Sushi Kims

Name: Sushi Kim’s

Reviewer: Brian Blose

Rating: 5 Stars

The Background: A Korean restaurant located downtown along Penn Ave, on the transition between the strip & cultural districts. As you would imagine from their name, the sushi draws a big lunch crowd, but this review isn’t about the sushi. Friday & Saturday nights they have a cook-your-own-food Korean BBQ upstairs that is fun once and quickly loses its novelty, but this review isn’t about that, either. So what, exactly, is this review going to cover? The answer is delicious Korean food.

The Atmosphere: The interior of Sushi Kim’s is best described as quaint. There are some token Pittsburgh decorations on the walls mingling with Korean characters, plus the disdain for direct lighting universally shared by Asian eateries and bars.

The Food: Awesome. That one word sums it up for me. But if you prefer a little more elaboration in your reviews, I would be thrilled to relive my meal for you. I had my wife with me, which meant I got to order 2 entrees and split them family style (thanks, honey!). Entree #1 was Beef Bulgogi and entree #2 was Squid & Vegetables in Spicy Sauce. All entrees come with Korean side dishes and rice, plus a complementary bowl of miso soup.

I have had miso soup a few times at Japanese restaurants and I even bought some of the instant soup once. After all the chances I’ve given miso soup to impress me, I had given up on it. But then out comes a bowl of the stuff to taunt me while I wait for real food. So I got out my spoon to pass the time. And would you believe I liked the stuff? I’m not sure if this was one of those deals where their miso soup was superior or I’ve just been exposed to the stuff often enough that my brain recognized the flavor as food. Anyway, the soup was good. On to the next course!

SushiKim_App

The 4 side dishes and bowls of rice came out soon after the soup. Dish 1 was Kimchi, the Korean version of Sauerkraut. What to the Koreans do different than the Germans, you might ask. They put some nice, thick chile sauce in there. The result is a wonderfully intense experience. This was my first time with Kimchi, so I was glad that I could enjoy it. Dish 2 was beans with a thin soy sauce and sesame seeds sprinkled on top. These beans were unique in my experience. They had a nutty flavor and were a bit crunchy. Not sure, but I suspect they were either sprouted or fermented instead of cooking. Very cool. Dish 3 was beef marinated in a sweet and savory sauce. Dish 4 was veggies. My wife says they were good, but I wasn’t wasting gastric real estate on those when there were so many delicacies around. All of those side dishes had their own flavor profile. While each was good by itself, I discovered that they went best when eaten one after another, with a few bites of rice in between to cleanse the palate. The contrasts really made everything better. As anyone who reads this blog can tell, I love variety. And these side dishes did it for me.

SushiKim_Entre

Onto the entrees! The Beef Bulgogi was a delicious bundle of savory flavor. It was good, and I had to move my chopsticks fast if I wanted seconds, so my wife must be a fan. Entree 2, the Squid and Vegetables in Spicy Sauce, was also good (those side dishes are a hard act to follow). There was a good deal of heat in there, so they aren’t lying about the spicy bit. They were generous with the calamari rings, which is a big plus in my book. The vegetables were a combination of carrot slices, sprouts, leaves of some kind (they were wilted from cooking, so it’s anyone’s guess what they came from), and mushrooms.

The Service: I don’t like placing too much emphasis on service, because it can vary drastically based on what kind of day the server is having, how busy the place is, and, of course, how you treat them (as a rule, I am never anything less than polite to anyone with the opportunity to spit in my food). That said, this was some of the best restaurant service I have ever had in my life. Just remember, your mileage may vary.

The Value: I paid with a card and forgot to ask for an itemized receipt, but the total was just under forty dollars for two people, so I count this a great value. I have walked away satisfied from other restaurants after paying double that for a similar quality and quantity of food (tomorrow’s much-anticipated lunch is leftovers). So this is a great value.

Rey Azteca

Name: Rey Azteca ( http://www.reyazteca.net/ )

Reviewer: Brian Blose

Rating: 4 Stars

The Background: This chain of Mexican restaurants has locations in Butler and Tarentum.

