By Ian G. Rawson

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Jenny Tao greeted me with a broad smile as I came into Café 33, the newest addition to Squirrel Hill’s burgeoning Asian restaurant scene. Tucked into a narrow lot facing Shady Avenue south of Starbucks, the former laundromat has been transformed into a cozy nook with banquettes on either side and seats for up to 40 people.

“We usually are fairly busy,” Jenny said. “But this is a quiet time between the lunch and dinner servings, so there are only a dozen guests now.” She explained that they have not advertised yet, but have built a clientele through word of mouth and electronic messages among the city’s Chinese communities. “We get a lot of students from the local universities here,” Jenny said, “and even from Penn State.”

Jenny and her husband Asan left Taiwan in 1983 to work at restaurants in Manhattan for about ten years and then came to Pittsburgh in 1995. They have worked at a number of Asian restaurants in the Pittsburgh region, but their dream had always been to have their own restaurant.

Their dream is being fulfilled now at their quiet and comforting space. Muted colors on the walls, plain wooden furniture and delicate Asian art create a calm environment inside, while the glass doors open up to a small outdoor space with room for four tables. The café’s large menu includes many authentic Taiwanese dishes featuring seasonal vegetables, and a white board announces daily specials in English and Chinese.

img_3695“When they come here, they find real traditional Taiwanese cuisine,” Jenny said. “My husband creates the cooking sauces himself every morning while I am shopping at the Asian stores in the Strip District. We call our cuisine farm
cooking.”

At the entrance to the café, a glass-fronted cooler holds a display of the day’s cold appetizers, an Asian approach to tapas. She offered me several beautifully presented small plates, one with “Golden Paired Mushrooms”, and another with a cluster of small, marinated, dried tofu cubes with a dark syrup combining rich, sweet and tangy flavors.

I asked Jenny how they decided on the name for the restaurant, Cafe 33. She said her husband’s nickname is Asan Ke, or Small Three, because his father’s name is Asan, Three. “So we combined the two names to thank his father and his support for us on this new venture.” His parents are not able to travel to America, but they are proudly honored in the café’s name.

Jenny’s warm welcome and an accommodating wait staff ensure that the café’s guests are welcomed graciously, and can expect a unique dining experience, prepared and served by new friends.

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