Think Globally Eat Locally
Pittsburgh slowly is moving closer to becoming a global dining destination while maintaining a culinary connection to its industrial past. PM Dining critic Hal B. Klein profiles 16 international restaurants you need to visit.
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Curry Goat (left) and Brown-Stew Chicken (right)
Leon Rose left his native Jamaica in 1979. The professionally trained chef — he went to culinary school in Jamaica — cooked for 10 years on cruise ships, then worked in Florida and New York before moving to Pittsburgh a little more than a decade ago to help a friend with Fireside Caribbean Restaurant in Wilkinsburg. Rose prides himself on the authenticity of his recipes but also says it’s fun to improvise from time to time. “My food is more outstanding than everyone else’s,” he says. Jamaican cuisine is a hybrid of indigenous Caribbean foodways, African cuisine, Spanish, Indian, Chinese and British cultures.
Rose’s curry goat is a good place to start. It’s laced with warm spice and fall-off-the-bone braised goat. Fiery jerk chicken, one of the best-known Jamaican dishes, is balanced with a side of rice and peas; for something a little milder go for brown-stew chicken, a braised dish prepared with garlic, tomato, bell peppers, onions and thyme. Rose makes a great version of escoveitched fish, a traditional Jamaican dish made with pan-fried red snapper flavored with Scotch Bonnet peppers, vinegar and allspice.
Hayrullo and Tahmina Umaraliev emigrated from Uzbekistan to Pittsburgh in 2012 to be closer to family members who were living in the city. They opened Kavsar in 2014 so that they could bring a taste of their country to Pittsburgh. Hayrullo handles business, logistics and shopping, and Tahmina runs the kitchen; she was a home cook before opening Kavsar, but, prior to this, had no restaurant cooking experience. Uzbekistan’s cities were significant points on the trade route from Turkey to China known as the Silk Road. This is reflected in the country’s cuisine, which blends influences from the Middle East with Chinese cuisine, particularly that of its Uyghur Muslim population.
Start a meal from Tahmina Umaraliev’s halal kitchen with lepeshka, a hearty, housemade flatbread. Samsa, crisp pastries filled with beef and onion (or, for vegetarian diners, spiced pumpkin), also are a tasty way to begin. Kavsar’s soup selection ranges from a cold, tangy preparation called okroshka to the rich and satisfying beef soup, shurpa. Manti, juicy dumplings stuffed with either beef or spinach, are a must-get entree. Lagman, an Uzbek dish of handmade noodles, beef and vegetables, is strongly influenced by both ends of the Silk Road.
Nak Won Garden
5504 Centre Ave., Shadyside
Owner Yank-Suk Beondy
Kimchi Scallion Pancake and Other Dishes
Yang-Suk Beondy was born in South Korea and moved to Pittsburgh in 1985. Always an avid home cook and passionate about hospitality, she decided to open Nak Won Garden with her brother, Chung-Chu Yi, a trained chef, in 2014. Her brother has since left the city, but she pressed on. Now, two Korean chefs, one with 45 years culinary experience and the other with 40, handle the kitchen while Beondy, who says she works as many as 18 hours per day, prepares the side dishes. “I don’t want fusion. I don’t want to Americanize. I want to make Korean food the best that we can,” she says.
Start with kimchi and scallion pancakes, gun mandoo (pan-fried beef and pork dumplings) and ddukbokki, tubes of glutinous rice cake stir-fried in a fiery mix with sweet-potato noodles, eggs, fish cakes and vegetables. Nak Won Garden’s kimchi-jjigae, a spicy, flavorful stew with pork, seafood, tofu and vegetables, is a warming and satisfying dish. Share an order of bibimbap, which comes sizzling in a stone bowl, eat some grilled meat and top off the meal with a whole-roasted mackerel. Korean cuisine can tilt hot — and at Nak Won Garden customers who love the burn can top their dishes off with a pure capsaicin sauce.
4401 Butler St., Lawrenceville
Owners/Chefs Domenic Branduzzi and Roger Li
Domenic Branduzzi and Roger Li both have a history of bringing their heritage to Pittsburgh’s tables. Branduzzi was born in Lucca, Italy, though his family is rooted in Pittsburgh — his parents Antonio and Carla ran a bakery in the Strip District, and Carla still makes the pasta at Piccolo Forno, Branduzzi’s 12-year-old Lawrenceville restaurant. Li, co-owner and executive chef of Umami, was born in Philadelphia to parents who emegrated from Hong Kong and has worked in restaurants most of his adult life. The two restaurant owners operate across the street from each other and decided to combine forces on Ki Ramen.
So what’s a restaurant that serves a Japanese speciality that’s run by chefs with Italian and Chinese heritage doing in this story? For starters, it’s very, very good. The duo (plus chef de cuisine Micah Maughan) have a menu of six preparations, all buoyed by three luscious, delicious broths. Branduzzi, who spent his life making pasta in the Italian tradition, here uses his skills (along with a Yamato Manufacturing noodle machine) to craft terrific ramen noodles. And Li harkens back to an earlier part of his career when he was a chef at Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia, as well as frequent travel to Japan, to craft the broths and the rest of the menu.