Where to Go? What to Order?
Looking for a place to eat in Boston? The “must-try” spot for Chinese food? Dumplings? Dim Sum?
My favorite burger? Pizza? A Gluten-free joint? Who does the best dollar oysters? Roast pig?
People often ask me where they should eat in Boston and what they should order when they get there. In these “Go Here, Eat This” quick posts, I share notes of good spots to eat, highlighting what’s unique about the place, including some of my favorite dishes, house specialities, indicative of the cuisine, or just ones that I really enjoy.
I’ll also try to note things like whether the place is friendly to those with allergies, or disabilities, etc. Just stuff you ought to know.
Where to Go:
9 Tyler St Boston, MA 02111 (617) 423-7888 Lunch: Mon - Fri 11 -3 Dinner: Mon - Sat 530 - 11 Bar: Fri - Sat 530 -1
There's a new restaurant in Chinatown and this may not be news, in and of itself; but this one is is noteworthy for both its pedigree (the China Pearl owners' next generation is at the helm and the benefits of the inside track are clear: they opened in August but on local entertainment rag already touted them one of the best in July) and its direction. It deserves some attention.
The desire here is very clear: to become a destination restaurant for those who don't normally venture into Chinatown. Decor, a bar menu and familiar foods and tastes, make Shojo the sort of spot you could take a friend to when he or she normally avoids Chinatown for whatever the reason. Trust me, I've heard them all. Even from friends who proudly proclaim they walk through Chinatown to get to PF Changs. Not even kidding. I predict Shojo will continue to draw the crowd I saw during lunch. One or two tables of diners who looked like adventurers giving the new spot a try and the rest looked like residents of nearby cube farms in the FiDi or workers at Tufts. Younger, more diverse and clearly enjoying the food.
While I've only been once, and it was during the $5/5 month anniversary menu (good time to try it!), and while our meal was comped when my friend's advance inquiry to the PR folks apparently got through, I'm fairly confident I could recommend you'd get the same experience without the benefit of the Passionate Foodie's advance work.
To watch - allergies:
As a diner with allergies, I must point out that my dairy allergy had been accounted for when I arrived. A nice surprise! Chinatown is generally safe from dairy concerns, but when you get into fusion butter creeps in...
Each item on the lunch menu had been marked to indicate which dishes were safe for me to choose from. This level of care is hard to find and leads one to feel your health, and your dining experience, are in good hands. When our first course came out, (marked as verboten for me) we were hard-pressed to determine where the dairy might be. Upper left, these were fried pork dumplings, rather like an empanada. I asked our server to check - was there dairy in the dough perhaps? It had been left off my approved list and Rich was really enjoying them...
Turned out the "dairy" was only an egg wash. Egg, as we now know, is NOT from a cow's udder so it was fine for me to enjoy and I did. Herein lies the dilemma for a diner with allergies: If the kitchen is confused about whether egg is safe or not for a dairy-allergic diner, what else are they confused about when it comes to allergies? Many chefs erroneously believe, for example that removing nuts from a salad already plated makes it safe for a guest with nut allergies. Not so. Others believe frying alleviates the issue. I'm happy they erred on the side of safety here, but was it a conscious - if misguided choice - or simply misinformation? For some, this could be a life-threatening choice. Happily for me, I was reasonably confident after a conversation with the server that the rest of my meal would be safe to consume.
What to Eat:
Of the dishes we sampled, I'd recommend especially the wonton soup, the Damn Damn Noodles and the curry.
Middle: Spicy red wonton soup was very nice. A departure from the typical light chicken broth, this had a bit of heat and sour notes, as well. The dumplings were delicate.
The dish on the upper right: "Damn Damn Noodles" presumably a play on "Dan Dan Noodles" which are not peanut butter -sesame noodles as is commonly assumed but a noodle dish with a meat sauce. Anyway, this rendition was lightly sweet and savory bits of meat laced through fresh noodles and topped with an egg, a nice touch.
Lower row, L to R:
Grilled chicken curry - a large boneless chicken breast served atop white rice in a spicy red curry (not Chinese in origin, but drawing from Thai flavors). Again, a slightly non traditional version of a familiar dish, rendered well.
Middle: these are a play on the traditional Chinese pastry "jian dwai" glutinous rice flour wrapped around red bean paste or lotus seed paste, rolled in sesame and fried. Here the filling was chocolate.
Right: a jellied coconut milk, firmer than panna cotta or jello, mild flavored, bathed in a lovely berry puree.
Unique about this place:
Unlike many spots in Chinatown (Q hot pot the notable exception), this has a bar you could enjoy on its own. The food is clearly designed to draw a younger crowd, less likely to venture out and explore the neighborhood. I hope Shojo succeeds at drawing folks here. Once in Chinatown, they might feel more comfortable about returning.
The bar menu is on my "to try" list, we couldn't at our lunch this time as both of us had to be crisp (rather than toasted) for the remainder of our afternoons. I was pleased to see that drinks were made with in-house infusions rather than the ubiquitous flavored vodkas. A few were quite intriguing.
I'm interested in some dinner menu items and also need to explore the website claims of "local" - I'll update this post when I've returned.