Pittsburgh’s newest Chinese restaurant, Jian’s Kitchen, is located in the Squirrel Hill underground space, which was formerly inhabited by Northeastern Kitchen.
There’s a lot to celebrate with this opening, and especially the depth of the menu. She Shan Pei, the former head chef at Northeastern Kitchen, remains on the team and is supported by Michael Chew, a Taiwanese chef with 40 years of experience. Chew first cooked in Pittsburgh 30 years ago when he was Chef for Chow at Fox Chapel.
Instead of focusing solely on the lesser-known (albeit extremely delicious) cuisine of Heilongjiang Province, as was the case with Northeastern Kitchen, the two chefs are working together on a pan-Chinese menu. These dishes go beyond the typical Chinese restaurant menu to celebrate the culinary intricacies of the country, and they also explore the depths of regional cuisine.
This means that you can find Xi’an dishes like seasoned meat sandwiches, Hunan dishes like bamboo shoots with pork, Cantonese dishes like Guangdong Wine Chicken Pot, Sichuan dishes like Bear Paw Tofu, and Taiwanese dishes like clove fish with peanut. Eleven items remain from the original Northeastern Kitchen menu, including steamed and sliced pork knuckles, four white stews, and pork stew with sauerkraut as highlights. Offal lovers will also enjoy a menu that features more kidney, liver and intestinal dishes than anywhere else in town. The rest of the menu is rounded off with canonical Chinese dishes like hand-made dumplings, mapo tofu, double-boiled pork, and dry-sauteed beans.
“We’re a new restaurant, so we have a lot of new dishes. There are lots of dishes that you can’t find anywhere else in Pittsburgh, ”says owner Jet Zhong.
I have already ordered snacks from Jian’s Kitchen twice. Of the Northeastern dishes, the steamed four whites are perhaps even better than two years ago when I reviewed Northeastern Kitchen. Thin slices of pork belly, tofu cubes, shredded cabbage, and ribbons of glass noodles in a soothing, creamy broth were exactly what I wanted to eat on an 18 degree evening. Fried eggplant, potatoes, and green pepper were every bit as comforting as I remembered it. The tri-color basil chicken (often listed as three-cup chicken on Taiwanese menus) was a hit with me. Herbal basil underlines the richness of the balanced combination of soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil, which makes the dish what it is. In Jian’s kitchen, the umami is pushed even higher by adding mushrooms. If you’re looking for something spicier, go for Old Mother Chicken. The bone-in chicken pieces sing with fiery green chilli, garlic and coriander.
Apart from one cumin lamb that was too mild for my taste, I found all of Pei and Chew’s cookware to be coated with flavor. I’m really looking forward to a deeper insight into your menu.
5824 Forbes Ave., lower level, Squirrel Hill; 412 / 422-2888, jianskitchenpittsburgh.com
The forest house
Woods House is one of the oldest buildings – probably the oldest residential structure – in Pittsburgh. George Woods, the land surveyor for the land that would become the Golden Triangle, built the structure in Hazelwood in 1792.
The last time anyone lived in the house was in the 1970s, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Over the years the building fell into disrepair. It was bought by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2001 but lay fallow until Woods House LLC bought it in 2018. After years of restoration, it is now open as The Woods House, a Scottish style pub.
The menu pays homage to the Scottish heritage of Woods, and the menu borrows from Pub Faire, which has fish and chips, banger and mash, potato and leek soup, and Guinness steak pie (plus a seitan option for vegetarians) as the centerpiece of the still limited menu.
As if eating in a building of extreme historical importance wasn’t enough, there is a contemporary twist that makes this opening even more special: Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, the preeminent nonprofit that trains and equips people faced with employment barriers Making a career The service industry works with the owners to run The Woods House’s kitchen.
Tauraus Reed trains kitchen management under the direction of Travis Torsell, chief trainer of Community Kitchen Pittsburgh. He’ll be running the show in a couple of weeks. In addition, students are expected to have the opportunity to do rotations in the kitchen to prepare the food and, when finished, carry out the meals. It’s part of an evolving program to promote leadership roles for graduates from the Kitchen Pittsburgh community who already work at a number of restaurants across the city.
The restaurant is open for dinner with limited capacity on weekends (reservations recommended) and offers fish and chips to take away. I look forward to visiting in the future.
4604 Monongahela Street, Hazelwood; 412 / 251-0894, woodshousepgh.com