wagyu skirt steak, fish, al pastor, and duck confit.
After a brief discussion with Mike, Nate and I decided to go with the Korean, al pastor, and bistec to share. For non-seafood lovers, Mike recommended trying the Korean and duck confit because they very unique adding that they are the tacos he prefers when he eats at täkō himself. I went with the Korean and then two more traditional tacos to see how they would compare to others.
Since we were not ordering appetizers, Nate and I both ordered one of täkō’s many exotic margaritas. I ordered the watermelon basil margarita consisting of Corralejo silver, watermelon, basil, and lemon. The margarita was presented with a basil leaf on the frothy top layer of the margarita. The drink was light, a little too salty, but still refreshing. The thickness of the margarita was between a regular and frozen, reminding me of a frothy smoothie.
We did not wait long for the tacos. When they were brought to the table, I had some rearranging to do because the high top table was not big enough for the plates, water pitcher, and glasses. The tacos were presented on thick wooden rectangular platters. Two tacos came per dish, so we were about to each have three tacos, the ideal number for us. Each of the toasted flour tortillas were drizzled with a sauce and piled high with meat and toppings.
I tried the al pastor first. The grilled pork shoulder was cut into cylinder shaped slices with big healthy chunks of sweet pineapple which was marinated in simple syrup. White onion, cilantro, and an avocado salsa were also mixed in. It was definitely one of my favorite al pastor taco, if not the best. It was like my tongue was a rocket launch pad and as the rocket would start its take off, flames of flavor would come blasting through the rocket boosters onto my tongue. I can’t think of any other way to describe how powerful the flavor was of the al pastor taco.
The next taco that I tried was the bistec. The bistec contained gem lettuce, queso fresco, fried shishito peppers, and cilantro with a salsa verde. There were a lot of greens on this taco and they were all dressed in an oregano butter vinaigrette. The skirt steak was medium rare and prepared sous vide. Before this dinner, I had no idea what sous vide meant so I thought I would share for those who may be curious too. Sous vide translates to “under vacuum” in French. It is a technique where food is brought to a precisely controlled temperature usually over longer than normal cooking times to deliver juicy, consistently flavored, and an evenly cooked steak each time. It is usually done by vacuum sealing the food and putting the food in a hot water bath. The finished skirt steak at täkō had even doneness all the way through with no dry edges. Since the steak does not dry out when cooked sous vide, the original volume and size of the steak was also there. This would be the perfect steak for fans of medium rare steak, I wish I liked my steak this rare so this was probably my least favorite. Nate however, loved it, commenting on how great the flavor of the steak worked with the vinaigrette marinade on the greens.
Lastly, I tried the Korean short rib taco. What really caught my eye on the menu was the peanuts and fermented cucumber under the Korean taco description. In addition to the peanuts and cucumber, the wagyu short rib was also topped with cilantro and napa cabbage. The taco was sweet overall and the peanuts were crunchy but not too hard since they were soaked in and softened by the other ingredients in the taco. I could definitely taste the cilantro. Each bite took me to a tropical retreat treehouse overlooking the jungle and listening to the wild birds while wearing a robe and sipping on a morning glass of OJ at the crack of dawn. The Korean taco was simply incredible with bursts of exotic flavor.
After the meal, we were debating trying one more taco but risk getting too stuffed so we split the chocolate bread pudding dessert. It had a mix of all types of textures; soft and moist insides with fried crunchy pieces throughout, and smooth chunks of banana. There was one scoop of chocolate ice cream (one more scoop would have been perfect) and hot chocolate syrup covering the base in the dish. I love the hot and cold sensation.
Next time I go back to täkō, I would try the duck confit, pollo asado, and it would be a fight between the Korean and al pastor again, but probably the Korean because it was so unique. We’ll also be sure to take MUCH better photos. I better get my work calendar out again for my next reservation with täkō.
Price: $12 -15 for two tacos. Taco Big Board (pick any six pairs of tacos) $75