Virginia Phillips has written about food and travel for 25 years. She is a long-time board member of [email protected] in the Strip District, the city’s first organic farm market, which is sponsored by Slow Food Pittsburgh which Virginia co-founded.

In Crested Duck Charcuterie’s intimate dining room last Thursday night, looking out on snow-pelted trolleys plying the Beechview “spine,” some food friends and I had a job. We were critiquing new winter dishes for Kevin Costa’s Thursday-Friday-Saturday BYOB small-plate dinner service. A hint of meaty smoke floating from the kitchen delivered an airborne amuse bouche.

Can root vegetables hold any surprises by February? The starter, a raw beet “carpaccio,” blew me away. Ruby and gold translucent slices glowed on the plate, with mix-and-match bloblets of whipped feta, arugula pesto and house-made orange marmalade. I was scrounging other plates for more.

With classic French as his “well,” Kevin uses technique to conjure richness in light compositions. A “bourride,” with flounder, anise-y fennel, orange and lemon aioli was velvet luxury, lightly bolstered with pureed vegetable.  Some buckwheat crepes, interleaved with meaty mushrooms and Mornay sauce–then piqued with brined coriander seeds of all things–made a pig of me.

A cured seafood plate, strewn with capers, had table-mates oo-ing over “the chew” of a pepper-specked chewy salmon “pastrami” and silken slices of smoked scallop.

A charcutier with national honors makes Chef Costa a smoke-meister too, of course. A glazed smoked pork chop, light on the smoke, bathed in sweet cider gravy, was juicer than any I’ve had in years. Then along came “Chicken Dijon,” brined breast with mushrooms, leeks and bacon. Oh grandmére, this is chicken. Like the pork, very local.

We didn’t taste desserts–that’s up to you. The winterized menu—along with a brand new brunch, Sundays only, 10 to 2, debuts this week.