Pusadee’s Garden Sets an Opening Date
PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein previews the much-anticipated relaunch of the Upper Lawrenceville Thai restaurant.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Dec. 16.
“When is Pusadee’s Garden going to reopen? What will they do with it? Will the garden still be there?” are among the questions I’m most often asked when people want to know about what’s going on with Pittsburgh restaurants.
It’s been a little more than three years since the announcement that Pusadee’s Garden, a beloved Thai restaurant with one of the city’s dreamiest outdoors dining landscapes, was closing for renovations. Owners Watcheree Tongdee, Busaba Tongdee and Michael Johnson said they had big plans for the next iteration of the Upper Lawrenceville restaurant.
As of press time, the restaurant is scheduled to open Jan. 5, and we suggest checking its website for any updates. Reservations are highly recommended; Johnson says due to COVID-19 restrictions, the restaurant will have limited availability for walk-in guests.
The culinary direction of Pusadee’s Garden is a family collaboration. Busaba Tongdee runs the kitchen, and matriarch Pusadee Tongdee will still be on-site most days, preparing curries, nam prik and other items.
The family and kitchen crew are preparing the food in a picturesque open kitchen at the back of the restaurant. There is a massive, spice-laden marble counter where the culinary team eventually will offer multi-course meals. The Tongdees added tao stoves — the Thai method of charcoal cookery uses long, slow-burning coals made from the rambutan tree — to the lineup of appliances in the kitchen.
The family spent the past two years developing the menu, which, as of now, is organized into seven sections. The Pusadee’s Garden team decided to move beyond the typical, Americanized, Thai menu.
The family invited me to preview the new menu in November, and I was thrilled with starters such as nam prik ong, a northern Thai relish of chili, fermented soybeans, tomato and pork and mushroom laab; bright with vinegar and herbs, the mixed mushrooms are an enticing combination of sour, sweet and hot. I suspect Pusadee’s Garden’s charcoal-cooked dishes will be among the restaurant’s most popular offerings. Rich, luscious lemongrass meatballs, one of the few holdovers from the old Pusadee’s Garden menu, shine even brighter now that they are kissed by smoke. The marinated chicken thighs might be my favorite bite so far; the depth-of-flavor and crisp-succulent texture were spectacular. Two northern Thai curries stood out for me in that section of the menu: gaeng hung lay, slow-cooked pork belly with five-spice powder, brought full-bodied heat; and a piquant, vibrant chicken curry had me longing for humid summer nights.
It’s a lovely space, too. The new restaurant, designed by mossArchitects, consists of two renovated buildings connected by two new buildings that contain an entry arcade, a stunning, glass-box bar and open kitchen. Inside all of it is the garden courtyard. The original Pusadee’s Garden building is partitioned into three smaller dining rooms; each space has its personality, with the color pattern and art changing as you walk toward the kitchen, which spans the back of the restaurant. On the other side of the restaurant is a small room for larger parties, which also will serve as a space for tastings and wine dinners.
And then there is the garden, which is visible from just about every corner of the restaurant. The lush landscape of the previous iteration is gone, but the new, more modernist courtyard designed by Ground Stories is just as beautiful in its way. And it’ll keep getting better, too; they planted semi-mature trees, but it’s going to grow into itself and transform over the next few years. Shadyside’s Toadflax serves as the space’s gardeners and interior stylists. The courtyard won’t be heated or set up for outdoor dining this winter, but it’ll be available for pre-and post-dinner physically distant cocktails, wine and beer.
5321 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/252-2683, pusadeesgarden.com