 

The Atmosphere: Tiny & chintzy. They try to make the interior appear “authentic” by tiling the walls with fake adobe bricks. It doesn’t work very well, but at least the food is good.

 

The Food:

The chips & salsa were pretty unremarkable. We jazzed the salsa up with some hot sauce to make things more interesting. I ordered a dinner special of 1 burrito, 1 enchilada, Spanish rice, and re-fried beans. Quick lesson on Mexican soft tacos: a burrito is made with a flour tortilla and an enchilada is made with a corn tortilla and has cheese on top. Based on the description, the enchilada sounds like the clear winner, but I actually preferred the burrito. Each of them was packed with ground beef and smothered in sauce. Very good. The rice was what you would expect. My favorite part of the meal was the re-fried beans, which are basically mashed potatoes . . . except that instead of the boring Idaho staple, they are made from the magical fruit. Everything tasted good – my only complaint is the food wasn’t spicy enough, but I’m usually an outlier when it comes to heat.

 

*Apologies for the missing photography. Someone deleted the images from my camera. I’ll try to recreate the visuals with ASCII:

 

(““““) (““““`) ###### ooooo

===========================

 

Wipe your chin, you’re drooling…. Seriously, though, isn’t this some hot ASCII food porn?

 

 

The Service: The waiter moved like molasses. When my party finished, we couldn’t locate our waiter to get our bill. He came back just before we worked up the courage to dine & dash.

 

The Value:

Meal Combo: $7.50

 

You get plenty of food for the price, so in the end I recommend stopping by Rey Azteca for a cheap, hearty meal.

 

Seviche

Name: Seviche ( http://www.seviche.com )

Reviewer: Brian Blose

Rating: 4 Stars

The Background: This Tapas bar (Spanish food) is located downtown on Penn Avenue.

 

The Atmosphere: This is a trendy little spot. Think tall ceilings, faux-fancy wall decorations, and minimal space between tables.

 

The Food:

I dined with a friend who kindly agreed to an appetizer swap agreement. He got the Trio of Chips and Salsa: tortilla, plantain, and malanga chips with 3 salsas. I got the Pork Empenada: pulled pork inside bread with salsa over top. So what’s the word on the appetizers? The Trio was good but unimpressive. A lot of the problem was the portion size. You know the commercial with the guy who can’t have just one chip? I sympathize. The Pork Empenada was nice and heavy, but not as flavorful as I would like. I prefer smoky pork seasonings and this was a bit bland.

My review so far hasn’t justified the four star rating. That’s about to change. I got the Chorizo Wrapped Diver Scallops for my entree. When it comes to scallops, I have very high expectations. So when I say they were good, I mean fan-freakin-tastic. There were 4 scallops, each wrapped in bacon and served on top of a bed of spicy polenta (polenta is to corn what oatmeal is to oats) with a pile of spinach in the middle. The whole ensemble went well together.  You can’t tell from the pic, but there was actually a lot of food.

The Service: Every table was reserved, so I sat at the bar. The server (bartender) was attentive and I think I would prefer the bar to a table just because the layout is a bit tight on the floor.

 

The Value:

(I misplaced the receipt, so the numbers are from memory)

Appetizer: ~ $8.00

Scallops: ~ $16.00

Total: $24.00

 

I was happy with the price. I didn’t feel like I was paying for pretension – the quality was legit.

 

Sammy’s Famous Corned Beef

Name: Sammy’s Famous Corned Beef

https://plus.google.com/102789200867702623826/about?gl=us&hl=en

Reviewer: Brian Blose

Rating: 4 Stars

The Background: Part of the charm is that this place is a dive. The French use the term terroir to describe how the specific soil and climate characteristics affect wine from that region. I think something similar happens in a restaurant, which is why I am so fond of places with character.

The Atmosphere: It’s a dive.

