Some Food Shorts

On July 31, 2011, in Food and Drink, by psu

Haven’t done a short snippet food roundup post in a while. So here we go.

Salt of the Earth

This place opened recently to a huge amount of hype and buzz, and I avoided it for three reasons:

1. Hard to get in anyway. I have plenty of places to go that are easy to get in to.

2. An overbearingly self-concious twitter feed.

3. I had a friend of a friend who had a poor service experience there. ‘Nuff said.

So our foodie friends finally strong-armed us into going. While it’s not entirely fair to come to hasty conclusions based on only one visit, this is my web site and I’ll do whatever I want. I was not impressed. SALT (I refuse to call it NACL) is not so much a restaurant as a narrative food experience. The entire mission of the place seems to be to tell you an epic and engaging novel-length story about how they served you food and it was fantastic! This gets in the way of the actual food service.

The problem is that the place just isn’t that good. Every dish has at least one or maybe two too many ingredients on it. The otherwise excellent beef tartare comes buried under toasted garlic and chopped peanuts. Might have worked if there was less of it … but it definitely would have worked with no peanuts at all. The diver scallops come with 3 kinds of greens, 2 different soy sauce reductions and little pieces of banana. Banana? Why?

The final insult was the “Pork Baguette.” Presumably an homage to the Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich, this dish came out with perfectly cooked pork combined with a fresh and lightly pickled mix of excellent vegetables. And then they stuffed it into a stale and chewy baguette. This is a bad move on any day. But it made me especially grumpy since I had just returned from Cupertino, CA where among other things you can get a better pork bahn mi for $3.50 instead of $15. Yes, Lucy’s sandwiches are also only $4 or $5. But her pork is not as good. Her bread isn’t stale though.

I can think of four places I’d rather go than SALT on any given night right off the top of my head, and I’ll list them here: Dinette, Legume, DISH, and Toast! So there.

A Thing to Do with Fish

Baking that filet of firm white fish in the oven? Don’t know what you want to do for sauce? Do this:

1. Cut 1 or 2 tablespoon side pats of butter.

2. 4 or 5 or 10 cloves of garlic.

3. A couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes, cut in half.

Pile these on top of an near the fish in the half sheet pan. Bake at 400 for 10-15 or however long it takes for the fish to cook. Now you have baked fish and a roasted tomato sauce to put on it.

Short Blurbs on New and Not so New Food Places

Dinette bills itself as a pizza joint, but really you should go there for the salads and appetizers. The chef there makes the best salad dressings in the entire city. Her “green goddess” dressing in particular is something to go our of your way to eat.

Park Brugge is good. At least as good as Point Brugge and with much better wheelchair access, so it’s the new default place for that Point Brugge sort of food. They should teach Lidia’s how to make steak and eggs and Burgatory how to make fries. I like the thinner fries there better than the fatter ones at the Point.

We went to Elements once. I remember the smoked and cured meats being awesome. And I remember nothing else about the meal whatsoever. I hear the chef there left to open his own cured meats restaurant. That should be good.

Piccolo Forno has some really good risotto. Go get some.

Finally got back to Coca. I liked it a lot this time. I’d go more if it weren’t always impossible to get in.

Go get Thai food at Pusadee’s Garden in upper Lawrenceville.

Meat and Potatoes is a new place Downtown with a lot of dishes that have too much meat in them. You must go to any place that serves the marrow, liver and sweetbreads triumvirate. So go.

Smoke in Homestead has real BBQ that they serve in “tacos” that are really more like small burritos. No matter. It’s good.

New New How Lee

For as long as I’ve lived in Pittsburgh, HOW LEE (and later NEW HOW LEE) has sat at the corner of Forbes and Shady and been the sort of dive Chinese-American takeout joint that gives Chinese-American takeout joints a bad name. No more.

Sometime last year someone bought the place, rebuilt the inside and filled it with Chinese and other East-Asian people all gorging themselves on Szechuan food that is so spicy that it will melt the front of your face off. And, in something of a watershed, this place serves real Ma Po Tofu, not that bullshit vegetarian peas and carrots travesty that so many places put on the menu to appease the weirdos in the universe who don’t like pork. This Ma Po tofu is also infused with a generous amount of the Szechuan peppercorn. If you have not had this sort of peppercorn then you are in for a treat. It does something in your mouth that no other food can do. I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s like a flowery, peppery shot of Novocain. Other highlights include the Beef with Cumin, either one of the dry fried chicken dishes, the Dan-Dan noodles, and the sauteed green beans (with pork in them, dammit!).

By my count this gives Squirrel Hill its fourth or fifth genuine regional Chinese food restaurant (Rose Tea, How Lee, Ka Mei, China Star, and Sun Penang if you want to push the boundaries a bit).

Random Thought for the End of the Night

Pittsburgh still desperately needs a real ramen place. And a place with truly excellent breakfast. The other things are coming along OK though.


5 Responses to “Some Food Shorts”

  1. Matt M. says:

    How do you rate Zaw’s, down on lower Murray? Not genuine regional Chinese good, perhaps, since I believe the owners are Burmese, but the Burmese fish soup (hnin gar/mohinga) at least is killer, in my opinion.

    As someone who likes to be an adventurous eater but who isn’t really closely acquainted with the varieties of Chinese food, my trouble is knowing how to order at these places so as to avoid the generic dishes. I appreciate reviews like this!

  2. psu says:

    Zaw’s has a special place in the heart of anyone who has been eating Asian food in Pittsburgh since the 90s. Back in the day they were the only place in town where you could get anything non-generic.

    Now they still have the special role of being the only place in town where I will order General Tso Chicken, because they just do it so well. Their roast pork stuff is also great. The place has questionable cleanliness… but a little bit of risk is part of life.

  3. todd kaufmann says:

    I ate at Sun Penang for the first time last night. I got the eggplant beef; the beef was awfully chewy, though the people were nice.

    I overheard one of the women talking to customers say that “they” also owned Rose Tea. And also something like New Dumpling House was “their” first. But I’m not sure exactly how these familial relations work behind the scenes. It’s the food that counts anyway.

  4. Matt M. says:

    I hear you on the cleanliness aspect. I try not to think about it, and make sure to chase my meal with a shot of whiskey which I tell myself has prophylactic qualities.

  5. psu says:

    My understanding is that the people who run Rose Tea, New Dumpling House and Sun Penang are all from the same family … and New Dumpling House was there first. It’s always been puzzling to me because Dumpling House is not great.

    In particular the long time managers of Rose Tea and Sun Penang are sisters.

    The thing at Sun Penang is their deep fried fresh tofu. Or at least it used to be.