Last Updated on June 21, 2021 by Angie
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Gi-Jin, a gin, sashimi, and handroll bar in downtown Pittsburgh, is the latest concept from Richard DeShantz. If you've been to any of his other restaurants, you know that they are borderline over-the-top in their theming and ambiance while also delivering consistently amazing food and service: Gi-Jin is no exception.
The striking dragon mural and wood decor, high quality and creative sushi, and impeccable service all combine for one of the best sushi-eating experiences we've had in Pittsburgh.
Gi-Jin Offers a Meal Like No Other
Gi-Jin has an extremely small dining space and scoring a reservation here requires planning and patience- from the moment they opened they were booked out weeks if not months in advance. The tables are set up for groups of four, while groups of two generally get seated along the length of the bar, as we were during our recent visit. Being front and center to all the cooking action was definitely a highlight of the meal.
Navigating the menu can be overwhelming with so many options- should you try some cold or hot starters, nigiri or sashimi, traditional hand rolls, or open hand rolls? The answer is yes- you should try some of everything. At least, that's the approach that we took. Rather than order all of our dishes at once, we took our time ordering a few things from each category little by little. This resulted in a really pleasant pace for our meal and allowed us to order the appropriate amount of food, too, something else we were having a hard time gauging just by reading the menu.
As you might expect, the gin menu here is lengthy with dozens and dozens of different options ranging from London dry style to Japanese. Although, with an extensive selection of sake, whiskey, wine, and craft cocktails, we couldn't bring ourselves to stick to the gin menu.
We started with a round of cocktails, the Grand Lotus Aviation and the Gamera. The Aviation was a twist on a traditional aviation with gin, jasmine-lotus syrup, Luxardo, sake, and lemon – floral, citrus, and perfectly balanced. The Gamera was a whiskey cocktail with galangal syrup, ginger, Korean chili, lemon, and peat. The balance of whiskey and citrus was great, but we would have loved even more spice and peat notes.
While we tried to make up our minds on sushi, we started with miso soup, spicy cucumber salad, and spicy tuna rice cake.
The miso soup was light but savory with tofu, seaweed, and shiitake. The ginger, scallion, gochujang, sesame, and daikon in the cucumber salad gave a good balance of spiciness and sweetness. The spicy tuna rice cake was our favorite starter full of bluefin tuna, jalapeno, sesame mayo, and shiso. The dish woke up our palates big time; it was rich, fatty, creamy, spicy, and acidic all at once.
We finally committed on sashimi – toro, hotate, and sake. As I took my first bite of toro (fatty tuna), my eyes opened wide and I had to stop myself from exclaiming its deliciousness too loudly. I've had sashimi plenty of times, but I don't think I'd ever tasted anything quite like this before.
Each type of fish was garnished with just a small amount of a condiment like wasabi or citrus or soy, making each bite an entirely harmonious experience. The toro melted on my tongue with the most delicious fattiness, while the hotate (scallop) was also buttery with a hint of citrus, while the sake (wild king salmon) was leaner but still so luxurious with a tiny hit of wasabi.
I would have been happy sticking with more sashimi, but alas, we had to press on to other sections of the menu. Next we tried some traditional hand rolls, hamachi and eel.
The hamachi was paired with ponzu, preserved lemon, and scallion and had just the right amount of refreshing citrus. The eel was also great with eel sauce, sesame, and avocado. As these come as an unsliced roll they were a bit hard to share, but made for a rather delicious bite all the same.
We then moved on to a few open hand rolls which, although not traditional, are certainly photogenic and made for photos. The good news is they aren't all looks – they were some of our favorite bites of the night.
The tempura shrimp was light and cripsy with spicy daikon, lemon coulis, and daikon cress. I thought it was my favorite roll until I took a bite of the foie gras tuna. This amazing creation had strawberry-hibiscus shrub, candied peanuts, and whipped foie gras. The combination of the richness of the foie, the sweetness of the strawberry, and the crunch of the peanuts was simply other-worldly.
Dessert was definitely happening, the pavlova to be exact. This one was served on top of yuzu curd, cherry-raspberry compote, and anglaise, all sprinkled with hibiscus dust. It's hard to imagine a more perfect dessert bite than a piece of light, airy, crisp meringue covered in sweet and creamy anglaise, offset by tangy citrus curd and bright fruity compote. The sake pairing, Kitsukura “rhythmic droplets” sparkling sake, was also particularly on point for this one. The bubbles just danced around our tongues and cut through the richness of the curd and anglaise.
Throughout it all our server was completely in sync with our sporadic ordering style, coming by at the exact right moments for us to order more. She also gave helpful explanations of the menu, and we even had some great discussions about sake which led to her bringing us a few small samples to try.
It's hard to find fault with anything here- perhaps the price point (expect to spend about $100 per person with drinks), perhaps the long wait to get a reservation (six to eight weeks or longer unless you want to eat at 9:30 pm). But we will gladly suffer those if it means we can keep having haunting dreams about the stunning sashimi, rolls, and cocktails- we already have another reservation to go back!
Gi-Jin is located at 208 6th Street in the Cultural District. Reservations are necessary and quite tricky to come by without significant advanced planning. But you can also watch out Gi-Jin's Instagram for day-of cancelations to snag a seat if you are flexible.