Photo by Kevin Gubish.

Bar Botanico takes a very personal approach to food and beverage. Visit the Lawrenceville spot and you’ll get a meal and a cocktail tailor-made for your palate and dietary needs.

The menu serves as a basic primer for each family-style dish, but diners have a huge say in what happens next.

You start by selecting small plates, pizza or dinner sets that are either vegan, vegetarian or meat, fish or shellfish-based. Then, chef Rafael Vencio and his kitchen staff use seasonal, local ingredients and a guest’s specific preferences to create a unique dining experience … one,  Vencio admits, will take some time for Pittsburghers to get used to.

“For food to progress in this city, we need to do something very radical,” he tells NEXTpittsburgh. “We need a creative environment in which to grow, but we want to earn a customer’s trust so they come back. Each time they visit, it should feel like coming to a friend’s house.”

At the bar, you can choose from a list of signature cocktails, such as the O’Ryan — a mix of banana-infused Kilbeggan Irish Rye, Averna, vanilla demerara and walnut bitters. But guests can also can tell the bartender their likes and dislikes, allowing the expert to craft a one-of-a-kind beverage.

Kelsie Sinagra, who owns Bar Botanico with her husband Jeff Walter, says most people are wary to relinquish control of their taste buds. But once they take a bite or sip, they’re happy they did.

Bar Botanico is a labor of love two years in the making.

The 1,800-square-foot space opened last week in a former barber shop at 4325 Butler St. The décor, like the food, is simple, yet elegant. There’s seating for 45, including at the white, marble bar. The room is light and airy, with plants adding a welcome touch of green to the gray Pittsburgh winter.

During these cold months, many restaurants serve meat-and-potato-based meals. Here the food is hearty, but not weighed down by heavy cream and carbohydrates.

Vencio, who got his start as one of the first chefs at Smallman Galley, hails from the Philippines and adds a bit of Filipino flavor to each plate. He uses techniques he’s picked up from other mentor chefs, including Legume’s Trevett Hooper, who taught him about fermenting food.

“To this day I follow most of his principles and values,” Vencio says. “It’s not about having the best recipe, it’s about respect for the ingredients. The purpose of our work is to glorify the ingredients.”

Bar Botanico’s kitchen is open Monday through Saturday until 10 p.m. and on Sunday until 9 p.m., but there is always a small selection of snacks available at the bar until last call.

Bruch is served on weekends, featuring classic breakfast fare — eggs, protein, pancakes — but with Bar Botanico’s chef-curated spin.

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.