Rating: 3 pierogies.
Review: I first learned of Aftertaste from a piece in Pop City Media. The article described Aftertaste as a story about Mira, an up and coming NY Chef, who stumbles into personal troubles and returns to her hometown of Pittsburgh, with her young daughter in tow. Returning to Pittsburgh as an adult, she discovers it to be a great town to rebuild, and a great town for food.
The trouble was, that's not how the book came across to me. The main character, Mira, was a foodie to a fault. As a well educated and well traveled Italian chef, she has a taste for fine foods. However, she seems to only have a taste for fine foods, and that is where she lacks depth. She discusses the exquisite baby foods she prepares for her daughter-- butternut squash souffle, and the like. There is nothing wrong with having a taste for the exquisite, but with the exception of certain biscotti (called "Bruno's biscotti" in the novel, but easily recognizable as Enrico's), she is incapable of enjoying simple pleasures.
Mira pines for the fine dining scene of New York and the restaurant she left behind. At one point she mentions visiting the Carnegie Library to research the Pittsburgh dining scene "which took like 5 minutes." Yes, 10 years ago, the dining scene could be researched top to bottom in about 5 minutes. That is certainly not the case anymore. It was unclear whether Mira's inability to appreciate the Pittsburgh dining world was due to the chip on her own shoulder, or the author's poor research. It doesn't matter which, it was frustrating.
Pittsburgh is not New York. It does not purport to be. Pittsburghers have a taste for meat and potatoes, comfort foods and fried things. But Pittsburghers are also eager to experiment, and incredibly supportive of new ventures. This plotline is rich with the opportunity to discuss how much Pittsburgh LOVES to see a new restaurant, and especially to see it succeed (as contrasted with the dog-eat-dog world of NYC). For a prime example, take a look at the Pittsburgh Taco Truck. The taco truck has not even opened for business, and it has already developed a massive loyal following, excited to help the business prosper.
The "aftertaste" this novel left with me was that Mira would grace the 'burgh with her refined tastes, and teach the city a bit about fine dining. It felt condescending. I wish Mileti would have dug a little deeper into Pittsburgh's food community, and explored how new ideas, innovation, and hard work are cherished. That would have been a great story.