The Food:

I got the corned beef on rye with mustard and tomatoes. A pickle spear comes on the side. The sandwich was perfect. The corned beef isn’t overly salty and the mustard contrasts nicely with the savory meat. That crunchy pickle spear adds something to the experience as well. It’s a big sandwich, so I didn’t mind the lack of sides. In fact, I don’t have a single complaint about my meal. It rocked!

I recommend trying out some of Sammy’s famous corned beef. It’s a great sandwich for a great price. And as much as I love eating in a classy restaurant, there is something special about a place like this. Sammy’s has terroir. You can taste it in their corned beef.

The Service: Let’s be honest, you don’t come here for the service.

The Value:

Sandwich: $6.75

I would pay ten bucks for this sandwich. And as much as I love eating at higher end restaurants, there is something special about a place like this. Remember: variety is the spice of life. And dive bars add terroir to the food.

The Thai Place

Name: The Thai Place ( http://www.thaiplacepgh.com/ )

Reviewer: Brian Blose

Rating: 5 Stars

The Background: So I went to The Thai Place today. Which Thai place? The Thai Place. I know, but which Thai place? It’s called The Thai Place. But what’s the name of the restaurant? Who’s on First? This restaurant serves amazing Thai Cuisine (to let you in on the joke, there is another Thai restaurant in Pittsburgh called Thai Cuisine . . . seriously, what is up with the people who name Thai restaurants around here?). Thai Place is in Shadyside, Wexford, and Fox Chapel (the original). I am reviewing the Fox Chapel location.

The Atmosphere: It’s easy to overlook the building from the outside, but the interior is classy. There isn’t a lot of seating, but the place usually doesn’t busy enough to make this a problem.

The Food:

I ordered a pot of Oolong Tea and the Fried Tofu appetizer. I won’t go into any detail on the tea other than to say it goes well with the meal. The Fried Tofu was my experiment for this trip. I’m not big on tofu, but everything is good fried, right? The tofu comes in triangular blocks. The exterior is crisp while the insides are pretty much what you expect from tofu: bland with a loose consistency. The appetizer didn’t impress me much, but the dipping sauce saved the day. It was a sweet chili sauce with bits of pepper and peanuts. I liked the experience of trying something new, but in the end, I recommend picking a different appetizer. It’s hard to beat Thai dumplings.

My main meal was Pad Thai. For anyone not familiar with this dish, it is the national dish of Thailand and a house specialty of The Thai Place. It is made from rice noodles (thin, light noodles), bean sprouts that add a nice crunch, a light spicy & sweet sauce, fried egg, and bits of peanuts. I had them add chicken to my order because I like to know an animal died to feed me (joke).

The Pad Thai was great. My one complaint is that when I ordered I requested a number 6 spiciness on their 10-point scale. I would consider what they delivered to be more of a 3 on the scale. It annoys me when people at a restaurant “correct” my order. I know there are people out there who would order something hotter than they can take and then complain about it afterwards, but that is not me. I like to sweat when I eat Thai food, and maybe even cry a little (but only on the inside). Nitpicking aside, this was a great meal. I recommend it to anyone not allergic to peanuts. Especially if you have never experienced Thai cuisine.

The Service: Good.

The Value:

Tea: $1.95

Appetizer: $7.95

Pad Thai: $12.95

Total: $22.85

The Thai Place could double their prices and still keep me as a customer. Great value.

Aladdin’s

Name:  Aladdin’s Eatery ( http://www.aladdinseatery.com/ )

Reviewer:  Brian Blose

Rating:  4 Stars

The Background:  Aladdin’s serves Mediterranean cuisine, Lebanese in particular. This chain has locations in Cranberry and Aspinwall. I am reviewing the Cranberry location.

 

The Atmosphere:  There are plenty of windows that let in light, giving the room an open, airy vibe.

 

The Food:

For an appetizer, I ordered Kibbie. This is ground meat mixed with spices and pine nuts, then breaded and deep fried. Sounds good, right? It is. My one complaint is that they use too much onion, but I say the same about anything with onion as an ingredient. With the kibbie comes a yogurt dip and a small cup of vegetables. The vegetables were finely diced and tossed in a delicious sauce. It was savory in flavor, with hints of mint and citrus.

