If you are anything like this good eater then nothing is more auspicious than a Chinatown Crawl on a picture perfect day. Meet your Sino supper associates early under the Paifang gateway to the third largest Chinatown in the U.S. Groups of men huddle around board games from another land and children run and play around the big stone Foo Dogs and big dig bamboo gardens. Tonal tongues waft on the air which also betrays the sweet and savory exhaust of scores of practiced kitchens. The neighborhood is the most densely populated in the city and if you come for lunch and stay for dinner the many faces of this community with one foot in Asia, change as day twinkles into night. In between five spots that are not my regulars, visits to the markets, live poultry, bakeries, and the ginseng shop break up this feast on the move.
Right out of the gate and down at the end of Hudson, up one flight is New Shanghai. Fancy and bustling with super attentive service this "old dragon" has it all dialed in.
New Shanghai Restaurant
21 Hudson St, Boston 02111
(Btwn Beach & Kneeland St)
Phone: (617) 338-6688
First up simply and complex cucumber with minced scallions was all about garlic and a chili kick. "Sichuantons" with red chili sauce magically disappeared, but the star here was Fuqi feipian夫妻肺片; meaning literally "sliced lung by the married couple". A popular Sichuan dish usually leaves the lung out (a must as per the FDA) but features tripe, heart and tongue and other nose to tail bits. Served here at room temperature, the thinly sliced beef and offal sang of hot chili oil, crushed peanuts and cilantro with a good dose of Szechuan peppercorns that delivers the "ma la" mouth numbing euphoria. A complimentary red bean moon cake was a classy gimme. Here a first round of Tsing Taos kept our table well hydrated and the only thing missing was a bottle of Mao Tai liquor for toasting round 1.
Next up a Hong Diner in a subterranean location.
Café de Lulu
42 Beach St, Boston 02111
(At Harrison Ave)
Phone: (617) 391-0888
Right about here Concubine Chicken (w/bones) Congee was right on time. The white peppery rice porridge and chickeny chicken is all about comfort.
For that matter so is Chinese Spaghetti or Jajangmyeon (fried sauce noodle) 자장면; 짜장면) which I'm told is a super popular dish in Korea, derived from the Chinese dish zha jiang mian. Wheat noodles topped with a thick sauce made of chunjang (a salty black soybean paste), diced meat and vegetables, and on this special occasion, house made XO seafood sauce (add $2). White toast with condensed milk was a nod to the HK Diner tradition working well at Cafe Lulu. Service was informal, engaging and left a "y'all come back now" feeling.
Anyone who knows me knows I take my dumplings seriously. Stop number three had to be:
695 Washington St, Boston 02111
(at Kneeland St)
Phone: (617) 338-8858
Soup dumplings or Xiao Long Bao are ancient molecular gastronomy that when executed right are heavenly dough purses of hot soup and meaty filling that are taken with black vinegared ginger shreds. At Dumpling Cafe a most remarkably rich and super clarified stock is chilled to a gelatin then mixed with the filling and twisted inside the dumpling skins. When they are steamed the soup is liquified and the heat, aroma, texture and contrasting sour and aromatic notes makes this a perfect food and The Dumpling Cafe does it right. There is an extensive menu at Dumpling Cafe but here the focus at our table was XLB. A return visit to explore what else they can do is in order. "You are not hungry?". Service was brusk for our one note visit as the packed room perked with a ravenous hum.
Food friends in the know rave about:
The Best Little Restaurant
13A Hudson St
Btwn Beach & Kneeland St
"Lobster with gingers and scallions", S&P Squid. Crispy Fried Squab , and Sauteed Pea Pod Stems were superb. Even with all that had been consumed already we happily tucked in and it was as advertised, "the best". There would be no doggie bags required.
And finally to complete the five tastes:
23 Tyler St, Boston 02111
(Btwn Kneeland & Beach St)
Phone: (617) 482-9888
China Gourmet for a Fuzhou thing or two which shook out as Fish Noodle and was perhaps not the big fish finish we were craving. Still when all was said and done and the the last tip was left behind the echo of a perfectly delicious day of big fun and flavor was shared ,"meandering thru the main streets, alleys and all the little nooks and crannies" that are our Chinatown.
New Shanghai Restaurant
21 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111
Best Little Restaurant
13A Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111
Gourmet China Restaurant
23 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111
695 Washington St, Boston, MA 02135
Cafe de Lulu
42 Beach St, Boston, MA 02110