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Legend: Why the Browns left Pittsburgh

| Friday, Oct. 13, 2006

Sure, there are plenty of reasons for leaving Pittsburgh.

A good job offer in Seattle -- like the one Steelers linebacker Chad Brown received as a free agent in '97 -- would qualify.

But no -- legend has it that Brown's wife said that they left Pittsburgh because she couldn't find good sushi.

A lot has changed in nine years. According to local sushi entrepreneur Mike Chen, owner of the Sushi Too and China Palace empires, this is the result of a sea change in attitudes toward dining in Pittsburgh.

"People are sick and tired of greasy food," Chen said. "Right now, everybody's watching their diets. (Sushi is) more healthy. The quantity is perfect -- you can control the quantity you want to eat. If you're not that hungry, you can order one roll, and it'll fill you up. Also, there's no oil."

At Chaya in Squirrel Hill and the Big Burrito group's elegant Umi in Shadyside have proven, there's finally a market for creative high-end sushi in Pittsburgh. But just as significant are the growing ranks of the sushi-curious.

"Sales have increased, probably to max capacity," said Fang Woo, Head Sushi Chef at Nakama. "From people coming in to have an appetizer of sushi -- it's grown to the point where there's an hour wait at the sushi bar."

"They don't start with raw fish sushi first," Chen said. "Usually with the California roll, or some cooked stuff, like shrimp or smoked salmon."

Once they're hooked, they can move on to the harder stuff. Another way you can tell the Pittsburgh's market's maturation is the demand for fresher, non-factory-farmed fish.

"It's grown from where there was one sushi place (here) 25 years ago, to where there's one in almost every neighborhood," Woo said. "With the availability of FedExing fresh fish from anywhere in the world -- for example, we get our tuna from Hawaii."

Chen said the biggest difference in the past few years is Pittsburghers' willingness to try new things.

"I have an 'Ohymygod' roll -- shrimp tempura in the middle and spicy tuna on top," Chen said. "There's a Hawaiian roll with golden pineapple mixed with tuna on top, and eel in the middle. Instead of wrapping with seaweed -- which some people think is too chewy -- I use rice paper to wrap. I have another roll called Naruto roll, named after a famous doctor here. I use very thin slices of cucumber instead of seaweed, with a little bit of Japanese ponzu sauce. It's crunchy, cold and good. I have tuna with jalapeno."

But there's always room to try new things. When visiting New York, Atlanta and Chicago recently, Chen noticed a growing trend toward fusion in sushi.

"I even had sushi pizza," he says. "There's a lot of room to create."


Hey Chad, try these first

Nakama: 1611 East Carson St., South Side. 412-381-6000.

If Pittsburghers don't do sushi, then why is this place packed to the gills every night• This stylish steak and sushi spot has become the epicenter of East Carson's dining/clubbing scene.

Umi: 5849 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside. 412-362-6198.

The waitstaff cultivates an Iron Chef-like air of mystery around the master, Mr. Shu. Supposedly, Mario Lemieux frequently dines here -- go ahead, see what a winner eats. Top shelf.

Chaya: 2104 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill. 412-422-2082.

Though it can get lost among Squirrel Hill's dozen-odd Asian restaurants, Chaya has a very dedicated following. It's also pretty tiny, so plot your visits carefully.

Sushi Too: 5432 Walnut Street, Shadyside. 412-687-8744.

Flagship of an empire -- Sushi Two is on East Carson Street on the South Side, Sushi Three is in Mt. Lebanon, a sushi bar at Benkovitz in the Strip, and also the sushi menus at all the China Palaces. Yes, you can get a "South Side roll." No, it doesn't have fries or coleslaw inside.

Little Tokyo: 636 Washington Rd., Mt. Lebanon, 412-344-4366.

Dedicated swath of diners tells you all you need to know about this gem. Serious sushi cred required. Read: You should know what -- and how -- to order.

Sushi Kim: 1241 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-281-9956.

A sushi stalwart between Downtown and the Strip.

Pacific Ring: 1900 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill. 412-421-3338.

A newer restaurant, specializing in pan-Asian cuisine. Their sushi bar has a growing reputation, though. Additional Information:

Hey Chad, try these first

Nakama: 1611 East Carson St., South Side. 412-381-6000.

If Pittsburghers don't do sushi, then why is this place packed to the gills every night• This stylish steak and sushi spot has become the epicenter of East Carson's dining/clubbing scene.

Umi: 5849 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside. 412-362-6198.

The waitstaff cultivates an Iron Chef-like air of mystery around the master, Mr. Shu. Supposedly, Mario Lemieux frequently dines here -- go ahead, see what a winner eats. Top shelf.

Chaya: 2104 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill. 412-422-2082.

Though it can get lost among Squirrel Hill's dozen-odd Asian restaurants, Chaya has a very dedicated following. It's also pretty tiny, so plot your visits carefully.

Sushi Too: 5432 Walnut Street, Shadyside. 412-687-8744.

Flagship of an empire -- Sushi Two is on East Carson Street on the South Side, Sushi Three is in Mt. Lebanon, a sushi bar at Benkovitz in the Strip, and also the sushi menus at all the China Palaces. Yes, you can get a 'South Side roll.' No, it doesn't have fries or coleslaw inside.

Little Tokyo: 636 Washington Rd., Mt. Lebanon, 412-344-4366.

Dedicated swath of diners tells you all you need to know about this gem. Serious sushi cred required. Read: You should know what -- and how -- to order.

Sushi Kim: 1241 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-281-9956.

A sushi stalwart between Downtown and the Strip.

Pacific Ring: 1900 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill. 412-421-3338.

A newer restaurant, specializing in pan-Asian cuisine. Their sushi bar has a growing reputation, though.

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