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I ordered the Mediterranean Lamb Plate. It comes with a side of rice that turns the world’s most boring food into a superstar. The white rice is mixed with vermilli, then pine nuts and cinnamon are sprinkled on top. The result is the most exciting rice dish I have ever eaten. The flavors are subtle, so don’t expect anything intense. Cinnamon and rice and nuts just works. If you still doubt, then visit Aladdin’s and see for yourself.

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The lamb was grilled and minimally seasoned. There was some char on it, but that’s how all the meat they serve comes to you: lightly charred and a bit dry. Sides of yogurt or garlic dipping sauce go well with the grilled lamb. They add flavor and moisten things up.

 

The second best thing about eating at Aladdin’s is that you can feel good about what you ate when you leave. You know that scale with tasty on one end and healthy on the other? Apparently, Aladdin’s doesn’t know about the scale, because their meals are healthy and delicious.

 

The Service: This section of the review is usually more obligatory than insightful, but today they screwed up my wife’s order, so I actually have something to report. Our waiter was mortified that he had brought the wrong item and rushed to fix the situation. I learned two things from this experience. First, my waiter doesn’t mess up very often. Second, Aladdin’s handles issues well.

 

The Value:  Earlier I told you the second best thing about Aladdin’s. Want to know the best thing? The price. I paid $6.25 for my appetizer and $13.45 for my meal. I would be willing to pay $8 for the appetizer and $20 for the meal. I call that a deal.

 

James Street Gastropub

Name: James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy ( http://jamesstreetgastropub.com/ )

Reviewer: Brian Blose

Rating: 3 Stars

The Background: This restaurant is located on the north side. It has a small but diverse menu (see their website) and boasts 30 craft beers.

 

The Atmosphere: While this isn’t the nicest part of town (translation: go during the day), there is a certain charm to the old German district. The restaurant itself is nice. Seating is on 3 levels with the basement being the Speakeasy where Jazz musicians perform. This isn’t a big place, but it wasn’t crowded on a Friday night.

 

The Food:

For an appetizer, I ordered 6 wings with a Cajun dry rub. The wings were perfectly cooked, but they were a bit stingy with the seasoning, making the wings good but plain. I would recommend getting the ribs, but I suggest trying one of the sauces.

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I got a pulled pork sandwich. The menu describes the sauce as honey-chipotle barbecue. My finely honed flavor detector didn’t detect any honey or chipotle in there, but the sauce was still pretty awesome. The sandwich was a big win. The included sides were coleslaw (which I eat only when starving), a pickle spear (sweeter than I prefer), and homemade chips. The chips would have been ho-hum, but the fact that they were burnt made them unappetizing. I suggest substituting the chips for fries if you order a sandwich here.

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The Service: Good. The hostess and wait staff managed to be hip and on top of things at the same time.

 

The Value:  My meal was $8 and my entree was $6 for a total of $14. I would be willing to pay $10 for the meal and $5 for the entree for a total of $15. So you get a good value.

 

Taipei

Name: Taipei Chinese Restaurant in Fox Chapel ( http://www.taipei-fc.com/ )

Reviewer: Brian Blose

Rating: 3 Stars

The Background: The founder worked his way up through Chinese restaurants in New York City. The restaurant continues to use the same recipes.

 

I have heard quite a wide range of opinions on Taipei. As far as Pittsburgh restaurants go, they are incredibly polarizing. Some love it and some hate it. I decided to give the place a try and come to my own conclusions. I also took my wife with me, which means I get to review 2 entrees (we have a barter system – a bite of this for a scoop of that).

 

The Atmosphere: Clean interior with art on the walls and a television in a corner. The lights are suspended lanterns. The place has mirrors along one wall . . . I guess this is supposed to trick me into thinking the room is bigger? Does anyone know why some places do the mirror wall?

