Jian’s Kitchen offers a tour of harder to find Chinese cuisines in Pittsburgh | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Jian’s Kitchen offers a tour of harder to find Chinese cuisines in Pittsburgh

click to enlarge Jian’s Kitchen offers a tour of harder to find Chinese cuisines in Pittsburgh
CP photo: Kaycee Orwig
Michael Chou prepares the pork with kyoto sauce.
In Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine options abound, from Everyday Noodles and Taiwanese Bistro Cafe 33’s more subtle and lighter Taiwanese options to Sichuan Gourmet and Chengdu Gourmet’s spicier Sichuanese cuisines. Although Northeastern Kitchen, which specialized in Dongbei cuisine, closed in late 2020, Jian’s Kitchen has since taken over the location and continues to offer Dongbei, or Northeastern, cuisine in addition to a variety of cuisines from throughout China that Pittsburgh diners might not know about.

Jian’s Kitchen, or 品江南, opened in December 2020 after owner and chef Michael Chou took over the restaurant. With a long love of cooking and experience working in a variety of Chinese restaurants, Chou expanded the menu to offer cuisines from various regions — including Sichuan, Hunan, Guangdong, and Taiwan — and his practiced and precise cooking brings out the best flavors of each.

The restaurant’s names reflect the reasons Chou wanted to open the restaurant. The English name celebrates his wife, Jian, whom he wanted to name a restaurant after, and the Chinese name refers to the region south of the Yangtze River and encourages people to taste and savor the cuisines, which Chou worked hard to learn. Following the suggestion, I ordered food representing a variety of Chinese cuisines to more fully appreciate Chou’s expansive expertise.

On Chou’s recommendation, I tried the Kyoto Pork 京都肉, which, along with the Xiangxi Braised Chicken 湘西燜雞 and Grilled Fish Zigong Style 自貢烤魚, is among the restaurant’s most popular dishes. With one bite into the crispy, tender pork, I quickly learned why. The sweet brown Kyoto sauce coats the wok-fried crunchy surface of the pork and brings out the juiciness of the meat as the fat melts on your tongue.

To enjoy this dish at its prime, eat it as soon as you can. While the flavors are still excellent even after the fat resolidifies, the juxtaposition of crispy and melty textures made it the highlight of my meal.

Staying on the Northeast Speciality section of the menu, I also tried the Northeastern Mung Bean Clear Noodle with Shredded Vegetable 東北大拉皮. Northeastern Chinese cuisine is influenced by the harsher climate, especially the longer winters, as well as the region’s proximity to Siberia and North Korea. The cuisine tends to use fewer peppers, instead favoring napa cabbage, potatoes, carrots, wheat, and corn.

These noodles, tossed in a house-made chili oil sauce, followed this trend and featured cabbage, carrot, dried tofu shreds, cilantro, and mung bean noodles, which were thick and delightfully chewy. Rather than the hot spice of Sichuan and Hunan cuisine, this dish was slightly vinegary with a more subtle, cool spice that left me feeling refreshed and ready to try a dish from Guangdong, or Canton, where Jian is from.

Taking a small leap of faith, I ordered the Cantonese Delights 廣東小炒, which doesn’t have a menu description. It lived up to its name, delivering the signature wok hei flavor of Cantonese food, which is achieved through a difficult heating technique that Chou seems to have mastered. The slightly smoky, concentrated aroma filled my nostrils as soon as I opened the take-out container, and the lotus root, carrot, and onion created a crunchy juxtaposition for the tender calamari and pork.

Finally, I sampled the Chongqing Hot Spicy Chicken 山城辣子雞, one of my favorite dishes. The dish is from Chongqing, one of Sichuan’s neighboring provinces in Southcentral China, and its food is a branch of Sichuan cuisine. Chou’s version of the dish maintained the tenderness of the chicken while creating a slightly crispy, dry, spiced exterior. The dish was lighter on oil than other variations I’ve tried around the city, and as a result, the dry-hot spice blend of Sichuan peppercorns and Chinese red peppers was front and center in every bite.

Each dish came with plenty of food, meaning there were lots of leftovers. The Chongqing Hot Spicy Chicken and Cantonese Delights reheated the best for the next day’s lunch, and both left me excited to try more from Jian’s Kitchen.
Jian’s Kitchen. 5824 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill. jianskitchen.com

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