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Grit & Grace offers the new, interesting, still Asian

| Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, 7:04 p.m.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Grit & Grace during lunch Friday Sept. 12, 2014 on Liberty Street downtown.

With a name like Grit & Grace, you might think this Downtown eatery serves Southern comfort food. But don't let the name be misleading.

Here, you are going to find a menu filled with ramen noodle bowls, salads made with miso-braised eggplant, sandwiches stuffed with crispy pig face roulade, and large and small plates of comfort classics turned in new and interesting directions — all with an Asian-American twist.

Before even opening the menu, a roving wooden tray presenting the day's five offerings of dim sum will arrive at your table. Priced at $5 each, it will be difficult to decide what to order. I recommend ordering a few (if not all) of the dim sum dishes and share among the table.

By definition, dim sum is a variety of Chinese food served in small portions, such as steamed buns and dumplings. At Grit & Grace, executive chef and owner Brian Pekarcik (also of Spoon, BRGR and Willow) has transformed this classic Chinese cuisine into sharable starters that should not be overlooked.

The offering of dim sum changes almost daily and can include crispy and buttery pork-belly bites served in an orange and chili glaze, spicy and flavorful housemade kimchi, smoked tofu and soba noodle salad, and citrus-cured salmon with an egg custard and dill creme fraiche.

When it comes to the main meal, there are many options, which can accommodate meat lovers and vegetarians alike.

The one dish I wouldn't recommend sharing — because you definitely will want the whole thing yourself — is the steam bun, a take on the classic fried-bologna sandwich. A thick slice of charred, housemade mortadella is layered in a soft, white steam bun, along with sweet-and-sour bread-and-butter pickles and a slather of coriander mustard.

There is significant harmony with the flavors of this dish, making it one of my favorite bites in the city. Though this steam bun is for meat lovers, Grit & Grace has recently launched a vegetarian version made with orange-glazed crispy tofu, Asian slaw and a sambal aioli made with chili peppers.

Also off the small-plates portion of the menu are cream-cheese biscuits served with short ribs and crispy confit chicken wings that will have the table singing praises to the kitchen staff. A flaky cream-cheese biscuit is served open-faced and topped with shredded pieces of short rib, melted, aged white cheddar cheese, and finished with a luscious bearnaise sauce.

Grit & Grace's twist on the Buffalo-proud chicken wings includes cooking the wings confit style (slow-cooked in chicken fat) and serving them in a bowl with a layer of herbed buttermilk dressing at the bottom. The wings are finished with a dusting of a ranch dressing-like powder and topped with thinly sliced pickled Fresno chiles before arriving to your table piping hot.

For entree-size portions, the large-plates menu includes steak, seafood and tofu dishes. But the star of the entrees is the braised goat served in a curry sauce on top of garlic and ginger smashed potatoes, drizzled with creme fraiche, and accompanied with a lime wedge.

What makes this dish special is that it's served with the proper eating utensil: three appams, light and fluffy crepes made from rice flour. The way to eat it is to squeeze the lime wedge over the goat, then tear off a piece of appam and fill with a dollop of the goat/potato mixture. If you have never tried goat, this is the dish to have. It will convert you, as it has me, and, possibly, have you ordering it every single time you are in the restaurant (along with the steam bun, a definite must-order every, single, time).

If ever along your eating journey you feel the need to spice up a dish, three housemade dipping sauces are readily available in the wooden crate on each table. To add more heat, use the sambal made with roasted Fresno chiles, sweet red bell peppers, onions, garlic, vinegar and salt. To add more salt, the black vinegar made with soy and rice wine vinegar will do just that. To add sweetness, try the caramelized onion chutney made with port, red-wine vinegar and brown sugar.

Assisting Pekarcik execute his menu flawlessly is chef de cuisine Curtis Gamble, who is convinced he was offered the job based upon a dessert he presented during his interview: lavender pound cake with caramelized pineapple and coconut pudding.

Though this dessert isn't on the current menu, save room for Grit & Grace's take on the kid (and adult) favorite, dirt. A salted caramel mousse is sprinkled with a white-chocolate crumble and rosemary powder and served with red and gold beet gelees. Completely not what you might be expecting, but just as (if not more) delicious and definitely more interesting.

Sarah Sudar is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com, who contribute a weekly dining column.

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