 

The Food:

They had a Dim Sum section to their menu, so I had to get an appetizer. For anyone not in the know, Dim Sum are Chinese dumplings. We got the Seafood Bean Curd Roll. I guess the “Bean Curd” part was the dough for the roll. They fried it, so the outside was crisp & crunchy. Inside, the seafood was shrimp and something else (scallops?). You also got a bowl of rice chips and 2 dipping sauces. Beware the tan-colored sauce: it is horseradish, not mustard. The other sauce was the same duck sauce you get at any Chinese restaurant. The chips are basically a substrate to hold the sauce and crunch in your mouth. And the Roll had a strong seafood flavor. If you like shrimp, you’ll probably enjoy this.

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Entree number one was the Peking Duck (half breast). I had never ordered this, so I had some vague expectation that I would receive a pile of meat. What actually happened is the chef came out with a tray and used chopsticks to make Duck Burritos in front of me. (Google tells me this is known as pancake style Peking Duck, but I say they look more like burritos.) So on top of the pancake is smeared a sweet brown sauce, then shredded duck meat is thrown on top (I had them hold the scallions). The chef wrapped up four of these using chopsticks. I was a little disappointed by the dish. I love duck, so I was expecting something amazing, but what I got was something merely good. The flavor was so much milder than I was expecting.

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Entree number two was the Basil Chicken, which is advertised on the menu as an authentic Chinese dish. It was chicken chunks in sauce with rice as a side. The Basil Chicken was strongly flavored with ginger, garlic, and basil. The spiciness level was low, but if you mistake a chunk of ginger for a potato slice, your mouth will burn for a while . . . not that I did such a thing, of course. Overall, the flavoring was pleasant and interesting, but I was disappointed by the quality of the chicken. I prefer lean meat and this dish was too fatty for my tastes.

 

The Cost:  Seafood Bean Curd Roll – $5.00.  Peking Duck (Half) – $18.00.  Basil Chicken – $15.00

 

The Service: They were friendly and helpful.

 

Some people love Taipei. Some people hate Taipei. I say split the difference. They are worth a visit if you are in the area, but I wouldn’t make a special trip to visit them.

Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse

Name: Ichiban Steakhouse ( http://www.ichibanhibachisteakhouse.com/ )

Reviewer: Brian Blose

Rating: 5 stars

The Background: This is a Hibachi (Japanese Steakhouse) restaurant. A bit of trivia: the authentic name for this type of restaurant is teppanyaki. The word hibachi comes from the type of grill used to prepare the food. But whatever you call it, the food is amazing.

The Atmosphere: Typical for this type of restaurant. Large tables wrapped around a stove-top; indirect lighting; Japanese decor; clean; professional.

The Food: While I am including a photo of the entire menu, my personal favorite is the Hibachi Calamari. For anyone who doesn’t know, Calamari is squid. And squid can be heavenly when cooked right or horrible when cooked wrong (don’t ever ever ever order baked Calamari). Now, I wouldn’t be reviewing this meal wasn’t amazing.

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Before I go into the entree, I need to cover the appetizers included with all Hibachi meals. The onion soup and the salad were delicious. In an effort to maintain the dignity of my position as a restaurant blogger, I resisted the urge to lick the last of the ginger dressing from the bottom of the salad bowl – I hope you appreciate my sacrifice. My only complaint in regards to the appetizers is that the soup could be greatly improved by adding just a few more mushrooms.

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The fried rice and noodles were next. To be honest, while I love to watch people making my food, I don’t care for the tricks. Tossing around a spatula is kinda cool, I guess, but the real magic is how soy sauce, garlic, sesame, salt, sake, butter, and unspecified spices are combined in the right proportions to make deliciousness. The performance element means that your meal never tastes exactly the same twice. Today’s chef went a little heavy on the sake, which I liked. Sometimes the sesame stands out, or the garlic, or the soy. Today the sake let you know it was there with that light sweet flavor. Whether I prefer the rice or the noodles varies by the chef and my mood. Today the rice won – way to go rice! The fried vegetables are a mix of zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, and onion. I’m one of those rare onion-haters, but everything else was good. The zucchini was the best part of the medley – still crisp and full of buttery flavor (Hibachi isn’t exactly health food). The standard two pieces of shrimp were nice – fresh tasting and lightly salted.

