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Plum Pan Asian Kitchen offers diverse menu of Asian dishes

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 4:06 a.m.

Plum Pan Asian Kitchen in East Liberty is taking up where Richard Chen left off.

The new restaurant, which opened Aug. 15, is in the same location in Penn Circle South as Richard Chen, but is touting a more diverse menu and less expensive prices. Plum assistant manager Diane McMartin says their dishes come from all over Asia.

"Our executive chef is Yang Sek Tan, from Singapore," says McMartin, 25, who previously worked at Richard Chen as a hostess. "We feature dishes from Japan, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, India, Thailand and Indonesia. Our sushi is the best in the city at the price point that we have it. It's a really good value for the quality of fish that our sushi chef, Jimmy Watanabe, uses."

Sleekly elegant, with dark wood tables and white leather chairs, Plum seats about 90 in its spacious dining room and bar area. Beautiful silk lanterns hang from the high ceilings, and the atmosphere is lively and bustling. McMartin calls Plum "a cut above your neighborhood Chinese restaurant." Six investors own Plum, including the main investor, George Lee, who also owns four Sesame Inns in the Pittsburgh area.

"Richard Chen was very expensive and a little intimidating to people," McMartin says. "My friends can afford to eat here now. We get a good mix of regulars — more families with young children, college students and older couples. We have a lot of really nice customers."

The menu will please diners who are looking for traditional Asian dishes, as well as those diners who are looking for more exotic fare. All dinner entrees are served with jasmine or brown rice, and nothing on the menu is more than $19.

Along with favorites like General Tso's Chicken and Kung Pao Chicken, customers will find Mee Goreng — Indian-style egg noodles with shrimp, tomato, tofu and curry sauce. There is a Thai-style green curry or red curry, an Indonesian-style chile sauce with green peppers and red onions; Beijing pork; Vietnamese-style steak and mixed greens; Singapore-style spicy shrimp; and several vegetarian entrees.

Fried rice, lo mein and pad thai are also featured, along with many appetizers, soups and salads.

"We try to use local products as much as possible," says McMartin, who lives in Bloomfield and sometimes walks to work. "We get a lot of our food from Lotus, in the Strip District. Our seafood is flown in twice a week."

Pastry chef Bill Schwerin, 31, wows the customers with his delectable desserts and homemade ice creams and sorbets.

"I never went to culinary school, but I've worked with some good people since I was 15 years old," Schwerin says. "I got into pastry because I like to eat sweets. I don't consider myself a chef, but I like the atmosphere of a busy kitchen. For me, it's a good fit."

Schwerin changes the dessert menu monthly and is now featuring an Asian pear spring roll, a crunchy hazelnut chocolate bar, a coconut tapioca, a Thai tea sorbet sundae and a pumpkin praline sundae. He makes the ice cream and sorbet in-house. Ice cream flavors include banana, peanut butter, chocolate oolong — a customer favorite, he says — and white chocolate jasmine. His sorbet flavors include lychee, mango, coconut, black currant, ginger pomegranate and yuzu.

"The only downside to being a pastry chef is the long hours," he says. "I work six days a week, about 60 to 70 hours. I gotta give credit to my wife, Adalgisa. Without her, I couldn't do any of this."

Lemongrass Panna Cotta for Eight

This panna cotta is Plum pastry chef Bill Schwerin's own creation and is a popular item on the dessert menu.

The recipe might look intimidating to some home cooks, but Schwerin says it's a simple one that is great for holiday entertaining. He suggests making the panna cotta and the consomme the night before you serve it, and to make the financier, or cake, the day of serving.

For the Panna Cotta:

• 1 cup milk

• 1 cup heavy cream

• 1/2 cup granulated sugar

• Zest of 1 lemon

• Zest of 1 lime

• 2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 1-inch segments, and mashed slightly (don't chop, see Photo 1 )

• 2 teaspoons gelatin

For the consomme:

• 3 cups white wine

• 3 cups granulated sugar

• 3 whole lemons, peeled

• 3 whole limes, peeled

• 3 vanilla beans

• 1 teaspoon gelatin

For the financier (cake):

• 1 cup almond flour (can get at Whole Foods)

• 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar

• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

• 3 large egg whites

• 1/4 cup butter, softened

• 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

• Vegetable cooking spray

• Sorbet of your choice, for serving

To prepare the Panna Cotta: Put all the ingredients except for the 2 teaspoons gelatin into a saucepan and cook over medium heat ( Photo 1 ) for 10 minutes. Take the pan off the burner and add the gelatin, stirring thoroughly. Strain into another bowl. Pour into muffin tins or a flex mold ( Photo 2 ) and chill for at least 6 hours.

To prepare the consomme: Put all ingredients except for the 1 teaspoon gelatin into a big saucepot and cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes ( Photo 3 ). Take off the heat and add the gelatin, stirring thoroughly. Strain into another bowl and chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

To prepare the financier: Mix the almond flour, sugar, all-purpose flour and egg whites in a mixing bowl for about 2 minutes, until well incorporated.

Brown the butter ( Photo 4 ) over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes, melting it and shaking the pan to blend together better.

When the butter is brown, pour it slowly over the middle of the mixing bowl, and mix for 1 minute. Using a spatula, scrape the sides of the bowl and mix for another minute.

Add the sesame seeds and mix to incorporate ( Photo 5 ).

Coat muffins tins or a flex mold with cooking spray, and pour the batter into the tins or the mold ( Photo 6 ). Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

To plate: Put a cake and a panna cotta side by side on a plate and pour about 1/4 cup consumme around the bottom. Add a scoop of sorbet of your choice on top of the panna cotta and serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings.

Additional Information:

Plum Pan Asian Kitchen

Cuisine: Pan-Asian

Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5-9 p.m. Sundays

Entree price range: $9-$19

Notes: Reservations recommended. Full sushi bar. Wine by the glass or by the bottle. Handicapped accessible. Major credit cards accepted.

Address: 5996 Penn Circle South, East Liberty

Details: 412-363-7586 or online.

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