Chinatown

Taking a Dim Sum View - Chinese New Year Whets Foodies' Appetites

Since we're approaching the Chinese New Year people are getting excited about banquets (like the Boston Food Tours special Chinese New Year tour and banquet) and poking around the edges of Chinese food maybe more than they usually do.

lion dance 2008

Why not take our tour, or even throw your own Chinese New Year party? Here' are two excellent books to help you prepare your own Chinese New Year event:

 

If you are approaching Chinese food as a spectator sport, definitely get your hands on the latest Lucky Peach - Chinatown edition (!)

luckpeach

 

 

 

 

 

and have a look at this Wall Street Journal piece on dim sum: Taking a Dim Sum View - WSJ.com.

 

Go Here, Eat This: Shōjō Restaurant

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:

Shōjō Restaurant

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.

Shojo Restaurant Boston

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.

Rhode Island Seniors Embrace Chinatown with Boston Food Tours

  One of my recent Chinatown tour groups drove up from Tiverton, Rhode Island and ignoring the light rain, delightfully embraced their introduction to Chinese food and culture. Joe Gaedtke shot these photos of our group. His wife Marilyn - the organizer for the group - said:

Our group tour with you on Friday was a tremendous success. So often, many of us drive, or walk through Chinatown in Boston, but we have never experienced it the way we did with you. You have opened our eyes to the real Chinatown. A modern day community, surviving in a bustling city, but it still has it’s arms wrapped around an ancient past. Many thanks from all of us.

With the Harvest Moon being celebrated on September 30, this group saw Chinatown at its bustling, filled-to-the-rafters-with-moon-cakes best! Read this interesting LA Times piece on the "greening" of Moon cakes in China.

Chinatown collage

 

It was a fun day of exploration and new tastes, including dim sum. I came away energized as always. We have the best tour guests! If you'd like to join me on a future tour, look for Boston Food Tours booking here. If you want to see what past guests have to say about the experience read reviews.

 

One Special Ingredient - Chinese Black Vinegar

One of the special products we talk about on the tour is Black Vinegar. My favorite brand is Gold Plum (beware of the knock-off "Red Plum" that looks very similar but is of lesser quality.) Fermented from Black Rice (aka Forbidden Rice) this special vinegar is deep and flavorful. It's aged in wood just as Balsamic is but it's less sweet.

This is the vinegar that many recipes will call for and can be used in some of your favorite recipes and dipping sauces.

Chinese Black Vinegar

 

Here's an Epicurious.com salad dressing, which I modified slightly from the original, substituting Chinkiang vinegar for balsamic

Chinese Black Vinegar Salad Dressing

  • 1/2 cup neutral oil, such as canola or a good not-too fruity EVOO
  • 1/4 cup Chinkiang black vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 large-ish cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and minced ginger (here's a cool, easy way to peel ginger root)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (I like Kadoya)
  • sprinkle of toasted ground sesame seeds or gomashio and five spice powder, to taste
Buzz this all in a blender with a TBSP or two of water to emulsify. You'll have a thin, fawn-colored salad dressing that will make the most reluctant salad-eaters happy. Drizzled over poached chicken shredded over greens, or used as a dipping sauce for salad wrapped in a rice paper wrapper, this is a winner. As a dipping sauce, I'll often add a bit of Sriracha and some chopped peanuts.
Enjoy, and do come join us for dim sum and a taste of history.

 

 

Go Here, Eat This - BBQSmith Rolls into Leather District

A surprise opportunity for lunch with my husband leads to a savory, sweet discovery. Boston's burgeoning food truck scene delivers tasty results to Chinatown and Leather District neighbors. Real American Barbecue. On wheels and in the hood five days a week. Meet BBQSmith.

Restraint and BBQ

It might sound like an oxymoron, since BBQ is so often about BIG and BOLD flavors. It's about SPICE and SMOKE. It's about FAT and FIRE. But, restraint?

If you find yourself in my neighborhood, and you want to switch it up from Chinese style BBQ, head toward the Chinatown gate and look for the BBQSmith food truck. These guys balance just the right levels of smoke and spice, exhibiting admirable restraint in a menu of really full flavors.

BBQSmith in the shadow of the Chinatown gate.

The menu - with daily specials. Yes, you can find them on FB & Twitter, but they're better in person!

I chose the smoked beef sandwich. Doc had smoked pork. Both sandwiches were fantastic.

 

We shared a couple sides and the team threw in a couple extras to try. Not only were the sandwiches fantastic, a delicate, not overpowering smoke, tender meat; the meats are natural without added hormones or antibiotics.

Black beans also displayed restraint. Crunchy slaw, green tomato pickle, with optional hot pickled peppers - piquant, textural counterpoints to soft smoky meats.

Sides feature local farm ingredients and the corn, cuke, cherry tomato and dilly bean salad (without the buttermilk for dairy allergy girl!) was a delicious late-summer celebration.

Watermelon lemonade was like a not-too-sweet agua fresca, really refreshing.

Bonus: A frequent diner card!