I have ordered the Calamari over a dozen times in both the Cranberry and Waterworks locations of this chain, but I have never seen another person order the same. In fact, part of the fun of ordering and eating this particular meal are the reactions of your fellow diners (my favorite reaction of all time was when a young lady exclaimed “that was bold” after I placed my order). It is fun to see the recognizable form of a squid dropped onto the hot surface of the grill and then watch as your chef uses his knife to turn the creature into rings and legs. But the best part of ordering the Calamari is the fact that this is their best meal. The rings are perfect. Texture: chewy without being rubbery. Taste: the natural taste of the Calamari is more present than when you order fried calamari (this is a good thing, trust me) and the spices add a lot to the experience (same spices as above, plus more butter). The legs (tentacles) are good but not great. The texture is a little too close to rubbery for my comfort. Fortunately, the mantle of a squid (that’s it’s main body) is much larger than its legs, so the proportion of heavenly to rubbery is quite acceptable. The seafood sauce (the lighter of the two in color) goes well with the Calamari.

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Occasionally I like to drink some Sapporo with my meal. After all, what better to drink at a Japanese restaurant than a Japanese beer? It is smooth and tasty and on draft.

The Cost: Calamari Meal – $19.95. 1 Sapporo – $4.50. The best Calamari in Pittsburgh – priceless.

The Service: Is great. The staff is courteous and professional. They manage to keep things moving even when they get busy. And they keep the place clean.

J&S Pizza

Name: J&S Pizza, located in the Heights Plaza of Natrona Heights, no website

Reviewer: Brian Blose

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

The Background: This is a pizzeria specializing in . . . wait for it . . . Pizza! A local newspaper (Valley News Dispatch) has voted them the #1 pizza shop year after year. The owners are from Italy and the shop is decorated with family photos from overseas. If you are into soccer, this would be a good place to hang out during the world cup.

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The Atmosphere: J&S is very casual, so don’t worry about a dress code. They have a mix of tables & booths for seating. In true pizzeria fashion, you place your order up front and either wait on it or take a seat and listen for them to call your name.

The Food: While there are appetizers, soups, salads, hoagies, and pasta dinners, I ordered two slices of pizza. When you go to a steakhouse, you get steak. When you go to a pizzeria, you get pizza. Anyone with a conscience knows it’s the right thing to do. (FYI, they have a sister restaurant, the Capri, that has amazing home-made pasta. I’ll review them some day)

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I ordered a slice of thin-crust plain and a slice of their eggplant pizza. Their thin-crust pizza is just as good as you get in New York City. When it’s fresh out of the oven and you fold the slice in half to contain the grease from the fresh mozzarella, you know the pizza is perfect. I highly recommend it.

The eggplant pizza also comes with my recommendation. It’s a thin-crust pizza with a slice of eggplant on top, sprinkled (optionally) with some Parmesan and Mozzarella. The texture of this specialty pizza is best described as chewy. I ate it with a fork (available at the side counter) and suggest you do likewise. You can taste all the ingredients. If you like eggplant parm, then you will love this pizza. There’s only a hint of salt (sometimes eggplant is over-salted to get rid of bitterness). As much as I love pizza, sometimes you need to shake things up, and eggplant pizza does this wonderfully.

The Cost: J&S charges $1.99 for a slice of plain and $3.50 for a slice of a specialty pizza. So I paid a whopping $5.49 (before tax) for dinner. I would pay a lot more than that for good pizza, so I consider this a great value.

The Service: This isn’t much of a factor with a pizzeria. They took my order at the counter and gave me my order. There isn’t anything more to say about the service one way or the other.

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