Aji Picante was a restaurant I greatly enjoyed the two times I dined there. It was the city’s only more “upscale” Peruvian restaurant so definitely a unique place. (There are a couple of Peruvian restaurants but they’re much more casual and serve quick style fare.) It was located in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, an area I don’t get to nearly as often as I would like. So it was with great sadness when visiting one day that we discovered Aji Picante was no more and that a new restaurant was coming in its place.
Aji Picante was owned by Pamela Cohen, co-owner of the extremely popular diner, Pamela’s, and although she’s white and Jewish, she loves Peru (she makes at least one trip a year there). It never was said why Aji closed but when a restaurant is open for barely more than a year one can assume it wasn’t making enough money. This was disappointing since Squirrel Hill is a beacon of ethnic everything and the fact that a Latin, non-Mexican restaurant couldn’t make it says a lot. I was worried that another coffee shop, pizza parlor, or Asian restaurant would open in its place (there are more than enough of those) but thankfully Ms. Cohen kept the space and instead turned it into Nu, a Jewish delicatessen. While I much rather would have preferred Aji Picante to have stayed as I adore Latin cuisine, a Jewish delicatessen is definitely unique. A few days before Christmas we finally ventured there.
In Yiddish “Nu” is an interjection for “well” or “so?” Upon entering the restaurant from Murray Avenue, I could immediately tell it had been remodeled. Whereas the interior look and decor of Aji Picante had been more minimalist and dark, Nu was definitely brighter and more casual, living up to its name as a delicatessen. I really enjoyed the wall size blackboard listing all of the day’s specials.
The menu features traditional Jewish favorites such as matzo ball chicken noodle soup (or as Nu likes to call it, Jewish Penicillin), kreplach (small dumplings filled with ground meat), and blintzes, but also includes new takes on standard dishes (smothered pig in a blanket which consists of a Kosher hot dog wrapped in knish pastry and topped with hot chili and cheese sauce). Latke tots, knish sandwiches, and Montreal-style cured meats also grace the menu’s offerings.
Unfortunately, Nu does not have a website (only a Facebook page) and since I dined there two months ago, I am unable to fully remember every detail including the cost of what we ordered (and no, I am not a good writer as I do not carry a notepad with me).
I ordered a vegetarian sandwich consisting of falafel, pickled onions, cucumber, and mango and which came in a pita. This was the first time I had ever tried falafel, a beloved favorite in Middle Eastern cuisine and I really liked it.
D went with the French Dip sandwich which has always been a favorite of his.
All sandwiches come with pickles and a generous heaping of cole slaw. I don’t care for cole slaw too much to begin with but from the couple of bites I did taste, it was a bit bland.
We also split an order of the latke tots. These were good although my salt loving self would have preferred if they had been a bit more flavorful.
For dessert we split Hungarian donuts which were decadent. They are fried then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and served in a bowl.
While I will always lament the loss of Aji Picante, Nu is a worthy addition to the neighborhood and one well liked by this red headed gentile.