Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Manhattan Vibe in Boston's South End

First and foremost, I want to apologize for my hiatus from writing.  Things have been a bit hectic and I'm sorry I had to back burner my blog for the past few weeks.  I'd like to start with the recap of James' celebratory birthday dinner that I began writing immediately after our visit...

Two weeks ago, we ventured down to Boston for James' annual birthday celebration.  In lieu of our old standby, Tastings, he decided to try something different this year (being that George has moved on and well, we love George).  He opted for Myers and Chang in the South End and I must say, I was more than pleased with his selection.

I'd like to enter a bit of a sidebar here for all of my non-Bostonian readers.  The South End and "Southie" are not one in the same.  Southie, aka South Boston, is actually located along the cost on the eastern most part of the city (just east of the North End... don't ask).  It's Boston's Irish haven - an area laden with scally caps and a pub on nearly each street corner.  I love Southie.  Even more so, I love the South End, which is about a mile south of Back Bay and the Theater District.  The South End has more of an alternative vibe to it.  Restaurants and shops are a bit quirkier and more eccentric.  Think Doc Martins, tattoos and wallet chains.  Now that we've differentiated between metro regions, on with my review.

Myers and Chang.  At first glance, a borderline hole in the wall Chinese restaurant situated on an unassuming street corner.  Red dragons emblazon the front windows, there probably aren't more than 65 seats in the whole place and the open kitchen is wrapped in a 10 or so seat bar that I highly recommend as the best seat in the place.   If I were to wake up in the dining room, not knowing where I was, my gut instinct would have assumed I was in Manhattan's China Town.  Walking by, it's a place I wouldn't have given much thought to... and I would have been wrong.

We had an earlier reservation, around 5:15 and when we arrived, the dining room was pretty vacant.  The staff were just finishing up their preshift meeting and we were literally greeted by every employee of the restaurant.  There was a certain sense of community and a passion for hospitality that was evident  from the time we opened the door to the time we left.  It's something that's missing in so many facets of the industry and I can't stress enough how the staff interaction and ambiance they created enhanced our experience.  Yes, we had a dedicated server - Peter, who was an awesome server in his own right - but during our dinner, it truly felt like the entire staff was there to ensure that every detail of our meal was perfect.

My one criticism of the evening - they don't have a full bar.  I'm a gin and tonic girl and I tend not to gravitate toward sake cocktails in most cases, however their Luckiest Kitty cocktail was better than I would have expected.  The combination of herbal-infused sake, st. germain and grapefruit in a smoked sea salt rimmed glass was surprisingly smooth and not cloying.  Their wine and beer lists however, were pretty intriguing with several offbeat and harder to find selections.  Bonus points for carrying a South African Chenin Blanc in a 20 selection list.

While their menu is laid out with entrees, the flow of service is more tapas style - a la, we bring your food when it's ready.  We're prone to sharing in order to try several things anyway so this worked out well for us, but just a heads up if you're more apt to traditional coursed dining.

We began our tasting tour with Green Papaya Slaw, Crispy Spring Rolls and Braised Pork Belly Buns. Whenever I see Green Papaya on a menu, my mind goes back to the Slanted Door in San Francisco and one of the best salads I've ever eaten [read about it here].  This was a completely different spin, but equally as memorable; there was a crisp freshness on the initial bite that trailed into a swift bite of thai chili on the finish.  Definitely something I'd order again and being the farthest thing from a creature of habit possible, that's a major compliment.  No complaints on the spring rolls, however they were pretty standard.  Good, but predictable.  The braised pork belly buns may have been one of my favorite items of the evening.  Ours took a few moments longer than expected to come out [nothing we noticed honestly], and Chef Karen Akunowicz, who was highly interactive with all patrons at both the bar overlooking the open kitchen as well as those at table, brought us a tasting of their Tiger's Tears Salad.  It was a blend of seared steak, thai basil, kaffir lime and khao koor [crunchy roasted rice powder] - nothing we would have thought of ordering on our own - but quite delicious and refreshing.

Next we shared plates of chicken and waffles and fish tacos... yes, you read correctly.  I was skeptical at best regarding chicken and waffles from a Chinese restaurant but I'm SO glad that we rolled the dice.    The waffle was a ginger sesame confection that brought a savory, slightly spicy element to the dish.  Topped with perfectly cooked southern-style fried chicken and a well balanced sweet and sour sauce, it really was an exceptional dish.  The fish tacos, while delicious and light were a bit tricky to eat due to the plating.  Each taco was filled with three small pieces of fish, making them exceptionally challenging to eat.

While we wanted dearly to keep progressing though the menu, we were encroaching on the point of uncomfortably full.  We did get an order of Duck Fried Rice to go, which I will add reheated beautifully for breakfast the next morning.

We capped the evening off with a rich, decadent Chocolate and Cocoa Nib Terrine with Vietnamese Coffee Sauce.  Although the portion was small, it was more than enough for us to share.  The coffee was slightly bitter but it balanced the sweet creaminess of the terrine perfectly.  It was certainly a dish where the perfect bite was a full combination of all involved components.

All in, I'm seriously sad that Myers and Chang is in Boston and not our local neighborhood Asian hot spot (not to knock Dynamite Sushi or anything but...).  Between the creative menu, near flawlessly executed food and exceptional service, I really can't wait to return.  

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