On the table_ the year in restaurants

Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette The Ace Hotel, in the former East Liberty YMCA building built in 1909, prepares to open to guests on Thursday, December 10, 2015. Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette Ashley Court, owner of Black Forge Coffee House in Allentown, takes a break. Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette for Distinction Adam Milliron At Millie’s, the seasons dictate flavors, such as rhubarb sorbet and mint ice cream in May. In Pittsburgh, burger joints and steakhouses remain popular, while red sauce restaurants are on the wane. Places like Burgatory, Stack’d and Burgh’ers multiply while Vue 412 in Mount Washington is the newest steakhouse. Olio Trattoria, on the other hand, took over Joe Mama’s in Oakland in late 2014 and was closed by mid-2015. Outside the ebb and flow of these familiar types, the opening of so many new restaurants has transformed Pittsburgh in unexpected ways. Restaurants are redefining neighborhoods such as Lawrenceville and Downtown, as well as changing diners’ expectations and desires. Here’s a plateful of changes from 2015. The hotel restaurant gains popularity. The traditional hotel restaurant got an update starting with the late-January opening of The Commoner in the Hotel Monaco Downtown.

The gastropub-meets-tavern concept seats more than 100 in a dining room with Pittsburgh-centric accents and a predominantly regional beer list. In October, Hotel Indigo opened Wallace’s Tap Room in East Liberty, run by executive chef Jose Rodriguez. Whitfield opened earlier this month within Ace Hotel Pittsburgh. It focuses on meats, a concept from Pittsburgh native Brent Young of the Meat Hook in Brooklyn, and is run by executive chef Bethany Zozula, former sous chef at Eleven in the Strip District. While the Westin Convention Center Hotel is not new, Bill’s Burger Bar from New York-based BR Guest Hospitality Group took over what had been the Original Fish Market in April.

The restaurant is part of a $5 million remodeling project. Restaurants open earlier and stay open later. Smallman Galley, which opened last week in the Strip District, offers four restaurants under one roof as well as coffee starting at 7:30 a. m. and cocktails until midnight.

The Vandal in Lawrenceville is open from 8 or 8:30 a. m. through dinner at 9 p. m., serving biscuits, toast, roast pork or fried chicken sandwiches and sides such as beets, fries and green beans. We’ll see more of this next year. Gone fishin’. Fish never really went out of style, but options are expanding beyond the huge fried fish sandwich.

More restaurants are offering raw bar fare along with seafood that makes a statement, like assertive bluefish and mackerel, and whole fish. For oysters and seafood towers, there’s the newly opened Muddy Waters in East Liberty along with the revamped Penn Ave. Fish Company Downtown that reopened in November with expanded dinner hours. The second restaurant from Justin Severino, Morcilla in Lawrenceville, sells Island Creek oysters by the dozen, along with my favorite little sandwich, the matrimonio montadito, with bocarones and anchovies, tomato conserva and lemon oil. Poros, the newest restaurant in Market Square from Big Y Restaurant Group, uses a seafood display as a focal point in the dining room. Its menu showcases fish by the pound as well as appetizers of crudo, shellfish, calamari and octopus. Chinese restaurants such as Sichuan Gourmet and Chengdu Gourmet, both in Squirrel Hill, and Jade Grill in Mt. Lebanon serve whole branzino with Sichuan spices.

Ka Mei in Squirrel Hill steams fish in a broth with plenty of cilantro and scallions, garlic and ginger. Stagioni on the South Side occasionally sells simple whole fish that’s grilled and delicious. Regional Chinese food makes a mark. More Chinese college students have sparked changes in East End Chinese restaurants. Owners are recruiting Chinese chefs with the help of overseas government agencies, cooking schools and placement services. The result is more regional Chinese cuisine, from Shanghai soup dumplings and jellyfish salad at Everyday Noodles, a separate Xi’an menu at Sakura, which is billed as a Japanese restaurant, and nuanced Sichuan dishes at Chengdu Gourmet, all in Squirrel Hill. The offerings range from interesting to enthralling, and they’re worth exploration.

Better desserts and more of them. Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream has catapulted in popularity, starting with a CSA, its North Point Breeze production facility that opened in the fall, and a scoop shop that will open by spring at 232 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside. Over in Lawrenceville, Butterwood Bake Consortium has an unusual selection of organic cakes, and is open at least 12-hour shifts, five days a week. Up the street, Piebird Pastry Kitchen boasts special-order sweets. Among restaurants, Curtis Gamble’s popcorn panna cotta at Station in Bloomfield sounds weird but really works.

Expect even more tempting desserts from Lidia’s as well as Eleven in the Strip District, where dessert is not an afterthought. Better coffee everywhere. You’d be hard-pressed to find a boring cup anywhere except a gas station.

With more places brewing cappuccino, espresso, pour-overs and even nitro, Pittsburgh is perking. Newbies include 4121 Main in Bloomfield, where they have terrific coffee, great service and dramatic floral arrangements year-round. KLVN coffee roaster opened in Munhall a couple of months ago, followed by a shop at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in Oakland after Thanksgiving. KLVN is led by Will Humphrey in conjunction with Kira Hoeg and Thommy Conroy of 4121 Main and roaster Jeff Sloan.

In other coffee news, Caffe D’Amore maintains its Public Market location along with a new location in upper Lawrenceville, while Zeke’s opened in a new spot in East Liberty. Allentown now has a charming coffee shop of its own: Black Forge opened in the fall. Restaurant coffee is also getting better, from Il Pizzaiolo Downtown to the newly opened Ace Hotel in East Liberty, where it’s serving Stumptown in the lobby, with nitro to come. Smallman Galley in the Strip District pours La Prima specialty drinks, and there’s cold brew from Bloomfield’s Constellation at The Vandal in Lawrenceville. Rick DeShantz rules Downtown. The November unveiling of the Meat & Potatoes Poutine House on the the lower level of Consol Energy Center followed the buzzy debut of Tako Downtown in the spring.

Tako, a team effort by Mr. DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik, has a winning bar menu of frozen drinks, margaritas and micheladas. Coming up in 2016: a mini-Tako, also in Consol Center, along with Pork & Beans, a joint venture with Keith Fuller of Root 174 in Regent Square, scheduled to open soon at 136 Sixth St., Downtown. What’s coming for 2016? I predict more out-of-town restaurateurs discovering Pittsburgh; more fast-casual restaurants; a couple of chef-driven Japanese places, from an izakaya to a ramen shop to a yakitori place; and more food trucks with the city’s end-of-year rule changes that will make things easier for mobile food. Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.