Jimmy Tsang’s

By | July 27, 2009

Jimmy Tsang’s
5700 Centre Ave
Shadyside  15206
M-Th: 11:30-10; F-Sat 11:30-11; Sun 3-9

Gotta say – this has been an interesting month.  And on top of that, I’ve been hitting up an unusual category of restaurant: the kind that you’ve noticed around town and that sticks in your mind but that you never even think to actually go to.  They give off some kind of vibe, like ‘don’t come in here, we’re full of old people and haven’t changed our recipes in 40 years’.  I’m saying places like Duranti’s on Craig and Fifth, Lombardozzi’s on Liberty, and Tokyo, that place next to the Shur-Sav in Bloomfield.  Typically, the food is as stale as the recipes, but not bad – I call it ‘fine’.  I have always kind of figured Jimmy Tsang’s was in this category — it’s just that Chinese place with the somewhat elaborate blue tile veneer and the liquor license, somewhere on Baum or Centee, maybe near Negley, that I have never personally known anyone to go into or come out of and just somehow never made it to myself.  Well this weekend I went, and though some of that vibe is correct (on a Saturday night their clientele was a handful of tables flocked with the elderly), the food was better than I expected and the menu selection was much better that I expected.  Perhaps even more pleasing, the prices weren’t too shabby, and their selection of import and micro beers was quality.  I think I might even go here again sometime.

Probably the first notable thing about Jimmy Tsang’s is experiencing the décor, which is slightly outdated Chinese-theme.  One of the side effects of being the kind of Chinese restaurant that servers older generations is that the Chinese Glamour Factor is typically very high.  CGF is the amount to which a restaurant plays up its Chinese-y-ness to appease its clientele.  Pagoda-style archways, red hanging tassle-y things, wood carvings, replicas of ships, etc.  Old people eat that shit up!

I mean everyone loves it I think, but old people REALLY love it.  That generation, comprised of individuals who were young consumers during and after World War II, seemed to have driven the Chinese Glamour Factor very high a few decades ago.  My personal hypothesis is that it was the pressures of nationalism that shaped the development of American-Chinese restaurant décor.  Once the Japanese entered the war there was a backlash in America, which perhaps drove other Asian business owners to accentuate their unique culture in order to establish differentiation from what had recently become disagreeable to the public mindset.  The end result was ever more elaborate interior and exterior decors.  And chop suey.  Well maybe that theory is bull… but think of how many abandoned, windowless, solid brick, slopey-pointy-roofed buildings with giant circular doorways you see as you drive around the smaller towns of America!  Vestiges of a past even more extravagant.

Sure, most restaurants today have suggestions of culture peppered throughout the interior, but it has become remarkable when a restaurant really grabs the Chinese glamour by the horns and serves it the hell up.  And I’m not talking about P.F. Chang’s here – that’s more like a Chinese-restaurant theme themed restaurant for people who are afraid to go to actual Chinese restaurants (yeah, that’s right – I said it).  I’m talking about old skool Chinese restaurant theme.  And Jimmy Tsang’s is kinda bringin’ it.

Now, personally, I am most interested in the quality of the food.  I don’t need good service or an interesting decorating scheme if the food is off the hook (or maybe ever).  The food at Jimmy Tsang’s was actually alright, yeah pretty good.  The menu was huge and had several interesting items on it, not typically found at your middle of the road Chinese restaurant.  Additionally, there was a Korean section in back that had a mixture of Korean (barbecue, bulgogi) and Japanese-y food (udon, yakitori), so there is plenty to explore here.  Moreover, they have a couple of meal sets (‘family’ and ‘grand’) that bring you soup, appetizers, and multiple entrees such that you get a little sampling of different tastes, and they are a fair deal ($12/person for ‘family’).

Four of the five of us got this meal special, and the fifth got Buddah’s Delight (vegetables in a light sauce).  She wasn’t to get soup with her meal; however, because the Hot & Sour soup was so spectacular when it arrived we ended up getting an extra order so that she could enjoy it and share it with the one guy unlucky enough to have picked the wonton.  Seriously, for Pittsburgh this was some really good Hot & Sour all around.  But the most special part to me was the little slivers of meat, which were cooked in some kind of double-floured method, making the texture just a little different than plain slivers of meat… more succulent with a really pleasant, kind of soft exterior.  I used to think that China Palace had my favorite Hot & Sour, but they might have just been beat.

We also got a plate of beige appetizers.  For each of us, there was an eggroll (standard, mundane), a triangularly folded hard fried pocket of unidentified filling (totally not worth eating), and then something really good: a tin foil package inside of which was the most delightful piece of marinated chicken I have eaten in a long while.  Sure, it was stuck to the foil such that you had to peel it off, sometimes in little shreds, but it was one freakin’ delicious chicken wad.  Everyone at the table seemed to agree on this matter.

We received four entrees, all of which were totally decent.  I think, for me, I was fond of the Shrimp with Lobster Sauce for all the eggy bits, and the Shredded Pork Szechuan Style, which had slivers of pork cooked similarly to that of the hot & sour soup.  There was also Moo Goo Gai Pan (same as it is everywhere), and Beef with Pea Pods (good but not particularly notable).  Overall, there was no way we could eat all that good food, and we had quite a package to take with us when we left.

All that, plus I have to mention just one more time that the import and micro beer list was appreciated by all, and was nicely priced.  In fact, I might go here just to drink in the weird bar area at the front of the restaurant.  But then I’d miss out on the Hot & Sour soup and what I believe they call ‘paper-wrapped chicken’.  And the more I think about it, the more I want to eat those two things again.  So yeah, I’ll definitely be back here, even with its kinda funky outdated vibe and kinda funky outdated clientele.  The total package certainly isn’t something to write home about, but there are some very good things about this place, and I’ll definitely be back to try some of the more exotic items in the near future.

Hot and sour soup
Foil wrapped chicken stuff

They have those awesome tables with the giant lazy susan in the middle!  They are an endless source of amusement, plus practical.  Totally fun, so try to go in a group of 4-6 to get this kind of table.